This is not Fairy Tale,
But it is about how one family, my family, on how it began in America just when it was becoming a world power it became!
It’s about what I knew of my family, the Bianco family. What I later learned about past generations Biancos.Facts that were unknown about the Bianco’s in Italy,Its new beginnings in America, starting with my grandfather. It’s about my father, a quiet man of many talents And finally of my memories of life and how really wonderful it has been, and still to be, for the rest of the days of my life
Where to begin? Why simply from where Aniello Bianco started, and it was when he began living in lower Manhattan, yes, on Mulberry Street, where most Italians landed when leaving their homeland. However my Grandfather, Aniello Bianco, was a man different from most Italians that were arriving here in America, as most had nothing but their physical strength, and so, were forced into manual labor. This was not what my grandfather wanted, as he knew that America offered more, much, much more, so he looked for a way to be independent by hoping to start his own business. He came to America in 1894 and immediately found work at the Fulton Fish market, unloading boats and loading wagons with fresh fish. At the time, The Fulton Fish Market created a family of workers where employees and employers worked closely together. The work was considered unskilled, because it did not require any training, just doing what you were told and protecting your employer from his competitors. The Fulton Fish Market became a place where male Italian immigrants and even some criminals, could find jobs. The working conditions were harsh and physically hard in all weather conditions. The owners and workers dressed the same way wearing in high rubber boots, flannel shirts, wool hats, and aprons. At that time all the workers on the docks of New York and New Jersey had to belong to an organization that actually was controlled to the Mafia. Fish was unloaded starting at midnight and the selling began at 3a.m. Monday through Friday. The trust relationship between buyer and seller was very important, and customers, mostly male, wandered around the stalls looking for the best price. When the sale was made, the customer got a number to take to the cashier. Then workers, including my Grandfather, loaded the fish into a large wagon in order to transport the fish. By 9 a.m., the all sales was over, the floors and sidewalks were hosed down, and the market was empty until midnight when the process started again.. It was close to the Fulton Ferry, which carried people to and from Brooklyn and Manhattan. The proximity to the East River provided an opportunity to sell fresh fish.
A picture belong here
Before the 1930’s, fishmongers waited at the docks to unload fish from the fishing boats that docked at the piers, and Aniello was one of them. The market has been plagued with extortion and racketeering since the 1900’s. Personal loyalties and comradely within firms and the market as a whole, insured fishmongers’ protection from within for each other. Organized crime in the Fulton Fish Market is traced to Joseph “Socks” Lanza, a close friend Aniello made while they worked together loading and unloading fresh fish. It was when Lanza was still young and inexperienced and worked alongside of Aniello in the market. Eventually with the help of his family, Lanza organized the United Seafood Workers Union in 1909. Lanza kept the market running smoothly, but ran outrageous rackets, but Aniello wanted no part of it, and went his separate way. Wagons that were shipping fish from out of state could be charged up to $2000/year, just for the right to deliver its cargo; most of Lanza’s revenue came from this. Aniello, being an old friend and compatriot, never paid a cent, and when he went into his own business, he just wanted to be left alone to find his own way. An investigation was started in 1926, and by 1933 enough evidence had been collected from less than reluctant witnesses to charge Lanza with racketeering and extortion.
Aniello, because of his inherited abilities and even stronger dreams and desires, soon found a way of starting his own business. With the knowledge he obtained from his working at the Fulton Fish market, he saw that most Italians on Mulberry Street, the street where he lived, had to travel many blocks away to the Fulton market to buy their fish. They had to go to Delancey Street, which was a many blocks away, and there were individual markets, each selling a different kind of food, filled the streets with carts and storefronts where they sold everything but fish, as it was sold far away in the Fulton fish market. Aniello realized that he could bring fish to his Mulberry Street and thereby sell that fish at prices with a convenience to his neighbors. His old bosses liked the idea because he saved them from throwing away fish that was left over, that would otherwise go bad in the wait for the next day’s sale, giving them added profits, not to mention their knowing of his close friendship to Lanza. So he bought a used cart that was easily available, as there was many small manufacturers making them and were plentiful. Other men had similar ideas but selling different products. His cart had two large 4 foot high wheels with steel rims and back legs to keep it stable while he went around it to sell his fish to a customer. Also on the cart he added 2 cow bells that hung high on a wire that stretched across two upright boards that he attached on each side in the middle of the cart. He pushed it from behind using two handles that allowed him to control and steer it by raising it slightly in the back as he walked. With his newly painted cart, he began to bring his idea into a reality.
An Important point to mention here was, as he was doing all this, and in his spare time, he studied for what was necessary to become a Citizen. Sure enough he became one within two years after he arrived in America. He continued working for his bosses in the fish market, who knew he was a go-getter and therefore trusted him. He would rise very early after working all night and go back to the Fulton Fish market, buy his fish and was given the ice necessary to keep the fish fresh. He would then push his cart to Mulberry Street taking an hour to do so, as he wanted to start from it’s beginning at Canal Street and work his way slowly all the way up to its end at Houston Street, which was about a two miles stretch, and which was much later called “SOHO”. He was young and powerful and had a dream which gave him the strength to do it. So, he would begin “His Route”(which we later pronounced to sound like shout) at about 8:00am, ringing his bell, and yelling “OH PESHE”, “OH PESHE”, which when translated simply meant “Fish, fish, I have Fish”. Slowly but surely, more and more people became his customers as his business and reputation grew. He started extending “credit” to those people who had to wait for their salaries. After being in America for about five years, and as his business was steadily growing, he decided to go back to Italy and marry. He knew who he wanted as his wife, so it was just a matter of traveling back, asking her, marrying her, and then returning to start his family. In the meantime having a personality that allowed him to have many friends from the neighborhood, he chose one, Vincente, who was bright like himself, to run his business while he was away. He knew the best way to keep his friend honest was to tell him to keep all that was earned from the business. He spent the time necessary for his friend to learn all that was needed, from starting his day at the market buying fish, to ending it by cleaning up in the horse barn on Grand and Mulberry Streets. So, off to Italy he traveled via a Tramp Steamer that allowed some of its passengers to work their way across, since he was experienced from his trip to America, he actually received a salary as well. He was now a seaman as well.
