From Italy to Murray – The Mash Family
Jan 28, 2016 10:15AM, Published by Alisha Soeken, Categories: Local Life
By Alisha Soeken
Murray - Not far from Rome sits quietly a town atop a rocky spear of land, called Agnone. With green pastures and forests, rock houses and rivers that run next to ancient sheep paths, Agnone’s beauty is bewitching.
In 1885, Felicia Maria Casciano was born into that beauty, the town of bells as it’s called, and there met her husband Francisco Masciotra, a peasant farmer about nine years her senior. Felicia was from a prominent family and Francisco’s, a poor one.
“Grandma married Frank because she wanted to come to America,” Blake Mash said of his grandmother.
Francisco had previously been to America, and with plans to return, Felicia designed to be his wife. So in 1905, and against her family’s wishes, Felicia and Francisco married, sowing a seed in a Catholic ceremony, the fruitfulness of which could not then have been imagined.
Francisco sailed across the great Atlantic, later sending for his wife. Felicia braved that journey hiding her infant son John in a basket full of laundry.
“Grandma heard that they weren’t allowed to bring illness into the country. That if a baby got sick they would throw it overboard. So when John got sick on the journey, Grandma panicked,” Mash said.
Though this was rumor, scared and unable to speak English, young Felicia smuggled her small piece of posterity into America. Once there, the Masciotras, like other immigrants, adopted a new name, thus becoming Felicia and Frank Mash.
The small Mash family, along with many other immigrating Italians, made their home in Murray City. The American Smelting & Refining Company, along with the idea of farmland and a better life, brought them here.
That American dream in the hearts of two Italians was ultimately made in increments, one of the first increments being the building of their home. Felicia and Frank dug out the side of a hill on 4800 South with horse and leveler to make ground for that site. Their home was built in 1915, which, incidentally, is the same year that a direct railroad was opened in their hometown of Agnone, making the trek to America for future immigrants easier.
Sharing in work, Felicia and Frank built on their sprawling acreage: two barns, a chicken coop and two springhouses that stood over flowing wells. Their estate grew as well as their family. Felicia gave birth to eight children, six boys and two girls. They all lived together in that small three-room farmhouse. The Mash family knew well the bother of cramped space, and with no bathroom, the bother of an outhouse. But they knew also the warmth of a close Italian family and the reward of hard work.
Being an immigrant wasn’t easy.
“The Italians were not very well liked, they were Catholic and had dark hair and dark skin. My grandpa told us stories of being picked on, of people throwing rotten tomatoes at him,” Bridget Gibbons said of her grandfather.
In a land whose language she couldn’t speak, read or write, Felicia should been have timid, yet she was plucky.
“Grandma knew her kids were being picked on and she taught them how to handle themselves, she was feisty,” Catherine Prehn said of her grandmother.
The Mash family was demeaned but never daunted. They had a substantial community of family, friends and faith that supported each other. They fused into their city Italian traditions and Italian love.
“Father Carley of St. Vincent’s Catholic parish dropped into Murray as a young Irish priest and said that the Mash women insisted on feeding him. They overwhelmed him with love, food and advice. He learned to love zucchini, garlic, tomatoes, peppers and all things Italian,” Gibbons said.
Food was an indispensable part of the Mash family. It was part of their livelihood. They grew apples, pears, peaches, apricots and cherries, garlic, beans, rhubarb, squash, potatoes and beets. Food was also their passion. Felicia cooked bread for the community in her round igloo shaped oven, and Easter bread shaped like bunnies for her grandkids. She made her own cheese, butter and pasta and the beloved foods of her hometown.
“I remember Grandma making pasta. She never needed to measure. She’d hand mix on a huge board then roll it to exactly the right thickness. She was always precise just by practice. When the pasta had been sliced to the right thickness there would be dowels everywhere in the kitchen with pasta hanging to dry,” Prehn said.
Not only food, the Mash family loved to drink and Felicia cooked a family favorite, apricot brandy.
“The apricot brandy tradition was handed down. On Christmas morning, we would make the rounds to all the relatives and we would each get half a cordial glass of that apricot brandy,” Prehn said.
One day during the Prohibition, Felicia was cooking a big pot of brandy when a constable came to the door. She thought she’d been caught and dumped the brandy out the back window. When she found the constable was there not because of her, but because her son was in a fight, that son had to answer not only to the constable for his fight, but to his mother for her brandy.
That same mother later became known as the doll lady. She was featured in the Deseret News for making hundreds of doll dresses by hand that sold to people as far away as Germany.
Felicia and Frank lived out the rest of their lives in the original farmhouse on 4800 South. Murray was their home for 78 years, during which their posterity grew. Ten homes along 4800 South still house Mash family members. And fitting to Italian tradition, Blake Mash, the youngest grandchild, now lives in that farmhouse with his wife Kim.
From the marriage of two came posterity of over 200 and counting. And though they might look unrecognizably at their old land and farmhouse, they would find within that posterity their legacy still pulsing.
The Mash family decedents still grow the original seed garlic brought from Agnone 100 years ago. They all make homemade pasta and Pitzel. Fruit trees planted by Frank still bear fruit. The wells at the farmhouse spring water, and flowing through their veins is Italian blood that inclines them, even without knowing, to the traditions and characteristics of a young couple from a small town in Italy.