Barbara

Feb 28, 2019

 
 
 
 

My father was Emilio, and my mother was Rose. My father came from Italy, and my mother was born here. My father was a grainmaker for animals. My mother was a housewife. 

I remember my parents, how good they were, they raised me up to what I am today, and I thank them for it. They raised my 3 sisters and my brother. They were a little bit on the strict side, but I’m grateful for it because they grew me up to be respectful. When you were told something, you would have to do it. It had to be done. My father was very good for enforcing respect! If we didn’t behave, oh you got a good spanking. Back then you could do it, but you can’t do that today! I didn’t get a beating, I’d just get a small slap. 

My grandmother also used to live with us. I used to help my grandmother a lot, I loved her so much. I used to do so much with her. I used to say, “Grandma, can we go to the store?” She was Italian, and I spoke Italian very well then, and we used to go out together and go shopping. I used to help her with cooking, and that’s what made me a great cook today. She was a wonderful person. I saved mostly her pasta recipes. The pies she used to make, I could never make. She used to make a lot of pies for Easter. She used to make grain pie, egg pie, sausage pie. She could do at least 4 pies, and she’d do them herself. It’s because of my grandmother too that I became what I am today. She taught me respect, you had to have respect for your elders. That was the most important thing. My mother was a sick woman, and it was hard for her to take care of me, my sisters, and brother. She tried. But my grandmother was there for us, and I thank her so much for being there for us. She was a wonderful person and may she rest in peace today. 

I taught my children the same values. I also grew them up to respect each other and all people. If there’s no respect, then there’s nothing. And you know, you want a person to have the same feeling that you have, understanding your way of life and your people. I’m really thankful for what I’ve learned as a young girl. 

 
 

March 11, 2019

 
 
 
 

The greatest historical event you lived through was the bombing of the twin towers. I lost a lot of friends, and I almost lost my daughter. She was on the 95th floor at the time. There was no way of her of getting down because the stairs were gone. It was dark, there was no way of getting out. So what they did was they picked her up by helicopter. She was four months pregnant at the time, and they put her down onto the street. But then after they did that, my daughter had to find her way home! She had to walk all the way home, from there to Brooklyn. When she came home, we had to put her to bed, she was just out of it. We were all waiting for her, all around the television, to hear good news about her. When we saw her coming down that street, that was the greatest day of my life – that I have my daughter. I lost a cousin, and I lost friends. They were all on the twin towers, they all worked there. It was almost like a family affair, everybody worked there, everybody knew everybody and it was like a family. When you’re losing friends and losing family, you have no recollection of anything anymore after that day. It was a horrible day. But I thank God my daughter was safe and they got her home. The baby was safe. It was a day to remember and not to remember. I must say the firefighters, the police, and the aides all did a great job. We had to live through the loss, but luckily I was able to wait for the day my granddaughter was born.

 
 
 
 
 
 

When I was of age to go to work, I worked in a candy factory. It was a big candy company at the time. I did the packing of the orders that need to be shipped out. It was 9 to 5, with a lunch break. You’d get 10-15 minutes in the afternoon and then you were back on the job. You know what, if you worked on the belt, you gotta be fast. Packing that candy, I would think, “Why can’t I take a piece?” But don’t be caught eating a candy because you would be fired! On the spot! You had to be smart enough not to touch that candy because your job was in jeopardy. And I liked my job, I didn’t want to lose it. I liked my people, I liked my foreman. The foreman was very lax with his people. We were all young – he was good-lookin’ too! Man was he good-lookin! I had very good days working. I really enjoyed working, believe it or not. 

 

March 18, 2019

 
 
 
 
 

To me, it was the day I got married. I had a wonderful husband, God Bless him, and we had 3 wonderful children. I have 4 grandchildren, and 1 great granddaughter. The day I got married was a beautiful day. That was on March 31, 1951. I remember my day well. It was the greatest day in my life. I had a beautiful white gown. We had a nice house wedding, we couldn’t afford a venue. All my friends and relatives had a good time. I had plenty of food, plenty of soda. No liquor, because me and my husband didn’t drink. You want liquor, you bring it because I got nothing in my house! I had a beautiful cake ordered. Beautiful cream all around, a sponge inside, with strawberry filling. 

 
 
 
 
 
 

My favorite pasta dish to make is lasagna. We used to make it layer by layer, with sausage filling, or meatball filling. You baked it until it was high. You’d cut it piece by piece. I really didn’t have a recipe, I would just cook on my own. I just cook what I wanna cook, and how I wanna cook. My daughter cooks, my son of course, no! My daughters would cook when I was cooking, now I think they just have food brought in.

For Christmas, we used to make chicken, ham, and a roast beef. Everyone had a choice of what they want, and of course all types of vegetables and potatoes. We’d make some feast. Our holidays with the family, they had to be done the right way. The food had to be the right way. All the family got together – it was so nice. We did so much cooking, when you have to cook for a whole family. 

Sample Mother

The Bronx

I grew up in a neighborhood in the north Bronx that was across the street from a park. We lived across the street from a park, and we were very fortunate to live there because a lot of people lived in the city – building upon building. We also lived right near the Botanical Gardens. We used to go there, and my mom later worked there too.

We used to run around the park, and play hide and seek, or we’d go up to the schoolyard and play there. But in our years, a lot of times we’d watch the boys play basketball. It was a very good neighborhood to grow up in. It was a mixture of Christian people, Jewish people, a lot of Italian people. It was a lot of fun.

 

 

American Bandstand

There used to be a show called American Bandstand with Dick Clark. Every day at 4 o’clock, I’d come home, and I would dance with the doorknob. You’d come with your friends, but sometimes if I was alone, I would dance with the doorknob and listen to American Bandstand.

I heard music from Dion and the Belmonts, a lot of ’50’s music. But then, in the 60’s, later on, it was the Beach Boys and then the Beatles in high school. The Beatles were amazing, and the evolution of their music… I had never seen that before… that they could change – one group not doing the same things over and over again.

But my favorite music in college was Motown and the Temptations. I loved to dance, and I had a boyfriend who loved to dance too. This was before Dad.

 

 

Camp Trouble

Well my aunt Catherine was a nurse with very advanced ideas. She would come and visit every once in a while, she was a nurse for a public school in Montana. She convinced my mother that my sister and I should go to camp during the summer…that we should get away, it would help our independence, that we would learn how to swim, that we would learn how to cope, etc. She had this whole spiel. My mother was not good at sending us to strange places or doing anything on our own, but she convinced my mother, so my sister and I went to this camp. This is a church camp.

Alright, we’re only about the second day or so. There was this woman who was in charge of all the students. There must’ve been 18 girls and boys, and she had some teenagers helping her. Only thing she didn’t do was supervise the kids in any way, during the day or night.

At night, we were 6 or 7 in a cabin. We had to be in bed at a certain time. One night in the dark, I climbed out of the window of my cabin. I wandered away, far away. I don’t know where I am. And this is a deserted camp! The closest place you can get help is a ranger station where they look for forest fires in a tower up there. Other than that you’re on your own! We didn’t have a car. We had a couple horses, and we’d fight over who would ride them.

Anyway, I’m wandering around most of the night. Finally I came across a camp, a men’s camp, where they were mining and blowing up things. I said, “Sorry I’m lost. Could you get me back to where I belong, point me back in the right direction?” I’m really old enough to know better at this point, I’m like 10. The man said, “Sure I can do that.” He was really nice and did get me back. Which is Holy Hallelujah! It had never crossed my mind that it was dangerous thing to do… Holy Hallelujah!

But when I got home, my mother never let me and my sister out of my sight. My sister was better than me, but we couldn’t be trusted. That’s not the first time in my life that i’ve done really stupid things. I’ve been just lucky that I didn’t get into worst situations.

 

 

Meeting Your Father

I met Dad because I dated his friend. We used to double date, so we knew each other. And then, I broke up with the guy. He broke up with the girl. Then, about a year later, I was living on my own in Riverdale. A mutual friend saw me at the Universal Church on 78th and Central Park West.

Instead of going to a bar, you’d have these group talks, like sensitivity talks and things. And, that’s how you would meet people. It was just a different way of doing it other than the bar, which I had done.

So, this guy, a mutual friend of ours, saw me and then he told dad, “Hey, Colleen’s there, so maybe you would like to go.” So he came later on.

I came out of a car, I saw him and I called him Jeff because they called him Jeff. But Dad didn’t recognize me! This was a year later. He says I changed a lot in that year.

So after that, it was very easy to go out with him because we knew each other. When Dad and I were dating we’d go to Stanley’s and, also Grunning’s Ice Cream, which is also not there anymore. But, it was very good ice cream.

 

 

Parenting

One of the most joyful days, was when you guys were born.

After the two of you were born, we were very, very excited and happy – and tired!

A favorite story about Dan

I remember coming home from work one day, this was when we were in Atlanta, and saying to Scott, “Scott were you a good boy today?” And he said, “Yes, but don’t ask mommy.”

A favorite story about Carter

I always remember you David, being mischievous with Scott. And then when they were older, Mom told me that the TV kept changing channels and Scott was saying, “The TV’s not working.” And Mom said, “Well where’s the remote control?” I asked, “Where’s David?” And David was outside with the remote in his hand, jumping up to the window and pressing the button.

Grandma

Family

My mother never spoke English. She knew how to speak English, but spitefully she wouldn’t. I got to tell you, she was very spiteful. It was her will or no will. Growing up, where my mother had a lot to say and a lot to do with us. And we obeyed her. No saying no to Nana. She didn’t know that word. Her word or no word. She lived to be a hundred. Her name was Assunta, which means “risen”. When Nana was born, everyone had a religious name. All my siblings too.

Nana and her siblings, 1942

My two aunties – Little Aunt, and big Aunt, one was Matilda and one was Clementina. Even though they had different names, we would always distinguish them as Little Aunt and Big Aunt. Big Aunt didn’t have too much to say. Little Aunt had a lot to say. They would talk about something and Little Aunt would say, “Well, this is this!” – and that would be the end of the sentence… But, remember, my mother was boss! My mom, the last word. My mother was the oldest. Then Clementina, then Matilda, and then Uncle Joe.