After arriving home in Mugnano, Italy, he was ready to ask his vivacious girlfriend of the past, Elizabetha, to marry him, and after little while, return to America with him. Who was this women he loved and wanted to spend his life with, as in those days marriage was sacred and truly, truly final. Well, she had to be really special because physically they just didn’t fit, as she was near six foot tall and big all around, no not fat, but just big, while in comparison, my grandfather, Aniello, was just a little over five foot tall, but square and solid like a rock. When arriving back in Avellino to marry her, he naturally had to go to her parents for permission. His own family were so happy to see him again, and learn that he had been very successful in America, that they proudly told the whole town of his experiences, and maybe bragging a little of his wealth. In the meantime, her family, who were called The Belloises, after hearing about his adventures, said they were very much in favor of Elizabetha marrying him. Also, they knew my grandfather was now an American citizen, and rich in comparison to most of the people of his village, but more importantly for another very strong reason as I’ll now describe.
The Bianco family has a wondrous history, as five generations back, my grandfather’s great grandfather, was considered a hero by all the people in the southeastern part of Italy/ However, all the people of the North thought him a terrible villain. He was the man, with his army of volunteers, who defended his area against the armies of the northern cities who were trying to unify Italy under one King. He was a very powerful individual who thought nothing of killing if it was to protect his area. One time he actually killed all the people in one family, it’s men, women, and all their children, because they were secretly supporting and supplying information to the Northern spies. He did this by asking all the townspeople out to the square to witness their execution. Everyone feared him, but they also respected him for his bravery. In an Italian history book written about the events of 1800’s and those events that changed Italian politics, describes him as a man that was feared everywhere, and one who thought nothing of killing to protect his homeland. He was know locally by a nickname, “Il Tremilyre”, or :The one to be feared”. All his townspeople and soldiers, no, not really soldiers, but militia, were completely behind him. As long as he was alive, the North was stymied and so after a time, the Northern Generals conspired and hired two of his closest comrades to shoot him in the back, when they were alone with him. This they did easily as he trusted them, they truly were his closest comrades. After learning of his death the townspeople went wild and the two were captured and were killed, not by simply shooting, but brought to the middle of the town square and stoned to death where everyone could see.
However, once “Il Tremilyre” was eliminated from the scene, the North was easily able to move south to take control over all its towns, as all of his followers were now leaderless. Finally the northern armies was able to unite the rest of the country. The book describes in detail his life and death and the repercussions that followed.
So, getting back to my grandfather, with the genes of Il Tremilyre inside him, he too was both feared and respected. He was born and grew up in Mugnano Del Cardinale, which was a section inside the town of Avellino, but at that time it was not a true city, but rather a village. Mugnano was situated on the southeastern side of the only true mountain in the south of Italy, called Vesuvius. So now with the permission and blessings of the Belloise family, he married Elizabeth, in a large Italian wedding that went on through the night and then some. The Belloises were noted for their charm, happiness, and spunk, and even today that family makes everyone around them, happy with their antics and laughter. My grandmother, being a Belloise, had all their attributes and then some, as her laughter filled the room wherever she was, and her pranks made her laugh even more. A few months after the wedding, she became pregnant and as the time passed, with Aniello meeting with his family and friends as well as preparing to go back to America, he realized that she was nearly ready to deliver her child. Aniello could never allow her to have this baby in Italy, as he wanted his children to be Americans, as at that time, as it is today, when a baby was born on American soil, he or she automatically became an American citizen. Knowing this, they said their good-byes to their families and friends, promising them that he would slowly try to bring each of them to America that wanted to come, one at a time. Eventually, He did, and went so far as to bring his friends as well, two of which I’ll speak of later in this adventure. So, off to America they went, again with him working his way across. In a very short while after their arrival on Mulberry Street, on September 23, 1901, she bore a boy that they named Salvatore Anthony, as was the tradition, after Aniello’s father. That boy eventually, when grown up, become my father. Aniello was so proud of his son that he gave him everything he wished for as he was growing up.
When settling back on Mulberry Street, Aniello immediately rented one half of a floor (2 cold water apartments) in a building on the corner of Mulberry Street and Prince Street, a street named after a famous Prince, from Ireland, who died here and was buried at that spot. Later on in this story, you’ll learn why, but now was the time for Aniello to get back to his business, and his friend was ready for him to take over. He did so, but made some major changes due to what he had learned in Italy. He knew his little company had to grow, and that a push cart alone would never allow him to do that, so he purchased a team of horses, and a wagon that they could pull. He still continued to sell on Mulberry St, as now it took no time to cover his Street, he also found other work by knowing Lanza, now the local Mafia boss. Young friendships are hard to break, so Lanza allowed him to deliver bananas from the arriving boats to warehouses in the city. He did this, and went after any other work he could find using his new horse and wagon team, now with using his friend, Vincente, helping as he felt indebted to him for taking over while he was in Italy. One thing he made sure of was to impregnate his wife, Elizabeth, as fast as possible after she had her first child Salvatore. It always took about eighteen months from the birth of her last child to the next, except for the one time when a little girl died in childbirth. So, eighteen months later sure enough, a daughter, Louisa, was born. Aniello was little disappointed because he wanted sons to help build his business, but as it turned out, Louisa became very independent and did not immediately follow the ways of women of that time. You’ll hear more about her later in this story.
