The following story of mine appeared in the Kent County Daily Times. But to tell you the truth, in interviewing them, I thought we might be kicked out of the Cozy Grille, on Tiogue Ave., in Coventry. Why? Our laughter got so raucous, for the simple reason: The De Silva “boys” are a hoot.
I can only imagine what life must have been like for their parents who raised 4 sons, longing finally, for a daughter. Alas, it wasn’t to be. That’s when the youngest—Eddie came into the world–fifth and last of the DeSilva boys.
He’s the one who contacted me, asking if I’d like to do a story on the 5 DeSilva “boys” from West Warwick who all served in the military (that’s their picture in uniform, 1 Army and 4 Navy).
They were all raised in West Warwick, across the street from Mac’s Bowl—A-Way, in the Lippitt section of West Warwick.
Their Mom was Brazilian-born Mary Branco, a Portuguese woman who emigrated to America. In Lowell, Massachusetts, she met and married Richard, Sr., a British subject from British Guiana, South America. He, too, was of Portuguese descent.
Then, they came to West Warwick, in the wave of various ethnic groups who arrived to fill factory jobs.
Apparently, the DeSilva boys were paperboys for the Providence Journal. As such, they turned in their weekly customer collection money to none other than my grandmother (Kelly) who acted as neighborhood bookkeeper for the newspaper (something I never knew.)
‘Stern and unforgiving’ were terms they used for her, when their amount conflicted with what her books said they owed.
Two of these “boys” had my father, John J. Kelly, as teacher and coach, and I begin to realize that in doing this series, I am learning about my own family in ways I never knew.
They’re now “up there” in age. The youngest, Eddie, 83, a retired teacher and former administrator at West Warwick Jr.High, now lives in Massachusetts. Coventry resident, Richard, 94, was a meat-cutter, by profession; and general handyman, Albert, oldest at 97 lives in St. Petersburg, Florida. The brothers visit him in winter.
The two oldest DeSilva brothers are fresh off the laying of the wreath at the grave of the Unknown Soldier, at Arlington Cemetery, on Oct. 1st. They were selected for the honor, since they’re now ‘the oldest men in New England who served in WWII. ‘
An organization flew them and bused them to the ceremony.
I asked why the younger boys switched military service affiliation, from Army to Navy. Eddie said oldest brother, Albert, warned them “Not to be a ‘dogface’ because Army soldiers ‘dig foxholes and get into them.’ Then, ‘the rains come and they get soaked.” The brothers listened: the next four went into the Navy.
Two middle brothers, Manny and Arthur, have since passed on.
The fact that all 5 served in the military initially intrigued me, but in interviewing them, another story emerged.
They all considered their growing up years in West Warwick, a positive experience, where they got the chance to mix with different nationalities (the ‘melting pot’ who had come to work in the mills). They feel fortunate for the opportunity to learn others’ customs, food, and traditions.
Because their parents suffered the Depression, there were few luxuries. But they all praise their parents as hard-working, with good senses of humor. The DeSilva’s were a close-knit family who enjoyed their time together.
Their Mom worked as lace spinner in Royal Mills, for years, and Dad worked at textile print works in Clyde. In 1935, after years of hard work and saving, the parents opened their own small grocery store in Lippitt, DeSilva’s Market, near the bowling alley. There, they all worked.
As such, the DeSilva’s are the true embodiment of the American Dream.
The good news for the family? Four of the “boys” married Portuguese girls, so this Portuguese family got their girls, after all.