The Toritto Phone Book

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The white pages of Toritto, pulled from an Italian phone book in the mid 80s.

I have often expressed  that I grew up in a village, surrounded by grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins.  I wrote about it last year here:

https://toritto.wordpress.com/2018/06/22/it-takes-a-village/

It was a wonderful way to grow up and while I had what most would consider to be a “free range” youth there was always someone with an eye on us.  Th e Soviet Secret Police had nothing on my mother; she knew what we kids were doing before we did.  By my early 20s I had visited Lisbon, Madrid, Rome, Athens, Cairo and was wandering about East Africa.

While I grew up in a village of relatives, I also grew up in a “Little Italy.”

And not just any Italy; a very specific Italian village.

It’s the early 1980’s and Toritto is at the airport in Rome awaiting a flight to Venice.  I was traveling on business, my work in Rome done.  Wandering around the airport I cam across a bank of pay phones.  You remember those.

Among the numerous phone booths was a virtual library of Italian white page phone book listings.  Quaint indeed in this modern era of internet and Google.

An idea hits me – would the town of my grandparents be listed among the phone books?.

Indeed it was!  One page, two sides for the town of Toritto, Province of Bari / Apulia

I surreptitiously rip the page from the phone book when no one is looking!  Tsk tsk!  The pages are included up above.  A whole town – just one page.  I will assume not everyone had a phone in southern Italy in 1980.

As I quickly scanned the single page I came to the realization that on that page were the village people of my youth.  I grew up knowing those people, their names as familiar to me as my own.

You should be able to expand the page and see the names of members of the families who joined us in America; in New York, in my Brooklyn neighborhood.

You will see Bartolomeo – my first childhood friend who lived downstairs.

Me and Alfred Bartolomeo who became a well known architect specializing in rehabbing of Brooklyn brownstones, one of which he lives in.

DeVito – my grandmother’s maiden name, born and married in this town; here was a listing of the descendants of the family members she left behind in 1906 never to see again.

Laura DeVito Scarangella – my grandmother, who raised 8 children, 5 of her own and took my mom in off of the street when she had no where else to go.

Geronimo  – My grandfather’s first wife, Antonia Geronimo, who gave him two sons and a daughter before she died in Italy.  Her children came to America in 1906 with their new step-mother Laura when she married my grandfather  – little Gaetano, Vito and Margie – I knew them all in my youth and know their children and grandchildren.  Laura would have  5 more children (all at home, in their apartment), my father being the youngest.

Antonia Geronimo – this photo is well over a century old

My grandmother Laura was lucky when her sister married into the Poveromo family and followed her to America.  They settled in the Bronx and I remember clearly making the trek to her home for St. Joseph’s Day festivities.  I met more Poveromo relatives in Charlotte N. C. during the 1970s.  I had joined a bank in that city and they saw my name in the Charlotte Observer and looked me up.  “Do you know who we are?”  Of course I did.  They cared for my disabled son Michael the night my eldest dauhter was born.

Then of course there is my own family name – Scarangella.  I wrote to one of the names listed in the phone book and she was kind enough to obtain birth and marriage certificates of my grandparents and provide them to me.  We carried on a correspondence for several years.

She also helped me confirm that the family name was always spelled with an “a” at the end; our family now spells it with an “o” thanks to Ellis Island bureaucrats.  All other spellings of the name – Scarengello, Scaringello,Scarengelo etc. are all derived from the name as it is spelled in Italy.

In addition to my familial relations there were other village ties.  It seems that many if not most of the men arriving from this particular town started out in America as ice men; guys who lugged blocks of ice on their backs up the tenement steps to the ice boxes in the apartments above.  They all knew from those who had gone before what line of work they could enter into immediately to make a living.

Eventually these men evolved into “coal dealers” and retailers of fuel oil.  My grandfather was an ice man; by the time my dad was born in 1917 he was listed as a “coal dealer” on the birth certificate.  And many of these men from the same town, in the same business in different parts of the city knew each other.

Besides members of our family in the business there were the Cirillo and the Paccione, also still found in the Toritto telephone book.

