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Grandma

Life Story Club Contributor

My Father

He taught me honesty. He was born on Lincoln’s birthday, February 12th, and he was just like Honest Abe – that’s what we used to call him. And he taught us to be very honest. I wouldn’t take a penny from anybody. Never, never, never. That’s what he taught me. He wouldn’t necessarily say a life lesson like that in words. I think you try to emulate your parents. But we all knew how honest he was from different stories that he’d tell us, where he worked and stuff like that, and I knew he was so honest. We all did.

My father was a doll, very comical, very funny man. Everybody loved him. Oh I could tell you some stories about him, he’s was so funny.

Portrait of great grandfather in 1904

Watch This

“The three of us used to come home from work together. So he’d be sitting down and he said “Watch this.” He’d start yawning, put his hand on his mouth yawning. And he’d say “Watch watch watch.” And everybody started yawning on the train and he thought that was very funny.”

1962, Concourse from the south. – Pennsylvania Station
Image Source: Historic American Buildings Survey

My Mother

My mom was a beautiful woman, and she was the sweetest thing in the world, so sweet.

My mother, early 1900’s

She worked like a dog. My mother’s mother died when my mother was only 13 and there were her three brothers and a sister. My mother had to take over the job of being a mother to her siblings and take care of her father…when she was 13. And so she worked so hard at 13. Her sister wanted to work and so didn’t want to do anything in the house. So my mother did everything, raised her brothers and sister and took care of her father.

And then she had four children of her own and worked like a dog taking care of us, being poor and everything. And she used to have her brothers come to visit and she’d go around the corner and get bags of food for them so they could bring it home ’cause they were either out of work or something. I was so young I didn’t understand why she was doing all this. She was so good to them all the time, you know? But owing money to the person around the corner, to the grocery store, just to give them bags of food, all of them.

Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Co., 246 Third Avenue, Manhattan, 1936
Image Source: New York Public Library

So I didn’t realize until I got older that these brothers and sisters, they were like her children because she raised them, you know? And that’s why she was the way she was, so good to them. And I’m thinking, you know, we’re your children – take care of us! Well, she always did anyway. But I’m just saying, I didn’t understand why she was doing this until I got older. I realized that they were like her children and that’s why she took care of them the way she did.

She taught me everything I am, cooking especially. She was a fantastic cook and I became like her, always cooking like a fiend, always cooking. And she gave me her big cake pan. That was her famous cake pan, she gave it to me ’cause she said only I was like her, cooking and baking the way she used to. I lost it, it was in the garage when we moved and I don’t know what happened to it, I’m so upset I don’t have it.

The Nuts!

I was about 5 years old, and I was walking with my sister Gloria. She took me some place I don’t know where, and I was coming home with her… So anyway we came into the house, my mother was bathing me. She gave me a bath and while she’s drying my hair I said, “Mommy, you know what I saw today? Two nuts walking down the street.” She said “Nuts, what are you talking about?..You mean …” I said, “You know the nuts!” She said, “You mean peanuts? You know, walnuts?” I said, “No, you know the nuts mom!” She said, “You mean two crazy people?” I said, “No, not two crazy people.” And she kept asking me and I kept saying “No, that’s not it mom. You know the nuts that walk down the street.” Finally I said “You know Mommy, the ladies that wear the veil over their head, black veil over their head?” My mother said “Oh, you mean the nuns?” I said “Yeah!” And I was so happy and I wrote that story in my English class in high school and my teacher loved it so much he made me read it in front of the class and they were all laughing! Oh, you know the nuts that walk down the street…”


Growing Up In Brooklyn

My mother and father had no money, we never went any place. I couldn’t even go to the Statue of Liberty. People were going to the Statue of Liberty or the World Fair. And I couldn’t go ’cause nobody would take me, they didn’t have any money. I remember being jealous that other kids around the block were going. They came home with like a little figure of something.

We never ate out for dinner, never went to a restaurant. I didn’t care. But we were poor. And my father also lost his job and I remember we had to eat a lot of potatoes and eggs for dinner. He lost his job at the time…God, another one. I don’t know how long it lasted. He had to use all his bonds that he had saved, I remember. My mother was so upset that he had to use the money saved. He worked for Bethlehem Steel Company. It was a big shipping company, and they used to get bonds. Then they fired everybody, you know, let go, and he had to get another job.

USS San Diego slides down the shipways during her launching at the Bethlehem Steel Company shipyard, Quincy, Massachusetts, 26 July 1941
Image Source:
Bureau of Ships Collection in the U.S. National Archives.

Working Days

I worked at 303 Fifth Avenue. My father had gotten a wonderful job in the city from somebody that he knew on Fifth Avenue, and so he got me and my sister a job there, an office job.

The Empire State Building from 41st St. and 5th Ave. New York City, July 4, 1933.

Image Source: Photo by Theodor Horydczak.

That’s was my first job when I graduated. My father knew everybody in the building ’cause he was chief engineer of the building. He used to repair things, you know electrical things. He was an electrician first of all by trade and he’d take care of everything, elevators, so what would you call him? Really a maintenance man right? But he liked the sound of chief engineer of the building.

And he knew the office, he knew everybody, so he found out that they could use some girls to work in the office and he got my sister and I a job, we worked together in the same office. 

My sister was in the entertainment field, so it used to bother her that she was doing office work. You know, my father wanted her to bring home real money so he made her get a job in the office. But she was bad at it. Then she was fired because she was always late and always angry.

