Helene Dvorkin

Childhood Memories


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.

Modern-day picture of the New York Botanical Gardens located in the Bronx. Founded in 1891, the gardens were added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1967. Image Source: Flickr

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.




Up until probably two years old, my parents used to call me butterball ’cause I was round, and I had curls like Sydney does, and then I got thinner.

My aunt used to tell a story about when I slept over their house when my mother was in the hospital giving birth to my brother Barry. I was almost four years old then. I went into the room with my aunt and uncle, and they were in the bed. I said, “Are you two married?” So, they loved that, they thought it was so adorable. And I heard that story over and over and over again.

I didn’t get in a lot of trouble when I was young. I was pretty much a goody goody. But when I was bad, my father just gave me a look. He gave me that evil eye look and I knew: Do not do anything. You know? That’s how he was.

But, I really didn’t get in a lot of trouble. Maybe Barry, my brother sometimes, but even we got along pretty well. Unless he ate my Mallomars…

Mallomars are a chocolate-coated marshmallow and graham cracker treat. Coincidentally, the first box of Mallomars was sold in Union City, New Jersey, the childhood home of David’s father.
Image Source: aintitcool.com


An Accidental Stamp Collector

I don’t know if I really collected anything. For a while, I collected stamps because my uncle was in the import/export business. He would go to Japan and some other areas, and he’d bring me back stamps.

Close-up of a Japanese stamp with the number 30 on it, showing a crest of a mountain in front of a mountain lake, surrounded by Japanese writing
A Japanese stamp from 1961 honoring International Letter Writing Week. The stamp features a wood-block print called “Hakone” by Japanese artist Hiroshige, who died in 1858. Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

But it was just because they were brought to me. It wasn’t like I was going out of my way. My brother collected coins.



Mutt & Jeff

My childhood best friend was Ruth Glatterman. I met her in fifth grade. She was a new student, and she was very, very heavy. When she came in, I knew she felt awkward, and she sat next to me.

We really looked like the old cartoon, Mutt and Jeff. It’s about a tall string bean and a very heavy, young, short person, and they were best friends. Ruth and I were best friends for a long time, like through high school.

One page advertisement for Mutt and Jeff cartoon with two dolls holding up the sign and positive reviews scrolling across
A 1918 advertisement for the cartoon, Mutt and Jeff, in a trade journal called The Moving Picture World. Mutt & Jeff is also a slang term for good cop/bad cop interrogations and any other pair of people who contrast strongly with one another. Image Source: Internet Archives


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.

American Bandstand 1967 – Mirage, Tommy James and the Shondells
Video Source: YouCanDanceToit!

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.



Love & Marriage


Meeting Chuck

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.

The Fourth Universalist Society, a Unitarian Universalist Church located at 160 Central Park West in the Upper West Side of Manhattan. The church was built in 1898 and is nicknamed “the Cathedral of Universalism”. Image Source: Flickr

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.





The secret to a successful relationship is patience. Patience, sense of humor, laughable moments you know?




After you guys were born, we were very, very excited and happy – and tired!

A favorite story about Scott


We told Scott we were going to Atlanta, he was only four years old and he didn’t know what that meant, but he adjusted very well there. Then he came back, and in second grade he was afraid of going to a new school. He didn’t know who the teacher would be, and he said, “What is she gonna look like?” And I didn’t know either. Down the hall came Mrs. Debella. She was flowing, a tall willowy woman. I think he felt much better then. It was just fun to see him responding and being flexible like that. Being able to do that, it made it easier.


I always remember David being mischievous with Scott.



Living Through History


There were quite a lot of major historical things that I lived through. Not so much when I was a young kid, but you know, as the times were changing.

My first hero probably was John Glenn, the astronaut.

John Glenn was the first American to orbit the Earth, circling it three times in 1962. Before joining NASA, Glenn was US Marine Corps Aviator.
Image Source:
Wikimedia Commons.

And I remember when Kennedy was shot.


Well, I wasn’t at home, I was in high school and one of the teachers came to my Economics teacher and whispered something in his ear, and all of a sudden the room was very quiet because you could see the expression on his face. And then, he came and told us what happened and we all were dismissed early, and we were crying.

