The ‘Real Fabric’ of Kent County: Its People: The DeSilva Men—

desilva-boys-we-served-best-and-brightest(Picture above shows, from left to right: Albert, Richard, Manny, Arthur, and Eddie in succession.)

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 picture below is of the 4 boys, before youngest, Eddie, came into the world, thus dashing hopes for the long-awaited girl. desilva-little-kids

The good news for the family? Four of the “boys” married Portuguese girls, so this Portuguese family got their girls, after all.

About ckmellor

A multi-genre writer, Colleen Kelly Mellor uses her considerable life experiences in her writing which is almost always laced with humor. Informed, opinionated (but not without reason,) she brings levity to life's tough and/or comical situations, in which she oddly finds a common thread.
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5 Responses to The ‘Real Fabric’ of Kent County: Its People: The DeSilva Men—

  1. Eddie says:

    I want to thank you for the article on the De Silva Men. You have knack of skills in your writing that takes you from the present back to the days when it happened. I read the article over and over and over—–so much so that I could see my mother and father and brothers in the store across from Macs Bowl-a- way, my brothers in their military uniforms and the house I was born in at the carnival grounds off Main St.{ the picture of my brothers standing next to that house] It is the “American Dream” come true for my family and I would not trade it for anything they have today. Thanks again and I just looked in the mirror to check “I am definitely a boy”. I will probably hear about that some more.

  2. Matthew DeSilva says:

    Don’t forget the young DeSilva that’s still serving! Love you gramps

  3. Cheryl says:

    I’ll say upfront: sorry for such a long post! I got carried away with the memories! If any of the DeSilva’s read this, let me know if you remember my mom :)!

    My mother graduated from WWHS in 1950. I will show this article to her, I’m sure she went to school with one of the DeSilva’s! Her name is Lillian (Aranzo) Martell and she grew up on Brayton St. My mom is 83 and still resides in Michigan where she moved to in 1955 after marrying my father at St. Anthony’s church. My dad (deceased in 2013) was in the Navy, stationed at Quonset Point, Though born, raised and still reside in Michigan, I feel a very strong connection to West Warwick, sometimes more so than to Michigan. I just love visiting West Warwick!

    She was the youngest daughter of four children. Lucy (Aranzo) Rego still resides in WW. Alice (Aranzo) Shaddeck of East Greenwich (deceased). A younger brother Charles who sadly drowned at age 26, back in the 70’s, behind a local pub (name of pub escapes me). In case any of the DeSilva’s are reading this, her best buds in high school were Muriel Houle, Jenny Natale and Annette Giguere (but Giguere is her married name, can’t remember her maiden name.) Muriel passed away last year. Annette passed away a few years ago. My mom lost track of Jenny and sure would like to know if she is still with us or when she passed if she did.

    My mom is related to (cousins with) the Luz family. George (Georgie as he was fondly referred to) of Easy Company fame (Band of Brothers), Rita Luz, Louise (Luz) St. Germaine (whose grandson is Sgt. Brian St. Germaine recently honored at WWHS and track dedication) and a host of other Luz’s (I think there were 11 children!).

    Grandparents were Portuguese. Grandfather, Charles D. Aranzo was one of the founders of the Portuguese American Sportsman Club on Bridge St. He worked in a foundry (have to ask her which one). My grandmother, Marceline (Marcy) Aranzo worked in lace mills (mostly Hope Valley Lace Mill I believe) as did my mom and aunts. My mom says they used to sled down the hill on Brayton St. for hours after dinner in the dark! She also used to play baseball at the field down the hill next to the factory.