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Uncle Vito, born of Antonia Geronimo and brought to America by my grandmother Laura Devito learned the business from my grandfather Francesco and went to the far reaches of Staten Island in the midst of the Great Depression to found a coal business and eventually  Scaran Oil, now one of the largest retail fuel oil and A/C businesses in the northeast.  It is still owned and run by my cousins. His son Frank became a prominent business leader and was a founding member of the Staten Island Hospital.

Cousins – Grandsons of Uncle Vito

Anyone know who this gentleman is?  I found this picture among my mother’s albums and don’t recognize him.  He is sitting in front of a DeVito coal truck with an address on East 77th street in Manhattan and a couple of ladies handbags.  A relative of my grandmother in the business?  Probably.

The little village of Toritto also gave us Cirillo family members who, like everyone else it seems, went into the ice and eventually coal / oil business.

An early photo of Cirillo Bros Coal And Ice, which was the family’s original
business before branching into the oil and gasoline business.
This photo of Gus Cirillo and his brothers was taken probably in the 1920s or early 1930s.

As a kid I can recall frequently passing the Cirillo Brothers Coal Yard on the Belt Parkway.  It was only a short distance from my Coney Island home.  It was at the foot of Bay Parkway at waters edge; the property was eventually developed into shopping mall – an E.J. Korvettes, a Brooklyn Savings Bank etc.  The Nellie Bly Kiddie Park was next door and moved down the road.  I believe it is still there.

Did the Scarangella and the Cirillo know each other?  I’m sure they did, coming from the same little town in the old country, settling nearby and entering the same businesses.  Today the Cirillo are major paving contractors in Delaware.

The Paccione family also went into ice, coal and oil, eventually branching out into carting, recycling and waste management.  Our families had inter-married in Italy and would see each other on occasion when I was a kid.  I remember their oil delivery trucks in the neighborhood as well.  Today Paccione descendants are artists, doctors, science teachers and major landscapers on Long Island.

The names on that single page of phone numbers were as familiar to me as my own.  Today those names are still found in the little town about 20 km from the Adriatic.  It is still an agricultural area, growing almonds and olives.  The town probably dates back to 800 A.D and is mentioned in Norman documents in 1069.  It has been a Catholic parish since at least 1171, when it was first mentioned.

The names on that page, names I grew up with in Brooklyn, have lived in the little town for centuries.

The streets are familiar.  There is now a piazza Aldo Moro, joining via Giuseppe Garibaldi.  There is a via Machiavelli.

And there is a via Scarangella.

 

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In Memoriam

My brother and sister-in-law – God Parents to my youngest daughter in 1979.

 

She passed away in 2016.

He passed away about an hour ago.  He was 88 years old.

In 55 years an unkind word never passed between us.  We had a lot of  private laughs being married to two sisters with their common idiosyncrasies.  Once a month on a Sunday morning  in our old age we two widowers  would have coffee and donuts together and smoke a good cigar out by his pool.

I will miss him and be gone from here for awhile.

Addio Vittorio

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The Hotel Torino

Welcome to the Hotel Torino! No not in Turin. In Eritrea.

First you need some background on how geeky Toritto wound up in Eritrea in 1964.

No surprise. We had troops there. We have troops everywhere.

One Spring day while at Ft. Devens in Ayer Mass. I received an order to go to Boston.

Yippee! “And what is my mission in Boston sir?” asks the dumb PFC.

“Get a passport” is the reply.

Where can I be sent where I can’t travel on my Army ID card wonders I.

I soon found out. Asmara.  Where? Eritrea.  Where’s that?  Near Ethiopia.

If you are wondering to yourself what Americans were doing in Eritrea in the 1960’s, read my post here:

https://toritto.wordpress.com/2015/12/18/christmas-at-kagnew-station-2/

Now Ethiopia an Italian understands. We did split two wars. Eritrea is actually a former fascist Italian colony on the horn of Africa  and in 1964 was under control and U. N. mandate of Ethiopia. Ethiopia wanted to keep Eritrea as it was her only outlet to the Red Sea.