At that same time, more competitors came onto the scene and were now vying for his customers, as these truckers were either part of the Mafia, or paid the Mafia to allow them work around the docks. This made him realize that his business would never grow in that direction and maybe he might even lose some of it, as now the Fulton Fish Market became a strictly wholesale business that sold a minimum of ten pounds per order to fish retail stores, restaurants, and hotels. Realizing this, he was able to concentrate more on the business carting Bananas, and looked for any opportunity to try to get into the other parts of the market, mainly with the meat wholesalers. At the time the vendors of the meat markets there, were forcing the fish wholesalers out of their market locations, due to the rapid growth of the meat industry. As this was happening, Aniello saw that he must find a customer in the meat market. Again with the influence of his friend, Lanza, he was able to get a small amount of the meat business. Eventually, because of his quality service to the meat wholesalers by doing extra things for them, his reputation grew. He could be depended upon to perform these extra services, like getting his fish customers on Mulberry Street to buy from the little meat retailers opening up around the city. The butcher shops, as the retailers were being called, liked the idea that he would do extra work for them, like pick up saw dust from the docks where barges were delivering saw dust to warehouses. It was a standard practice that butchers and all other retailers laid saw dust over all their showroom floors, which soaked up any blood or other wet materials that would come into the shop. Actually from my memories while still very young, and walking through these shops, they had a fresh woody smell, and you could drag your feet through it to make a word or a picture. At the time, people thought nothing of it to spit on the floor wherever they were standing. This was one big reason for the sawdust, as everyone thought that it was sanitary and was used in this manner up until my days working in my father’s trucking business, which at the time was called “The Five B Trucking Co”. It was at this time, the city of New York prohibited spitting by putting up big signs that were placed everywhere, but nothing changed. It was only after big fines was given to people when they were caught spitting, that it worked and stopped the spitting. Today no-one would ever think of spitting, in fact they would probably yell at the person as being a slob.
So Aniello would bag the saw dust at the docks and then was able to sell the sacks to his customers. He now was in the sawdust business, which allowed him to also supply the neighbors of his butcher customers alone streets who had a retail business. With the advent of getting more and more butchers to deliver to, he proceeded to buy more horses and their matching wagons. He also realized that at holiday time, he could deliver turkeys and Hams to his Mulberry Street customers by buying them from these same retailer butchers. When my father was old enough, he too would drive a team and with it learn the business from the bottom up that he would eventually take over. The meat wholesalers would pay my grandfather, Aniello, and he would in turn pay his friend and now two other drivers due to the added business. However, the time came when the meat wholesalers and fish wholesaler were at odds with each other and most of the fish people moved across the street away from the market and so created their own market. Eventually, the fish business was growing faster than the meat business and the meat wholesalers realized they needed the fish people back to keep the market open. Eventually, the market did close and the meat industry was forced to move over to 14th St and Ninth Ave, an area that was mainly railroad yards. A company that was growing very fast built a 10 story factory that produced it’s crackers and cookies, and it was called NABISCO. Now it was closer for Aniello to work from his home and his horse stables, which were one block south on Mulberry St. As time passed more sons came of age and they too were given a team to drive. The business grew with four teams and hopefully more to come, as more sons were born and then eventually came of age. Aniello was getting old and he relied more and more on my father, Salvatore, to run the everyday affairs, however, he still held the purse strings. With all his business done in cash, he eventually was forced to consider a bank to keep it in for security reasons. His friend Lanza was now too big a racketeer, and his interest and protection to Aniello was gone, as he and Lanza grew apart, but not forgotten. So a small bank was just starting four blocks south on Mulberry Street. It was called “Bank of Italy”, a natural name for a Bank on all Italian Mulberry Street. This bank would eventually branch out and grow to become “Bank of America”, one of the largest banks in today’s world. Into that bank he kept his money and he watched it grow as the years past. I think the bank is still there today, dark and empty, but there, with it’s sign “Bank of Italy”.
Getting back to my father, from the start, he was spoiled and got whatever he wished. Another very different thing about my Grandfather was that he told everyone to speak only “American” English to his children and grandchildren. Yes, his children were to understand Italian, but only English was to be spoken in and around them, and this was very surprising as he and my Grandmother could only speak Italian. He wanted this because he felt that his siblings and eventually theirs, were Americans and not Italians. So, what little Italian I learned was from him and my giant of a grandmother asking me, my brother or sisters to do something for them, it was in Italian, cause, that’s all they knew. They did try a little English…like “Backouse”(bathroom, or back house).He never used Italian curse words, but she was excellent at it. One word she used all the time when yelling at my uncles was “SKI_VUSE”, I don’t know what it means but it got her point across, and they listened, or else.
Thereafter, every 18 months or so, another child was born to them. Next to come along was a daughter, named Louisa (Louise), then another boy called Aniello (Al), then another girl the named, Angelina (Angie), and then another boy they named Antonio(Tony), and another, Mich’elle(Michael), then another, Juseppie(Joey), and another boy, Rafael(Ralf), and lastly a girl named Amelia(Millie), and that was it, just enough! It took eighteen years to accomplish this and all the boys learned fast that they were always beholding to Salvatore.
Below is a picture of my Grandparents 40th Wedding Anniversary (in 1939) with all their Children. My father, Aunt Louise, and Aunty Pici, were already married and had already started their families, except Aunty, as she never would have Children. By the time I came along she had given up and was slightly estranged from her husband Frank Pici, so when I was born she took me on, helping my Mom who was overtaxed with having three other very young children to care for. I had double pneumonia at age one or two, was the spoiled one, at least at that time. My Uncle Raffie also thought me special, as everyone said I looked just like him, and so wanted to show me off. He hadn’t married yet and was going out with a girl who was slightly connected to the Lanza family. I didn’t inherit his tight curly hair which he had all his life, but I did inherit his poor teeth, and yes; he was the handsomest of all, so I guess I did really take after him. One time, many years later in the mid-forties, when I was 12, while working for fun with my Uncles, my uncle Mickey told me that my father got everything and all the other sons could do was watch and envy him.