We would see them at family events. The family would come over to the apartment. We had a very small apartment, we didn’t have a lot of money. That was definite, we didn’t. And the playground was the street. That’s where we learned how to ride a bike. And oh my God, it was loaded with Italians.

 
Children playing in street
Image Source:
Library of Congress


 

 

The Eggplant Festival

When I was a child, we used to have big family dinners. In the summertime, we had the cookouts, and we used to have the cousins from Portland, Maine. Well, everybody knew we loved eggplant

Trays and trays of stuffed eggplant

And we’d have an eggplant festival with the cousins coming down from Maine…[Judy: And my Auntie Mary would make trays and trays of stuffed eggplant, and all the cousins would come down. They had a big backyard. Auntie Mary had a big backyard. It was really fun. Yeah, we did have a lot of fun.

 
Aunty Mary’s original stuffed eggplant recipe
 
 

 

Cooking with Grandma Assunta

My grandmother also used to live with us. I used to do so much with her. I would say, “Grandma, can we go to the store?” She was Italian, and I spoke Italian with her, and we used to go out together and go shopping.

I used to help her with cooking. That’s what made me a great cook today. I saved mostly her pasta recipes. My favorite childhood food was pasta!

My favorite pasta dish to make is lasagna. We used to make it layer by layer, with sausage filling, or meatball filling. You baked it until it was high. You’d cut it piece by piece. I really didn’t have a recipe, I would just cook on my own.

I just cook what I want to cook, and how I want to cook.

The pies she used to make, I could never make. She used to make a lot of pies for Easter. Grain pie, egg pie, sausage pie. She’d do at least 4 pies and she’d do them all herself.

 
Assunta’s grain pie recipe
 
 

For Christmas, we used to make chicken, ham, and a roast beef. And of course all types of vegetables and potatoes. We’d make some feast. Our holidays with the family, they had to be done the right way. We did so much cooking, when you have to cook for a whole family.

It’s because of my grandmother too that I became who I am today. She taught me respect. That was the most important thing. I taught my children the same values. I also grew them up to respect each other and all people.

 
Christmas at Assunta’s, 1999
 

 

The Feast

Religion was a great part of my life. I kid a lot around how Nana was very religious. Always had rosaries in our hands and everything. But she meant her religion, and so did I. It meant a lot to me. I went to Catholic school, and it was not just Catholic school going, it wasn’t just being Catholic – it meant something to me.

We used to have a feast every year in the summer. It was called the Saint Anthony Feast. That was the big one, and that was known as, “You don’t leave town on that one.” The streets would be full of Italians. With bands, and food, and stuff like that. Some people from New York, some stars, they’d come in and perform. It was a three-day feast, it was huge.

When your mother was a little girl I took her every year, it was in August. I didn’t like going, but I didn’t want her to miss out on!

Do you remember the angel?…

 
Saint Andrew’s Feast 1945, North End, Boston.
Image Source:
Saint Anthony Society

Saint Anthony’s Feast has become the largest Italian Religious Festival in New England since 1919. It is celebrated annually on the weekend of the last Sunday of August. 2019 marks the 100th anniversary of the feast.

 

 

Rosary Academy

In Watertown, I was very involved in the kids’ elementary school, Rosary Academy. It was a private Catholic school right down the street from the house. There was another Catholic school in the area, but I just looked around, looked at the curriculum and all, and it was so close. It seemed like a good fit.

I did a lot of volunteering there. I washed dishes every Monday, and I ran the fashion show and the Christmas Bazaar. It closed when my second daughter was a junior. She had to graduate from somewhere else.

Many of my friends came from Rosary, and we volunteered together. It was hard, hard work, but we did have a lot of fun while we were doing it. My other friends were a group from church and my neighbors, of course.

 
Situated on a Lexington Street estate that the parish purchased for $9,000, Sacred Heart Academy, later renamed Rosary Academy, began as a boarding school for elementary and high school girls. Rosary Academy was in operation from 1913-1980s.
Image Source: Massachusetts Collection Online
 

 

Grandpa

Measles in the basement

When I was growing up, my eldest brother had a tremendous wedding celebration. Our house had several rooms and they devoted one side of the whole house for them after the marriage. There was a small room and a big room. Then, the system was when a man married a woman, you’d pay a dowry. But more modern people would buy furniture for the new home. And they did that. One big room and the smaller one next to it was devoted for this young man, his wife, and their future children. And they had kids and they grew up there, up until the kids were 12 or 13, supported by my father. Because my eldest brother was working with my father.

The wedding was for outside the family. This was a custom, and you can rent a stage, and construct the stage in the courtyard. Our courtyard now had a stage, like in the movies, where it was all furnished and an orchestra, not a full orchestra, but a small group would play music. In the courtyard, the men would dance the Dabke, in a circle. The women would make this sound, “Yeyeyeyeye!” very loud. My sister can do it, not everyone can.

The trouble with that wedding, was that me and my older brother had the measles at the same time! We were having a problem with that disease, and we couldn’t join the crowd. They put us in the basement! But before it was a basement, it was a storage for charcoal – I mean, it was clean at the time. We hardly knew what was going on, except the noise from the celebration. And here was some people with measles and fever. It had happened at the same time, me and my brother, measles is very contagious. It wasn’t easy life…

 
Dabke is a Levantine folk dance, which means it originated from a region in the Middle East that includes the countries of Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, and Syria. … Today, dabke is seen all throughout the world at weddings, family gatherings, and celebrations.
 

 

Adventure in the Hills

When I was growing up, we used to do boy scouts. And we used to go camp somewhere almost every summer. As a result, we learned a lot about the Middle East. One year we went to the north, to what became Turkey later, and Lebanon, and then Palestine before trouble started. All these were done with us as boy scouts! Then we also used to have camps organized by teachers and so on, from different countries. In some suburb in Damascus, you’d go through a large area, where groups of boys that came from all over the Middle East. Like Jamborree in Europe, a worldwide boy scouts get together and camp together. I was not rich enough to go to Europe. My friend’s brother did, he went to Jamborree. But we had a local one like that but for Syria, for about a week or two. We went to Damascus, in a mountain village.

 
Scouts of Syria, The Damascene Scouts of St. George reaching the top of Hermon Mountain on foot in August 1933. From the book “Syria” by Amer Badr Hassoun. 
Image Source: Pinterest Rimi syrian
 

It tasted like kerosene

It was really great, we would learn together, work together, camp together, cook together. Apparently the group leader had brought some guy who used to be a cook from a school, so instead of us wasting time cooking, he would cook. This guy one day spilled the kerosene in the food! And there was no food. It tasted like kerosene. That was terrible. No matter how much you cleaned it…

 

We camped in the mountains, where there was a hill and a fountain down below. Usually when you’re a boy scout, you would take turns and guard at night in the freezing weather. Everyone is sleeping except for this one person guarding at night night. There was one guy who couldn’t stand it, so he went back to bed!

The emotional part of it, was a year or so later, we went back to this particular hill after we finished camping. We went back up the hill, to reminisce. It was a really emotional time, to go up the hill and only a few months ago you were there with the whole boy scout. I started crying, it was so emotional to remember. In the pre-Islamic Arabic literature, there was a poet who wrote and started the poem, with an opener describing these kind of things. 

 
Syria 1958 Pan-Arab Scout Jamboree MNH Set 
Image Source: Coventry Stamps & Sci-Fi
 

 

My best friends

I can tell you right now, I never forgot my best friends. That question, of who my childhood best friends were, always comes to my mind, that same question. Second year elementary school, my best friend was just a regular child, a student. And I had two other ones in second year. They happened to be twin brothers. These were my earliest good friends that I remember. I don’t know how you would describe friendship at the age of 7 or 8 years old. But it was so strong that it is still with me now. I remember when I asked myself the same question, I wondered how it can be that strong. The names of the two twins were after Arabic heroes. The heroes themselves were brothers. The last time we were in touch was many years ago.

There was a time, when I was older, we were adults… There is always some trouble in the Middle East, and there was some trouble with colonial powers and local leaders. We had trouble in Iraq. What happened in Iraq affected students everywhere in the Middle East. There was an internal revolt in Baghdad. A new government came in. At the time England was the occupier of Iraq. The French were occupiers of Syria and Lebanon. The British were occupiers of Jordan, Palestine…

There was some kind of revolt in Baghdad by a young man to try to get rid of the British. We as students or young people, got excited in Aleppo. So we run away with some ten friends, we organize a team to fight. Of course our families wouldn’t allow that, so we had to run away. I left a note for my father that I’m going to be fighting…and we run away! We went to Baghdad. The thing that’s interesting, we took a truck to go to one city along the Euphrates, and all the way down to the bottom of the Gulf. There is a city, called Abu Kamal, at the border between Syria, Iraq and Palestine. And well, we wanted to go further, but the governor of that city was quite smart. He never allowed us to leave the city. We tried to get permission every day to cross the boundary. He told our ambassador, I have knowledge of today and yesterday. But I don’t know what will happen tomorrow. He kept telling these kids who were trying to go, trying to tell us, you better watch out!

What we did was, we had a few dollars in our pocket, so we went ahead and rented a boat and took it up the Euphrates, all the way to Iraq. We got to a place where there was a war! We couldn’t cross because there was a battle right there. Guns and everything! We were in the dessert. I had a pair of binoculars that my father had given to me as a gift because something I did for the house. I used it and then I lost it there. I really feel bad about it. So we sat down there and we didn’t do anything. The city wouldn’t allow us to go. The people there, the villagers, were very generous. They hosted in their homes, good food, good treatment. And here we were, there was a battle going on, and we were enjoying life and the generosity of the rich people.

Then finally, we decide to keep going, and we get to a point where we were returning home, coming from Iraq back to Syria, horizontally. Apparently was so upset, crying that we were gone. Apparently he heard where we were, and he didn’t waste a minute, took a taxi, and rushed to where we were. I was with my friends at the edge of the river, washing clothes. It was hot and dirty, you know. One of my friends goes, “Look behind you!” And I see my father above my head! Anyway, that was the end of it. He took me to a friend’s house to stay. Then the next day we went back home, and I felt relieved! For the first time, we had someone who was responsible, a father.

