Personal story page


by: Anthony

It was the twentieth day, in the month of August, the year 1920. It was on this date that Calogera, wife to Antonino, gave birth to their sixth daughter, their eight child, Antoinette Frances, my mother. Antoinette would grow up to give birth to three sons. Sons whose whole life revolved around this one blessed, devoted mother, who could only have been a gift from God to these three boys.

Only twenty years into the twentieth century, the Great War was over, the Great Depression just nine years away. Antonino supported his family as a mason, while his wife Calogera worked at home caring for their nine children (a year after my mother's birth, their ninth, and last child was born, Mamie, my aunt May).

The years of my mother's childhood were that of strong family ties, responsibilities, and tradition as passed on by a strong Italian Catholic heritage. My mother's oldest sister, my Aunt Katherine, helped their mother in raising this large family. My Aunt Katherine was the first elderly person I knew who would say,
"the good old days, there was no such thing as the good old days. These are the good days."

Aunt Katherine would then tell me how tough life was growing up in the tenements of Brooklyn in the early part of the twentieth century, How during the First World War, Aunt Katherine being the oldest, had to walk to the rail road freight yards and collect coal left on the tracks by passing steam locomotives. Aunt Katherine told me how horses were left in the streets after they died, their carcass rotting, smelling, and attracting flies. Aunt Katherine described cold water flats, out-houses out back of the tenements. She told of the bathtub being in the kitchen. Aunt Katherine was glad to see the first half of the twentieth century over, and enjoyed living in the second half of that century.

I was born in the first half of the last century, fours years after the end of World War Two, while Harry Truman was president.
My early childhood of the 1950’s was deep with family, school, church, aunt, uncles, and cousins. Aunt Katherine had a three story brownstone home, just one city bus ride from our house. Since Aunt Katherine’s house was large, it was only natural for the whole family to gather there for the holidays. New Years, Easter, Thanksgiving, and Christmas, all were spent at Aunt Katherine’s. Here all the aunts, uncles, and cousins would gather.
Being a traditional Italian gathering, the women spent time in the large kitchen cooking. The men would stay in the dinning room playing poker, or in the living room watching football. While all through the house the children (the cousins) running about.

When it came time to eat, the adults would gather at the dinning room tables, while the children ate at the card tables way at the other end, ending up in the living room. The warmth and glow of the holidays was embossed with the presence of all our aunts, uncles, cousins, brothers, and most important, watching my mother having fun with her brothers and sisters.

My mother's birth was about a year apart from her youngest sister, my Aunt May (Mamie). They being the two youngest, they were spoiled. As my mother and Aunt May entered their early teens, their family's finances improved enough for them to enjoy life a little better than their older sisters and brothers did at their age. With the older children working and contributing to the family, the family was able manage a little better. They had a summer-bungalow in southern Brooklyn, near the ocean. On weekends and summers, the whole family would take the trolley car to their summer bungalow.

My mother and Aunt May were like twins, always together. At family gatherings, one would play the piano, while the other would sing to entertain the family. As they grew older, they would take this act to a neighborhood theater. They entered a talent show, with my Aunt May playing the piano, while my mother sang, "Give me a little kiss."

They went to the neighborhood public school (PS-145). PS-145 was a school that went up to the eight-grade. While in the eight-grade, all the girls had to take home-economics. In this class they were taught sewing, in which they had to make their own graduation dresses. The making of their graduation dresses was not much of a challenge to my mother or her sisters. From a young age, all the girls in their family were taught how to sew and make clothing. A few of my mother’s older sisters would work in the garment industry and join the International Ladies Garment Workers Union. In later years, my Aunt Katherine would teach an evening class in sewing at the local high school.

As they entered high school, the older members of the family married and left the house-hold. My mother and Aunt May had to leave high school to work, to help support their parents. As a young lady, my mother enjoyed dancing and music. With her friends, she walked to downtown Brooklyn, to the Paramount theater, to see Frank Sinatra. Yes, my mother was a bobby-socker, as I use to call her.