The fuckin’ bitch named us one by one. Though her pronunciation was not very good, that did not matter. How did she get our names? Depressed and frightened, we were placed on high alert. Imagine, Christmas Eve and on high alert.
We spent the night watching and listening for any sounds. The only sounds we heard were insects, animals, the occasional distant mortar and us, whispering.
My machine gun was loaded and ready. I had several cans of spare ammunition along with my 45 and my jungle knife just in case it became hand to hand combat. While standing in my foxhole, I pulled out my rosary beads and prayed. I did not want to die on Christmas Eve.
This was a Christmas Eve I can never forget! How did they get our names? And I never will forget Hannah.
“Tonight you will earn a medal for your bravery, but you will only receive it when they pin it on your dead body when it arrives home.”
My name for her… “Hanoi Hannah, the Bitch of Christmas!”]]>
He writes, “I was struck by something else: that among all those decades worth of family documents my parents had looked through, the delivery bill ($187.86…mine was under $100 in 1939) was the only thing they thought of sufficient interest to pass along.”
So what do we keep? What is important to us? What do we leave for the next generations, understanding that the amount of accumulated “stuff’ can choke a land fill if we let it?
Murphy asks…”What should the policy be toward children’s drawings and report cards? Toward family photographs and wedding mementos??”
I maintain that the photos are most important. From them we tell our story.
And coincident with all that, just this week, I found, in an antique store in Maine, this early photo of Polo Lake at Roger Williams Park in RI. My Dad took us there to romp on many a Sunday morning after church and before we went to Sunday dinner at Grandma’s.
I ask you, does this photo tell a story. A Family feeding the beautiful swans.
I can write a story from this. Can you?
Is it enough by which we can remember and record the past?
Customer : “Yeah,… no Andy Williams special this year, huh?”
Barber: “Oh yeah, he died couple weeks ago.”
Customer: “Yeah, Perry Como, too.”
Barber: “Yup. Perry Como, Dean Martin…all those good Christmas specials. Eh, eh… remember? But Andy Williams, what a good show.”
Customer: “Ya know who else we saw, and she did a really good job? What the hell’s her name? Boy she can really sing. Italian girl. I think she’s in a wheel chair now… she got attacked in the elevator…”
Another customer: “Annette Funicello?”
Customer: “Yeah…, no, I mean, Noooooooo. Not her. But she was good too.”
The other customer: “Connie Francis?” (Tom’s note: Born Concetta Rosa Maria Franconero, by the way)
“Yeah yeah! That’s it. Boy could that kid sing……She got attacked in the elevator.Too bad.”
“Christmas. Yeah, yeah. Ahhh, those great TV specials. I miss ‘em.”
Which do you remember…Grinch, Frosty???
Dad decorated a Christmas tree the way he did everything else, with pride. No, it was not the best or the most adorned, and it would not win any prizes, it was not what you would call a classic. But it was one of a kind… his.
He did it alone, from the purchase to the last strand of tinsel. He tied it to the roof, drove it home, screwed it into the stand, straightened it, and planted it by the largest window. Dad strung the lights in a spiral, hung the ornaments, the balls… silver, blue, red and green; draped the tinsel, skirted the stand, stuck the star on the top, and stood back. Perfect. “When I was a kid, we put real candles on our tree. We sat and watched them so the house wouldn’t burn down.”
The first memory I have is seeing the blur of lights, a glow seemed to fill the corners of my eyes with mist, and I was transported to a natural place. His tree was as green as a summer day and smelled as fresh as evergreens on the side of a mountain. Against the window, it radiated streams of low winter light that bounced off the balls, the tinsel and the ornaments, then filtered through the branches with laser like, speckled beams to the rug. The light’s glow and the tree’s aroma diffused throughout our house. It meant Christmas.
Each ornament was hung in the same place every year. Angels came alive, Santas brought gifts, balls reflected light and bells rang with joy. In the middle of the tree was a picture of me taken in front of the tree on my first birthday. And there was Dad’s favorite, a cloth Santa. “I bought that Santa when you were born. It’s as old as you.”
Santa was two-thirds the way up the tree. Made of cloth, stitched and glued, he was no more than four inches high, wore a tall red hat with a white cotton rim, a long red jacket that hung to his knees, light blue pants, a brown sack over his left shoulder and black boots. His droopy, pink face and blue eyes sung with joy.
Bursting with excitement on Christmas morning, the first thing I saw was the tree, and then the bounty; over the years appeared trains, a Red Flyer wagon, a football, shoulder pads, sneakers, a baseball glove, an erector set, a radio, a fire truck, ice skates, a hockey stick, and the bike, the Rocket Royal. The Santa watched from above.
Year after year Dad hung his Santa. The years went by, twenty, thirty, forty, fifty, sixty. Santa never failed. He took his place two-thirds the way up.
I married and had children. Each Christmas Day, Dad anticipated our arrival, and then he strolled to his tree. “That Santa is as old as your father.”
Over the years Santa aged too; his beard went from white to tan, he lost his left hand, his pants drooped, pine needles stuck to his boots, his sack shriveled, the piping on the front of his jacket needed stitching, the cotton withered.
My Dad died in 1996. We bought a small tree for Mom and decorated it, never failing to place the Santa. Mom died six years later. Disposing of their collection was difficult. As we discarded the old decorations, I panicked. Where was Santa? At the last moment, I found him, surrounded by hunks of tinsel, attached to Mom’s last tree, in a junk heap in the corner of the yard. I captured him. Was he smiling? That year he took his place on my tree. “See that Santa. Pop bought it when I was born.”
