Citrus, figs, coffee trees thrive

WASHINGTON, W.Va. – It is difficult to name a fruit that does not grow at Albert and Kathy DiSalle’s home in Wood County.

Among the citrus plants, Albert said he does not grow oranges.

But everything else seems to be growing under Albert’s care and watchful eye.

Enter through the front gate (the fence keeps the deer out) to the DiSalle property in the Hyview Terrace housing development off Smitherman Road, and you will soon see plum trees on both sides of the driveway, then pear trees, apple trees, walnut, chestnut and pecan trees, nectarine, peach and fig trees.

When you reach the garage near the house, the DiSalles have grapefruit, apricot, tangerine and fig (several types) trees. And there are banana, olive, coffee, clementine, bay leaf, pomegranate trees and shrubs.

Inside the home’s “Tiki Room,” with large glass windows, is Albert’s pride and joy: a coffee tree he has had since 1968 while living in New York City. A mango tree is near this coffee tree.

On an outside deck, a lemon tree is bearing fruit. DiSalle also grows “banana” tomatoes, Whitney peppers, grapes, berries, kiwi, pineapples, almonds, hazelnuts and aloe plants.

If you didn’t know better, in this heavily wooded, hilly area near Lake Washington you could imagine being in Florida, Texas, Southern California or near the Mediterranean Sea because of the types of trees growing here.

Trees that are hardy enough to withstand a Mid-Ohio Valley winter are planted outside by Albert, while others, like the coffee, lemon, olive and fig trees, are planted in pots so they can be moved indoors when cold weather arrives.

DiSalle grows and sells fruits, vegetables, beans and nuts as a hobby, one that has mushroomed since moving to Wood County with his wife, Kathy, from New Jersey in 2003.

“I’m having fun with it,” DiSalle said.

He has retired from the construction industry and the DiSalles own an apartment complex in Belpre.

DiSalle, 66, has been selling his tomatoes, peppers, fig trees, coffee trees, pomegranate shrubs, aloe plants and other items this summer on Fridays and Saturdays at the farmers market outside Grand Central Mall.

The figs can be dried and eaten like “candy” in the winter. DiSalle calls figs “one of the best fruits of the gods.”

DiSalle considers the coffee tree to be “the greatest house plant.” It blooms in the spring, giving off a pleasant fragrance, and ripens in October to a red, cherry-like appearance. The bean can be dried and roasted but not burned, he said.

The coffee tree needs plenty of light, DiSalle said, but it should not bake in the sun.

Besides the health benefits of eating the seeds, DiSalle said the miniature pomegranate has beautiful orange-red flowers and makes a nice porch decoration.

Albert DiSalle’s life has as many twists and turns as the serpentine roads around his hometown of Pacentro in central Italy.

The DiSalle family did terraced gardening on the mountain slopes in and around Pacentro. The family had fig, olive and walnut trees, along with grapevines.

Albert, his brother Attilio and their mother, Giulia, immigrated to the United States from Italy in 1960.

Albert was 13 years old at the time. The three DiSalles did not speak English when they arrived at the Pittsburgh airport.

They stayed for a while with Giulia’s sister and brother-in-law, Louisa and Albert DiNello, in Coraopolis, Pa. The DiSalles later moved to New York City where Giulia, a widow, worked in a sweater factory and her sons found employment.

DiSalle worked as a doorman and lived at the ritzy Yorkshire Towers at 305 East 86th St. in New York City, which has 21 floors and nearly 700 apartments.

His apartment neighbors included ambassadors, princes and celebrities.

DiSalle shakes his head when thinking about a “little kid from Italy” living in the Yorkshire Towers.

The terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, changed DiSalle’s life again.

As a member of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters & Joiners of America union, DiSalle said he was working on a building in the area of the World Trade Center when the jets hit. He had just gone inside a building being worked on, from a scaffolding outside, when disaster struck in lower Manhattan.

After the towers were hit, DiSalle said he entered the subway, which he took until it stopped at 42nd Street. On 42nd Street, DiSalle said the city was unusually quiet on a beautiful, clear September day.

People were whispering on the streets and no vehicle horns were blowing, he said. He remembered seeing fighter jets racing through the sky.

A few buses were running but public transportation was shut down and the tunnels were closed.

Around 11:30 a.m., DiSalle called Kathy at their home in Manasquan, along the Jersey Shore, to tell her he was OK. He had tried earlier near the WTC site to call her but cell phone service was out.

Kathy DiSalle told her husband, “Of course you are fine … you are on 85th Street and Central Park West working.”

But Kathy did not know that Albert’s boss had asked him to work at the building near the World Trade Center that day.

“It was horrible,” Albert said, with tears in his eyes. “If she (Kathy) had known where I was working, she might have had a heart attack. It was rough.”

Albert then walked to find his son, Alan, a union laborer, who was working on the roof of the Lord & Taylor department store. Alan had seen one of the jets hit the World Trade Center.

The DiSalles waited in a long line of people at the ferry for a free ride to Hoboken, N.J., where they got on a packed train around 4:30 p.m. for the hour-plus ride home. On the train, Albert saw a man sitting in a daze with blood coming from his ears.

There was not much talking on the train, Albert said. “It was like the Twilight Zone.”

DiSalle said he returned to lower Manhattan about six weeks after the attacks to get his tools. He worked in the area for several months before the union construction jobs dried up and the company he was working for went bankrupt.

Alan DiSalle did not return to his laborer’s job after 9-11.

With bills mounting in New Jersey and well-paying jobs scarce, the DiSalles were looking in a local newspaper for cheaper housing when Kathy noticed property for sale in West Virginia.

The DiSalles sold their New Jersey home and moved to Wood County on Feb. 7, 2003.

“9-11 is why I am here,” DiSalle said about living in West Virginia. “I lost my job and almost my life.”

Albert said he won’t watch TV shows or read stories recounting the 9-11 tragedy in New York City. “I’d like to put it out of my memory,” he said. “You will destroy yourself if you don’t.”

Inside the front hallway of their Wood County home, the DiSalles have a painting of the Statue of Liberty on one wall facing a nighttime photograph of the Manhattan skyline before the attacks on the World Trade Center.