Forestville native pens book about what life was like in the city from 1910 through the 1970s

Published on Wednesday, 7 July 2021 09:30
Written by BRIAN M. JOHNSON

@brianjohnsonBP

BRISTOL – Mona Gustafson Affinito’s book, “My Father’s House,” provides a window into the past, chronicling her Swedish immigrant family’s life in Forestville from 1910 through the 1970s.

Gustafson Affinito, who was born in 1929, lived in Forestville until she was 27 years old and fondly remembers the experience.

“I feel a lot of gratitude to have grown up in Forestville; I was very fortunate,” Gustafson Affinito said. “How many people can say that they spent so much of their life growing up in one home, sharing a backyard with their best friends and walking to school every day? I lived in that home until I got married at 27 and I visited it again with my parents when I became pregnant with my son in 1957. But, while the house is still standing and has an interesting history itself, the title ‘My Father’s House’ is more house in a Biblical sense. It is referring to my father’s family.”

The family’s story begins with describing how Gustafson Affinito’s father, Karl Artur Johan Gustafsson, immigrated to America in 1910. Upon reaching Ellis Island, he was renamed “Carl Arthur Gustafson” before settling in Forestville, where he would fall in love with and marry Gustafson Affinito’s mother, Jennie Anderson. The story follows the family through World War I, the Great Depression, World War II and the 1970s.

Now living in Minnesota, Gustafson Affinito wrote the book based on her own experiences as well as a variety of sources, including conversations with her sister and brother, family scrapbooks, high school and college yearbooks, information from Bristol Public Library and online research. She was also able to apply her skills as a private practicing therapist to setting her family’s experiences into context.

“My mother was one of the first women to get a high school degree, which is equivalent to a college degree now,” she said. “She got a job at city hall as a title searcher, but when she became pregnant she had to give up her job and become a wife and housekeeper. I think that’s why she became depressed later in life.”

Similarly, Gustafson Affinito also discusses how her brother-in-law was affected by his service in World War II, where he served as a U.S. Marine fighting in the Pacific.

“Looking back, I think he suffered greatly from that,” she said. “Those guys didn’t talk about their experience when they came home. He had a lovely personality, but he always carried that pain with him.”

Gustafson Affinito also writes about her experiences walking to Sarah E. Reynolds School in Bristol and later talking the bus to Bristol High School as a freshman.

She recalled how, growing up in a Swedish family, Christmas was always emphasized. She also writes about going to the campgrounds and the firehouse in Forestville to do summer crafts, visiting the cemetery for Memorial Day and watching Fourth of July parades.

“While other people were suffering fighting overseas in World War II, I was on the front lawn eating chocolate and drinking Coke,” she said. “It was a nice place to live where you could predict what the next day would be like. My sister, when she was 8, lived on Church Street used to go wandering to the corner of Washington and Church Street. She met the ice cream maker who invited her in to have ice cream. There was no fear. It was wonderful; you could walk anywhere you wanted to.”

The book also discusses what the economics of Bristol at the time were like. Gustafson Affinito said her father was at one point the treasurer and later served on the board of directors for Bristol Brass. He chose to live in Forestville, she said, because he felt comfortable in the environment and wanted to live close to the church, which is now Gloria Dei Lutheran Church.

“My grandfather on my mother’s side was a big part of establishing the church,” she said. “Originally, everything was in Swedish, but by the time I came in it was all in English. The church was a focal point of life in my father’s family.”

Gustafson Affinito said she has been working on this book for many years, but she had her therapist practice taking up her time. She said being quarantined was “wonderful” and helped her to get it done.

Gustafson Affinito is also the author of “When to Forgive" "Forgiving One Page at a Time," "Figs and Pomegranates and Special Cheeses" – an updated version of "Mrs. Job," the fictionalized story of the wife of Biblical Job. She is also working on a book titled "It Sucks!" which is a tribute to “a friend who died too young” of a glial blastoma multiforme.

From 1952 to 1986, Gustafson Affinito was a college professor and eventually a department chair at Southern Connecticut State University. After she divorced her husband in 1976, she became a licensed therapist and eventually became a full-time therapist.

“I think I enjoy writing the same way that I enjoy reading,” she said. “It’s like eating a good meal. I love the research part, I love character descriptions and I like looking for themes in a life. It was interesting what I discovered about my own family as I was writing. It’s not that I found new news, but new ways of understanding things.”

Gustafson Affinito encouraged people to order copies of “My Father’s House” through their local bookstore. The book can also be purchased online at amazon.com/my-fathers-house-mona-gustafson/dp/1950743292.

Brian M. Johnson can be reached at 860-973-1806 or bjohnson@bristolpress.com.



Posted in The Bristol Press, Bristol on Wednesday, 7 July 2021 09:30. Updated: Wednesday, 7 July 2021 09:32.