Before there was a revolutionary man who was trying to recruit high school kids to join a revolt against the British. It was stupid, but to us, we were heroes! We were stupid, young people, emotional activists… We were at least 10 friends from high school, out of 30, who managed to keep together to travel from Syria to Iraq. Before that there were about 30 high schoolers before we went who were excited. We wanted to fight, but fight who? It’s not easy to raise kids, in an area that’s not stable.

 

 

Journey to the United States

I was dreaming about becoming a doctor. But again, I couldn’t afford it. I was not rich enough to do anything on my own. After high school, after the baccalaureate, there was a competitive exam in the summer after I finished. It was asking students to pick up and send them to Europe for education beyond high school. But Europe was closed because of the war, so instead they sent us to Egypt. And I was one of those four from Syria, to be picked up. So I was sent to Cairo. And the door was open for education beyond high school.

That summer before I passed the exam, was really an uncertain time. I had just finished high school, I didn’t know what to do. My father and mother couldn’t send me to Europe. Someone said, look go to your high school, there is a letter for you! There was a letter from the minister of education in Syria. They said we elected to send you to Europe for education. That was great. I went to Damascus, and that the door is closed for Europe. But we can send you to Lebanon or Egypt. I selected Egypt. I went to Egypt for four years at the expense of the government. I couldn’t afford it so I was lucky to do that.

When I finished the four years, I came to Columbia University. I was at Havemeyer Hall. When I came, the first thing I did was I had to go to general studies. I had to convert from one degree to the other. Ultimately I wanted to go to engineering. In any case, my application was accepted. I had to pay tuition for the first year.

Havenmeyer Hall, Columbia University
Image Source:
Library of Congress

My brother Abdul, younger than me, who did very well and went to Brazil, he told me he would support me. He did, and he sent money to me for the whole first year. But then he applied for a U.S. visa when he was Brazil and he got it. And of course he wanted to drop everything and come to the U.S. He came to the U.S. with whatever money he saved, not much. Although we had the impression that he made a lot. But it takes a lot of money to live in New York. He came, and he supported me the first year, but then he went bankrupt. We were so hungry… We used to go to the Cedar Restaurant and live off of bread. You order a dish, but usually the basket of bread is free.

There was this research project that we needed to do for our degree. The project consisted of extracting oil from cotton seeds. Then in the government, there was something called the Atomic Energy Commission at the time. They were offering scholarships. So I got one. Instead of getting $100/month, I was getting $300/month. That was great!

Jitto, student at Columbia

Then through that, I had a chance to take the qualifying exam for the doctorate. I passed. There was this Egyptian guy in the program. We had teachers who were really biased against this Egyptian guy. No matter how well he did on the exam, he would always get a bad grade. This poor Egyptian fellow, took the exam 3 times! He felt he did very well, but every time he flunked. The system at the time was loaded with individual interests. If you liked someone, you could help…

Anyway, once I got my doctorate, I worked for DuPont. The work for DuPont was interesting. They usually send a scout to various schools looking for people they want to hire. Dupont interviewed me the first round, and nothing worked out. Then this second round, they said we don’t have a guy from Persia. And the Dean said, we don’t have a guy from Persia but we have this guy! …and that’s how I got hired. I’m not from Persia, but close enough! It’s amazing how life works out. So I went there, and they immediately gave me an offer.

That’s how I ended up in Chattanooga. They sent the technical and creative people like him to experience the plant-level. They were making this beautiful fabric that was going on the market. They thought they should  know something about plant problems. So we were sent here for 3 years to get some experience. We were supposed to go back, but in those 3 years, everything happened at Dupont. All the patents gave out, or were about to give out. Nylon and other fabric, all these fabric patents gave out and everyone could make them. And also, cotton was finally getting its act together. It used to be awful because cotton was difficult to iron, to get the wrinkles out of it. Cotton would wrinkle so badly. They had finally fixed the wrinkle problem with cotton and so cotton was coming back while these patents were giving out. So Dupont needed some new patents.

 

They went into building material, all this stuff that you see, Tyvek, that’s one of them, but not fabric anymore, which was I was working on. We were basically doing quality control for what was coming out of that plant. Gradually, Dupont got worse. Now that plant is closed and Dallas has taken over Dupont, and it doesn’t even exist anymore.

 

Mom

The North End

I was born right in the heart of the North End, where all the action took place. I was born right in the middle of everything – at North Square.

The North End, 1930s
Image Source:
German Federal Archive
 

That’s what the North End was

If you did something at 9:00 in the morning, I would tell you, by 12 noon, everybody knew it! And that’s what the North End was.

 

I couldn’t skip school because my Mama would find out. How? I don’t know. But I couldn’t even skip school. When you’re followed all the time, you get rebellious. I skipped school to go see Frank Sinatra.

 

Don’t go near the newspapers

Frank Sinatra… had come to the Metropolitan or one of those… And a whole bunch of photographers were there with the newspaper. And I was telling my friends, “Don’t go near the newspapers.”… I skipped school… So naturally, Andrew, she went near the newspapers, and we were all in the paper… the next day… [And then your mom found out?] Not only my mother, I had a whole bunch of nuns from my high school that I have never forgotten.

 
Frank Sinatra. 1944: Bobbysoxers run to camera
Video Source:
Clips and Footage
 

We had nothing to worry about. We were protected… By other families, and especially by the men. Supposedly, the gangsters that they were called… the gangsters. But they were there and they protected us… We had no fear at all. From anything. From drugs… One day, I was having lunch, and my friend and I were… sitting at the counter, and this person named Danny came out with something in his hands, and he went up to the person sitting next to me, and I heard him say, “If you come in with these…” and I won’t tell you what he said, “again, you’re going to be carried out.”

 

 

Prince Macaroni

After I finished high school but before I got married, I worked at Prince Macaroni in Lowell, in the Greater Boston area. This was around 1953 or 1954. They had a big pasta factory here where all the cardboard was made.

This is where they packed the pasta, and this is where the trucks went out. They had blue boxes at the store, but it’s more of a local pasta. I don’t think you’d find them in California or anything. Each floor had its own manufacturing, packing, and all, but I worked in their advertisings.

We would get letters complaining about how customers opened the package of pasta and they found bugs in the package. Well, actually, where the bugs came from was from the pasta being stored in a place that it wasn’t supposed to be. And the semolina itself would cause the bugs.

 

Here’s a prize!

We would get the letters. I would go out to the place where the letter came from with one of our prize packages of pasta, the magic fork, and a little cheese grater… Here’s a prize!… Actually, that’s what it came down to. And you’re laughing to yourself, because … I mean, they’re not going to get anything, because this is something that does come from this product. So, I had a lot of fun with that. Many of the people were very nice. Many of the people threw me out, but it was a lot of fun.

Nana, age 20 in 1953
 

 

Winning the Volvo

I drove to my job at Prince Macaroni in my own car – a small Volvo that I actually won in a contest in the late 1950s.

My friends and I went to the theater and found out that there was a contest. In the first round, you had to guess “Who do you think would win the Academy Awards?” And you’d have to pick, I forgot how many. I won the first prize! I answered 14 out of 15 questions correctly. The first prize was a diamond ring.

And then you had to go onto the next round where you had to write a statement too – 25 words or less on why I go to the movies.

 

I still remember what I wrote: ‘The only place where you could get a million dollars worth of entertainment for the price of a ticket.‘”

 

The prize in the second round was a Volvo automobile. I didn’t know what a Volvo was. I thought it was a motorcycle but came to find out it was a car, which was right up my alley.

Gene Brown, the dealer of Volvo and I were the only two in Massachusetts that owned a Volvo. I won the first Volvo that was registered in Massachusetts.

Well, my husband worked on Saturdays. He was actually the only one that was able to bring tulips in from Holland. He went to work one Saturday morning, and he totaled it. The car was totaled. Someone ran a light and ran right through the car.

Volvo Advertisement Playboy August 1978
Image Source:
Flickr SenseiAlan
 

 

Meeting & Marrying Nono

I didn’t know Gerald when he was in the war, but later, around 1958, both Gerald and I were in an Italian-American club at the International Institute in Boston. I had gone out to a picnic with my girlfriends the night before and I was tired, so I fell asleep in the car… And it happened to be his car! I went and took a nap in someone’s car, and it happened to be his.

We all knew each other, though we weren’t dating. But we were dating after that.

On our first date, we were at his house, and they were talking about someone named Gedo. They called him Gedo or Gerry. I thought it was another brother that I never met! Gerald’s family weren’t as religious as mine were, but that was never an issue between our families. That was good, too. They were religious up to doing what they had to do, but not as religious as we were brought up.

I was living with my mother at the time I met Gerald. We’d lost my father a long time ago, and my siblings were married (I was the youngest). My mother liked him.

Gerald in his army uniform
 

He’d talk to anyone

Because Nonno was very diplomatic… he’d talk to anyone, and my mother liked him…There were previous ones that… Well, she never said she didn’t like, but she’d make these motions that I knew that she didn’t like.

 

We got engaged pretty quickly after we met – about 6 months. And I was 28 when we got married in 1960, which was considered older, then, to be getting married. Gerald was much older. He was 37 we got married.

We lived in Brighton for one year – exactly one year. And then, in 1961, we found the house in Watertown on Highland Avenue. It was only supposed to be a starter house. We wanted to start a family in that house. We moved in July, and my daughter Lisa was born in August.

At that time, Gerald was working, and I was at home taking care of Lisa. When Lisa wasn’t quite three, Judy popped up, and my life was full.

Gerald and I were married 45 years.  He was such an easy-going person, and it took that type of person to get along with me. We had opposite qualities that made for a very good match. He was a very good father to the girls, and that also helped. Where I was strict, he was not. That meant a lot. That’s why I think we were together for 45 years.

 

I hope you do

I’ve had a very good life… A few glitches here and there… But I’ve had a very good life. I’ve been very lucky with my children and my grandchildren. So, what more could I ask for?… [Andrew: Well, I hope to have something similar to say when I am in my 80s.] Let’s put it this way. I hope you do.