The Complete Bianco Family taken in the 40’s
I’ve included this picture just to show the changes in the family. it shows Marianne’s wedding in 1952-3?. I found 7 out of 9 of my father’s siblings. My father and His youngest sister, Millie are not in it.
Salvatore, pronounced, Sal Va Do’de, my father, was sent to Kindergarten at age 5, as my grandfather knew that an education was the only way to really get ahead. Little Salvatore’s Kindergarten teacher’s name was Miss Speirer, who was a wonderful young lady who loved working with Children, as I can attest to, as I too, was taught by her, when she was much older and I was five, 31 years later. The school entrance was around the corner on Prince Street, between Mulberry and Mott Streets, and facing the red cemetery brick wall of the church. The school was called St Patrick’s and was set up by its church, Old Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, that was located around the corner on Mulberry St, between Prince and Houston Streets.
picture of wall on mulberry st
you can just see the Red Brick wall
It was called St Patrick’s “Old” Cathedral that had been built in the mid- 1800’s, because a Newer, Bigger, and more famous Cathedral, was also called St Patrick’s, that was built in Mid-town on Fifth Ave and 39th St. very much later, and where Cardinals were in residence. One, was called Cardinal Spellman, who had a very large High School named after him after his death, which was built in his honor and called Cardinal Spellman High School. This High School has become one on the most prestigious in New York State. At any rate, and no matter what, our church was even more wonderful and beautiful and had real catacombs beneath it. Us four of Salvatore’s children, would go there to mass and communion every morning at 7 o’clock mass and we would be in wonder, for no matter where we looked around the church, there was another old splendor to see, as the ceiling went to the sky and everything was carved in granite and marble. Completely surrounding this great Cathedral was a red brick wall, with a very old Cemetery within it, and it dated back to the days of when Manhattan was just beginning to become a great city. In that same cemetery there was buried an actual Prince, I believe, from Ireland, who was buried there just after the church was founded. His headstone was a tall 4 sided tapered column that went ten foot above the height of the 12 foot red brick wall. Looking from Our Grandparents window, you could see down into the cemetery and the obelisk elegantly standing with a head shaped dome wearing a marble royal crown slanted askance on it, with a stone shaped scarf wrapped around its neck, having a carved crest showing his royal heritage. This grave was why the street directly alongside it was named Prince Street.
this is the front of St Patrick’s and the cemetery wall. When I was 7 or 8 we played curve ball by slamming the ball at the bottom of the wall at the curb, then running into the street where bases were marked with chalk. We also played “Johnny on the pony”, where 4 or 5 players on a team, one set across the street ready to run to the wall where the other set was against the wall with the first boy bending over leaning against the wall, the second one would lean over and hold around the first ones back and so forth with the next and the next. The other team would one at a time run across the street and jump onto the back of the boys leaning down like they were going to ride a pony. It was important that they jump far enough to allow all their team member to jump on. If they couldn’t then they lost and they had to go against the wall and do the leaning. Fat guys were a terror, cause they would land hard and the team leaning would crumble and fall giving the running players a point, and so on. Lots of fun and laughs… nobody had toys, so this made up for that. There was many strategies that teams used, but the most favorate was to make the little skinny guys go first and fly to the wall.(I was one of the fliers, and many time I would fly to far and hit the wall solid. My brother was one of the fat ones and he was saved for the last, so he could land on the last with all his weight and all would come tumbling down. OOPS!!! Sorry for the digression!
The church had a school that was run by The Sisters of Charity Nuns, who lived in a small house built for them along side of the school. They had habits that were all black with long robes that touched the ground, with a cape surrounding their shoulders down to their waist. Their skull shaped hats covered their heads completely, with no hair showing as it was probably cut very short. The hat was actually a bonnet with a serrated brim that encircled their face from one side of the chin to the other, in a fan affect that had a big black bow that hung down under their chin and over their robe in front. At their waist, was a heavy twisted rope of the same color knotted in front with long tasseled tails, and hanging from it was their rosary beads. As I recall the wonderful memories of my childhood, they were gentle, loving and were called Sisters. I still remember my 4th grade teacher who was both funny and kind who constantly pushed her finger under her bonnet scratching an eternal itch. Her name was Sister Sicilia, an Italian name, but a woman of Irish descent who we all loved, who had charming ways to make us children react, who by the way, called me “Sal Va Tor Ray”. Hey wait, this is about my father and not me, but this only shows that we experienced the same things while growing up. By the way, any kids who laughed when she called me in that way, was in for a big beating afterwards, so nobody laughed. Being left-handed, I always did the opposite of how others fought, so I always had an advantage no one knew about, besides I was very skinny, but wiry, and had no fear, and just loved to fight. I later learned that my genes had some of my Grandmother’s Belloise traits, as two of them of my father’s generation became “World Champions” in Boxing, one, Mike, The Feather Weight Champion, and Steve the Middle Weight Champion.
The Nun on the Right, a Sister of Charity, was how my teachers dressed and who taught both me and my father at St Patrick’s. The Nun on the Left is an Ursline Nun that I was later taught by, at St. Philip Neri School in the Bronx, from 5th to 8th grades. We moved there on our Grandfather’s suggestion, as he wanted all his family to move there to be by the Belloise’s. Back to my father!
I really don’t know too much about how my father grew up, but it must have been wonderful for him as he received anything he could wish for. When he finished St Patrick’s, he went to a high school called La Salle Academy, at 215 E 6th Street NY, run by French Christian brothers. Coincidently, I went to a High School called De La Salle on 74th Street in Manhattan, having “Brothers” from the same order, French Christian Brothers. I don’t know how his marks were, but I do know he was a wiz at math. I can remember him running his finger down a column of numbers on a piece of paper as fast as a ball dropping to the floor, and then simply call out, or write down the correct addition. Wow!