John F. Kennedy in a suit rides in the backseat of a convertible car with his wife Jackie in hat, smiling.
John F. Kennedy and his wife Jackie ride in a motorcade in Dallas, Texas on November 22, 1963. He was assassinated shortly after 12 noon and later laid to rest in Arlington National Cemetary. Image Source: Library of Congress

Then again, we had Martin Luther King. I was in college and there was a black club called the Kumbaya club, something like that. I went there and we went marching or walking with other black kids.

Civil Rights leaders marching from the Washington Monument to the Lincoln Memorial, August 28, 1963. Activists at this time engaged in sit-ins, freedom rides, protest marches, and voter-registering drives to try to achieve racial equality. Image Source: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration.

And then Robert F. Kennedy died. And so, it was all very, it was very surreal.

Presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy was mortally wounded from a gunshot at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles in 1968.
Image source:
Wikimedia Commons

And, then, of course, the Vietnam War…

Some years later, it was a snow day in Atlanta when the shuttle blew up.  I was with Scott – he was four years old…



The World Series Earthquake, 1989

I was on the phone with Dad. Scott and Dad were both watching the World Series in San Francisco, and then I got off the phone and Scott came in. He was about 10.

So he said, “Earthquake! Earthquake Mom, in San Francisco!” I said, “What are you talking about?”

And then they showed, unfortunately, scenes later on of the Bay Bridge breaking in half. And David, was running around saying, “What’s an earthquake? What’s an earthquake?” And then he saw the bridge, and he said, “Did Daddy fall off the bridge?”

The collapse of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge from the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. Because the earthquake happened during a live broadcast of the 1989 World Series, it’s sometimes called the World Series Earthquake. Image Source: Flickr

It took me a few hours ’til Dad got through to me because at that point there were no cell phones.





On Safari

The safari was the most interesting trip we had together. Dad had heard about the trip, but I’m so excited that I went and so glad that I went. I would’ve probably been fearful to go, but dad was saying that so many people he knew were going.

On the safari, you’re seeing the animals right next to you, and you don’t know if they’re going to come at you. Sometimes, elephants looked like they were going to charge.

The first time we saw a lion, we were in the Jeep at night, which was completely open. All we had were the headlights and suddenly we saw this lion on the road. He started walking right in front of us, and then I said, “That’s scary.”

To us, it was a very luxurious safari. We would stop and have drinks at sunset. We were in this field at the end of the safari place, and all of a sudden it’s getting really dark. I see in the distance two shadows clawing up and down. I realized they were two rhinos, which are very dangerous animals.

So I said to the guide, “Should we be in the Jeep?” And he said, “No watch.” And he just scraped his foot like that. And, they heard it. They don’t have good eyesight, but they have good hearing, and they just parted ways and went opposite directions.



The Human Connection


Today’s younger generation is lucky to have the older generation.

I think they’re lucky in some ways to have certain advantages and technology, but, of course, it’s a double-edged sword.

Technology really inhibits people from speaking to each other on a leisurely phone call or seeing each other.

I know even myself… for a while, I wasn’t calling people, I was just texting. And, you feel out of touch with people, so I think it’s really important to keep in touch visually, physically and do it leisurely. 


Chuck Dvorkin

Childhood Memories


The Neighborhood

I grew up in Union, New Jersey. Address Terrace. It was a bunch of Cape Cod houses – mostly Jewish, the street was. Most people moved in around the same age, so there were a lot of kids roughly my age, so you were able to go outside and play.

We used to play baseball in the middle of the street. There was one woman who lived on the street that didn’t have any kids, and she used to yell at us all the time. The ball went on her lawn, and you went to get the ball or something like that, and she’d say, “Get off my lawn!” But that’s what it was like.

Im age Source: John Bignell c.1960


Stamp Collecting

I collected stamps for a while. It was a different era. People used to write letters then. You used to get stamps from the post office, and they’d come in different denominations depending upon what you wanted to send and have. And, you’d collect them. You’d collect them from different countries.

It was actually kind of boring, so it didn’t last too long.

