The Julia Roberts 2010 movie could be the Marquee on my parents’ Philadelphia row home. Yes, I grew up in the City of Brotherly Love in the 40’s and 50’s. My parents were first generation Italian American. My street and the streets parallel to mine were occupied, mostly by Italian born and first generation Italian Americans (IA). The occupants were hardworking blue-collar people. Everyone looked out for each other’s children and when one of us young people’s behavior was unacceptable, we would hear, ” I tell you mother, ” sometimes in broken English. Frankly, today I can still hear and miss that flavorful diction,which signified the high moral fiber of the people. So much for general background information. Let me tell you about growing up IA by introducing my family and friends that had an impact on my simple productive life.
Aunts, uncles, and first cousins lived on my same block, around the corner, a mile away or 3 miles away. These relatives were all on my Mother’s side. Their complexion and the color of their eyes varied. Some had blue eyes; some had darker eyes. Of course their skin color ranged from milky white to dark olive.
My Aunt Mamie (Philomena), my mother’s older sister by seven years was of the blue-eyed variety. She was connected to the row house network. So when she got the wire that her dear nephew Fred (Ferdinand) was smoking at 13 years old, she marched me into her modern small pine cabinet kitchen and tried to negotiate with me. “Stop smoking, and your mother will never know.”
My love and respect for Aunt Mamie did not diminish, and in fact, grew. She had my welfare at heart, even though she herself smoked with my mother. When her search and destroy missions were futile in her efforts to find my smokes, Mother allowed me to smoke in the house at age 16. I continued the nasty habit until age 59.
The Thanksgiving holiday approaching:, decorations commemorating the holiday filled the classrooms and windows of our house. My kitchen was the center of the food preparation. The aroma of the onions and the bread for the filling occupied the whole first floor. On the day that the Bird was roasted, the dining room and kitchen were filled with family, and sometimes a person with nowhere else to go was invited. For this particular feast, the food was American. Mother wanted to celebrate the American way, except for one Italian tradition –roasted chestnuts, which gave this writer a stomach ache.
I recall one particular Thanksgiving in mid 1950’s. The family of 15 or so was packed around the table anticipating savoring the Bird. My beloved Uncle Tony made a contraption, which he planted under his behind, and when he put it into play, it sounded like someone let human gas out. Needless to say, the faces on my relatives, especially my female cousins in their late teens, ran the gambit of emotions.
Christmas Eve, the family gathered to enjoy the meatless feast. My family did not do the traditional seven fish dinner, which is popular now a day. Smelts were browned in the frying pan, and calamari was stuffed and soaking up the tomato sauce; of course cod dish soup baccala in a tomato sauce with potatoes. Did I mention pasta in olive oil garlic dressed with anchovies? Anyone hungry yet?
After the tasty meal, the family members would share stories, some of the characters no longer alive. The humor in the stories, in part, was attributed to the content as well as the delivery. Sometimes in heavy accent and mispronunciation, which also endeared the storyteller to all who gathered around the table. Midnight mass would be attended. As the food was a way to celebrate; now the Mass would celebrate the birth of Christ.
My father was dark first Italian generation, former bootlegger, boxer, fight trainer, card shark and operator of a dice game. All these lovely attributes took a back seat when he married the love of his life, my beloved mother. He was a Normandy survivor in the Navy. He instilled in me to have a positive attitude, to respect all cultures and women, and to give 100 per cent effort in what I did. Ironically he stated one time “What if you would fall in love with a women of color? “Ironically, years later, I did. My dad and I, like all humans, were flawed. I made my amends to him in my 12 step work program in 2003. He passed many moons ago in 1973.
My mother had black hair and eyes ina non-olived skin body. No doubt she ran the house. She preached the value of honesty, education, love of family and religion. Being an only child, she demonstrated and communicated the importance of sharing, not only material things, but communicating thoughts and information. Of course prayer and church attendance was mandatory, living under her roof, not a bad thing. Her faith carried her through many medical crises.
My mother was the youngest of nine. From time to time, my older male cousins. who temporarily had to remain incognito until what they had done died down, would occupy the back bedroom. A frequent non-paying border was my cousin John F., (aka Frank Sinatra). His beloved aunts gave him the nickname, Frank Sinatra, due to this first generation IA having blue eyse and many, many girlfriends. I grew up an only child. My mother had a miscarriage when I was 5. In my 12 step program, the ones that were an only child can identify with each other. I was fortunate to have many aunts, uncles and cousins.
I am a recovered alcoholic. My recovery and rebirth came at the tender age of 59. My higher power is my co pilot in my journey thru this planet. To use one of my phrases, I’m ‘Just visiting earth.’ Gratitude to the Father of all virtues today floats my boat. I’m grateful for what my Higher Power has given me and continues to bestow upon me. Today, I don.t have to be the center of attention and have all the answers. To paraphrase Jackie Robinson, what is important is the impact you have on the life of others.
Born raised and educated in Philadelphia Pa.Worked as Accounting Manager for 33 years for Beverage Company.Enjoying retirement . Mentor to some folks, volunteering at soup kitchens and playing socially pinochle. All people can contribute to society if given the chance.