He never finished High school as he was needed in his father’s business, as it was growing very fast, and he knew his future and his brothers as well, was staying with the business. Now Grandpa had 3 strings of horses to pull his wagons and as each son was old enough, he was brought into the business, after learning how to handle team
of horses, My Grandfather would buy another string and wagon for that son after his training was finished. All the horses were kept in a stable which was a few streets south, just down on Mulberry St., near Grand Street. It had four floors and a ramp going from floor to floor, as there were no elevators in those days. The garage is still there today, but is now a true garage with an elevator. Coincidently, after my father left Bianco Bros to retire, the business failed for lack of direction, his brothers rented this same garage and operated it for many years until each retired. Going back again to the time when all were young and the business was growing, all the boys had to stable the horses after their days work, and clean the stalls to be ready for the next day’s work, however, when they returned home, they found their mother ready with a meal fit for kings.
This is a good place to stop and describe my Grandmother, Elizabetha, as I knew her. To start with, I remember her as being a giant in my young eyes as I was very short (5′) till I was 17 and then grew to 6’2”. She was then nearly six foot tall and weighed about three hundred pounds plus, (check her out in the picture above) with her hair in a bun in back, however, when she let it down, it went past her waist, and most of all, she was loaded with laughter, always with a gigantic smile on her face and bellowing laughter. A trait that all Belloise’s have, yes, she was a true Belloise and more will follow about that family. She would lean out their third floor window all day long, above Mulberry Street, to watch the world go by, but also to then gossip with her neighbors who were also above and around her, as well as across the street, all were doing the same thing, leaning out and getting the latest gossip, all in Italian. Now my grandfather was by comparison, just about five foot tall, rounded but not fat, who ran his home like his business, with a stern hand. That is, except for my father, who could do no wrong, and after he left high school he began working with his father full time, learning ways to improve it. One thing was to move slowly into more hauling of meat. When he was about 20, he began going to Broadway Shows nightly, dressed in a fine tuxedo, custom made to fit him perfectly that is still in our family. That same Tux, I gave to my son Michael, as he was the only one thin enough among us to now be able to fit into it. At one time I too wore it, that is, when I was in my 20’s to my forties. My father would buy tickets for a particular show playing that night, and would attend, but I don’t know if he brought a woman along. It was at this time he began smoking those same cigars his father smoked, Stogies, soaked in red wine. He saved all his playbills from the shows he attended, and when we were young, we would look at them in awe. My God! He saw Al Jolson, Eddie Cantor, and “The George White Follies” to mention only a few that I can now recall. We kept these play bills, but somewhere over time they were lost. (Note here: My sister Nanette says she has them.) My dad had life made, but his brothers didn’t appreciate the fact that he got to do everything, and all they could do is dream. One day his father told him he wanted to go to the place that sold cars. So, my father took him to a dealer that sold Duisenberg cars.
While in the showroom, my grandfather showed my father the car he wanted, my father then went to the salesman, told him that they wanted that particular car and how much was it. The salesman laughed and said to forget it as they couldn’t afford to buy that car as it was just too expensive, thinking to himself as he looked at them… “Greeseballs, just low class Italians”. My father said to him again, “How much?” The salesman, laughing, then told him with a sneer the huge price. My father turned, told his father the price, who then gave him cash for the total amount, and my father turned to the salesman with it in his hand. The salesman couldn’t believe it and said that the car was a show room sample, and not for sale. My father said “Do you want to sell that car or not?” Well, they drove away with that car.
A picture of a 1920 Duisenberg
As it turned out that car became the turning point in my father’s life. I don’t know exactly when, but one day my father, along with some of his friends, took a long ride to upstate New York. They brought along with them, bootleg whiskey made by our famous “Uncle Mike” (One of my grandfather’s close friends), that turned out to be either too powerful, or just very bad. All aboard passed it around as they traveled north, but it was so strong and powerful that it affected everyone, and most importantly, my father, who was driving. I’m assuming that he was knocked senseless by the drink, so much so, that he crashed the car into a bridge wall along the side of the highway. Again, I’m not exactly sure, but I believe at least one of his friends aboard was seriously maimed, or killed. This event changed my father’s outlook on life… no more the gay blade… no more being spoiled…and definitely no more bootleg whiskey! This was the story that was told to me by my Uncle Al. After a while, when he was about 24, his father told him to go out again with cash, and buy another string of horses and a new wagon as well, business was getting even bigger, with more sons coming of age. My father took the cash and came back with a 1919 Cabover Mack truck, which had wooden wheels, hard rubber tires, and a Cab body that had two open sides, no doors or signals, with just a bench seat, a steering wheel and with a curved roof. On top of the cab was a metal catch-all to hold a canvas cover (not in this picture). However, it did have a new thing just invented, a horn that went ROOGAH, ROOGAH, when you pushed down hard on the horns top. When he arrived home with the truck, his father went ballistic; he couldn’t believe his son and favorite would disobey him. He yelled at him for buying something that had to maintained, that nobody knew how to drive, that needed this stuff called gasoline to make it move, and where to buy it. He yelled “The horses only ate their oats and hay, which they had plenty of, not this new expensive gasoline.” He was so mad at my father, that he actually threw him out of his home, and told him never to come back. Now my father was in a fix, spoiled as he was, never needing anything, had to leave, as the “law” had spoken. Where to go? Where to get the money to live on, as his only trade was his family business. He too, was thick headed and said to his father that he’d go and wouldn’t come back, and that his father had to change with the times if he wanted their business stay on top, and not lose it to men who would use these new trucks.