So I traveled to Boston and was given a Diplomatic Passport – I am an” agent of the U. S. Government” – nothing about being a soldier. I am a member of the Army Security Agency which was under the command of the NSA.  I found that diplomatic passport  great for not waiting in line. Just wave that red passport in the sea of blue passports and its “Come right this way sir”. Very amusing for someone who looked about 15 at the time. (Hey, who is that guy??)

Italians had occupied Eritrea for decades  – Mussolini wanted to build the new Rome. Italy had also occupied Libya but Libya and Eritrea alone do not a new Roman Empire  make.  Everywhere else in Africa and the Middle East was already occupied by British or the French.  Eritrea would be the jumping off point for the invasion of Ethiopia. Italy had been defeated by Ethiopia in 1896. Mussolini took no chances. He used planes, artillery and poison gas against troops on horseback and armed mostly with spears or outdated rifles.

The Italian colonists followed the army and settled in, stayed on during WWII when the British took Eritrea from Italian troops and stayed on still rather than return to a war shattered Italy. They were still there in 1964 – some 30,000 in Asmara alone.  My name fit right in.

After being in Asmara a couple of weeks I discovered I had done most everything there was to do except make the trip to the beach at Massawa, the port on the Red Sea some 70 or 80 miles away.   Was I an adventurous sort?

Toritto overlooking the Massawa Road

Only one problem. Asmara was on a plateau 7,600 feet up.  Getting to Massawa involved a truly treacherous 40 mile drive down a two lane narrow switch backed road with shear cliffs on one side, no guard rails and traffic, including trucks coming in the opposite direction.   And they drove like Italians.

The road

After reaching sea level it was go like gang busters to cross a forbidding  inhospitable virtually uninhabited desert flatland where temperatures reached 120 degrees in the shade. If you could find shade.

No problem. The brave soldiers of the all conquering United States Army estimated it was a six pack of beer  trip for each man each way.

My first trip to Massawa was in the back of an open  ‘49 Willies Overland – high adventure indeed.  Down the mountain I didn’t look. Kept my eyes closed.   Across the flats I kept hearing the theme from Lawrence of Arabia in my beer filled head.  Poured some of the beer on my head to keep cool.   My face and arms had that crispy look.

Massawa at night

The annual mean average temperature approaches 86 °F  and is one of the highest found in the world.   In mid summer themperatures reach well over 100 degrees.  Massawa, being on the Red Sea is noted for its very high summer humidity as well despite being a desert city. The combination of the desert heat and high humidity makes the “comfort” index  seem even more extreme. The sky is usually clear and bright throughout the year.

We stayed at the beach. Lived in sleeping bags and lean-tos.  Barbecued over fires. Walked in the Red Sea.  Got some more sunburn.  Stayed wet.

Never stayed here – only good to buy beer

We could get necessaries in Massawa where the Army ran a supply depot and an R & R site.

But what about fun?

A bunch of us wanted to go into the city to a real bar with music and lights.  Like this was Miami.

Well there is only one place. The rooftop bar of the Hotel Torino.

The hotel in the background – closed during the Eritrean War but now rebuilt and completely refurbished!

On the roof of this “low budget” establishment was a bar from which you could see the sea. Around the edges a few potted palms and big Christmas style lights in Italy’s colors strung around the whole roof. There was a bar with stools and tables where one could sit alone, with friends or comely local girls.

Above all there was live music! And a dance floor!  A nice little Italian-Eritrean band played those Italian hits from the ‘30s. I could envision Mussolini’s picture and Italian Army Officers sitting under it in the very same spot sipping on a Compari and soda, cooled by a soft breeze from the sea.  Followed by British Army Officers sipping gin.  Followed by Americans drinking whatever was available.  A truly zen moment indeed.

It had been only 25 years since the end of WWII.  For a young early 20 something dude today it was as if the greatest conflagration in human history ended in 1993 and the band was playing music from the ’80s.

Toritto in Massawa -1965. I almost got killed in that Renault!

“Compari soda piacere” for Toritto as he sat directly under where Il Duce’s picture used to hang, listening to “Perfidia” enjoying the moment in time.  I knew it would never come for me again.

