Sunday, November 29, 2015


At St. Peter's Catholic Church, they have weekly husbands' marriage seminars.

At the session last week, the priest asked Giuseppe, who said he was approaching his 50th wedding anniversary, to take a few minutes and share some insight into how he had managed to stay married to the same woman all these years.

Giuseppe replied to the assembled husbands, 'Wella, I'va tried to treat her nicea, spenda da money on her, but besta all is, I tooka her to Italy for the 25th anniversary!'

The priest responded, 'Giuseppe, you are an amazing inspiration to all the husbands here! Please tell us what you are planning for your wife for your 50th anniversary?

Giuseppe proudly replied, "I gonna go picka her up."

Life goes on for a reason: mainly we take care not to take risks that would take us out altogether.

It was the Saturday after Thanksgiving, and I was a young man who just completed my college years and was feeling good. I owned a brand new Camaro and had money to burn, my new job as a designer in New York City was taking off well and my future was ahead of me. There was nothing bothering me.

Grandma on the other hand felt otherwise as we shall see. Her vision was I was going nowhere, my future was behind me, and I would eventually turn into a bum. She had the cure: I should get married.

So that Saturday I drove Grandma home to Brooklyn, to her little nest that was Centrale della famiglia (Family Central.) I was anxious to get back to Long Island, but Grandma was not anxious for me to leave, as the late morning dragged into early afternoon. As hard as I might try to leave, she would paint guilt on my soul and ask if I was in a hurry to leave her. (I was, there was a young woman I wanted to pick up for a visit to the city and dinner.)

Life was good!

Finally at around 1:15 or so Grandma’s doorbell rings, and a big smile crosses her face, rising from her chair she races to the front door and opens it. There standing in the threshold are two ladies.  The same shape and appearance, both dressed in black and a bun for a hairdo. What I was facing was a tag team of mother and daughter!

“A JoJo, disa here isa my frenda Carmela and dis a Filonmena, a nicea goil.”

The mole on Filomena cheek with the little hairs growing out told me she could cook, but I wasn’t looking for a cook with a hairy mole.

“Nice to meet you” (Or some lie like that) “Grandma, I need to move the car or I’ll get a ticket.”

“You a movea da car, no teeket.”

To the day she died she wondered why I moved the car to my house on Long Island.

Dad got a hold of me and asked: “Your grandmother called, wondering what happened to you.”

“Dad, she had a hairy mold and out weighted me.”

Dad replied: “I’ll talk to her.”

Saturday, November 28, 2015


Many years ago, on the day after Thanksgiving, my wife and I took our son Joseph, to the doctor because we suspected seizure activity, and that was what it turned out to be. We immediately put him into the hospital and waited for the next shoe to drop.

I visited him the next day and he, being only 20 months stood in his crib, ready to play then started to seizure once again; up and down he went, almost playfully. Needless to say it cemented me in one spot, where I was unable to articulate or move: the shock was complete. An indelible picture of him sitting in the crib has never left me, the hard days back and forth to the hospital, the IV and the constant needles that poked him for a new location for that IV, all engraved like a stone etching, clearly in my mind.

We had guests who were kind enough to visit us at the hospital, and witness what were happening to us, my wife and I. She too was a scared, silent witness to the destruction of peace and mind to the little child’s parents. The guests; they were able in spite of their concern, let go of us and detach themselves to recover in the safety of their own world. We were now freaks to be pitied and to be avoided until a resolution occurred. They could hide from what we couldn’t

He went on to live just a few short months, as my wife and I struggled through the cold of the winter and the cold of my son’s slow death. Our parents were supportive but detached themselves by doing what they could to help us, but manage to stay away from the harsh reality, leaving it to us to face.

Every year at this time, we put on our seasonal faces and pretend how wonderful things are with the holidays, but really, what is the holiday to us but the reminder of the coldness, the sorrow and despair that has hit us often at this time of the year. What once was my favorite time of the year is but one of many days that clustered to remind me of my child: his death and the feeling of being outside my world, looking in and feeling the cold.

I find that the nostalgic side of me shelters those feelings until I come back again to the present. It has taught me that nothing in this world is so damned serious that we need to face life solemnly without recalling the good things in life. I wonder of my attitude was different if I would have cut my throat. Now I try to laugh and enjoy whatever is good, a good memory, joke or meal, a long lasting friendship, the love in my life, and the greatest lift both my wife and I have had, my granddaughter.

Life is good. Bad things happen, but we must all feel pain somewhere and somehow, we only hope it is minimal, that the scars leave nothing but reminders of what was, not what is. So I look for tomorrow and hope to enjoy that little granddaughter, she is something for me to look forward to, to live for and to celebrate.