One year, I lost the Santa. I panicked, again, searched everywhere and still I could not find him. He did not grace the tree that year. “I know he’s here in this house.” Christmas passed. Santa missed it for the first time.
The following year, while unpacking ornaments, I found him, lying in the bottom of the box, packaged in a Ziplock bag, smiling up at me. I took a deep breath as memories surfaced, melting into tears in the corners of my eyes. “I found him, I found him.”
Santa took his place in the tree, two-thirds of the way up from the bottom. I anticipate our grandchildren’s arrival each Christmas and stroll to the tree. “See that Santa. He’s as old as I am. Pop bought him when I was born.”
Dad’s tree will ever remain one of a kind…ours.
* Published, Growing up Italian, New River Press 2009]]>
3 large eggs
1 tablespoon butter, softened
1 teaspoon plus 1/2 cup sugar
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, sifted
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup honey
Flour for dusting
Vegetable oil for deep-frying
In a bowl, whisk together the eggs, butter and the 1 teaspoon sugar until foamy. Sift the flour with the baking powder and stir into the egg mixture.
With you hands, work the mixture into a soft dough.
Divide the dough into 4 pieces. On a floured surface, roll each piece into a rope about the width of your index finger and 12 inches long.
Cut the ropes into 1-inch pieces. Toss the pieces with enough flour to dust them lightly; shake off the excess flour.
In a deep fryer, heat the oil to 375F. Fry the struffoli a few handfuls at a time, until puffed up and golden brown.
Transfer with a slotted spoon to brown paper to drain.
In a large saucepan, combine the honey and the 1/2 cup sugar and heat over low heat, stirring, until the sugar has dissolved; keep warm over low heat.
Add the fried balls a few at a time, and turn them with a wooden spoon to coat on all sides.
Transfer the balls to a large plate and mound them into a pyramid, shaping it with wet hands.
Sprinkle with colored sprinkles and let stand for 1 to 2 hours. Then just break off pieces with your hands and enjoy.
He wrote…” You may know that the Barstow Stove Company was a venture of Builders Iron Foundry on Codding Street…owned by the Chaffee Family…the work force was drawn from generations of Italians who cast the stoves for the kitchens. WWII was the end of many years of grandma’s stoves.”
Mr. Flynn wrote of how, because of his interest in the history of the Company, his “research was able to obtain some of the old stock certificates.”
He sent them to me…. “in recognition of the fact that you alone appreciate the memory of the stove.”
How kind he was. I have thought of Mr. Flynn’s generosity and now have had a chance to write of it.
I arranged to meet this fine gentleman for coffee one day, and he was a treasure of knowledge and kindness.
Yes, industry was king in our little state so many years ago, and The Barstow Strove Company enjoyed much of it. And people like Mr. Flynn, who appreciates history, was, and is, part of the kingdom.
“Thank you, Robert.”
Thank you, Joe]]>
Years later, I told my son this story. He got me a copy of a Wheaties box, signed by Reverend Bob. Thanks Chris.]]>
I found the story interesting. One hundred years ago, here in Bristol, a local group was celebrating its culture; most appropriate in our country and in this magnificent patriotic community.]]>
Carlino’s Restaurant in Garden City, New York has a great web site with great blogs. This one about pizza and Julius Caesar was a good one. Enjoy
So this is what Tony writes of the Hill. A ukulele player? Babe Ruth. The good old days, don’t you think? Wouldn’t you like to have been there; the proverbial fly on the wall, or maybe someone in pajamas.
“Ya jes caint make up this stuff,” a scribe might say.
Ice cream from Biagio’s on Manton Avenue and the Lincoln Woods Creamery after a day of swimming
Eating Chinese food with Mom at Chen’s Chinese Restaurant on the second floor over Thom McCann’s store in Providence
New York System hot wieners at various places: across from the Majestic, in Olneyville, and on Chalkstone Avenue (the original, still there)
A hot roast beef dinner at the Silver Top Diner on Smith Street near the old St. Patrick’s Church
Hot dogs at Haven Brothers in front of City Hall
Angelo’s Restaurant on the Hill
Shepard’s Tea Room
Lemon squares, sfogliatelle and zeppole
Picnics at Lincoln Woods with extended family
Lido Beach in Narragansett
Meatball and sausage sandwiches on Vienna rolls from DiLuise’s Bakery on Chalkstone Avenue
Hope Club or Fox orange and root beer sodas
Listening to Metropolitan Opera Broadcasts with my older cousin Nick Spada on Saturdays in his mother’s living room
Traveling opera companies at the Metropolitan Theatre…where older cousins brought me to see the big bands in the early 1940s…
Sneaking up the back stairs of the Arcadia Ballroom where I saw Louis Armstrong (Duke Belaire’s dad ran the place).
Playing the accordion at by Lillian Migliori’s recitals. She ran the Chopin Juvenile Club where I met young people who became stars — Christine Hennessey (ballet), Ray Martone (baritone), Anna Maria Saritelli(opera diva)
Playing trumpet in the La Salle Academy marching and concert bands
Listening to Italian 78 recordings on my grandfather’s windup Victrola
Swimming at the Olneyville Boys Club, in the “baby pond” at Merino Park, naked in the Woonasquatucket River, and at “The Bulk”, down from the bridge on Glenbridge Avenue
Riding my bike to Twin Rivers and, though forbidden, swimming in the abandoned quarry on Baltimore Street off of Manton AvenueSo…what did you like in those days…???
* Published ‘Grandfather’s Fig Tree and Other Stories.” New River Press, 2008