“Laughter is carbonated holiness.” ― Anne Lamott
There is an internal road map of childhood that stays with you all of your life. The Schiavoni’s neighborhood is part of that road map for me. It is a neighborhood in which you knew everyone, every house and all of the family members inside. It was an area filled with kids that ran from backyard to backyard: playing games and building forts and riding bikes. You didn’t have to arrange ‘play-dates;’ there was always a bunch of kids right outside your door.
I had known the Schiavoni family most all of my life, and this neighborhood was part of that road map.
I pulled up to the familiar front door of Ann and Fran Schiavoni. Their son Teddy met me. He was helping to renovate the downstairs shower; “It’s big enough to fit any wheelchair,” joked Fran, “that way we’ll never have to leave.” Fran and Ann laughed aloud. They do a lot of laughing, both of them. “She’s a regular riot,” said Fran, and again they erupt into laughter.
If you know the Schiavoni family and close your eyes and try to picture them, I think you see them laughing. What a great way to go through life, I mused. “It’s not all laughter,” said Ann, “there’s plenty to cry about too.”
There are some names in Sag Harbor that have endured — that have stood the test of time — Schiavoni is certainly one of them. Schiavoni’s Market, Fuel Oil, Plumbing and Heating — generations following in line — all part of the fabric of Sag Harbor. It all started with four brothers: Angelo, Vincent, Gabriel and Guido, making their way to Sag Harbor from Greenport; their parents having arrived there from Italy.
“They came to Sag Harbor because they knew they could make a living here,” said Fran. “Back then most of the people in Greenport were working on oyster boats. That work was cold and wet, and my grandfather told his sons never to make their living on the bays — so they came to Sag Harbor. You could make a living here. There was Bulova, Grumman, Rowe Industries, and way back when, Alvin’s Silver.”
Fran Schiavoni was the son of one of those brothers, Gabriel Schiavoni. Born in 1934, Fran has lived in Sag Harbor all of his life.
The Schiavoni family had a pool hall where the Laundromat now stands.
“It was a small brick building that also had a room in the back just big enough for a card table,” said Fran. “People would come from all around to play pool against my Uncle Vin. Bets were placed. The house got ten percent.” The family also built two stores on a vacant lot on Main Street between where the Cracker Barrel children’s clothing store was and Allipo’s garage. One became Schiavoni’s Market and the other became Race’s Drugstore.”
Ann Schiavoni was born Ann O’Rourke in Westbury, Long Island. Her family moved to Wainscot when Ann was four years old. She remembers the hurricane of 1938 and how a rope was tied to the door of the one room schoolhouse in Wainscot to enable the students to pull their way out of the building through the rising tides and flooded fields.
After returning from the Navy, Fran met Ann at a party in East Hampton, and that is where the 62 years of life together began. “We met in June; got engaged in September, and got married the following June,” remarked Ann.
Fran began working in the business that his father started, Schiavonis Plumbing and Heating, and Ann worked first at Bulova Watchcase Factory before becoming a supervisor at the telephone company in East Hampton.
“Ann had the sexiest voice,” said Fran. “I’d go home after work and call her just to hear her voice.”
“I proposed to Ann on the steps leading to the dock of Lenny’s Casino (more recently the Salty Dog). I asked her to go and pick out her ring at Fritz’s Jewelry Shop on Main Street. I didn’t know which one she’d want,” said Fran.
“We got married in Saint Philomena Church (now Most Holy Trinity) in East Hampton. The priest told us we were going to be very happy if we didn’t kill each other,” more laughter filled the room.
“We bought our lot on North Haven for $800, built our house the year before we got married. I had cut my hand on a saw, so Ann had to hammer in all of the floor boards herself,” remarked Fran. The couple went on to have five children: Francis, Matthew, Theodore, Tommy John and Katherine. Fran and Ann are so proud of their children and the work they do in our community.
“We had a party after our son Fran’s baptism,” chuckled Ann, “and there were 60 Schiavonis and four O’Rourkes there. So, I said we’re going to have lasagna!”
“When I’d packed the kid’s lunches every morning, it was like dealing cards,” laughed Ann. “One time I accidentally packed potato peels in Fran’s lunch. They were good kids. They’d come home from school; throw their books down, and go outside to play. They’d come in for dinner; do their homework; wash up and go to bed. That was our ritual. Kids could go to town on their bikes; it was a wonderful time, you didn’t have to worry. The internet has brought all kinds of garbage into people’s homes. We’ve lost all kinds of privacy.”
Fran and Ann’s children attended Saint Andrew Catholic School and then Pierson High School. “I thought the teachers at Pierson were wonderful back then,” said Ann, “and they still are.” While raising their children, Ann was very active in the St. Andrew R.C. Church Altar Society for more than 20 years, and she also volunteered for the St. Vincent de Paul Society helping people in our community.
“I also volunteered at the St. Andrew School for lunch duty and Bingo nights, she said.”
Fran was a firefighter for the Sag Harbor Fire Department for 45 years, and now is an honorary member.
“Being a part of the fire department was really good. I remember the fire at St. Andrew Church. There used to be beautiful murals on the ceiling there, but the fire changed all of that.”
Fran and Ann’s family has grown now to include, “four wonderful daughter-in-laws, a wonderful son-in-law and nine grandchildren. Sag Harbor, to our family, is the most beautiful place in the world,” said Ann. “All of our children have stayed here, which is a testament to just how beautiful it is.”
I asked about the ingredients of a long and happy marriage, “you really have to like one another,” replied Ann. “Trust is most important, and also try not to go to bed angry. I think it’s wonderful to have a history together. God’s left us here waiting for us to get it right.”
“And stay in tune with the rest of the world,” added Fran. “You’ve got to get out and see what’s going on.”
Fran and Ann are very happy to call Sag Harbor their home. “This is such a welcoming town,” said Ann, “people are always so gracious. You can’t write life.”
To Fran and Ann and all of the Schiavoni’s past, present and future, who have been an important part of writing the Sag Harbor story, we are grateful that you call Sag Harbor HOME!