Walking down the rickety stairs as I was leaving I realized that half the rooms contained young ladies of the evening.  The price got lower as you approached the street.  I was later told that everyone called the place the “Four floors of whores”.  So much for ambiance.

The Torino was built in the 1930s and had seen it all. It has been completely refurbished since and it can be seen on the internet in its new mint condition in case you’re hankering to sit where Toritto sat at 22.  The modern fascist architecture of the day with a pinch of Ottoman is now considered art-deco.   It’s still rated low budget and I’m sure it retains that touch of seediness kind of like an Italian-Eritrean version of Rick’s Café Americain, only outdoors.

It’s a place to go for those adventurers who don’t want to travel on  a guided tour.  If you ever get there and sit in that roof top bar have a drink for me.

Buon Viaggio!

Red Sea breeze and indigo sky
pierced by a full moon hanging
like the Christmas lights
strung above the roof top bar.

Potted palm fronds, barely moving;
pretty young things, different colors
chocomocha café latte
Italian band plays thirties favorites.

Transported to another time
sitting now where dead men sat
hot breeze off eternal sea
they dreamed of home, of Italy.

Il Duce’s portrait here no longer
“Campari soda piacere”
gone the dusty dream of glory
I’m dancing to Perfidia.

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An Essay From October 2015

Its New Years and a time for reflection.  I posted this in 2015 under the title “Should I Care?” – and it is still relevant.

Kunduz

Yesterday while browsing the “news” between college football games I saw the Huffpo headline: “Afghanistan Falling to Taliban!”

Seems the Taliban had taken the Afghan “city” of Kunduz and was immediately attacked by government forces trying to push them out.  Apparently the U.S. joined in with air attacks against the “terrorists” – bombing and destroying a Doctors Without Borders hospital and killing doctors and patients indiscriminately.

Big help indeed.

We are in our 14th year in Afghanistan – a god-forsaken place if there ever was one.

I mulled over the headline and then said to myself – “Do I care?”

Should I care?

What does it matter to me if the Taliban returns to power in Afghanistan and bans listening to music?  Did we expect a Jeffersonian democracy to emerge after we pushed them out?  I wrote years ago that a non-Taliban Afghan President installed with our support was a dead man after we left.

Why should I care for one side or the other in an all-Afghan fight?

Our policies in the Middle-East have been absolutely stupifying commencing with the destruction of Iraq based on lies.  Seems we wanted “regime change” no matter the cost.

Not too long ago the region had the likes of Saddam, Qadaffi, Assad, the monarchial Gulf states, the Saudis and of course, “revolutionary” Iran.  Egypt has been under military dictatorship since Nasser.  There was no ISIS.

The dictatorships, sectarian in nature, were based on the Fascist parties of old Europe – a strongman, secret police and oppression of any opposition – including religious zealots.  Outwardly the dictators appeared more secular than religious.

The Saudi princes on the other hand run a theocracy as a family business as do the Gulf states.  The guardians of the holy places have been allied with the Wahabists since taking power and among the Wahabists are Salafists, who believe that the golden age was the 8th century.

The Iranian “revolution” is also a theocracy created after the students and mullahs overthrew the demi-fascist Shah who had been installed by the west.  The Iranian theocracy however is Shia; the Shia and Sunni branches of Islam have been fighting for fourteen hundred years.

Let us not forget that when Saddam went to war with the Iranian mullahs, resulting in 1.6 million dead including tens of thousands of boy soldiers, we sided with Saddam.  Then we sided with the mullahs, offering secret arms as a way to get the hostages released and to fund the Nicaraguan Contras.

After the attack on 9/11 (predominantly by Saudi nationals), we first attack Afghanistan and then attack Saddam, In toppling Saddam we removed the boot he kept on the necks of Sadrists, Sunni and Kurds.  Saddam, while certainly a bastard, was the glue that held the “nation” of Iraq together.

Today, after spending trillions, Iraqis can’t fight their way out of a paper bag with vast sections of the country now controlled by Sunni/Salafist, ISIS militants.  The Shia are supported by Iran and ISIS is supported by our “ally” the Saudi princes and Gulf states.