Lucky me.

Friday, November 27, 2015


Thanksgiving would be enough for most American families, but for the Italian/American family, there was a miracle on the day after, ‘leftovers’!
Every Friday after Thanksgiving Day, we would gather one more time to ‘mop-up’, that is to finish off all the food from the holiday. I’m sure you’ve heard that old phrase: “It taste better when its’ left over!” I really think it was first used on the day after Thanksgiving.
The family would gather before leaving town and we would sit and talk, the table clothe stained with wine, scattered nutshells and the residue of the day before. Chatting and making sandwiches with the leftovers, it wasn’t the same meal the next day. For one thing Grandma or Mom would be relaxing after the day before, that sense of formality was gone from the holiday, this was a great day to let the hair down and eat all day, once again, coming in on an empty stomach.
Aside from the turkey sandwiches from the 24 lb. bird, there was the mass of sausage stuffing that not only stuffed the bird, but was made on the side also. But there were other culinary delights: things that were whipped up to take us a step more away from the day before.
For instance: you made a sandwich with the stuffing, soup was now available from the leftover meat, and one of my favorite leftover dishes: mashed potato pie, made from left over mashed potatoes, mozzarella cheese and breadcrumbs all layered in the pie dish, then baked in the oven for crustiness and melt of the cheese, life was good. We talked old times and the football we saw the day before. This usually led to a card game and then the holiday was officially over.
I hope you recall with fondness your days of family and celebration, and I hope you keep it close to your heart and cherish the memories forever, I will and enjoy reliving the great past and wonderful characters who dwell there.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015


Growing up in an Italian American house, tradition was an important part of my life. Certain holidays such as Easter and Christmas, and of course Christmas Eve with it’s seven fishes were all so important to me.

When it came to Thanksgiving, it had a different shine on it, one filled with icons and an Italian flavor.

Mom had a certain roasting pan and cover for the turkey that she took out once a year. When the pan came out, it was Thanksgiving and Thanksgiving only. It was a heavy cast iron pan with a cover, black handle on the cover and boat-shaped.

But even that was not Thanksgiving complete until she made her stuffing, a stuffing that to this day my lovely wife makes for me, and I love her for it. Mom’s stuffing was made with Italian bread, chopped meat and raisons, eggs and pine nuts: and it was her traditional stuffing. I could easily pass on the turkey, the cranberry sauce and everything else, as long as I had her stuffing.

Our holidays in the early years consisted of a regular Sunday meal then segued into the traditional American Turkey Feast with an Italian accent.

Today, with the melding of so many cultures that married into the family, it is not that way anymore, since we mix the comfort foods of our spouses into a new mix and tradition, and why not?

Perhaps today’s feasts are more in tune with the concept of Thanksgiving in America, the idea of multi-cultures, raising a new breed of American, better than ever before.

I wish you and your family a Happy Thanksgiving. Give thanks for being American, and give thanks because of that, that you have an ethnic history that is yours alone.

Joe and Ellen Del Broccolo

Monday, November 16, 2015


--> Mom and Dad got along pretty well on the whole. Sometimes there were spats, but on the whole they did get along, well, maybe not always.

In our driveway lay the point of contention, the major obstacle to Mom and Dad’s perfect wedded bliss.

Mom wanted to learn how to drive.

Dad wanted to watch TV.

There could only be one outcome – WAR!

Mom had enough Learners Permits to stack up to five feet.

Dad was not the best of teachers. He was impatient, put a lot of importance into giving you the basic to the point you really wanted to walk the rest of your life. He would give Mom an order, rather than suggest, Mom would fume, and soon they were debating the proper etiquette

One Sunday Mom had enough, and as Dad laid there in bed, Mom calling him to get up to take her church, she started to fume, not an ordinary fume, but something nuclear. She decided to take things into her own hands.

Suddenly I found myself in the car, where Mom usually sat, and Mom: well she was where Dad usually sat. Off to church we went, Mom determined to get there and back, the heck with Dad.

On the way home, Mom was feeling very triumphant and even decided to take a shortcut home. I guess Jesus made her strong. Mom was defying the odds, putting it to Dad, taking care of business. If there was one thing that was faulty in Mom’s triumph, she didn’t scout the terrain.

Into the woods she heads and on this dirt road that led to another block. Mom navigated the ruts and I loved her spunk. Suddenly, the car swayed without music! We were swaying but we weren’t moving forward. Mom was stuck. This was a no cha cha ride.

Along comes this hobo who must have lived in the woods, who pushed us out of the rut and gained him $2 hard cash. In those days that was a lot.

“Now when we get home, I don’t want to hear about this in front of your father!" Dad never knew what happened to the day he died.