Nono

School Days

Punishment today for children is very mild compared to what the school principal would do when I was in elementary school! Back then, for a mild punishment, the principal would double twist your ear! In those days, physical punishment was not forbidden. It was just normal.

One time, I had this teacher, he was very nice. He never used the stick, he would just talk to us. Most of the other teachers would use bamboo sticks. Usually you open your hand, and they would hit you, three times. One winter time, I was coming in from outdoors. It was freezing out, no gloves, no nothing. I go into the classroom, and the damn teacher, one of the bad ones, I don’t do something right. I don’t give the right definition of the right vs. the left river bank or something. He hit me three here, and three here. I was crying all afternoon. It was so bad, with my hands freezing and he hit me, it froze the pain! I never hit my kids. My father never touched anybody either.

 

One time, it was second year elementary school, and we were laughing for some reason. The teacher punished us by spanking us. My turn came, and the spanking would be either to hit you with a stick on your hand, or with younger children, hold you and bend you and hit you on the bottom. It was a hot summer day, in the afternoon after a big lunch or something. Every time they spanked me… I farted! So that was a good lesson for the teacher.

 
Grandfather age 7 in 1940
 

 

Young Love

There was one time I got in big trouble as a child. I’m maybe five years old, not yet school age. Our family had lots of children, and so they tried to get rid of us and sent us to local schools. We had an old fashion, religious kind of school across the street from our house. So they sent us there. The owner was a misanthrope.

The windowsill of our house is wide and square, so you could sit there as a child. This neighbor girl, about my age I guess, we were playing together, sexually… Then this damn teacher, no, this older student from the religious school passed by and saw us.

Boy that was a big deal! She reported us! On the way to report me, I ran away home. I opened the door, and guess what, I couldn’t find my shoes! I was such a conservative child, I can’t go home without shoes. So anyway, I finally ended up going home. I was so worried that my family, especially my father, would give me hell. I go home, and they had already heard about the story, but they said, “Don’t worry.” That was one of the most exciting experiences I had at that age.

 

 

Working Days

When I was of age to go to work, I worked in a candy factory. It was a big candy company at the time. I did the packing of the orders that need to be shipped out. It was 9 to 5, with a lunch break. You’d get 10-15 minutes in the afternoon and then you were back on the job.

If you work on the belt, you gotta be fast. Packing that candy, I would think, “Why can’t I take a piece?” But don’t be caught eating a candy because you would be fired! On the spot! You had to be smart enough not to touch that candy.

 
I Love Lucy show- The Chocolate Factory, 1952
Image Source: giphy.com

I liked my job, I didn’t want to lose it. I discovered that I was very good at my work. My foreman would tell me I was doing well, and I enjoyed my job. He wasn’t one of those tough guys, he was lenient and made our job easy .

Who you work with means a lot. We were only about 3 guys. There weren’t too many working there, but we used to go out for lunch together. We also helped one another. We would go out bowling after work. We used to get out on Fridays at 3 o’clock, because it was a Jewish company. I really enjoyed working, believe it or not. It was very nice. I had a good time when I was young.

But, I worked for money. Money plays an important role in your life. If you don’t have money, you can’t buy a loaf a bread. During my time it was terrible because you went to work, made maybe $25 a week. And once they took this out and that out – union, state tax, city tax, I would come home with $20. That doesn’t go a long way, even in my time. It was very hard during those time. 

 

 

Making her laugh

I would always try to make your grandmother laugh. I remember when we were on our honeymoon. It was April Fool’s Day. I was sure she didn’t remember it was April Fool’s Day. She’s sleeping in bed, and I say to her, “Hurry up! Jump out of bed! There are bed bugs in there!”

She jumped out of bed, screaming “Oh my God!” I said, “It’s April Fool’s Day you know!” And she said, “You scared me to death!” It was so funny, so great. I always think about that day when April comes! I think she jumped into the ceiling! We had a good laugh.

We’ve been together over 60 years now and I still always make her laugh.

We do everything together. We walk together, we shop together, we go to church together, and we sit down and eat together. Our old hangout was Dunkin’ Donuts. We used to go maybe two or three times a week. Usually we split a donut and have coffee.

Vintage Dunkin Donuts in Quincy, MA.
Image Source: Flickr Meaghan O’Malley
 
 

Now we watch a lot of television together now. The thing we used to watch over and over again was M.A.S.H. Every time it was on, because it was funny. It was both comedy and drama. It was the Mobile Army Surgical Hospital. It took place during the Korean War.

 
 

Grandma

My Father

He taught me honesty. He was born on Lincoln’s birthday, February 12th, and he was just like Honest Abe – that’s what we used to call him. And he taught us to be very honest. I wouldn’t take a penny from anybody. Never, never, never. That’s what he taught me. He wouldn’t necessarily say a life lesson like that in words. I think you try to emulate your parents. But we all knew how honest he was from different stories that he’d tell us, where he worked and stuff like that, and I knew he was so honest. We all did.

My father was a doll, very comical, very funny man. Everybody loved him. Oh I could tell you some stories about him, he’s was so funny.

 
Portrait of great grandfather in 1904
 
 

Watch This

“The three of us used to come home from work together. So he’d be sitting down and he said “Watch this.” He’d start yawning, put his hand on his mouth yawning. And he’d say “Watch watch watch.” And everybody started yawning on the train and he thought that was very funny.”

 
1962, Concourse from the south. – Pennsylvania Station
Image Source: Historic American Buildings Survey
 

 

My Mother

My mom was a beautiful woman, and she was the sweetest thing in the world, so sweet.

My mother, early 1900’s

She worked like a dog. My mother’s mother died when my mother was only 13 and there were her three brothers and a sister. My mother had to take over the job of being a mother to her siblings and take care of her father…when she was 13. And so she worked so hard at 13. Her sister wanted to work and so didn’t want to do anything in the house. So my mother did everything, raised her brothers and sister and took care of her father.

And then she had four children of her own and worked like a dog taking care of us, being poor and everything. And she used to have her brothers come to visit and she’d go around the corner and get bags of food for them so they could bring it home ’cause they were either out of work or something. I was so young I didn’t understand why she was doing all this. She was so good to them all the time, you know? But owing money to the person around the corner, to the grocery store, just to give them bags of food, all of them.

Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Co., 246 Third Avenue, Manhattan, 1936
Image Source: New York Public Library
 

So I didn’t realize until I got older that these brothers and sisters, they were like her children because she raised them, you know? And that’s why she was the way she was, so good to them. And I’m thinking, you know, we’re your children – take care of us! Well, she always did anyway. But I’m just saying, I didn’t understand why she was doing this until I got older. I realized that they were like her children and that’s why she took care of them the way she did.

She taught me everything I am, cooking especially. She was a fantastic cook and I became like her, always cooking like a fiend, always cooking. And she gave me her big cake pan. That was her famous cake pan, she gave it to me ’cause she said only I was like her, cooking and baking the way she used to. I lost it, it was in the garage when we moved and I don’t know what happened to it, I’m so upset I don’t have it.

 
 

The Nuts!

I was about 5 years old, and I was walking with my sister Gloria. She took me some place I don’t know where, and I was coming home with her… So anyway we came into the house, my mother was bathing me. She gave me a bath and while she’s drying my hair I said, “Mommy, you know what I saw today? Two nuts walking down the street.” She said “Nuts, what are you talking about?..You mean …” I said, “You know the nuts!” She said, “You mean peanuts? You know, walnuts?” I said, “No, you know the nuts mom!” She said, “You mean two crazy people?” I said, “No, not two crazy people.” And she kept asking me and I kept saying “No, that’s not it mom. You know the nuts that walk down the street.” Finally I said “You know Mommy, the ladies that wear the veil over their head, black veil over their head?” My mother said “Oh, you mean the nuns?” I said “Yeah!” And I was so happy and I wrote that story in my English class in high school and my teacher loved it so much he made me read it in front of the class and they were all laughing! Oh, you know the nuts that walk down the street…”

 

 

Growing Up In Brooklyn

My mother and father had no money, we never went any place. I couldn’t even go to the Statue of Liberty. People were going to the Statue of Liberty or the World Fair. And I couldn’t go ’cause nobody would take me, they didn’t have any money. I remember being jealous that other kids around the block were going. They came home with like a little figure of something.

We never ate out for dinner, never went to a restaurant. I didn’t care. But we were poor. And my father also lost his job and I remember we had to eat a lot of potatoes and eggs for dinner. He lost his job at the time…God, another one. I don’t know how long it lasted. He had to use all his bonds that he had saved, I remember. My mother was so upset that he had to use the money saved. He worked for Bethlehem Steel Company. It was a big shipping company, and they used to get bonds. Then they fired everybody, you know, let go, and he had to get another job.

 
USS San Diego slides down the shipways during her launching at the Bethlehem Steel Company shipyard, Quincy, Massachusetts, 26 July 1941
Image Source:
Bureau of Ships Collection in the U.S. National Archives.
 

 

Working Days

I worked at 303 Fifth Avenue. My father had gotten a wonderful job in the city from somebody that he knew on Fifth Avenue, and so he got me and my sister a job there, an office job.

The Empire State Building from 41st St. and 5th Ave. New York City, July 4, 1933.

Image Source: Photo by Theodor Horydczak.

That’s was my first job when I graduated. My father knew everybody in the building ’cause he was chief engineer of the building. He used to repair things, you know electrical things. He was an electrician first of all by trade and he’d take care of everything, elevators, so what would you call him? Really a maintenance man right? But he liked the sound of chief engineer of the building.

And he knew the office, he knew everybody, so he found out that they could use some girls to work in the office and he got my sister and I a job, we worked together in the same office. 

My sister was in the entertainment field, so it used to bother her that she was doing office work. You know, my father wanted her to bring home real money so he made her get a job in the office. But she was bad at it. Then she was fired because she was always late and always angry.