I won’t bother writing about Libya – it no longer has a central government worthy of the name.  Add it to the list of failed states; the west is responsible for it’s failure.

That the war in Syria is sectarian was obvious almost from the start, despite the credulous belief that Bashar Assad ran a nonsectarian regime. That a sectarian ruling minority fighting for its life would not fold easily was obvious within months, despite happy guarantees that the regime’s downfall would come within weeks. That a sectarian war in Syria would stir similar religious furies in Iraq and Lebanon was obvious more than 3 years ago, despite wishful administration thinking that staying out of Syria would contain the war to Syria alone.

What should be obvious today is that we are at the dawn of a much wider Shiite-Sunni war, the one that nearly materialized in Iraq in 2006 but didn’t because the U.S. was there, militarily and diplomatically, to stop it. But now the U.S. isn’t there. What’s left to figure out is whether this mega-war isn’t, from a Western point of view, a very good thing or a very bad thing.

Of course it isn’t just Islamist radicals of one stripe or another who are dying in Syria, but also little children and aging grandparents and every other innocent and helpless bystander to the butchery.

In Syria it seems we are opposed to all sides – we don’t want ISIS, we don’t want Assad, we don’t want the Russians or the Iranians.  Our position is almost laughable except it’s not funny.

We want “democratic moderates” – except there aren’t any.

Russian support means Assad is going to hang on to power.  Our Saudi allies meanwhile continue to support ISIS (whom we are bombing) while Iran supports Iraqi Shia (whom we covertly support while the Saudis oppose) against ISIS on Iraqi territory, thus far without much success.

So I again ask myself the question – do I care?

There are many voices out there that rail that America has not done enough.

“It’s tempting to rejoin that Syria is small and faraway, and that if Vladimir Putin or Iran’s Ayatollah Khamenei want to play in the Syrian dung heap they’re welcome to it. But these guys aren’t dupes getting fleeced at a Damascene carpet shop. They are geopolitical entrepreneurs who sense an opportunity in the wake of America’s retreat.”    The quote appeared in the Wall Street Journal in 2013.

Yet if Mr. Obama were to move against Assad today, the odds of success would be far longer. He would be going against an emboldened and winning despot,  backed by Russia. And he would be abetting a fractured insurgency, increasingly dominated by radicals answering the call of jihad. The administration has gone from choosing not to take action to having no choice but to remain passive.

On the other hand, I no longer know anyone in the military – none of my children, nieces, nephews, their children faces conscription. None of my friends have children or grand children in the military.  And Congress will not pass a “war tax”.

So should I give a rat’s ass about Syria or Iraq?

The rest of America doesn’t seem to  – because war is no long personal. War is for other people. War is for those who volunteer.  Your kid currently has a better chance of being killed at school or at the movies than by a bonafide terrorist.

Ask yourself  how you would feel if your son or daughter was drafted and this country took a side on a faraway battlefield in this mess.  If your kid faced conscription, three months at Fort Leonard Wood and then 12 months fighting ISIS, Assad, jihadists, Iranians or whoever  in Syria or Iraq?  If your kid hadn’t volunteered.

War is now for those people from military families (Dad was an Admiral) and poor kids from the rust belt with high school degrees and no prospects. It’s not for my kids or the kids of Congressmen and Senators and movie stars. War is not for the people with money, the one percent. Nope.  It’s kind of like hiring the Hessians.

If you support U.S. intervention, with boots on the ground, then you should support re-instating conscription.  How quickly the parents of millennials would be out in the streets  demanding  a negotiated peace.

Otherwise you’re just another chicken hawk – all for war so long as someone else has to fight and die in it while you make up a spin of how they died for freedom, when they actually died for nothing.

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http://worldcities4u.blogspot.com/2011/11/kunduz-hive-of-afghanistan.html

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Happy New Year!!

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Grandpa is having a drink!!

 

Happy New Year!!

🙂

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Bily and Me – New Years Eve 1959 – A Re-Post

coneyisland-1

New Year’s Eve, 1959. It was a mild winter evening in Brooklyn that year. A good night to be in Times Square…not that we were there. We locals always thought Times Square was for tourists.