    Fond memories of West Warwick:
    – shopping in Arctic (Seena’s, St. Onge’s, etc.)
    – coffee ice cream cones from Harrup’s drug store
    – being sent to the bakery for my grandmother down the end of Brayton Street (Joanne’s Bakery on Pike Street but it wasn’t called Joanne’s when I was younger I don’t think) to get Portuguese Sweet bread and white bread (always given a cookie treat!)
    – the laundry mat on main street (in front of the towers which weren’t there when I was a kid!). A visit to the laundry mat was a must during our RI visit as my grandparents didn’t have a washer/dryer when I was a kid
    – walking up main street past Harrup’s to a Portuguese store I can’t remember the name, but we used to get our Chorico and Portuguese all spice from there to take back to Michigan. Same side as laundry mat but in Clyde I think.
    – there was also a restaurant near there (Angie’s? I may have the name wrong) that served to die for Torpedos!
    – On the rare occasion we extended our August vacation over Labor Day, attending the parade and going to the Portuguese fair grounds for Cocerla and other delights.
    – The smell of my grandmothers Sunday roast with Portuguese roasted potatoes or her amazing Portuguese soup!
    – Rocky Point.
    – Narragansett Pier. Jumping in the waves for hours!
    – Newport.
    – Newport Creamery.
    – Getting in trouble at the library on main street (I remember when it was built and brand new!).
    – Going to visit my grandmother at the lace mill.
    – Going to visit my Aunt at the Ladd school where she worked her entire career
    – Galillee, Point Judith with my grandparents
    – various ‘road trips’ in my great Aunt and Uncles wood paneled station wagon; we never knew where we’d end up. They’d show up on a Saturday to my grandparent’s house, 8 of us piled in and we would go on long drives and adventures. Sometimes ended up in Connecticut or Massachusetts at the beach or some fantastic amusement park! Best times!
    – visiting all my mom’s cousins and high school friends
    – my great Aunt’s famous ‘cook outs’. Never saw so much food! My mom and her sisters line dancing during the cookouts. (This was before line dancing became popular at weddings, this was back in the 60’s, early 70’s!)
    – In the late 60’s Senator Roch and his family moved across the street from my grandparents. When we arrived in August for our visit my grandmother said she had a surprise for us. She introduced us to the 3 Roch daughters who were my age and my sister’s age. Friends! And they had a built in pool! Bonus! LOL Spent lots of time swimming with them. Fun, fun! I connected with the oldest daughter Julie on FB.
    – walking around West Warwick and running into people my mom knew from growing up, listening to their accents, sometimes in Portuguese which I couldn’t understand! Listening to my mom and aunts reminisce about the good old days
    – I think my mom lived on Batty Street when she was very young. My grandfather lost his job and then their home in the depression. They lived in an apartment building in Clyde for a few years. My grandfather had to take work in Pennsylvania. An ‘aunt’ or friend of the families used to bring soup to my grandmother so the kids could eat. My mom remembers that my grandmother served her children first, hardly ever ate, wanted to be sure they ate. My mom wouldn’t eat the soup because the woman who made it didn’t rinse the kale and there would be bugs in the soup! Haha! After my grandfather finally found work in RI, he surprised my grandmother by buying her a house on Brayton St. She hadn’t seen it. He took her to see it. She broke down in tears! It had a dirt floor on the main floor and no indoor plumbing. My grandfather promised it would be okay and he would fix it up for them. They had outdoor plumbing for a short time and then he installed a bathroom and finished the lower level which actually became their ‘pantry’ as they called it (kitchen), bathroom, ‘family’ room. My grandparents lived there from the late 1930’s till they deceased in the 70’s and 80’s. My aunt lived there until the early 90’s I believe. The house still stands. I always drive by and take pictures when I visit. I used to sit for hours on the cement walls in front of the house with my cousins playing jacks. Also played jacks on the small front steps. My grandfather kept his lawn immaculate and I remember there was a huge evergreen tree in the front yard and a statue of Mary (I think). There was a chicken coup in the back yard. There were these winding cement steps that led from the back yard to the driveway, we used to run up and down them. At that time the house was white and the cement was sometimes painted light blue or red. Last time I saw the house it was a dark green and the yard was a mess. (No comment)

  4. Cheryl says:

    Also Merry Christmas to all!

    • Cheryl says:

      A few more memories, my mom’s first job was ‘soda jerk’ at Harrup’s Drug Store. That had to be around 1950 thereabouts. My mother was once accused of shoplifting at some store in Arctic when she was a teenager. My grandmother, a hot headed formidable Portuguese woman was not having it. She promptly went back to the store with my mother in tow and demanded to speak to the manager. She said her daughter is not a shoplifter and would not have her reputation tarnished. The store actually ended up tell her they ‘misplaced’ the garment my mother was trying on then offered her a discount or a free dress or something like that. My grandmother needed to work but my mom was only 5. In order to go to work my grandmother lied about my mom’s age and my mom started school a year younger than she was supposed to. This was at Harris Ave. Elementary. In the third or fourth grade my mom accidentally outed my grandmother. The teacher was going through roll call on the first day of school and my mom corrected her and said her birthday was in March of 1933. The teacher argued with her and my mom insisted. Long story short the school called my grandmother, they had a meeting, they were threatening to send my mother back a grade. In the end they chose not to do that. I believe one of my mom’s teachers at Harris was Miss Duffy. Who she kicked in line on the playground. Can’t remember the whole story but I believe a severe punishment was involved when my mother got home. I guess the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree where tempers are concerned! LOL Thank you for letting me share my memories!

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