And then my father was so embarrassed, so insulted that she was fired, he wanted me to quit. So I told my manager, I said “I’m quitting. My father wants me to quit, I’m quitting the job.” I was a secretary and biller. And he said “Oh, Pat, I don’t want you to go.” He said “I’ll give you a raise, I’ll give you a $5 raise, I’ll put curtains in the room, you don’t even have to do the billing anymore, just make sure the other girls in the office do the billing.” And I said “I don’t know, I’ll ask my father.” And my father said “You tell him if you stay you want a $10 raise.” So I went up there and I told him I have to have a $10 raise… and he said “Okay.” So he gave me a $10 raise. And I stayed ’cause they wanted me to stay, ’cause I was a good worker and I didn’t carry on like my sister.

Grandma, age 20

I got paid weekly. And when I left there I was making $74 and when I started it was $45 a week and that was a lot of money in those days, nobody was making $45 a week in an office job. So I already started high.

I finally left that place after four years. Afterwards, my father made me take the first job that came, you know that? I told the new job I wanted $74 and they said $64 or something like that. And I took it, I had to take a cut in salary because I had to take the first job. My father needed the money. He couldn’t miss out on my check ’cause I gave him a lot of money when I was earning $45. I came home with $39 after taxes and I had to give my mother and father $25 and I kept $14. That was to eat lunch, take the train to work, eat lunch, buy clothes, $14. But I figured they needed it and that’s why I didn’t complain about all that.

But of course I kept getting raises there too so I don’t even know how much I earned when I left. I went four years at the new job where I took a drop in salary, ’til I became pregnant (I married when I was at that job).  I was at the front desk and greeting people and I started showing and wearing maternity clothes, and they didn’t want that anymore. So I had to leave. That’s okay, I wanted to anyway, so I quit. But, they’re not allowed to let you go now because of that… And then I never worked again.

 

 

Raising a Family

I worked harder raising four children and taking care of a husband. That was my life. But I had a nice life with my children, I love them so much, the four of them. They were so adorable. I was a little over-protective, but you know, I don’t know, I didn’t know how else to be. I think I was told that by my children as they grew up. I don’t remember my parents being like I was. Maybe they were, maybe they sheltered me, I don’t know.

But that’s what I’m most proud of – my children. ’Cause I raised basically good kids, you know? I know a lot of troubles other people have had with their children. I had a little trouble. But all in all it was fine. Put a lot of work into it.

 

I Sucked At Driving

“Fourth try I finally got a license. I was too fast, too slow, too something else. The fourth try I did it. Oh, that was funny. Oh, gosh. And then when my children were little, they had to tell me where to go. Do you believe it? They told me how to get to places ’cause they would remember how grandpa would drive them around, how they got to these places. Me, I said “You’re always going a different way. I’ll never learn how to get any place.” He’s always trying a different way, like trying different ways, he said, just in case I get stuck and I can’t go one way I know another way to go home, go some place, you know what I’m saying? But me, I would get all confused. So my children had to guide me. “Take this street, mom.” You go this way and that way. Oh, they were cute. I love my children so much like I love my grandchildren.”

1976 Chevrolet Nova and Concours Advertisement Readers Digest November 1975
Image Source:
Flickr SenseiAlan
 

 

To My Grandson

I used to make a big cake when you used to come over. Remember that big round cake I used to make when you’d come over? You don’t remember, sometimes I’d make half and half, you liked chocolate and you didn’t like icing on the cake so I’d leave half the cake without icing and the other I’d put icing either chocolate or vanilla for your brother. You don’t remember?

Grandma’s Handwritten Chocolate Cake Recipe
Grandma baking her famous chocolate cake

What about Halloween? I used to have a little Halloween party for you. I baked a special kind of cake, oh it took me so long, I don’t remember what kind of cake it was. A man or something with a hat on. Oh, it was just a big job. And I think your mother took a picture of it. And I used to give you little bags of Halloween candy and a little gift inside and once you made fun of what I gave you, you said “You gave me a nail clipper.” Remember, I gave you a nail clipper?

 
 

Nieces to Pieces

 

We’d go to the… I forgot the name of that store. We’d buy a toy down in the basement. We used to go down a big staircase. Don’t you remember down to the basement, and you’d walk around. I’d say, “Only one toy!” And you knew exactly what you wanted, and then you said, “Can I have two grandma?” I said, “Okay,” so you got to pick out two.

They had a bunch of books on a table down in the basement there, and they had all the toys, I said, “You’re gonna buy some books now hunny.” So I sat down on something, I don’t remember what the heck, I was sitting waiting for you, and you sat on the floor and started looking through all the books. And I said, “Well, which one do you want? And you said, ” I don’t want any of them, I read them all.”

Oh gosh, you are so funny, so funny, so determined. You want what you wanted. You knew everything. Yeah, you looked through the pictures, you called that reading, but you were only a little boy. I think you were five. Four or five. No, you must’ve been three. ‘Cause I took care of you only for three years. The first three years, and then when your mother went to work she put you in a daycare. So you must have been three years old, gosh. Only three looking through all those books. Gosh. Three years old…

 

Satish Duggal

Childhood Memories

Once, I don’t know what grade I was in, I didn’t turn my papers for math, so I got zero. I thought I would do good, and when they started asking me, I said “Oh, here’s the test paper.”

They said, “Why do you have it?”

I said, “I don’t know, I just brought it with me after the test.”

They said, “You’re supposed to give it to the teacher after the test!” But I just brought it with me.

 

I didn’t know that I’m supposed to turn it in, I said I know the test, I know the questions, I know the answers, and I wrote the answers, but I kept the paper because I didn’t know that I was supposed to hand it in so they could look at it. I got in trouble because my mother found out I got zero. She went back to the school and explained them, but they said ‘No, no. Still zero.”

 

Duckback School Bag Ad from Indian Vintage Print Magazine (1980)
Image Source: Abhisays
 

 

Pride and Joy

My greatest achievement is my two kids. And where they are, what they are doing. How successful they are. They still…If they have any questions, they come and ask me. I think they are going to do so much greater than I ever did.” 

 

 

My Advice

My second greatest achievement is those people that I helped to move up in their career. Some took my advice, some didn’t. But those that took my advice and did good was my achievement. There are those that continuously ask for your advice but don’t take it. They still keep coming back and still don’t believe what I tell them. So I guess there was one guy who always wants my advice but never takes it. He’s very smart, very knowledgeable, very creative, but his financial situation is a mess. He doesn’t think he has to fix it. So he assumes somebody is not giving him what he deserves. So he keeps going after them rather than thinking ok what do I have to do to fix it. 

And there are some people, when I was in India working with people, who did well and they moved on. Most of the advice I gave them was more generic rather than more specific. Explaining to them simple things, for instance, you have to do your homework every day. Not just ok, I did it yesterday so I’m done for the rest of my life. So these things keep coming back and the learning never ends. So think about it, things that you do all the time, not just things you have to do one time.

When you think about things you have to do all the time, then you really find ways to learn it. When you find ways to learn it, that’s when it becomes an ongoing experience as opposed to doing it one time and then you do it and forget it.

Patricia Rissi

Bible Class and Confraternity

 

The priest had a Bible class once a week. We’d go across to the church, I don’t know where it was but it was in the church some place and he’d have Bible class. We’d all have to listen to him for an hour and then he’d let us go dance there, he had put the records on and after that we were dancing. And that was his way of getting us to listen to his preaching, you know?

 

Les Filles de Cadiz, by Léo Delibes
Jane Powell sang the song in the film “Holiday in Mexico” – 1946

 

I remember the entire song, but you want to know something? I don’t know what it means. I taught it to her and I don’t even know what each word means in that song, just knew I had to pronounce all the French words. I don’t know why I just never found out. It was a famous song that one of, Jane Powell used to sing in movies. I don’t know if you know Jane Powell, she’s an opera star.

 

I was in a different part of that show, though, dancing with two other girls. We did some kind of a dance, I don’t remember what, I don’t even know how we did it. I just see my legs kicking out. Some kind of a dance in this show. It was like all different parts. There was no plot to it, no story to it, just entertainment, you know what I mean?

And I go ooh-ooh with my hands, and my eyes open wide, and they start in the back of the auditorium. They said to me, we’re showing to play an extra day because of your number! And you’ll have to see how cute I was dressed as a flower girl singing to a guy with a big raccoon coat on. In those days men wore raccoon coats. Fur raccoon coats. I wish I could find that picture, I’m gonna look in my album when I get a chance…

“Ooh-ooh! On third rails. Ooh-ooh! On third rails. You’ll get a pain and ruin your tum tum! Don’t go out with colleges boys. When you’re on a spree. Take good care of yourself, you belong to me!”
Ruth Etting – Button Up Your Overcoat (1929)

…The only thing that bothered me was when I went to a church thing that kids all met at, across the street from the church. I had to walk there, it was a long walk to go to this. It wasn’t to go to church, the priest was in there, but he had a group of kids going like every night. We could go if we wanted or something like that, and we all talk in this one room, the priest would be in with us sometimes. It was just for kids to hang out so they wouldn’t hang out in bad places or whatever, so the priest had this big room where we could all get together, listen to music, do different things, talk.

It was a long walk ’cause I was afraid coming home when it was dark. I was very afraid coming home. There was a man that lived around there that had a limp and he’d be behind me sometimes walking when I was going home in the dark and I remember getting so frightened and I ran. And I actually fell going up the few steps I had go to my house and then I had a dream about it and I could not get up those steps in my dream, you know? ‘Cause I was so scared. Just once that happened but he was behind me a few times, you know, and I used to get afraid so I started asking some of the fellas at the place where we had a group, I asked them to walk me home, they’d walk me home, one of the boys. Oh it was so scary I guess ’cause I was young. I was younger than about 14. I think we had to join that group when … my mother sent me there when I was 14.

 


 

Growing up in Brooklyn

My mother and father had no money, we never went any place. I couldn’t even go to the Statue of Liberty. People were going to the Statue of Liberty or the World Fair. And I couldn’t go ’cause nobody would take me, they didn’t have any money. I remember being jealous that other kids around the block were going. They came home with like a little figure of something.

We never ate out for dinner, never went to a restaurant. I didn’t care. But we were poor. And my father also lost his job and I remember we had to eat a lot of potatoes and eggs for dinner. He lost his job at the time. God, another one. I don’t know how long it lasted. He had to use all his bonds that he had saved I remember. My mother was so upset that he had money saved, you know, in bonds ’cause he worked for Bethlehem Steel Company, big shipping company, and they used to get bonds. Then they fired everybody, you know, let go, and he had to get another job.