A double picture of a red 2-cent US stamp featuring a portrait of young Thomas Jefferson
A pair of 2-cent US stamps from 1954 featuring a young Thomas Jefferson. The hobby of stamp collecting is also called philately. Image Source: Wikimedia Commons


Don’t Interrupt the Movie!

I was not a great music lover. I listened to the radio. The Beatles, The Beach Boys, Jan and Dean, that kind of stuff. The Moody Blues.

But I did watch TV.

There was an early show on, a movie, that ran from five to seven. A lot of times, I would watch it, and my father would walk in the house at 6:45 and start talking.

At that time, the TV was in the kitchen where everybody was, and he’d interrupt the ending and that would start a big fight a lot of the times. That was I think the biggest fight that I used to have with my father.

A family huddles around the television, c. 1958. In 1950, only 9% of American households had a television set. By 1960, 90% did. Image Source: National Archives and Records Administration


Marriage & Kids


Meeting Helene

Mom and I started dating in New York City. I was living in New Jersey, but nothing goes on in the suburbs, you know? We’d go into the city to hang out, not to see each other. To hang out, to meet people.

We used to visit aunt Lucy and go to Stanley’s in Union, New Jersey. They used to have these great pizza burgers. But it’s not there anymore.

Coca-cola Advertisement With Eight Different Burgers – (1971)
Image Source: VintageAdBrowser


Mischievous Boys

“One of our most joyful days, was when you guys were born.”

A favorite story about Scott

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 David

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.





The Safari

I really wanted to go on the safari in South Africa. I knew so many people who said, “It’s the best trip of your life.” The best thing they’d ever done. And mom didn’t really want to go. She was… for whatever reason.

I said, “Listen, people that I play bridge with who don’t look like they belong on a safari have gone and loved it. This is really something that we should do.” And that’s how it happened.


It’s just very different than anything else you’ve ever done. You know, as opposed to seeing places, you’re seeing animals it’s just really, just different.



Living through History


The San Francisco Earthquake, 1989

I was in San Francisco during the earthquake in 1989. I had called Mom right before.

What happened was, they evacuated the hotel. We were all in a parking lot outside the hotel. We were standing there and we could actually feel the ground move under our feet. It was like an aftershock which was kind of creepy. I never experienced anything like that before.

I think the main road is the 101 in San Francisco, that runs up and down. What we discovered was on the side that we were, there was no electricity. On the other side of the 101, there was electricity, so we got our car and went to a bar. There was only a pay phone there, and I couldn’t get to it because it was backed up.

Then they were showing the earthquake on TV, and I said, I better get to the phone because she’ll think I’m dead. So I called and told her I wasn’t. Yeah, I think she was disappointed…

The destruction of the Marina district of San Francisco following the Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989. Because it happened during a national live broadcast of the the 1989 World Series, it is sometimes referred to as the “World Series earthquake“. Image Source: Flickr



When I think hero, Superman sort of comes to mind, but that’s not real. Real heroes, I’d go with the 9/11 – all the men who went into the towers.

I remember sitting in my office that morning at 45th and 3rd at a staff meeting, and somebody came and said a plane hit the World Trade Center. And at first thought, we said, “Wow!” And, then somebody – Joe Kerner – said, “You know, it’s a bluebird day, you got clear skies”, and then he started questioning it and then somebody came in and said a second plane hit. And, then we knew.

US Flight 175 Hits the World Trade Center South at 9:03 am on September 11, 2001. All 65 people aboard were killed. The hijacked plane hit the tower just 17 minutes after the North tower was struck by American Airlines Flight 11. Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

Gloria Sama

Childhood Memories

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.

An assortment of people in 19th century clothes assembling in North Square in Little Italy, in Boston.
A dozen cars parked on Salem Street in Boston.
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! 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.


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… [Andrew: 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.

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.”
Young Frank Sinatra surrounded by beautiful smiling women.
A dozen smiling 1940s girls in bobby socks sitting on a row.
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.

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.”

Two profile photos side by size of serious Caucasian men staring at the camera.
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.



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.

Three boys play marbles in a chalk circle in the street while a boy on a bike watches.
Children playing marbles game in the street, 1947
4 story corner building showing apartments in Boston's North End.
Little Italy apartments, North End, Boston


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!