So, he finally decided to visit his Uncle in a little town called Yatesville, in Pennsylvania, who was his father’s brother, and who came to America with the money and help from his brother, Aniello. I believe his name was Angelo and he too now had a large family, who owned a three story brick home that he built himself. When my father arrived, he explained his situation to his Uncle who gladly accepted him into his home. Angelo had a lot of children with one already married and very successful in a Real Estate business in a larger City, very nearby, called Pittston. Another son, who was also named Salvatore, and about his same age, that became a close friend to my father and they would go hang-out together. One day as they were walking the four miles to Pittston to a see a silent movie, they spotted this pretty young girl up on a hill in front of her home alongside of the road, singing while she was hanging laundry. Cousin Salvatore knew her from the (truly) one and only little red school house in Yatesville, which also acted as the Little Catholic Church for Sunday mass. So he yelled to her “Hello Antoinette”! She smiled back at him and said “Hello” back in such a melodious way that it was more like a song. (she always spoke words like they were in a song, except, that is, when she was yelling at me hiding under a bed because I did something really bad.) My father seeing and hearing her, stopped in his tracks, turned to his cousin, and asked to be introduced. Well, he met her and that’s exactly when and where, my father fell in love, big time. The all-knowing City slicker just went bonkers over this young country girl. From then on, they saw each other every day thereafter, with cousin Sal acting as a chaperone. After about a month of courtship, they both agreed that they wanted to get married as soon as possible. When they told his Uncle, he explained to my father that he must go back to Mulberry St and tell his parents his good news. So, back to Mulberry Street he went and when he did, his father and mother were so happy just to see their son again, as they were broken-hearted with him gone. After all his family seeing him, came around him with happiness and laughter, he told them about this beautiful woman he had met and how he wanted to marry her. His parents couldn’t say enough of on how they felt, and especially to know he was going to give them grandchildren. They both welcomed him back and said they wanted to meet this wonderful girl who he kept talking lovingly about. He went back to Yatesville and brought my mother-to-be to New York City to meet his family. Being a country girl, she couldn’t believe all that she experienced.(Her words to me 25 years later, also in a song)
At that time it was the tradition that couples were married in the church of the Bride, so the whole New York family, their friends and neighbors, began planning to go to Yatesville for the wedding ceremony and reception afterwards. As it turned out, my mother’s sister, Alice, was also planning to get married at the same time. Her fiancé, James Zarra, was a returning solder that spent a year after World War One in an army hospital because he had driven his motorcycle through an area that the Germans had poison- gassed. This was while he was in the army acting as a special motorcycle courier (Pre-CIA), the gas had affected his breathing and lungs terribly, and since he later worked in the local coal mines belonging to my mothers oldest brother, Uncle Louis, he would eventually die from it. He was a very handsome, adventurous, and daring man, who rode his old motorcycle with a flare and all the local people knew him to be wild. So, after much discussion over who would marry first, the two sisters finally decided to have one big wedding, a double wedding.
In New York, my grandfather being now so happy to have his favorite home again, asked his oldest daughter, Louise, to rent an apartment in a brand new building on Lafayette Street, just one block west of Mulberry Street, where only the rich and eventually, the famous could afford to live. The best part about the apartment she rented was that it could be clearly seen directly across from their third floor window. It was to be for the new couple to move into directly after their marriage, what, no honeymoon? He also had her furnish it as well. He now put his plans into the works for another very special reception, after all returned from Pennsylvania, and it also included how to travel to and from the wedding! He solved this by asking my father to go and rent an entire railroad car that would be put onto the train that daily passed through Pittston, as it continued heading west to Pittsburg, then turning around and stopping again at Pittston the next day, to then again head back to New York for this other Reception. When the time came, all the Bianco family, including each of my grandfathers brothers and sister, some who came from Corning, NY, and from Waterbury, CT, as well as those locally from Mott Street, plus all their friends from New York, to begin traveling to Pittston, Pa. in that railroad car, all reveling as they went, drinking the home made wine that the family made each year. (There will be more about our wine, further along in this writing.) When they arrived, my Grandfather was absolutely thrilled at meeting this vivacious, beautiful young woman. (Oh by the way, how do you think I learned so much about this meeting, and all the events that followed? Well, I know this all has to be true, since it was described to me in detail by that same vivacious, beautiful, only a little older, woman, with absolutely no show of embarrassment, or humility, just her flowery way of speaking… my Mom).
However, that same reaction to my mom cannot be said for my Grandmother, as is the case for most mother in laws, she thought this woman was not good enough for her son, who was a hillbilly, and couldn’t possibly be perfect for her son, or for her to make beautiful grandchildren. As it turned out, she continued with this belligerent attitude until she died, even though my mom did most of the cooking for the whole family (30+ attending) on every weekend and all holidays.
When it was time for the marriage ceremony to begin, all attended the double Ceremony, but because of the crowd, they had to have it in a larger Church in Pittston. Pa. The reception that came immediately afterwards was held back in Yatesville at a local Italian family restaurant. There were no major disasters, as was usually the case for weddings of that time. Fist fights always broke out, with things flying everywhere, and also considering there was this large bunch of City slickers, meeting truly, a pack of country bumpkins. It was most likely that my grandfather set the rules on behavior. The reception went on till late hours, with actually both sides enjoying each other’s different ways. At the end of the bash, and because they had to meet a schedule that the train followed going back to New York, all the New Yorkers had to happily wait till the next day, so they continued to revel even more in the coach car all night, and eventually falling asleep wherever they dropped. In the morning, the car was attached to the train, clanking and waking everybody up, as my mom’s family and some friends boarded for the trip to New York. Also boarding was mom’s sister, Alice and her new husband, Jimmy, who planned to go on further to follow their honeymoon plans in Atlantic City. Once again back on the train was all happiness, with singing, playing cards and general laughter. Upon their arrival to New York, yet another reception was planned and was ready for the two new couples, their families and friends. The train dropped off the car on a siding, where there were Bianco wagons and one truck (all a little smelly, but clean with fresh sawdust spread all over) ready and waiting for all to be brought to that next reception. It too was a great success, because the New Yorker’s who now knew all, were thrilled to have been able to go to Pennsylvania, and in a private railroad car, no less, with all expenses paid. As for the people from Yatesville, well this had to be the biggest event of their lives, and probably never to be beat! However, later, there was a big event that happened my mother’s brother, Louis Fabrizio, who had found coal by digging in their back yard, and later to become a multi-millionaire, owning the largest coal mine company in Pennsylvania, called Knox Coal Company. Eventually there was a scandal over what happened to the mine in the Mid-fifties, when it collapsed and killed 15 men and caved the length of Main Street of Pittston, Pa. into the coal mine below. Many of the local people from Yatesville worked in that mine and some were critically hurt, and some dying.
