DelBloggolo

Monday, June 27, 2016

THE DAYS I NEVER KNEW



If I could journey beyond my time, I would be willing to be brave enough to take the voyage from my ancestor’s hometowns and venture to America. Why? Just a peek to feel the idea of coming to America, to see for the first time the Statue of Liberty, to feel what it was like to see the shores of America for the first time.

It seems so contradictory to travel to a land called; ‘America’ knowing that Amerigo Vespucci was the explorer, a fellow Italian who they named two continents after, yet the arrivals faced prejudice and hatred, suspicion and humiliation from those who came here first, and I’m not talking about the Native Americans!

I guess it is something akin to penicillin, it grows as mold, but then is turned into something beautiful and helpful. In America, just about every city, town and hamlet own an Italian restaurant, and it shares with Chinese restaurants, bagel shops, and sushi bars!

I often wondered what went through the mind of my grandparents on the first sighting of the cities, rolling mountains and glorious harbors, all harbors of hope, adventure and of course: uncertainty. It reminds of a story of my grandmother once so long ago. She traveled back to Italy, and on her return voyage on a ship, she had purchased a trunk load of salami, cheese, and pork products, all locally in Naples. This was illegal and customs was beginning to crack down on the undeclared imports.

The inspectors were checking luggage and with a sniffing dog, Grandma’s large trunk became under suspicion. They asked her to open the trunk, and grandma asked why. To no satisfaction on her part, they refused to answer her. They asked what she had in the trunk and now she kept silent. Then the trunk was opened by customs, under a hail of Italian curse words, that nearly sunk the ship, and caused permanent ear damage to the agents, as the salami and cheeses flew overboard miles before the entry into port. To the day she died, grandma regretted the loss of such precious cargo from “Da sonnamabitches”. My dad loved to tell this story whenever we would discuss how feisty grandma, the redhead was.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

ANNIVERSARIES AND DAD


As the media has continuously reminded us since Mother’s Day, today is Father’s Day. If you are lucky to have a father it is a better day yet. I can’t extol the virtues of being a father but I remember
my Dad, every day since he passed. He worked, loved his kids and gave us whatever he could afford. We really didn’t have much as his children, but he had less. But he did teach me to fish so I could eat; as they say.

Today is my wedding anniversary, 45 years, the best years of my life. At her worst, she is still better than anyone else at their best for me. She is unselfish, loyal, loving and the best mom there is, which makes sense since she is the best wife there is.


We had a magical courtship, meeting on a train and getting engaged on the same train, with many friends around us and spent those days planning for our wedding. Our honeymoon was spent in Europe, traveling to England, France, and Italy, how beautiful it was!

Marriage does not guarantee happiness, it only guarantees joy, and tears, love and worry and birth and death. We have seen our lives challenged, facing a child with mental disabilities and a child that passed at such a young age.
We have also seen that our love through all the tribulation is undying, it lives and breathes because we are in it for each other, not 50/50, but 100% for the other. The life was tested, but never the love. When it was dark, I reached out and there was her hand. When it rained she shared her shelter: when it was cold:

her devotion kept me warm.

And so we celebrate 45 years together, but not really, it is just another day we are celebrating as we have for 45 years.


Saturday, June 18, 2016

THE HOW TO’S WITH AN ACCENT


Back in the day of Nona and her trusty companion, even with the orders and bickering; Noni: there were many secrets that needed to be revealed to the younger generations coming up and about to make their mark on the family culinary history and traditions.

Putting a flame under a pot was not what it was all about, there was certain prep that needed to be done.

“Nona, how do you make…”

“Come, I show you.”

MEATBALLS!!!

We all know how linguini with white or red clam sauce should taste, grandma made it, it was delicious! We knew how a good meatball should taste, grandma rolled enough or maybe more than a ball bearing factory in a busy month! Those mushrooms, where did they come from and who picked them? The wine: fabulous and so earthy! Grandpa’s pride and they should have labeled it that.

Picking mushrooms was an art, but then again, everything my grandparents did was art, from waving their hands to talk to picking mushrooms you needed to know what you were doing. She showed us how to find the non-poisonous variety, how to clean and shuck a clam, how that delicious broth came from those mussels and clams, and how not to overcook scampi.