 

 

October 5, 1949 – Bethlehem workers on strike wait in the pay line at Sparrows Point. (Baltimore Sun file)

 

World War II brought a massive expansion in shipbuilding, and The Bethlehem Steel Staten Island Shipyard was responsible for producing 44 ships, 39 of which were completed during the war years. There were also landing craft, cargo ships and tugs produced at the yard during this period.

We all had a split up, by the way, and lived with different parts of the family. That was very hard for my mother and father. We lived in a high rise and we had the front rooms. And if you had those downstairs front rooms, you had to take care of the building, you had to be a maintenance person. So my father became a maintenance man of the building too, besides working he had to do that. He had to do the shoveling of coal downstairs in the furnace, you know, to warm up the building? And because of it we didn’t have to pay rent. When they finally sold the building, the person that bought it wanted those front rooms, so we had to leave. The lawyer said if we were paying just $2 a month they couldn’t put us out, but because we weren’t paying anything they were able to put us out. So before we found a place to live, we all had to split up and live with different aunts and uncles. My father and mother was with my mother’s brother and his wife and three children.

 


 

My Father – Alexander DeLucia

He taught me honesty. He was born on Lincoln’s birthday, February 12th, and he was just like Honest Abe. We used to call my father Honest Abe, you know, Abe for Abraham Lincoln. And he taught us to be very honest. I wouldn’t take a penny from anybody. Never, never, never. That’s what he taught me. I think you just try to emulate your parents. Emulating them, not that they said in words. But we all knew how honest he was from different stories that he’d tell us from, where he worked and stuff like that and I knew he was so honest. We all did.

My father was a doll, very comical, very funny man. Everybody loved him. Oh I could tell you some stories about him, he’s so funny.

 

One day on the train, the three of us used to come home from work together, Aunt Gloria, me and my father. So he’d be sitting down and he said “Watch this Pat and Gloria.” He’d start yawning, put his hand on his mouth yawning. And he’d say “Watch watch watch.” And everybody started yawning on the train and he thought that was very funny.

 

Scene on the New York Subway, 1969

 

I wanted to become a nun once, I was a little upset about caring for somebody I remember, and I said “Daddy, I think I’m going to become a nun.” He said “No, Pat, you’re not the type. You like clothes too much.” My father said I like clothes too much! Oh, and I listened to him.

 

My father was going into the house, you know, upstairs and he turned around and he sees his brother in law, my uncle Tony, my mother’s brother that lived there, walking down the street. And he goes “Tony, hey Tony!” Tony didn’t turn around, he kept running after him, “Tony!” And the guy didn’t turn around and he keeps running for blocks. He went right next to him for a couple of blocks and he went “Tony, Tony!” Finally the guy turns around, looks at him and starts running. Guy got afraid, and that’s when my father realized it wasn’t Tony. He’s such a nut my father. Why does he keep on running after him? Oh, he made me laugh, he was so funny. Oh, God.

 

“I hate war. We all hate war. Eleanor hates war, I hate Eleanor.”That was his!

 


My Mother – Rose DeLucia (née Izzo)

My mom was a beautiful woman, and she was the sweetest thing in the world, so sweet.

She worked like a dog. My mother’s mother died when my mother was only 13 and there were three brothers and a sister. My mother had to take over the job of being a mother to her three brothers and sister and took care of her father. When she was 13. And so she worked so hard at 13. Her sister, Delia who I can’t stand, aunt Delia said “Oh, I’m not staying home.” She went out to work. She wanted to work, she didn’t want to do anything in the house, nothing. So my mother did everything, raised her brothers and sister and took care of her father.

And then she had four children of her own and worked like a dog taking care of us, being poor and everything. And she used to have her brothers come to visit and she’d go around the corner and get bags of food for them so they could bring it home ’cause they were either out of work or something, I was so young I didn’t understand why she was doing all this. She was so good to them all the time, you know? But owing money to the person around the corner, to the grocery store, just to give them bags of food, all of them.

 

 

Corner grocer
Bay Parkway & 86th Street – 1951

So I didn’t realize until I got older that these brothers and sisters, they were like her children because she raised them, you know? And that’s why she was the way she was, so good to them. And I’m thinking, you know, we’re your children. Take care of us. Well, she always did anyway. But I’m just saying, I didn’t understand why she was doing this until I got older. I realized that they were like her children and that’s why she took care of them the way she did.

She taught me everything I am, cooking especially. She was a fantastic cook and I became like her, always cooking like a fiend, always cooking. And she gave me her big cake pan. That was her famous cake pan, she gave it to me only ’cause she said I was like her, cooking and baking the way she used to. I lost it, it was in the garage when we moved and I don’t know what happened to it, I’m so upset I don’t have it.

 

I was about five years old and I was walking with my sister Gloria, she took me someplace, I don’t know where and I was coming home with her. So anyway we came into the house, my mother was bathing me. She gave me a bath and while she’s drying my hair I said, “Mommy, you know what I saw today? Two nuts walking down the street.” She said “Nuts, what are you talking about?..You mean …” I said, “You know the nuts!” She said, “You mean peanuts? You know, walnuts?” I said, “No, you know the nuts mom!” She said, “You mean two crazy people?” I said, “No, not two crazy people.” And she kept asking me and I kept saying “No, that’s not it mom. You know the nuts that walk down the street.” Finally I said “You know Mommy, the ladies that wear the veil over their head, black veil over their head?” My mother said “Oh, you mean the nuns?” I said “Yeah.” And I was so happy and I wrote that story in my English class in high school and my teacher loved it so much he made me read it in front of the class and they were all laughing! Oh, you know the nuts that walk down the street. No, you know the nuts! I was crying too you know it. You have to understand me, come on understand me mom!

 

Nuns Sister Mercy, Brooklyn 1950s


 

Young Love

I had a Jewish girlfriend, my favorite girlfriend, we were very close. And I was always with the Jewish kids, they had parties and different places like I was talking about with the Catholic people. I used to go with her to these places and I fell in love with a Jewish boy. But he was too old for me. And my mother didn’t like it after I reached 14, that’s when she sent me to the Catholic place, you know, the confraternity.

I think my first date was this boy, Dick. He was crazy about me but I couldn’t love him. I don’t know, my first date may have been my prom date. This other guy, Al, I asked to take me to my prom. I don’t know why I didn’t ask Dick. I don’t know why I didn’t ask him at the time. I was 17 when I graduated, went to my prom. Al was from the confraternity, he liked me too but maybe I was wrong to ask him to take me to the prom. He had to pay money, but I gave him a gift. But I wasn’t in love with him and he wanted me to be his girlfriend. He smoked at the time, I gave him a cigarette case with his initials on it. I don’t know if it was silver, I don’t think it was real silver.

I remember going to the prom, the nightclub at night, a bunch of kids, you know, boys and girls, certain amounts stayed together and I had my first drink- I thought I would die. It got me so sick, I got very very sick to my stomach. It was a drink, I forgot the name of it, and it had cream in it. I can’t have cream with … I still can’t have dairy ’til this day. Cream in the liquor. Yeah, and I couldn’t finish it but I got so nauseous, I don’t remember whether I threw up there, I don’t remember. I was just extremely nauseous. That ruined my prom for me, that ruined my lovely day out.

 

Bacardi advertisement – 1963

It was wrong to feel sorry for this boy that I went with for years on and off ’cause he used to cry. Remember I told you that boy, Dick? Yeah, and I would never do that again or suggest that for anybody because it means leading them on. I don’t think it’s right for you to feel sorry for somebody and go with that, because in the long run you’re hurting them even more. So I wouldn’t do that ever again. In the long run you’re hurting them more by going with them ’cause you feel sorry, and they care so much for you… And Dick used to cry sometimes so I wanted to break off with him and, oh it was so hard. So he protected me from meeting other people, you know? ‘Cause I had to be his girl. I couldn’t cheat on him. So that’s a thing I would never do again if I ever had a chance.

 


 

Working Days

My father got a wonderful job in the city from somebody that he knew on Fifth Avenue, that’s where I worked, he got me and Gloria a job there, an office job there, an office building, 303 Fifth Avenue.

 

Source: P.L. Sperr collection, 1945

That’s where I worked my first job when I graduated. My father got us a job and he knew everybody in the building ’cause he was chief engineer of the building. He used to repair things, you know electrical things. He was an electrician first of all by trade and he’d take care of everything, elevators, so what would you call him? Really a maintenance man right? But he liked the sound of- chief engineer of the building.

 

 

Source: Life Picture Collection

And he knew the office, he knew everybody, so he found out that they could use some girls to work in the office and he got my sister and I a job, we worked together in the same office. While I was working for Aunt Gloria, she was in the entertainment field, so it used to bother her that she was doing office work. You know, my father wanted her to bring home real money so he made her get a job in the office and she was bad. So she’d be across from me typing, always angry, and I was so embarrassed ’cause the boss’s wife was there doing the bookkeeping at another desk, right, there were three of us in that office.

And she used to yell at me all the time that Gloria, always yelling across to me and I would internalize and hold it in and I started developing migraine headaches. And the day she was fired because she was always late and always angry and blah blah blah, they fired her and the day she left I never got a migraine again. I know it was her. I would never tell her that.

And then my father was so embarrassed, so insulted that she was fired, he wanted me to quit so I told my manager, I said “I’m quitting. My father wants me to quit, I’m quitting the job.” I was a secretary and biller. And he said “Oh, Pat, I don’t want you to go.” He said “I’ll give you a raise, I’ll give you a $5 raise, I’ll put curtains in the room, you don’t even have to do the billing anymore, just make sure the other girls in the office do the billing.” And I said “I don’t know, I’ll ask my father.” And my father said “You tell him if you stay you want a $10 raise.” So I went up there and I told him I have to have a $10 raise and he said “Okay.” So he gave me a $10 raise. And I stayed ’cause they wanted me to stay ’cause I was a good worker and I didn’t carry on like Aunt Gloria. She was unbelievable. Unbelievable. She’s still like that, when you talk to her on the phone, she’s always mad, angry about something, upset about something. Unbelievable.