Back to life after the second wedding affair was over, and life went back to normalcy. The excitement continued for my mom, as she never, ever, thought she would be living in the biggest city in the world. After a while as it wore off and things settled down, my mother who was not used to living in this big city needed time to get adjusted.
The man who started it all for our family.
Here he is, above, older, but happy, as it was his intension to get his whole family, those getting married and those still at home, to move to the Bronx to be with his family friends and In-Laws, “The Belloise’s” but as it always has been in life, the Husband moves to where his new wife lives, and as they were married, each son moved to Brooklyn as they got married.
My father, now back in favor, began to take over the daily operation of the business, as my grandfather was getting old and was ready to settle down for the first time in his life, and he did so gladly, but still controlling the money. Because of my father’s pleasant personality, he was able to make their business grow more and more. One new opportunity that came along, was first delivering bananas stalks from the docks to fruit wholesalers and then from them, after the bananas were repackaged, to the little chains that were popping up around the city…
Getting back to my Dad and how his reputation brought customers who realized they could rely on his honesty and loyalty, to use our services, so we grew even more. He made his brother Al, who, although he was a grouch and naturally very, very pushy, run the drivers and the everyday trucking affairs, and he did an excellent job of it. My father stood by in the background, taking care of the customers, billing and finances. Eventually he decided that he wanted to try something new, while still running his family business that was now handling both meat and bananas.
The new adventure he started was the grape and homemade wine business. He, along with his first cousin, Anthony A. Bianco, decided to work together to create a business from nothing. This cousin, Toniucch, (meaning Anthony in Italian, in an endearing way), moved to Fresno California when my grandfather, after bringing him over from Italy, gave him $3000.00 dollars in cash and told him to go to California, and find a business to buy. That’s exactly what he did, and after a while, Antoniucche created a business that grew to be very large, in doing so, he needed to sell a lot of grapes, faster, and in railroad car quantities, so he made an agreement with my father to handle the east coast end by selling grapes by the carload. Antoniucche bought grapes directly on the vines from local California farmers, had them picked by migrant Mexican workers, then packed in 35 lb wooden boxes in a warehouse he rented, then finally were placed in railroad cars to be shipped to New Jersey. The railroad cars were sent to a staging area that was in a train yard near the waterfront in Jersey City, NJ, a sizable city where my father was very close friends with the Mayor.
A later view of the Jersey City Railroad yards and its ferry connection to Manhattan,
Note “The World Trade Center”
My father would then arrange through an Auction House in Manhattan to sell these same cars of grapes in carload quantities, with him taking over the sale from the highest bidder. He had the buyers pick up their purchases in this same yard, and after being paid, would send the total amount to Antoniucche, who would later settle all accounts. Besides the customers who bought from the auction, he would sell from his own grape cars that he purchased, to use for his own local customers and distributors, who all came to buy at that same railroad yard, but bought in much smaller quantities. To these customers, he gave credit and they paid him usually after they sold their grapes. My father would always wind up with a half car for himself. All this began each year on or about October 15th, and ran daily until all the cars of grapes were sold. His smaller customers, who made wine for themselves with only 20 to 40 boxes of grapes would stop buying after Thanksgiving Day, as they knew that many boxes of grapes lying in the railroad car were getting older and riper and began to get wet from some grapes bursting and bleeding juice through the wooden grape box, creating a mold. They felt that the wine produced from these boxes would not be perfect, and may even spoil and turn the wine into vinegar, which happened to my dad quite a few times when he wound up with the boxes not sold. If there were full cars unsold, or even half, my father would have to keep them for himself, like it or not, to then make his own wine afterwards, which would not always be as good as it could have been, had it been made earlier. Or there was the alternative, to lose the cost of the grapes, plus all the accumulated charges to get them to New Jersey, so he always decided to use them and take his chances with the wine made, as he was always compensated by Toniucch for those loses when they settled up. The two cousins worked well together, but Toniucch had bigger plans and was free to do whatever he wanted, so he grew even further by purchasing land with vineyards already producing from local farmers, who were retiring. He then set up a giant company called Anthony A. Bianco Fruit Co. and became so big that he was able to buy the Minute Maid Orange Co.’s ranch of 20,000 acres, with a partner, called Dell Web.
A note here about Del Web, He went on to establish an empire by developing real estate and then gated communities throughout the United States and Canada.
Please realize that Antoniucche accomplished all this while never really speaking good English. Initially when he and my father had the process going very successfully, he asked my father to join him, but being loyal to his brothers, he said not now, as he knew his first priority was to stay and oversee his family business. He promised Antoniucche that at a later time he would, join him, by moving to California, and buying a ranch of his own… That someday would never come!
So what happened when he had a half of railroad car of grapes left after Thanksgiving? Well, first off he would start by preparing our cellar. He had wine barrels from when my Grandfather made wine, a time I remember clearly, and insist that I digress to tell you about how they made wine and then later, to continue on with my father’s life, and thereafter mine with its twists and turns.