A row of white farmhouses in Medway, Massachusetts in front of a dirt road and picket fence.
Middle Post Road, Medway, MA. Early 1900’s
Modern, two-story white house in Medway, Massachusetts.
Medway, MA today



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?…

Statue of St. Anthony and baby Jesus on parade in Boston in 1945 surrounded by a throng of people.
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.

[Judy: The Feast was at the end of August, and when Nana was pregnant with Auntie Lisa, she had to leave the feast because she was in labor with Auntie Lisa.] … Gotta go have a baby now!



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.

Classic, oven-roasted 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. It was really fun.] Yeah, we did have a lot of fun.



Young Adulthood


The Bugs in 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.

Smiling young woman dressed in a warm, formal coat and shoes standing on the steps.
Gloria Sama, aged 20.
Man works on top of an early 20th century pasta machine
A man works at a short goods pasta extruder in Brooklyn, New York c.1937. This was one of the first pasta machines to combine mixing, kneading and pressing dough, allowing for the continuous production of pasta. Source: Consolidated Macaroni Machine Corporation

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.


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.



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.

A crowd gatherings in front of a theater advertising the 30th Annual Academy Awards.
A crowd gathers in front of the Hollywood Pantages Theatre in Los Angeles for the 30th Annual Academy Awards on March 26th, 1958.  “The Bridge on the River Kwai” starring William Holden, Jack Hawkins, and Alex Guinness won Best Picture. Source: Wikimedia Commons

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.

Model of the 1958 Volvo Pv544 Sedan. Volvo was the first car manufacturer in the world to equip all of its cars with the three-point safety belt. Source: Pixabay

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.



Love & Marriage


Meeting & Marrying Gerald

Nonno Gerald in army uniform
Gerald as a young man in his Army Uniform.

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.

Young woman sleeps in the driver's seat of an old convertible.
A young woman sleeps in a car while at the park. c. 1942. Source: Library of Congress

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.


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.

Husband and wife post next to 2-tier wedding cake.
Gerald and Gloria pose next to their wedding cake in 1960.

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.

Gloria giving Judy a bath in January, 1965.
Two little girls sit almost on top of one another on a coffee table in from of the fireplace
Lisa and Judy sitting together in front of the fireplace in the late 1960s.

Gerald’s family also lived in Watertown. Just about a mile away was Gerald’s father and Mary, Gerald’s sister. She never got married, so she was kind of the matriarch of that family. Every single holiday was spent at that Highland Avenue house or at Gerald’s father’s house (Mary’s house) at 20 French Street in Watertown.

Gerald and Lisa
Older man holding a bottle standing next to woman in glasses.
Gloria and her father-in-law. 


Cousin Tony & Catherine

My husband had a cousin Tony who was born in Italy but had come to the United States to work. He was a stonemason, and the work was very plentiful here.

Stonemason wielding chisel and hammer on the steps of a bridge.
A stonemason wields a chisel and hammer while working on the steps of Memorial Bridge in Washington, DC. c.1920-1950. Source: Library of Congress

Then he went to Italy. He got married, and then his bride came here, Catherine. She was a wonderful person.

She was very young – only about 19 – and she didn’t speak English. I kind of took her under my wing a little bit. She was really wonderful, and she got pregnant right away. Here was a child having another child. But she learned very quickly. She used to do it just like that.


She was a quick learner… Yeah, we used to tune her into the… soap operas, and that’s where she learned English… But she was very, very, very avid to learn all these things, and you didn’t need much to say well Catherine wanted to…

One woman points to a notepad another woman is holding while a man talks on the phone behind them.
Publicity photo from the soap opera “From These Roots” starring Ann Flood, Robert Mandan, and Sarah Hardy. 1961. The show ran on NBC from 1958-1961. Source: Wikimedia Commons

And then it was very sad. They had two children here, Anthony and Connie, and then they moved back to Italy.

Tony’s mother was very controlling and she kept saying, “I’m dying, I’m dying,” and Tony felt obligated to go back to that old woman. She was Gerald’s mother’s sister-in-law. He used to send her a good chunk of his salary. It was a common thing to send money back to family, but at least they were grateful. This woman was not grateful. Really, she didn’t lack for anything. And then when they did go back, she was not the least bit happy.

