Remembering McCleary’s Angelo Pellegrini

By Linda Thompson

For The Vidette

Angelo Pellegrini (1903-1991) is remembered by many in McCleary. He was a teacher of English at the University of Washington. The man was a writing legend who loved good food and good wine. There’s a website devoted to him. Pellegrinifoundation.org. None of this information was obtained from that website. What I’ve written below is bits and pieces from our collection.

Pellegrini arrived in this country in November 1913. In many of his writings he remembers feeling like an outsider in a community of outsiders. His father had found work in the woods and settled in McCleary before he sent for his family. Angelo Pellegrini’s first day of school was Jan. 4, 1914. He knew not one word of English, so he was placed in first grade in McCleary Elementary, Grays Harbor County. He was 10 years old and praises a succession of affectionate and competent teachers who taught him over the next eight years with his ultimate success.

When McCleary was new, everyone was from somewhere else. There were Greeks, Italians, Irish, to name a few. Henry McCleary was Irish, from Northern Ireland — land of the Orange Irish.

Pellegrini remembered the discrimination against the Italians was brutal. At one point, in fourth grade, he was tempted to change his name, Americanize it, to Pellington. He was willing for forego the pasta for mashed potatoes and gravy. Luckily, he had a wise teacher who praised him for being the only bilingual person in the school — including staff. She advised him to learn more about his native land as well as his new home.

From that day forward he had fun, well, maybe fun isn’t the right word, satisfaction is more appropriate. When he was called names, he could respond with, “Brutti, maleducati schifosi,” which translates to “you ugly, ill-bred wretches.” He admits to delivering that message with fiendish glee.

While this gave him momentary relief from the taunting and teasing, it also drove him to study, more deeply than he otherwise might have. His love for language, both his native tongue and his newly acquired English, was put to good use as he read the books by great authors. His admitted favorites were Dante in Italian and Shakespeare in English. No doubt, both molded his life and developed his love for writing.

He told the story of having, early in his career as a writer, to stand before a committee of the state Legislature that was organized to investigate radical activities. He felt his career was threatened, although he had done nothing wrong. As he stood nervously before the committee, he remembered a Shakespeare profile of a man such as he: “Man proud man, dressed in a little brief authority, most ignorant of what he’s most assured, his glassy essence, like an angry ape, pays such fantastic tricks before high heaven as makes the angels weep.”

He took solace in that and was soon cleared of any wrong doing. Soon after that, he was given a medal and cash award by Freedoms Foundation in Valley Forge for having made a significant contribution to better understanding of the American Way of Life. Furthermore, the chairman of the committee he stood before was a candidate for a seat in Congress from his district. He was defeated. More solace to be enjoyed.

Another harrowing moment for our hero was a result of his own doing. He was on a mushroom hunt with his wife, son Brent and Greg Markov in the Cascades. He admits to foolishly getting separated from the group and became lost. The weather was nasty with rain and snow mixing as it fell to earth. He leaned against a tree for eight hours. At 2:30 in the morning, with his life in jeopardy, he remembered Dante, “Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita, mi ritrovai per una selva oscura, de la diritta via era smarrita.” Or “Midway in our life’s journey I went astray from the straight road and lodged in a dark forest.” He was talking to the few stars that were finally visible. Then the miraculous sound of two bloodhounds.

On the home front, he was a gourmet chef, elbowing his wife, Virginia, out of the kitchen often only to call her back to help dice and slice. She admitted sharing a kitchen with such a man was both a blessing and a curse. His wine making was confined to the cellar, but he could and would often cook the full meal for visiting guests. Yes, he did the shopping for it, too, but was not known for cleaning up.

Linda Thompson can be reached at mccleary.

museum@gmail.com.