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Family's love for reading spans three generations

By LISA BUIE, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published October 27, 2002

If producers ever need locals to star in a buddy movie, they'd have to look no farther than Bayonet Point.

That's where they'd find Vivian Di Camillo and Elaena and Kim Plumitallo.

The trio behave more like girlfriends than grandmother, mother and daughter. The Ya-Ya Sisterhood's got nothing on them.

There are the mall shopfests. The trips to Italy. Just about every day Vivian cooks dinner at her condo in Beacon Woods and brings it over to the Plumitallos' black and white house in the same neighborhood.

"We call it Meals on Wheels," Kim says.

So it's no surprise that the three would read a book together.

Vivian had read in the St. Petersburg Times about One Book, One Pasco, a program aimed at creating a countywide book club.

She suggested that the three read this year's selected book, John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men.

"I had read it many years ago but had forgotten it completely," says Vivian, an avid reader who used to have a photo of Ernest Hemingway in her room next to one of Clark Gable. She also read Gone With the Wind in a single sitting.

Elaena, a health occupations teacher at Gulf High School, where students also are reading the book, took her up on it. Kim was a tougher sell.

She read two pages and gave the book back to Vivian.

The grandmother put the book away and didn't think much more about it. But later, Kim, who thought the beginning was too slow, gave the novel another chance.

She enjoyed it, as did the other women, although each gave different reasons.

Vivian, 80, first read the book as a schoolgirl shortly after it was published in 1937. But it wasn't until her second reading -- more than 50 years after she lived through the Depression -- that it hit home.

"When I read it this time, I got goose bumps," says Vivian, who grew up in Manhattan. "Everyone going from job to job to survive. Millionaires became paupers."

Her own parents toiled in the clothing industry, moving from factory to factory in search of a day's pay. She now sees how they were not much different from the migrant workers in Steinbeck's Salinas Valley.

For 55-year-old Elaena, seeing what life was like for her mother's generation was a real eye opener.

"I'm a baby boomer; I never really knew what it was like to suffer," she says. "I had heard stories about the Depression, but I never could comprehend what it felt like."

She also liked Steinbeck's simple yet effective descriptions. She can almost picture the barn.

Kim, 24, whose generation can't remember life without MTV and video games, almost didn't make it past the first chapter because nothing happened.

But what struck her the most was the bigotry certain characters faced. One was black, another was mentally retarded, another was female. Still another was elderly and disabled.

"A lot of people who are discriminated against think they are the only ones," says Kim, a physical therapist at Regional Medical Center Bayonet Point. "But it happens to everyone at some point."

Like many other younger Pasco readers, she is repulsed at protagonist George Milton's resolution of the dilemma regarding his mentally retarded friend, whose unawareness of his immense physical strength results in tragic consequences.

"I was disappointed George didn't hold up his end of the bargain," she says. "I thought they should have run away or let the cops handle it."

Regardless of perspective, the women say the book has given them something else to talk about together. They plan to read another Steinbeck novel, Cannery Row.

Reading has always been part of their lives. Vivian read voraciously, even wept about Hemingway's suicide.

Elaena remembers Little Women and her favorite March sister, Jo. As a mother, she recalls reading aloud to her daughter, Where the Sidewalk Ends.

Elaena glances at the big screen that is the focus of the family room.

"We shouldn't have that TV on at all."

-- Lisa Buie is the editor of the central/east edition of the Pasco Times. You can reach her at (813) 909-4604 or toll-free at 1-800-333-7505, ext. 4604. Her e-mail address is buie@sptimes.com.

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