 

 

A secretary hard at work
Life Picture Collection, 1961

I got paid weekly. And when I left there I was making $74 and when I started it was $45 a week and that was a lot of money in those days, nobody was making $45 a week in an office job. So I already started high. And when I left to get another job, I finally left that place after four years, the big boss wanted me to be his secretary and I didn’t want to because I couldn’t hear him, could you believe it?

He was so tall, handsome, German and when he talked I could never hear him. I wasn’t hard of hearing then, but I was afraid to be. I said when he dictates to me I’ll be asking “Excuse me, what?” I didn’t want to be his secretary so I left.

My father made me take the first job that came, you know that? He needed the money. He couldn’t miss out on my check ’cause I gave him a lot of money when I earned $45. I came home with $39 after taxes and I had to give my mother and father $25 and I kept $14. That was to eat lunch, take the train to work, eat lunch, buy clothes, $14. But I figured they needed it and that’s why I didn’t complain about all that.

And I got another job, the first job I went in and I told them I wanted $74 and they said $64 or something like that. And I took it, I had to take a cut in salary because I had to take the first job. But of course I kept getting raises there too so I don’t even know when I left.

I went four years at this job where I took a drop in salary, ’til I became pregnant (I married when I was at that job).  I was at the front desk and greeting people and I started showing and wearing maternity clothes and they didn’t want that anymore. So I had to leave. That’s okay, I wanted to anyway so I quit.

They’re not allowed to let you go now. Grandpa told me “You have to collect because they let you go.” He wanted me to collect unemployment, you know? So I asked the manager, Simon Legree, you see his face – he looked like a real Simon Legree! And I said “You know, technically you fired me. Could you give me a letter so I can bring it to unemployment?” And you could see his face … he did it but I couldn’t stand his face.

So I collected for a while. You can only collect ’til your seventh month or something like that and then I couldn’t get any more money. And then I never worked again.

 


 

Raising a Family

I worked harder raising four children and taking care of a husband. That was my life. But I had a nice life with my children, I love them so much, four of them. They were so adorable. I was a little over-protective, but you know, I don’t know I didn’t know how else to be. I think I was told by the children as they grew up. Uncle Steve tells me I was. You can ask your mother, she thought I was.

I was so afraid with Mrs. Bowdee, who had a summer home on the bay at Shinnecock, Long Island. She used to go there once in a while on the weekend with Rosemary and she wanted to take Janet along and I was so afraid that she’d be in the water, the house was right on the water, the bay and I was just so afraid, I wouldn’t let it go and Janet was so upset, she wanted to go. I let her go once in a while and Vivian said “I’ll watch them Pat, don’t worry I have my eyes out on them.” She had her own daughter to watch. So then eventually I let her go and then she started going a lot. But she’ll tell you that I was probably overly protective in the beginning about that.

 

Shinnecock Bay Lighthouse, Hampton Bays, NY

I was always afraid to let my children go any place in cars with anybody. And because of it, I had two terrible car accidents. One was your mother had a car accident and uncle Steve had a terrible car accident, both of them. All my being worried, what good is it? What I went through at that time nobody knows.

I don’t remember my parents being like I was. Maybe they were, maybe they sheltered me, I don’t know. All I know is that my mother was tired …

 

I sucked at driving. Fourth try I finally got a license. I was too fast, too slow, too something else. The fourth try I did it. Oh, that was funny. Oh, gosh. And then when my children were little, they had to tell me where to go. Do you believe it? They told me how to get to places ’cause they would remember how grandpa would drive them around, how they got to these places. Me, I said “Steve, you’re always going a different way. I’ll never learn how to get any place.” He’s always trying a different way, like trying different ways, he said, just in case I get stuck and I can’t go one way I know another way to go home, go some place, you know what I’m saying? But me, I would get all confused. So my children had to guide me. “Take this street, mom.” You go this way and that way. Oh, they were cute. I love my children so much like I love my grandchildren.

 

1975 Subaru GL Coup

That’s what I’m most proud of – my children. ’cause I raised basically good kids, you know? I know a lot of troubles other people have had with their children. I had a little trouble. But all in all it was fine. Put a lot of work into it.

 


 

To Stevie

I used to make a big cake when you used to come over. Remember that big round cake I used to make when you’d come over with Alex and Vinnie and even your mother? You don’t remember, sometimes I’d make half and half, you liked chocolate … no, you didn’t like icing on the cake so I’d leave half the cake without icing and the other I’d put icing either chocolate or vanilla Alex liked. You don’t remember?

What about Halloween? I used to have a little Halloween party for you. I baked a special kind of cake, oh it took me so long, I don’t remember what kind of cake it was. A man or something with a hat on. Oh, it was just a big job. And I think your mother took a picture of it. And I used to give you little bags of Halloween candy and a little gift inside and once you made fun of what I gave you, you said “You gave me a nail clipper.” Remember, I gave you a nail clipper?…

 

“You and Al. To pieces. I love you to pieces. Nieces to Pieces? Nieces to Pieces..”

I taught you so many things when your were little, God. Remember? Puzzles? It was putting puzzles together.  I couldn’t believe how you knew how to put that puzzle, that gigantic Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs together, my gosh. I pretended I was helping you, but I couldn’t really help you. You knew exactly where every part was, oh my. Then we put in on the pool table and you started sitting on the pool table down in the basement, remember?

And playing with all the toys that we used to go and buy, after we’d eat at the diner. We go to the, I forgot the name of that store, Modell’s or something, or one of those kinds of stores. Buy a toy down in the basement. We used to go down a big staircase. Don’t you remember down to the basement, and you’d walk around, and I’d say, “Only one toy Stevie.” And you knew exactly what you wanted, and then you said, “Can I have two grandma?” I said, “Okay,” so you got to pick out two.

Might’ve told you about one of the stories, I told everybody this story. They had a bunch of book on a table down in the basement there, and they had all the toys, I said, “You’re gonna buy some books now hunny.” So I sat down on something, I don’t remember what the heck, I was sitting waiting for you, and you sat on the floor and started looking through all the books. And I said, “Well, which one do you want Stevie? And you said, ” I don’t want any of them, I read them all.”

Oh gosh, Steven you are so funny, so funny, so determined. You want you wanted. You knew everything. Yeah, you looked through the pictures, you called that reading, but you were only a little boy. I think you were five. Four or five. No, you must’ve been three. ‘Cause I took care of you only for three years. The first three years, and then when your mother went to work she put you in a daycare. And then she took you out of that daycare, put you in another one. But you used to come and stay with me every weekend. You always were with me on the weekend. So you must have been three years old, gosh. Only three looking through all those books. Gosh. Three years old…

When I was taking care of you, grandpa came home and he was sitting in the kitchen waiting to eat, and you dragged this big thick dictionary, and you stood on it in the kitchen, and pretended you had a microphone in your hand, and you were going, “Blah blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.” Your mother came in and I told her, she took a picture of you doing it again, you did it again for her. I think she has a video.  Remember that? I never saw it, but she said took something of you, I don’t think it was a picture, I think it was a video. You must have seen some politician on the podium talking or something, and you did the same thing. That’s what you would talk, you were emulating. That was cute. I said, “He’s gonna be president someday.”

And then we used to play outside. I remember you saved me, the tree almost fell on me. You said, “Let’s not play ball anymore, let’s go in and watch t.v.,” and we walked away and this big tree fell down. It would’ve hit me on the… It would’ve hit you too your mother said. ‘Cause she said it extended that far down where you were standing, it would’ve hit you too. Crazy, wow, this big stupid tree.

 

 

“You think I’m wrinkly?”


 

Forgiveness

There was one time, once, when I wanted to get a divorce. My mother and father were down staying with us for a while. They used to come and stay a few days. I remember coming down in the morning, and my mother and father were in the kitchen, I said, “I’m getting a divorce,” and they looked at each other. I got on the phone and I called somebody, I asked him if he knew a divorce lawyer, he said, “No I don’t know of any.” I said, “Oh, okay, goodbye.” And grandpa came down going to work and he comes over as if nothing happened and he kissed me goodbye, and kisses my mother and father goodbye. I said to my mother, “Look, look he’s acting like nothing happened.”

And we made up. I don’t know, when he came home we made up. That was the only time I remember. I was gonna get a divorce. I don’t even remember what the argument was about, that’s the funny thing. That was funny. He didn’t even know. He didn’t even know anything. I don’t know. He was unbelievable, grandpa he was unbelievable. I hold a little grudge for a while. I hold grudges. But not with Grandpa, I got over it like one, two, three also. We made up right away.

But there were others… If I didn’t like what somebody would say, then I don’t wanna know them. Like grandpa’s sister, Aunt Farnes, couldn’t stand her. She had a very big mouth. And used to say things just off the head, say anything that come into her mind! Anyway I didn’t like her, and on my wedding day…well, I was growing my hair to wear a ponytail with my head piece for my wedding, the thing that the vail is attached to, you know? I was growing my hair long, and she knew it right? So, the head piece I fell in love with did not go well with a ponytail, it wouldn’t require that kind of a hairdo, so I had to have my hair cut short for this.. So, she came to the same beauty salon while I was having my hair done that morning with Nana Ruthy, with her mother. She’s sitting far away, and she said, “You grew your hair out just for you wedding, and now you’re having it cut, now isn’t that silly?” Exactly the words. Shouting it out to make everybody hear.

So I couldn’t stand her after that. I was cordial to her and nice. Every time I ever had to meet her, but I never wanted to go out with her, with her husband. We never really went out to much together, the four of us. I really could never stand her. But anyway, I held a grudge with her for years. But you wanna know something? After we got, are old now, I really have forgiven her, I don’t care, I’ve spoken to her on the phone. I really don’t care anymore about it.

It took me many, many years, but that’s just one of the people that I held a grudge. There are other people too, I just don’t remember what they were. And then in school if there was somebody I didn’t like, if they said something I didn’t like, I wouldn’t look at them anymore. I wouldn’t fight with them, or wouldn’t talk to them, do anything, just ignore them. That was my thing. To ignore.

