Julio and Maria gave their children classic American names: Jenny, born in 1975, and Kevin, born three years later. Jenny was an academic star in high school, her nose always in a book, but Kevin was always fooling around on a computer. Now he's 33, with a B.S. from UMass Dartmouth and a good techie job at Titleist. "My father says, 'You know all those years I told you to get off the computer, and you didn't listen to me? Well, you were right,'" Kevin said the other day. Once, he fixed Uihlein's balky computer. An executive asked Julio if he was related to Kevin. The father said, "He's my son!"
Julio Valente has a pension, a 401(k), health insurance. He's trim, courtesy of a WeightWatchers program offered by the company. "They give it to you, free," he said. "You'd be crazy not to use it." Now that he has time, he's thinking about taking up ... golf. "Can I tell you the truth?" he said. It's a phrase he uses often. "If I knew years ago what I know now, I would have taken up golf. It's one of the best things for stress. It's enjoyable. It's beautiful. It's a very healthy experience. It's no wonder that people with extra money play golf."
He showed me all over Acushnet and New Bedford. He showed me where an old Titleist ball plant was located, in a working-class New Bedford neighborhood. The factory was stifling in summer, and he and his siblings walked to work. He showed me the rental houses he owns and explained the benefits of renting to the elderly—they're less apt to break things. He showed me Portuguese restaurants and Portuguese churches. We ended the day at a cemetery, St. John's, on Allen Street. It was a spectacular late-summer New England day.
"Everybody has ups and downs," Julio said. "Coming to America was the best thing that ever happened to me. This was the worse."
He walked by one tombstone after another marked by Portuguese surnames. ALMEIDA. BORGES. BETTENCOURT. VALENTE. There, on a single shiny granite tombstone, was his name, his wife's name and, in between them, their daughter's name. Jenny died in 1992, a senior in high school, already accepted to Boston University on a full scholarship. Her dream was to become a doctor. She died of a rare form of bone cancer. He comes to her grave site often. He "visits" her, he said, "where she lives."
The nine Valente children produced 15 in the next generation, Paul and his cousin Kevin and his late sister, Jenny, and 12 others. Only three of that generation work at the Acushnet Co. Others are nurses, teachers, lawyers. One's a Ph.D. The American Dream.
When Jenny was sick, Julio and Maria relied on their good company health insurance. When they went looking for doctors, their managers at work said, "Take as much time as you need. Your jobs will always be here." When Jenny died, Acushnet employees showed up in droves.
The cemetery is on a big rolling lawn. You could imagine a golf course on it. With one decisive move, Julio swept the grass clippings off the bottom of the tombstone.
"Every time they cut the grass, they make a mess," he said. "What are you going to do?"
It was 4 p.m. His wife was home from work. Dinner was on the stove.