And then my father was so embarrassed, so insulted that she was fired, he wanted me to quit. So I told my manager, I said “I’m quitting. My father wants me to quit, I’m quitting the job.” I was a secretary and biller. And he said “Oh, Pat, I don’t want you to go.” He said “I’ll give you a raise, I’ll give you a $5 raise, I’ll put curtains in the room, you don’t even have to do the billing anymore, just make sure the other girls in the office do the billing.” And I said “I don’t know, I’ll ask my father.” And my father said “You tell him if you stay you want a $10 raise.” So I went up there and I told him I have to have a $10 raise… and he said “Okay.” So he gave me a $10 raise. And I stayed ’cause they wanted me to stay, ’cause I was a good worker and I didn’t carry on like my sister.

Grandma, age 20

I got paid weekly. And when I left there I was making $74 and when I started it was $45 a week and that was a lot of money in those days, nobody was making $45 a week in an office job. So I already started high.

I finally left that place after four years. Afterwards, my father made me take the first job that came, you know that? I told the new job I wanted $74 and they said $64 or something like that. And I took it, I had to take a cut in salary because I had to take the first job. My father needed the money. He couldn’t miss out on my check ’cause I gave him a lot of money when I was earning $45. I came home with $39 after taxes and I had to give my mother and father $25 and I kept $14. That was to eat lunch, take the train to work, eat lunch, buy clothes, $14. But I figured they needed it and that’s why I didn’t complain about all that.

But of course I kept getting raises there too so I don’t even know how much I earned when I left. I went four years at the new job where I took a drop in salary, ’til I became pregnant (I married when I was at that job).  I was at the front desk and greeting people and I started showing and wearing maternity clothes, and they didn’t want that anymore. So I had to leave. That’s okay, I wanted to anyway, so I quit. But, they’re not allowed to let you go now because of that… And then I never worked again.


Raising a Family

I worked harder raising four children and taking care of a husband. That was my life. But I had a nice life with my children, I love them so much, the four of them. They were so adorable. I was a little over-protective, but you know, I don’t know, I didn’t know how else to be. I think I was told that by my children as they grew up. I don’t remember my parents being like I was. Maybe they were, maybe they sheltered me, I don’t know.

But that’s what I’m most proud of – my children. ’Cause I raised basically good kids, you know? I know a lot of troubles other people have had with their children. I had a little trouble. But all in all it was fine. Put a lot of work into it.

I Sucked At Driving

“Fourth try I finally got a license. I was too fast, too slow, too something else. The fourth try I did it. Oh, that was funny. Oh, gosh. And then when my children were little, they had to tell me where to go. Do you believe it? They told me how to get to places ’cause they would remember how grandpa would drive them around, how they got to these places. Me, I said “You’re always going a different way. I’ll never learn how to get any place.” He’s always trying a different way, like trying different ways, he said, just in case I get stuck and I can’t go one way I know another way to go home, go some place, you know what I’m saying? But me, I would get all confused. So my children had to guide me. “Take this street, mom.” You go this way and that way. Oh, they were cute. I love my children so much like I love my grandchildren.”

1976 Chevrolet Nova and Concours Advertisement Readers Digest November 1975
Image Source:
Flickr SenseiAlan

To My Grandson

I used to make a big cake when you used to come over. Remember that big round cake I used to make when you’d come over? You don’t remember, sometimes I’d make half and half, you liked chocolate and you didn’t like icing on the cake so I’d leave half the cake without icing and the other I’d put icing either chocolate or vanilla for your brother. You don’t remember?

Grandma’s Handwritten Chocolate Cake Recipe
Grandma baking her famous chocolate cake

What about Halloween? I used to have a little Halloween party for you. I baked a special kind of cake, oh it took me so long, I don’t remember what kind of cake it was. A man or something with a hat on. Oh, it was just a big job. And I think your mother took a picture of it. And I used to give you little bags of Halloween candy and a little gift inside and once you made fun of what I gave you, you said “You gave me a nail clipper.” Remember, I gave you a nail clipper?

Nieces to Pieces

We’d go to the… I forgot the name of that store. We’d buy a toy down in the basement. We used to go down a big staircase. Don’t you remember down to the basement, and you’d walk around. I’d say, “Only one toy!” And you knew exactly what you wanted, and then you said, “Can I have two grandma?” I said, “Okay,” so you got to pick out two.

They had a bunch of books on a table down in the basement there, and they had all the toys, I said, “You’re gonna buy some books now hunny.” So I sat down on something, I don’t remember what the heck, I was sitting waiting for you, and you sat on the floor and started looking through all the books. And I said, “Well, which one do you want? And you said, ” I don’t want any of them, I read them all.”

Oh gosh, you are so funny, so funny, so determined. You want what you wanted. You knew everything. Yeah, you looked through the pictures, you called that reading, but you were only a little boy. I think you were five. Four or five. No, you must’ve been three. ‘Cause I took care of you only for three years. The first three years, and then when your mother went to work she put you in a daycare. So you must have been three years old, gosh. Only three looking through all those books. Gosh. Three years old…

My Father

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Mom

Life Story Club Contributor

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.

The North End, 1930s
Image Source:
German Federal Archive

That’s what the North End was

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.

Don’t go near the newspapers

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… [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.

Frank Sinatra. 1944: Bobbysoxers run to camera
Video Source:
Clips and Footage

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.”


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.

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.

Here’s a prize!

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.

Nana, age 20 in 1953

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.

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.

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.

Volvo Advertisement Playboy August 1978
Image Source:
Flickr SenseiAlan

Meeting & Marrying Nono

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.

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.

Gerald in his army uniform

He’d talk to anyone

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.

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.

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.

I hope you do

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.

The North End

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