Billy and me were walking the Coney Island boardwalk. Next year – 1960 – we would both turn 18, old enough for a driver’s license in New York City; this would be our last walking-around year.

John Kennedy was going to be President. I just knew it.  I grew up under Ike, and it seemed strange at first that he wasn’t going to be President anymore. When Pius XII died the year before, it also struck me as odd that we were going to have a new Pope. Pius was the only Pope I’d ever known.  I was burying the first of my childhood illusions. Nothing lasts forever.

Billy beside my house

Billy and me were best of friends.  We were from the day we met; we had a lot in common. We went to the same school. We were the same age. We liked the same things.

And we were both poor; standing on the bottom rungs of the economic ladder.

We lived around the corner from each other – I was on Bay 53rd street and Billy on Bay 54th.  Brooklyn old-timers will know those streets. They were directly across from Phil Pepper’s watermelon stand on Cropsey Avenue – dumpy little dirt “streets” that ended at the Coney Island creek. We each lived in a tiny little shoe box of a “bungalow” with two other siblings. Billy and I were the oldest in our respective families. I had two younger brothers and Billy had a younger sister and brother. Neither of us had our own room.

My family lived in a two-bedroom house. My brothers shared a tiny room with bunk beds and I slept in the living room on a Castro Convertible sofa (“Comfort, beauty and style!”).

Same with Billy.

My father was a hod carrier – an unskilled laborer at a construction site. Mostly he wheeled cement to brick layers who troweled it on for the next course of brick. Papa had an eighth grade education and epilepsy, but he kept a roof over our heads and food on our table all of his life. He worked himself to death at 56.

Billy’s dad worked at Davidson Pipe in Brooklyn on the night shift – for a few extra bucks. He hated the job, but it was all he knew and he too had a wife and three kids.

There was no money for college.   And no such thing as student loans.

We had both graduated high school the previous May. I got a job in the mail room of what is now Citibank. I was making $52 a week delivering the mail around the bank at 20 Exchange Place. I had a white-collar job! I had to wear a suit, white shirt and tie everyday to perform this important function. Billy was working in the neighborhood, at a job too nondescript for description – but it was enough to net him a buck or two.

So on that New Year’s eve, sipping from our shared pint of Southern Comfort, Billy and I strolled the short distance from our homes to Coney Island. Nothing was going on at home, we had no dates, and we couldn’t go to sleep so long as someone was watching television in the living room. They would, of course, be watching Guy Lombardo. It was a beautiful night, and for us perhaps an omen of the good things to come. We were seventeen, young and strong and the whole world was open to us.

After a couple of dozen clams at Nathan’s, it was up to the boardwalk. It was nearly empty of people. We walked and talked – next year we would get cars! Next New Year we would be able to drive. Freedom! Independence! Of course we would have to register for the draft. What kind of car will you be looking for? Convertible? Chevy? Ford? Who’s that girl I saw you with? How’s your cousin Ginny? I think she’s cute.

I was thinking of going to college. Or trying to go.  I was already tired of opening mail. City University was free if you could get in – it wasn’t open enrollment. I told Billy I was going to try the night school first.  Billy thought that was a good idea, but not for him. Billy had other dreams. Besides, no one from the upper Bay streets ever went to college.

We were drunk and full of hope that New Year’s eve. Growing up, girls, cars, booze, jobs and a new President.  We would get out of our dirt streets.

I left Bay 53rd street for good in November 1963, when I joined the Army. I had been going to night school at City University, but I was 21 and still living at home. The Army was the only “opportunity” for me to move away from dependency on  my father; to lessen his burden as he aged and be on my own.  Billy came to my going away party the night before I left for Ft. Dix.  We shook hands and said our grown-up farewells.  We weren’t kids anymore.

Four days into my Army enlistment President Kennedy was gunned down.  Ten months later I was on the Horn of Africa.

After joining the Army I never lived with my parents again.  I never went back to live in Brooklyn.  After my discharge I finished college, married and raised two fine daughters and buried two sons.  Billy married, but never left Bay 54th street.  He never left those dirt streets.  Though we could rarely see each other due to time and distance, we remained friends all our days; until suddenly he was gone. He died a relatively young man, in his forties, of heart disease and diabetes; unable to afford decent health care.