Pasta was a staple, not from the box, but by hand and it needed (kneaded) to go through the steps, and as she went through each step she instructed: “Likea deese.”

Jarring or picking eggplants, peppers, and a combination of things such as olives, peppers, and eggplant, maybe a little zucchini and capers made you save money and enjoy your family favorites, because if you dared purchase them in a store, they would be hard to find and expensive, and probably the main complaint would be they were too salty: “not likea mine”.

Shopping was like hunting if you tagged along with grandma. In a butcher shop she gave her order and then watched them carefully, picking through the vegetable stand, she as much selected the best as she also aggravated the owner of the stand. Then there was the bakery, filled with wonderful flavors and smells, and she made sure they gave her the usual; Stracciatella, Sbrisolona, Torta Caprese, not to mention: Cannoli, Pasticiotto, San Giuseppe, Sfingi, and Bomboloni.

Making the wine and then the vinegar were where grandpa reigned. This was a religious event, filled with the icons and rituals including the flies that came with the process.

If there was one thing I will always remember, and miss is the steak grandma made on her open burner on a gas stove in her basement! No one to this day can duplicate that, it was soooo delicious and mouthwatering as she cooked it in a wired holder, along with Italian bread, broccoli rabe and provolone and some pepperoni.

I’m sure you all came remember something that was made better than anyone else could do, too.

Technique, technique, technique!

 

 

 

 


Friday, June 17, 2016

RETRACING MY STEPS


I know I’m getting old, but why do I have to prove it all the time?

When I got the news that my daughter was leaving the rehab center in Southampton, I decided I would go back again because I needed to. I’ll get to that need later here.

It was a week since my daughter Ellen left the rehab center when I entered, filled with confidence that I knew where I was going. I drive up the long entryway and start searching for a parking spot since it is so difficult to find one during the week. As luck would have it, there was one, the best spot in the lot, and I had it! Feeling like George Costanza of Seinfeld when he visited the hospital one day! I sign in, say Hello to the receptionist, who asks me how Ellen is doing and off I go to the elevators, I enter and look for the 2nd-floor button, the doors close, and the elevator moves.

The ride from the 1st floor to the second floor seemed kind of quick but my mind was elsewhere when the doors opened. I go the usual route to where I needed to go and start to search for Stephany, the lady I was visiting. As I search, the hallway and the set-up seems somewhat disjointed. I get to a set of doors that are locked and a nurse tells me the code. A code I think is strange, I never had to use a code on double doors before!

I get through the doors and search some more, looking for the dining room. There is no dining room! In fact: the place seems darker, surreal almost, no dining room, my daughter’s room is not numbered correctly, and the nurse, with a quizzical look on her face asks me who I’m looking for. AS for me, I thought I had a major senior moment, maybe little dementia, maybe Alzheimer’s disease, I was suddenly scared!

“I’m looking for Stephanie Doe”, I state.
Her face crunches and she says “What section is she in?”
Confidently I state: “Section G!”
The quizzical look start to disappear and she says: “this is section C! You, sir, are on the wrong floor, you need to go up to the second floor.”
“Huh! I’m on the second floor!”

And so gratefully I went back to the elevators, punched the #2 button, watched it light up and checked the wall that indeed I was now on the 2nd floor when the doors opened!

The lady I was visiting wasn’t expecting me. I had notified the nurses station the day before that I was coming to read to Stephanie. A middle-aged woman who sits very silently in her wheelchair all day, never leaving the floor and never having visitors. She has suffered some kind of brain trauma and has difficulty remembering words to use in her sentences, while missing her lower legs from the knees down.

When I told her I was coming back to read to her, she broke down in tears, reaching for my hand and saying: “You will do that for me?”

Finally finding her, I say hello and she is startled! She breaks into tears once again and I ask her if she thought I was not coming back to see her: she shakes her head ‘yes’. The tears are flowing and it makes me uncomfortable, but we find a place to read and she settles in.

The reading session was a great one, a short story by Pushkin, entitled the Ace of Spades. Stephanie seemed caught in the story, her face telling all the emotions and events as they pertained to the story, Pushkin was a genius!

Leaving the rehab center I still had my mind, and I still had my soul, my word was worthy of someone who thought no one cared when in fact I am blocking out Wednesdays from here on in for Ms. Stephanie.