 


 

Loss

I went to a therapist, plus I had a friend of mine at that time, Katie, that lost her daughter a week before I lost my son. So we were able to talk to each other, and cry together, get it out.

Grandpa would never ever talk Alex. I wasn’t allowed to say a word about him ever. So he internalized and therefore he developed diabetes. And I read in his diabetes manual. I used to get them, and I used to read them. And it said if you are obese, which he was heavy, and are under stress, you can get diabetes even though it’s not in the family. Doesn’t run in the family. ‘Cause it didn’t run in Danny’s family. Grandpa’s family. It was on my side of the family, diabetes, but not his side. And he internalized. Never ever mentioned Alex, and if you did try to say anything, he wouldn’t answer, or am I talking bad now? So that’s a bad thing. Very bad thing.

And Alex was gone 31 years I think now. And I still cry, I still cry. Every so often, over grandpa and him, and my son. You never think you’re going to lose your son, your children, before you die. Never.

Grandpa, he used to tell me, he used to say, “Pat you better get used to it, being without me, ’cause I’m gonna go first.” And I said, “No, I could go first, you never know what may happen.” But he used to say that to me. He had diabetes, and then he developed pancreatic cancer, there were a lot of problems.So he knew he was going to go first, I just didn’t wanna believe it, you understand that even when he died I didn’t believe it, it didn’t sink in right away? I don’t know if there was a special moment it sunk in, but it happened sort of after. I couldn’t believe, I just couldn’t believe it.

What happened was I kept thinking he’s going to live, even though they put him in hospice. I heard people live in hospice for a while. So your mother and I left the day they put him in hospice hospital, in Florida this is. But we were so tired, we didn’t sleep the night before, and all that. But we went home to nap and uncle Johnny said, “I’ll stay here.” They had a sofa in that room, and he said, “I’ll stay here on the sofa with daddy.” And he died while we left, after we left. Johnny held his hand, uncle Johnny and said, “You can go now dad.” He said that he was holding on, just holding on. To get everything done, all the paperwork and stuff, the legal things that John had to do for him. He said, “Everything is done now dad, you can go now.” And he died right then and held his hand.

Then he called us at home, I couldn’t believe it. I still didn’t believe it. I don’t know. I didn’t believe it right away… I don’t know. I did later on. Delayed reaction. Cried constantly. I still cried, just got better. You learn to cope after a while. You learn to cope. But something might remind you of it, and so you cry, tears come into your eyes. You know what I mean.

 

 


 

Grandpa Steve

Laughter. I think laughter is the secret for a successful relationship. I think grandpa and I got along so well … I used to laugh a lot at him, he was very funny.

First of all you should love the person especially going into your marriage. Very important to really think that is the partner for life. You’ve got to think, really feel that. Because so much happens in your lifetime while you’re married that changes a lot of this. So you could get divorced, you could have arguments… But you have to at least go into marriage really thinking this is what you want for life. And then a lot of laughter like I say and I don’t know what else to tell you… Of course you have to make sure you listen to what the other person is saying. And don’t think you know it all. You can’t think you know it all.

 

 

He won it fair and square

I guess he told you about how he got his… somebody’s… he beat somebody in playing some kind of a game. I guess it was marbles. Marbles? He won his wheelchair, right? For the kid’s wheelchair? Yeah, and he threw him out ’cause he had an old broken one, he had an old junky one. And he wanted this kid’s new one. He won it fair and square.

 

Children playing marbles game in the street 1947

 

He gave Jimmy the Greek a black eye

 

– “Was it Jimmy the Greek that took his cone? He was eating a cone or some ice cream? Yeah, he asked him if he wanted a bite and he took the whole the thing from him and he punched him. And Jimmy the Greek liked that. The fact that he stood up to him. I started protecting him, stuff like that.
-“Well you skipped the part where Jimmy the Greek beat the hell of him.
-“Oh he did?”
-“Yeah.”
-“Oh I don’t remember that.”
– “He gave him a black eye and then Jimmy the Greek beat the hell out of him.
– “He did?”
– “Yeah. And he went home crying.
– “I don’t remember that part. That’s funny, maybe I blocked it out. Maybe I blocked it I don’t know .
-“His dad said, “Go back and get him,” and he’s like, “What am I gonna do? Look what he did to me.”

 

Ice cream in Brooklyn, 1949

 

Want me to pull the fire alarm?

He told me later, I guess he was at NYU. He was talking about studying and Jimmy the Greek was like, “Oh you want me to go pull the fire alarm to get you out of the test?”

Like, is there anything I can do to help? Should I shoot that guy for you? No matter what it was right?

 

So he protected him

Jimmy the Greek was the one that protected grandpa when he started selling ice cream. Grandpa started selling ice cream to make some money to help his father put him through college. And somebody didn’t want him on the street ’cause it was his spot or something like that. I think he told, I think it was Jimmy the Greek said, “Well you’re gonna stay there, I’ll take care of it. If the guy wants to throw you out of that spot.” I think it was Jimmy the Greek, I’m not sure. Yeah. So he protected him.

 


Lower East Side, 1950’s


 

Gloria Sama v1


The North End

I was born right in the heart of the North End, where all the action took place. I was born right in the middle of everything – at North Square.

Salem Street, North End, Boston 1948

If you did something at 9:00 in the morning, I would tell you, by 12 noon, everybody knew it!

“That’s what the North End was.”

I couldn’t skip school because my Mama would find out. How? I don’t know. But I couldn’t even skip school.

When you’re followed all the time, you get rebellious. I skipped school to go see Frank Sinatra. Frank Sinatra had come to the Metropolitan, or one of those… And a whole of photographers were there with the newspaper. And I was telling my friends, “Don’t go near the newspapers.” So naturally, she went near the newspapers and we were all in the paper the next day. Then my mother found out. But not only my mother…I have a whole bunch of nuns from my high school that I have never forgotten.

“Don’t go near the newspapers!”
In December 1943, girls stood in line before 8 am to hear 28-year-old “Frankie Swoonatra” at the RKO Boston Theatre. He would receive “Beatlesque” responses from “bobby-soxers.”
A gang of bobby-soxer pals would certainly be easy to spot at a soda shop or movie theater because of their uniform-like outfits that revolved around ankle socks, which replaced stockings when nylon became necessary for producing WWII supplies. Typically, bobby-soxers would wear their ankle socks with saddle shoes, penny loafers or ballet-style slippers.

…And protection, we had nothing to worry about. We were protected. By other families, and especially by… the men. They were called the gangsters. But they were there and they protected us. We had no fear at all. From anything. From drugs.

One day I was having lunch and my friend and I were sitting at the counter and this person named Danny came out with something in his hands, and he went up to the person sitting next to me and I heard him say, “if you come again with these …, you’re going to be carried out.”

“We had no fear at all.”
Filippo Buccola and his underboss Giussepe Lombardo were top underworld figures in Boston’s North End during Prohibition. They were rivals of the Irish Gustin Gang led by notorious mob boss Frank Wallace. In 1932, Frank Morelli, who headed a ruthless and powerful gang that controlled bootlegging and gambling in Providence, Rhode Island, Maine and Connecticut, merged with Buccola’s group to create the New England mob faction.

Family

My mother never spoke English. She knew how to speak English, but spitefully she wouldn’t. I got to tell you, she was very spiteful. It was her will, or no will. Growing up, where my mother had a lot to say and a lot to do with us. And we obeyed her. No saying no to Nana. She didn’t know that word. Her word or no word. She lived to be a hundred. Her name was Assunta, which means risen. When Nana was born, everyone had a religious name. All my siblings too.

My two aunties – Little Aunt, and big Aunt, one was Matilda and one was Clementina. Even though they had different names, we would always distinguish them as Little Aunt and Big Aunt. Big Aunt didn’t have too much to say. Little Aunt had a lot to say. They would talk about something and Little Aunt would say, “Well, this is this!” – and that would be the end of the sentence… But, remember, my mother was boss! My mom, the last word. My mother was the oldest. Then Clementina, then Matilda, and then Uncle Joe.

We would see them at family events. The family would come over to the apartment. We had a very small apartment, we didn’t have a lot of money. That was definite, we didn’t. And the playground was the street. That’s where we learned how to ride a bike. And oh my God, it was loaded with Italians.

What we had, an awful a lot of, and I don’t mean to preach, but I think what is missing today – is family. Family together, and everything was family.

Children playing marbles game in the street, 1947
Little Italy apartments, North End, Boston

Childhood on the farm

I was fourteen years younger than my closest sibling. My sister’s sister-in-law, Aunt Theresa, had a farm when I was a child. I grew up in the city, but I spent a lot of time on the farm in the summers. I would go to the farm almost every weekend.

I learned how to drive on a truck! And on Saturdays, we would candle the eggs. Now they’re done automatically, but in the early years, candling the eggs meant putting the whole egg up toward the light like a candle to find out if it was okay, if the egg is okay to use.

The farm was in Medway. If you drive by it now you will see half a million, more than half a million dollar houses!

Middle Post Road, Medway, MA. Early 1900’s
Medway, MA today

Religion

Religion was a great part of my life. I kid a lot around how Nana was very religious. Always had rosaries in our hands and everything. But she meant her religion, and so did I. It meant a lot to me. I went to Catholic school, and it was not just Catholic school going, it wasn’t just being Catholic – it meant something to me.

In the North End, we used to have a feast every year in the summer. It was called the Saint Anthony Feast. That was the big one, and that was known as, “You don’t leave town on that one.” The streets would be full of Italians. With bands, and food, and stuff like that. Some people from New York, some stars, they’d come in and perform. It was a three day feast, it was huge.

When your mother was a little girl I took her every year, it was in August. I didn’t like going, but I didn’t want her to miss out on!

Do you remember the angel?…

Saint Andrew’s Feast 1945, North End, Boston.

Saint Anthony’s Feast has become the largest Italian Religious Festival in New England since 1919. It is celebrated annually on the weekend of the last Sunday of August. 2019 marks the 100th anniversary of the feast.
“Gotta go have a baby now”