An active century, from WWII warship welding to painting

Street Stories

COVENTRY, R.I. (WPRI) — You wish you were as sharp as Enrichetta Disano.

She says if you can barely remember the details of something that happened last month or even last year, you might want to take up painting.

“It definitely helps,” Disano said.

Her 95 years of memories are as clear as her paintings, backed up by some written record she keeps around including the journal her late husband wrote during World War II.

“We have five destroyers for escorts,” Disano read from the yellowed pages. “I gave gun three a good cleaning today.”

Disano, who took up the craft about 20 years ago, paints a couple of hours in the afternoon.

“It is very, very relaxing,” she said.

 And a couple more before she goes to bed.

“And I sleep like a baby,” she said.

Maybe that’s why 95 years of history are so easy to recall.

“Oh God, I can go way, way back,” Disano said.

Like the time she was about five, and her dad brought home a half dozen treats despite struggling during the depression.

“We were poor. There were six of us,” she said. “That was a thrill to receive a cookie.”

Her laughter seemed to indicate how younger generations might take something as simple as a cookie for granted.

Then, there was the day, December 7, 1941, proclaimed to the family by her 13-year-old brother.

“And he came running in the house and saying mom, dad, they bombed Ohio,” Disano said. “Of course, we panicked. We thought they bombed right here in the United States.”

After the attack, an emergency shipyard rose out of the Providence River mud flats.

Enrichetta became one of the thousands of women who joined the war-time workforce, welding Liberty Ship cargo vessels, despite her soon to be husband cracking wise.

“He used to tease me,” she remembered. “He’d come home and he’d say those ships you’re building. They’re sinking.”

Disano enjoyed “helping the war effort” at the shipyard, and was confident the ships were not all sinking.

“It was tough work and it was dirty, from all the dust and stuff that was flying around, ” she said. “But we were just proud of what we were doing.”

They were proud, but occasionally worried.

Reading a long-ago Valentine’s Day card from her husband brought that war-time concern back.

“I sent $125 home to put in the bank,” he wrote. “A little more for our marriage fund. Remember always that I love you, no matter what.”

Reading his words prompts tears.

“I hadn’t read that in a long time,” she said.

She lost her husband when he was only in his 50’s, some 40 years ago.

All of the above, including the good and the adversity, two decades of paintings, raising her family and welding warships, made Disano say often that her life should be a Street Story.

“I wanted to show my paintings, tell my story,” Disano said. “Maybe others who are older know they can try painting as well.”

Email Walt at with your story ideas and follow us on Twitter: @StreetStories12 and @wbuteau.

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