Before I left New Jersey for my current residence in Florida, I went back to Bay 53rd street with my eldest daughter for one last look. I wanted my daughter to see where I spent my youth.

Both my old house and Billy’s are covered by the parking lot of a big box store. Part of our lives, the places we dreamed our dreams, buried along with Billy.

Others will walk in Coney Island this New Year’s eve, especially if its an unseasonably warm evening.

Drink a toast to Billy.  My best friend forever.

Happy New Year

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Our Fabulous Christmas Wedding – 55 Years Ago Today

An nnual December repost

Feeding the groom

….so I had just turned 21 and in basic training at Ft. Dix N. J. and she was 18, fresh out of high school the previous June  (I took her to her Prom) and working at Ma Bell.

We were in love. Jeez were we in love…and I was coming home for 10 days leave over Christmas and New Years.

“What are you doing this weekend?” asks I.  “Why? What have you got in mind?”

“Want to get married?” says I. “Oh yes!” says she.

Well needless to say our very Italian parents had a fit. Her mother was screaming and ready to literally kill me.  My mother kept repeating “You know, you don’t HAVE to marry her!”.

There was an immediate family “get-together” at her house – the four parents sitting around a dining room table over a jug of Villa Armando Vino Rustico discussing all the reasons we needed to wait.  We sat on a couch together while our parents were deciding our lives.

Jacking up all my new found Army confidence I gently reminded all present that “I’m 21 now and she is 18 – we don’t need anyone’s permission to get married.  We would simply like you to be as happy as we are”.

My love was very proud of me.   The mothers glared.  The fathers relented.

“OK – you can get married – BUT you have to get married in church!”.   “Church” of course meant the local Catholic church.

So off went my baby and me to see our local priest.  “We want to get married!”  “Oh! Bless you! and when do you want to get married?”  “This weekend”

Silence.

See, the marriage had to be announced to the congregation for 4 Sundays in a row before the ceremony just in case anyone had anyobjection.  “But Father!;  if you don’t marry us we might live in sin!”  We couldn’t have two good parish kids living in sin now could we?  Not in 1963.

We needed to get a waiver from the Archbishop – so off we went sealed letter in hand from our parish priest to the Archbishop’s office, which at the time was in downtown Brooklyn,

The Archbishop’s office was run by nuns whom we couldn’t see behind opaque glass.  We were simply told to slide the sealed letter through the slot and sit.  Eventually we received a sealed letter through the slot in return and told to take it to our priest.

Our parish priest opened the letter and we waited for his answer.

“Well you got the waiver.  When would you like to be married?”

“This Sunday.”

“No.  Sorry.  Can’t do it Sunday  I can marry you this Saturday, December 28.

My brother was the best man. My love’s cousin was the Maid of Honor  (“Are you pregnant sweetie?”)  We bought our rings together.  Her dress was made by a dressmaker – originally for someone else – but was now “available”…..it was beautiful and with some alterations, fit perfectly.   I wore my buck Private’s uniform.

 

And so we were married on a bright warm Saturday afternoon on December 28, 1963 at the same church where my father and I had been baptized and my parents had been married.

My new mother-in-law hosted the party at her house. We personally called all the invited guests (not enough time for invitations!).  We didn’t have a honeymoon – I had to go back to Ft. Dix on January 2.  We spent our wedding night at her married girlfriend’s house in a basement apartment.  On our 25th anniversary she and I went on the grandest honeymoon money could buy but that’s another post.

We had our triumphs and tragedies.  We had four children together and buried two together.  We were married for 40 years before I buried her.   She was always my lover.  She was always my friend.  My best friend. 

mom-and-dad

Mom and Dad at our wedding

Today on my dresser is our prom picture, our “cutting the cake” shot, a picture of my mom and dad sitting at the dining room table (I forgot that they were ever so young) and pictures of our daughters.

Total time spent on wedding – 5 days.  Money?  Very little.

Memories?   Priceless.

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