TOMORROW … You pissed off Mom, now me?

Friday, November 06, 2015


Grandma Mary raised 3 girls alone during the depression, Mom, my Aunt Tessie, and my Aunt Marie. Being the youngest Aunt Marie was the fun gal. In her marriage, as a mother and sister, she was fun, but to a little 6 year old, she was a pain. She would tease me to no end.

Living near by, just a few blocks from each other, the oldest and youngest sisters would take turns visiting each other and then going shopping. They each had a baby carriage that carried my younger sister and my cousin Nick, and off to Pitkin Avenue they went.

Living on the third floor, in the morning around 9:00 am, Mom would have Arthur Godfrey on the radio that sat on top of the refrigerator, a Westinghouse with a small freezer on top. When Aunt Marie came she would immediately turn off the radio, making me mad.

Whenever Aunt Marie saw me, she would corner me and ask to see behind my ears. So she would grab one ear, then the other and go: tsk, tsk tsk! You have to wash behind the ears! Every morning, every day I saw her. Behind my ears were so clean that I was bleeding from scrubbing them, yet they were not clean to her. Years later I found out that she did that to tease me.

But revenge is sweet! One day after I married and had a few kids, I was talking to Mom about our family history, and she let the fact slip that Aunt Marie was really Aunt Marietta, something Aunt Marietta did not want anyone to know. Indeed.

Christmas came and I was writing out the Christmas cards, and one had a new name to the old list, ‘Aunt Marietta’.

I would call her every few weeks to see how she was as a matter of routine, as she was a widow and living alone in Florida. My first call for Christmas went like this:

Aunt Marietta: “Hello?”
Me: “Hi Aunt Marie! It’s me, Joseph”.
Aunt Marietta: “YOU! I got your card, and said wait until I get my hands on that stinking nephew of mine!”

So every year until she died, I addressed her Christmas card: Aunt Marietta!

Revenge is sweet, but so was she.

Thursday, November 05, 2015


When mom was a young teenager, there were rules that were obeyed, as social norms were quite different than they are today. Having no father and two sisters, she was the oldest and was expected to set the example for the other two.

Living and growing up on the streets of Brooklyn or East New York, Bushwick, maybe Bed-Sty among close knit Italian families, meant that you were watched and overseen by many, and to bring scandal to yourself would mean a lifetime of rejection, and a label that fit your social misconduct. Those cases were extreme, but they did happen. That guy doesn’t work or is a bum, she is a “putana” or she is crazy: were tags that people assigned.

As a 12-year old, one of the social engagements available at very low cost was roller-skating, and mom and her two sisters would engage in the joy of roller-skating on the street. But sometimes this innocent past time could be misconstrued if you weren’t careful. An innocent good time turned into a family scandal one day. As mom and her two sisters were skating, a boy came over to my mother and asked her to roller skate with him. Mom obliged and so they skated. My aunt Tessie, the middle child to my Grandmother Mary, immediately reported this innocent time and immediately grandma called my mother upstairs and discussed the event with mom.

Apparently skating with a boy in those days was a no-no, frowned on by decent young ladies and their parents and never to be practiced, even if you knew the boy from school. Mom resented her sister “ratting” on her and would tell the story over and over again, but laughing at the whole notion of what was acceptable back in the Great Depression, in an Italian neighborhood.

Tuesday, November 03, 2015


Being an immigrant that doesn’t speak the adoptive country’s tongue, it was very difficult for Italians to adjust to the new world. Although some English words were rooted in Latin, the mixture with Germanic rooted words made it hard to grip the guttural nuances of the English tongue.

Reading English was just as difficult as speaking or understanding the English language, and once again: the Italian immigrant was at a distinctive disadvantage. Today that seems to have changed for the better, as the influx of Spanish speaking immigrants are getting a leg up on English through their own language.

Mom told me a story a few times about the time my Grandmother, Mom’s mother-in-law can down with an illness, and was taken to the doctor for help by her two daughters. The doctor diagnosed the ailment and gave Grandma a prescription to take to the pharmacy.

Two weeks later Grandma was not feeling any better, and in fact was so sick of being sick, she decided to visit Mom with the prescription to see if things were the way they were supposed to be. She handed Mom the prescription bottle and asked her to read the bottle and to tell her what it said. Mom took the bottle and read it. “Take a teaspoon twice a day.”

Grandma got agitated and asked in Italian: “CHE COSA!?” So Mom read it again to her. Now Grandma is really agitated (agita) and tells my mother that her two daughters were giving her 2 tablespoons of the stuff, twice a day. It was a wonder she was still alive!

Of course Mom had to laugh at the whole thing, but the two daughters who were raised in American schools, never finished grade school, having to go off to work during the great depression.