Gloria in her 30s

It was very devastating, and Catherine didn’t want to go back. The kids were really American at that point. They were in elementary school – around third grade and first grade. Catherine said, “I am not going back to Italy until I become an American citizen.”

And she did. She became an American citizen. Tony’s mother gave them a hard time, but they did very well.



Rosary Academy

Catholic school classroom. In 1970, more than 5.3 million US schoolchildren attended a Catholic school compared to 2.3 million in 2007.

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.

Gloria in her 40s

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.



A Life Well Lived


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.

Family photo of 6 people arranged on a couch for the camera
Top Row: Gloria’s sister Mille, Gloria’s mother Assunta, Gloria. Middle Row: Mille’s husband George. Bottom Row: Lisa and Judy
Gloria and Gerald with their grandson, Andrew.
Nana holding toddler Andrew's hands as he walks
Gloria helping her toddler grandson Andrew walk.

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.

Mertella Whyte

Childhood Memories

In Jamaica, I had cousins, grandparents all around. We were in Boston Bay – Kay Field. That’s where I was brought up, my mother’s house. The only thing was the house got bigger because the one we had was a wooden house, and they break it down and build that one.

4 young school boys are arranged behind a cricket batter in Kingston, Jamaica.
School boys playing cricket in Kingston, Jamaica in 1965. Source: The National Archives UK

My mom grew up the same area, but a different house. I don’t know much about my grandparents, just that we lived poor lives in the Boston Bay area. My grandfather worked for a parish council where they do the building of sidewalks, fixing up roads, things like that. My grandmother raised pigs, and that’s it.

I don’t remember if Jamaica was still a colony then. I think it was. We were using pounds and shillings.  


Escaping Jamaica

Mother’s Refusal

I had saved up enough money to fly to England because I did not want to raise my kids in Jamaica, but after I bought the ticket, the airline collapsed so I lost all the money I had saved and had to start over again. And I could not get any support from my parents to go either.

Green $100 dollar bill from Jamaica showing a man and a woman in swimsuits walking across the bottom of a waterfall.
One Hundred Jamaican Dollar Bill, undated. Jamaica gained independence from Great Britain in 1962. Source: Pixabay

My mother was a mess. Not even would she give me the money to buy anything. She tells me that my father had sent for her. He was in England. But she didn’t want to go, said she’d stay with the kids in Jamaica. So I said to her, “Mommy, we’re two different people. I want to go. You didn’t want to go, but I’m going.” This way, I didn’t know if she’d give the money or not, but she didn’t want to.

So right away I write to my father to see if he can send me a bit of money to buy a suitcase and a pajama. He said to me that it was a bad time, and he wasn’t working. He said, “Mommy have money, ask Mommy.” But she wouldn’t give it to me. And I cried and I cried and I cried. I didn’t know where to turn now. You can’t without a suitcase, and I had spent up all the money I have. I couldn’t make my mother change my mind.

No Regrets

But I had one aunt, my father’s aunt, who lived by the beach. I went to her and tears were coming down my face, and I said, “Aunty, can you give me some money?” Oh, I’m getting emotional about this again…

She said, “I don’t have much money because I don’t work, but the money I do have I’m going to give it to you. It’s the church money. But if you don’t give it back to me, I know Shined will.” My father was so black that he shined. They called him Shined. She gave me the money, and I was lucky to send it back to her after a couple of months. I was working, so I don’t see why I shouldn’t send it back.

In the meantime, my mother had her money and giving it to other people to go away, and she wouldn’t give it to me. Because she didn’t want me to come. She thought I wouldn’t go if she said no to me. I don’t know if she wanted me home in Jamaica to be with her.

I don’t know how she think because she throw me out at age 18, so I don’t know how she think. From the day I was 18 and she throw me out, I never go back there for a night’s sleep. And I never sleep on the street either. It’s a little messy story… But so far so good. I left home. I have no regret. No regret.