Thursday, June 16, 2016

GIOCHILO ANCORA, SAMUEL!


During the height of the 1960’s surge of Italian singers and love songs, there was one song that make made the charts, and made Italian/Americans take pride in their native tongue and the stories conveyed by music. That song was Mala Femina about a wayward woman.


The song with its pleading and classic tango tempo seemed to mesmerize the listener if he/she was Italian, and often it was lip-synched and sometimes sung along. It was the favorite of old unmarried or widowed ladies especially.

Being Italian/American, there was often a wedding of some cousin or distant relative and your presence was needed to avoid embarrassment for the bride’s father, and so you went. The record book was taken out, and next to your name were two things:
1)    Did you show up?
2)    How much you gave
This record keeping was for future use, in case you were having a wedding, it was important to receive in kind what you gave.

AS you sat through the ordeal of the other side’s family, the food, and the music you decided how much could possibly be given for the occasion. If the food was bad, or the music bad, or God-forbid you were seated with that loud-mouthed son-of-a-bitch at the same table, you retreated to the restroom and extracted some money from the envelope or ‘Aboost’. This was acceptable behavior and practiced by at least half the attendees.

Once the dancing began, the MC would ask for request, and the favorite was from the little old ladies and you guessed it: “PLAY MALA FEMINA!” “PLAY MALA FEMINA, oh I love a the song, “PLAY MALA FEMINA!” Suddenly the lights went low, as the introductory notes of the song commanded attention and the song was sung, the only light emanating from the flicker of little candles that danced at each table. Faces turned to stone and voices silenced as the singer begun to play on the heart strings of the old girls.

This of course got a lot of laughs out of me, as I watched these old gals get up and dance with one another, all with stiff grey hair packaged in a bun and dressed in black. Most of the dolls were widowed for over 10 years and more, their husbands died because they wanted to. Once the music ended, suddenly the lights went up and to the center of the dance floor strode Zia Francesca and Zio Felice! All at once the atmosphere was lifted to a new height, and the heart started to beat once more, taking you from the range of melancholy to the joy of the quick stepped Tarantella Napolitana, the mood quickened by joy, laughter and amazement at the skill of the old couple coming alive, bringing you your heritage on the wooden dance floor. Pure JOY!

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

THE OLD MAN


My college days
While in Junior High and high school, and again later on in college, I worked for a place that made children’s play clothes. It was in the shipping department and mail order and it was a hard tough job, that took all my energy away at the end of the day. Most days were spent in the summer time, where the temperatures rose to 90+ and so did the humidity. There was no air-conditioning in the shipping and stock room and it was dirty, dusty and hard on the feet.

The owner of the place. I will call Mr. P was a good man with a bad work side manner. He ran the shop like a prison camp of forced laborers and his personal life was dedicated to the community on a board of directors of local bank, Kiwanis clubs, veteran’s associations and the local fire department of which he was high ranked.

Mr. P was also a lady’s man who was discrete but careless about it.

While in college, I got into a car accident that caused me compounded fractures of my right foot, and laid me up for a few months. He, Mr. P took pity on me and gave me a job designing a large mural in his store and doing all kinds of signs for the daily sales. It kept me employed as I healed and that was great.

One Saturday afternoon, as Dad was leaving the plant to go home, he discovered he had a flat tire. We were poor and Dad’s tires were not in the best of shape. As he looked at the tire, Mr. P, was leaving also and watched as Dad kicked the tire in disgust, he couldn’t afford a new tire. Mr. P walked over to Dad and gave him enough money to purchase four new tires!

When Dad was going to buy his new home, Mr. P advised him what he should do, then gave him an extraordinary mortgage from his bank!

He was a fancy dresser, cashmere cardigans, silk shirts, wool pants and alligator shoes were the rule of the day dress code for Mr. P. Always with a big wad f cash in his pocket, on Saturdays he would walk in, everyone would tense up, he would look around and take out the wad, and ordered someone to buy a ton of buns, coffee and rolls for his workers.

One afternoon after lunch, I hobbled over to the designer’s office of play clothes, a rather attractive woman with boobs that cast a shadow, and about 15 years younger than Mr. P. She was sitting on a stool and Mr. P was sending his hand slowly up her skirt! I stopped in my tracks, Mr. P’s hand stopped in its track and the designer jumped off the stool all at once.
I immediately left her office and out comes Mr. P, asking me if I needed anything and how my broken foot was feeling. He was always nice to me after that!