Monday, November 02, 2015


Back in the 1950’s, not everyone owned a bathtub in Brooklyn. In fact many apartments had a common toilet that was situated between two apartments on each floor. People could at best sponge bathe, but sometimes that was not enough.

Grandma’s house for instance had only a toilet and a sink, which was in her hallway. It had a chain for the water flush and the two knobs on her sink had rust and water stain from the many years of use. They were old buildings, and you got whatever you could find.

There was one lady who we called: la Signora Smelly, not to her face, however she wouldn’t have known what we were saying. A rather large woman who was very pleasant, she carried a cross, mainly her husband, and a blond haired firebrand who we called “Il Comunista”. From northern Italy, he was devoted to Grandma, because she would always reach deep into her pocket book and help people out. Grandma voted with her heart, not with a philosophy.

Getting back to la Signora Smelly, she had a bad habit, she liked to smooch, and if I was around she would grab me, smooch my checks, while an over-coming odor over came me, forcing me to hold my breath for as long as possible, then just as I was about to pass out, I would breath in and almost pass out!

She was lovely old gal, with a soft-spoken manner, arms like Hercules and the smell of a zoo, who would quietly sit there while Il Comunista ranted about Truman and/or Eisenhower and the misdeeds to the people. He was a laborer (what else) who one day: grandma reached her boiling point. She told him if he found there was so much wrong in America, he should get back on the boat and sail to Italy.

My Uncle Mimi loved to see Enzo, as they would get into it, arms flailing and hands punctuating the air, as if what they had to say would change anything. If in fact you yelled louder than you opponent, it meant that you yelled louder than your opponent.

But la Signora Smelly was always calm, would wave off Enzo and give him a lecture like he was a crazy person. Then she would say goodbye, a long, painful, smelly goodbye! Sometimes as I write this I can still smell her. Enzo? He went with her, the love and smell of his life, that Communist bastard.

Sunday, November 01, 2015


If you were Italian, you might have had an Aunt Mary. You could have an Aunt Marie, but you needed an Aunt Mary.

Now Aunt Mary wasn’t rally an aunt, but a second cousin. She was a beautiful woman and quite a character, filled with emotion and the Italian way of demonstrating her emotions, with her hands.

Aunt Mary had a wonderful husband named Uncle Johnny and he died too soon. He was an entertainer and he took the time to entertain me. One day he had a trick tie, and as any youngster around 5 or 6, his audience was easy to work. I sat on his lap and he took a glass of water, and dumped it into his tie! Imagine that! He dumped a whole glass of water into his tie, then put the water back into the glass it came from! How did he do it? Like I said, it was magic.

Aunt Mary loved to talk and talk she did, as I was mesmerized by the manual ballet her hands performed, expressing herself so eloquently. By a show of her hands she could stress a point, name someone a son of a bitch and tell you how happy she was for you. She was cool.

Aunt Mary was one of these short ladies that did everything quickly, and you better be on your toes or you fell into her whirlwind. She was my Godmother’s neice and had two children, a lot older than I was. I had two cousins I really loved, because I didn’t have an older brother, one was my cousin Victor, and one was Aunt Mary’s son, Anthony. They were glorified in my mind and probably bigger than life too. She also had a wonderfully beautiful daughter named Marie, a daughter who was her best friend later in life. Italian families had great mother-daughter relationships, and Aunt Mary and her daughter Marie were the prototype. They both died within days of each other.

Aunt Mary came to this country from Naples early in her life, I think in her teens and grew up in my Grandmother’s home. She was treated like a daughter and sister in the household. Dad had a sister Angie, Victor’s mom and a sister Theresa or Tessie or Chi-Chi, named by my cousin Victor because he couldn’t say Tessie as a baby.

Aunt Mary worked in a factory that made children’s play clothes, operating a sewing machine, and she was so fast they couldn’t afford to let her be a supervisor. She loved my Dad who ran the shipping department, and would often come after work at night and visit. It was a visit I made sure to be near by for, because she was hysterical, saying things that were in her own vernacular, yet so true and at the same time funny, waving her arms as she spoke, filled with life. She was beautiful!

If you ever saw an over-zealous conductor in front of an orchestra, this was Aunt Mary. She stood to talk to give herself room, she could conduct the conversation a few doors away, she gave it body English or was it body Italian, every word, conducted with physical precision and carried by the high and low of her speech pattern. She was named 9.5, by whom else but me! Her right index finger was missing, someone said she lost it in a vacuum cleaner, which I once tested and don’t buy the notion.

When I look back at all my relatives, I realize how very special they all were, how they had so much to offer me, in good memories, love and happiness. I miss those days and wish I could have them back again, even if just for a moment.