Coming to New York City

The New York Paper

Middle-aged man sits behind the desk at a newsstand ready to sell the newspapers hanging all around him.
New York City newsstand in the 1950s. Source: Wikimedia Commons

I was in New York from 1968 until the early 1970s. When I came here, I took the bus from Canada. It spent me, must be about a year, but my papers weren’t processed.  And then we kept on buying the New York paper, and we see jobs and they’re paying so much. They’re not paying us more than about $75 or a little money over there.

My sister came first – she got a sponsor. She looked in the paper where they advertised, and she came over first. My sister was staying where she lived. She was a maid, so she was sleeping with the family.

God is on my side

So I took the bus over, and I came over. When I got off the bus, I didn’t know where to go. The first night I came over I didn’t have a place to stay. I sleep at WYMCA. It was 34th street, no – it was 42nd street, so I asked the bus driver if he know someplace where I could get some sleep. He took me to 23rd street where there is a motel. When I went there, my heart was so big, I didn’t know what to do! You know when you’re alone in a place you don’t know nobody, and the walls…. but they have a bible on the bed, and that was comforting for the night.

10 story block-like YWCA building on the corner of a New York street.
The Harriet Judson YWCA in Brooklyn, New York, 1914. Source: Wikipedia Commons

Morning comes, and I wonder, “Where am I going?” But God is on my side. I got up and I go out. This is when the phone booth is on the street. I buy a paper off the street, and I take my suitcase, I don’t know where I’m going, but I know I signed out. I go to the phone booth with my newspaper and with my suitcase underneath my foot, and I’m making a call. You look in the paper and see advertisements for jobs.

I worked one week in Brooklyn. I didn’t want it there. So again, I pick up, and I leave. That woman had a dog and a girl there…it wasn’t for me. Anyway, I spent the week there, and I pick up and I come back to Manhattan. I still go on the phone and buy the paper.

And then I find this woman who asked me, “Oh you sound like a Jamaican, are you Jamaican?” And I said “Yes!” And she said, “My mother-in-law has a nice Jamaican girl, I hope you are one too. When can you come over for an interview?” I said, “Anytime you want me.” That was a Sunday.

She told me what time to go over, and I go over. She said let me take my little dress off. She wanted to see how I look, to make sure I didn’t look like a slob in her house. It was a nice young couple. After she interviewed me, she left me in the dining room area. I knew this woman who had given me a good reference because I was a good person to them.

Then she came back and she asked me, “Where are you going to sleep tonight? Where are you going to stay?” And I said, “I just got here, I don’t have a place.” She said, “You can stay here.” I’m going to call the girl who supposed to come in tomorrow and give her her salary and pay and tell her to pick up the rest of her stuff. I guess the other girl was not doing a good job. I guess not.

So I stayed there with her babysitting. She only had one child anyway. Her husband was a lawyer, and she was a model. So they lived on 88th Street and Madison Avenue.

One day when I was going to work, I saw they had a little white sheet covering up the sidewalk. Some woman committed suicide, threw herself off. She lived in an adjoining building. I said that was something… You know rich people, you never expect that from them. Yeah, but, it happened. 


Keeping the Family Together

I stayed at the Manhattan job until my kids came. They were small, but not babies. Your mother came in the 1970s.

Well, you do what you have to do. Their father was there, and I know he loved his children. He may not love them now because they grow up and have mouth, but I know he cares about his children. There was nothing to him like his children. You would see him on his bike and them on it. They get on his bike too. Yeah, I knew they were fine.

And besides, and when you’re in a country and you’re getting your papers due, you can’t leave the country like you want to. You have to wait to get your papers too. I could leave to go to Canada, but I couldn’t leave to go back to Jamaica. So that’s the story.

I went to Canada and got my papers, and the same year I went back down to Jamaica and got married so I could then sponsor the kids. But you have to be a citizen before you can sponsor them.

If I didn’t have children and had to sponsor them, I wouldn’t have married your grandfather. The children did it. We stayed together. You never know.

After all these years you invest so much with him, and now you’re going to leave and someone else is going to come in to get what you invest with him. So, sometimes, you know… no one said it’s worth it – Right overall, that’s what I’m looking at. And when you tell me to make that decision, I don’t know.