He was a good man, a bit frisky, but still a good man. When he died I went to his funeral and there he was, laid out in his fireman’s uniform and the many symbols of community commitment adorned his coffin. God bless him.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

THE LITTLE PRINCE

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As a young man many years ago, working my way toward college, I worked in a factory that manufactured children’s play clothes for Sears. It was a hard job but it paid my way until I finished college, and for that I am grateful. It came at a price, working under my Dad who ran the shipping and mail order departments. I had to do the most work, the hardest jobs and I couldn’t seek any favors from Dad. It was his rule and I obeyed it.

My job was to fill in the vacancy if someone was missing in either departments and so I did. 8:00 am until 4:30 pm in the summer and sometimes after a 6:00pm to 11:00 pm shift I stocked shelves, ran up and down a ramp loading trucks and unloading trucks, packing and bringing parcel post shipments to the post office. I was on my feet all day, and weighted 120 lbs. I sweated off whatever poundage there was over that.
Inside everyone put their head down


One day a new man was hired to work in mail order and he was just the nicest guy you ever met. His name was Eddie, and he came from Italy. He spoke English and could count beyond 12, which for the plant was pretty good! (I wowed them at 20!)

Eddie would start his morning with a cup of coffee and a Kaiser roll, poppy seeded and buttered, and it looked so good! Not being a cereal or breakfast eater at the time, this made me hungry around 8:30. He would have the whole crew gathered around him and he talked about life in Italy and how beautiful it was, yet he loved America. Then the factory horn sounded and everyone went to work, the sound of sewing machines, electric cutting knives that cut piles of flat cloth into patterns that would be sewed together to make the outfits in the different sizes would all come alive.

Being a rather short man, about 5’1” or so, rounded and bald, he made for the kind of person with his manners you might want to emulate, down to his girth, he was that kind of person.

Meticulously he kept records in legible hand, clear and simple, even opting the English or American way of writing 7. He lined up large boxes with tabs on them that designated the different stores Sears needed mail order shipping to and was always on time and correct.

At lunch time, he sat on his stool and would take out a submarine sandwich about the size of the Nautilus Atomic Submarine and offer part to any takers, sausage and peppers, peppers and eggs and sometimes Italian meats and cheeses. As good as they looked, no one that I can remember took him up on his offers, it would be just too cruel and taking advantage of his good nature. The man was a saint.

Ready to be demolished!

The owner of the company was a bit of a tyrant, with a big heart. He wore cardigan sweaters, silk shirts and alligator shoes, but if you worked for him you better not be standing around doing nothing. He would throw a fit and threaten to fire everyone including the night watchman. But there were days when we were all caught up, there was nothing to do and in the heat and humidity of the summer, under a tin roof, flat that took in the sun, and the department without air-conditioning! On those days we would go into mail order to hide out in one of the many bins that stacked up each about 4’hx5’wx5deep’, that could hold one or two of us at a time. They stacked up to the ceiling almost and stood on after another next to each other.

One day I needed a break from the heat and humidity and went into the lowest bin that came up to about waist high. I crouched down and entered an empty booth to rest. About ten minutes into my rest Eddie whispered: “Watcha hout!” I look and the next thing I know I see a pair of alligator shoes and hands stuck in silk slacks; THE OLD MAN!!!

He leans against the bin and places the heel of his foot onto the edge of the bin… and my pinkie! There is pain, then there is more pain, and even enough pain to cry: “I want my mommy!” pain. It sits there for a few minutes and I am biting my other hand not to cry out, and mercifully he eases up and leaves, never looking down. Had the man seen me, I would have been done, first fired and then shot by my father.

Good old Eddie saved me and my future!

Then one morning I arrived at work and went into mail order to see Eddie. I looked and he was not there, not on the section where the bins were not at his table. I called and there was no answer. I asked someone if they had seen him and they hadn’t. The tell-tale signs of his presence, the coffee cup and roll, his long hero sandwich and his grey cardigan were all missing.

I look up and one f the Old Man’s sons enters the room and with a grey solemn face tells us Eddie had passed away in his sleep.