When I was about six or maybe seven, I remember watching my father and Uncles bring boxes of grapes from a truck down into dark cellar where my grandfather had rented two very small rooms from the building owners. In that damp, dark cellar was the equipment ready to make their wine, as they had done each and every year. There was a crusher, a squeezer, and two kinds of barrels. One type was placed upright and next to each other, onto a two foot high wooden frame that lined the walls of the first room. Each barrel had its top off to allow the crushed grapes to fall into the barrel. Allowing just barely enough room for one person to stand beside each of the barrels. The other type barrel, usually from a used whiskey barrel of white oak that originally held Bourbon, and because of the bourbon fermenting in the barrel, there would actually be a charcoal lining inside. The barrels were laid on their side on a wooden frame built two feet off the floor, and would eventually hold the newly made wine. They were set up in the other small room which was alongside of the first, but separated by a door which was locked at all times. When it was time, all the brothers chipped in, weather they liked it or not, or feel the fury on their father, as wives don’t count alongside of him who ruled the roost. Each son having his special job, even I had a job, which I loved, even though it didn’t do right by me, as after a while I would get very dizzy doing it. I’d best explain each of the different processes, till it was my turn to help, and by the way, mine was a very important job for an eight year old.
To give you a better picture of where that basement was, I’d like to draw for you, the picture that will be in my mind’s eye, forever. All the buildings on Mulberry Street were five to seven stories high and all had cellars that had stairs that were below the sidewalk level, with entrances directly in front of each building and had two flat metal door that opened up and closed down. There were fancy wrought iron railings on both sides of the stair doors that were bolted perpendicular to the brick walls of the front of the building, then bolted to the cement sidewalk. The workmanship on each railing was of bent and twisted black wrought iron, beautifully hand crafted, as the buildings on this street were originally constructed in the mid1800’s for the rich Gentry who would be living there, as it was going to be a very new and fashionable place to live, “uptown”, way up north of Canal St. In front between the two railings was a chain hanging across from rail to rail for safety, and to keep kids from playing around them. However, I found it was fun to put my belly on the chain and do a flip. One time, and only one time, I tried to walk across the chain and slipped, but luckily I had not developed anything there yet to break. However, in another part of this blog, I can tell you about really breaking one. Ok, Ok! Back to the story!***********
So, directly on top of the stairs, level with the sidewalk, were two metal hinged doors when closed covered the entrance, kept out the rain and nosey people, so they were padlocked to prevent uninvited entry, when they were opened they leaned back onto to rails, allowing full entry to the basement. The stairs going down were made of flat blue/grey slate, very steep, and were worn in the center from 75 years of use by the time I saw them. The basement had rooms partitioned to allow tenants to rent for further storage, and each had a padlocked door. As I watched from above, in one of the two little rooms my Grandfather rented, two of his sons took the lids off the grape boxes and stacked them near the crusher, while my grandfather sat and watched the procedure, smoking a stogie. (My father got his smoking habit from him and continued smoking them till his death, which was actually its cause.) Another son then dumped each box into the crusher. What’s a crusher? It was shaped like a square hardwood funnel, with two steel rollers attached horizontally on the bottom, so that while they turned against each other, they churned and swallowed the grapes thrown into the top, crushing them as they went through. This crusher had a wheel with a handle on its outside edge that was connected to the rollers that was turned by another brother. When each barrel was three quarters full after crushing about ten boxes, they would move to the next barrel, fill it, and so on, till all the boxes were empty and the barrels were full. Usually my grandfather bought 50 boxes, as 5 barrels was all that fit in the first room he had. He would sit and watch all that was going on with my father running the show, both having a cigar in his mouth, but usually not lit. My job was not part of this first operation, so my grandfather would give me or my
brother if he was there, a nickel to buy candy at Fay’s, a coffee and candy store across the street on Prince Street. Fay was a spinster lady who actually roasted her own blends of coffee in two big roasters. Each was a very shiny red and chrome that gave off the greatest smell, the very reason I’m a coffee hound today. She had coffee for all tastes, black for Italians, Brown for the wimps, and blends for the rich and famous. Beside all this she was gorgeous with her hair in a bun, always happy with a warm smile, and so beautiful that we would want to go the just to see and talk to her. She was my first love, a shame cause I was too young. She would give us free candy when we were sent to buy a pound of coffee, or three cigarettes, for my uncles. Yes, in those days you could buy one cigarette at a time and you got a single wooden sulfur match to go along with it. I could remember walking back with the cigarette held in my hand and the match alongside, with my hand slightly closed not to crush the cigarette, crazy what is so clear in your mind 75 years later.
The next step was to put covers loosely placed onto the filled barrels, with a smell like grape juice permeating the room and out into the street. The day’s work was done and the soon to be wine, was left to ferment, with always someone going down to turn the mixture, it was usually my father, as we lived on the fifth floor in this same building while most of the other brother lived elsewhere. He would stop and let the mixture settle after about seven days, then allow more time for the mixture to ferment even further. The fermenting process was creating a sediment that began forming into a “cake” that eventually floated to the surface. He would watch each barrel till he saw all the sediment rise to the top and the smell was clearly of young wine, now called “Neuveau”. When satisfied, he would call his brothers to again help for the next step in the process, and this is where I came in. I’m not sure if my brother Al helped as well, but he must have been there as well, however because he was bigger and much fatter than me, he was unable to fit into the barrel to do the job that was needed. Please realize I had to physically be able to bend in half and reach down into the bottom of the barrel to get at the rhynes. I was very small and slight, more perfect to be put into the barrels, to be able to scrunch down, clean out the seeds, rein, stems and other things like leaves that all formed into a cake shape of about 12” thick. Naturally before I was put into each barrel, all the liquid had to be drained and put into pails. Everyone helped to drain the young wine out through the bottom of each barrel, where a wooden spigot that had an open/ close knob was hammered into the bottom, allowing the liquid to flow into awaiting pails. A chain gang style line of men then passed each pail on through to the next room, where it was poured into the awaiting barrels using a large funnel placed in a hole in the top side of the laying barrel, to ferment for months till the wine was ready to drink. Only after this was accomplished and the barrels were empty of fluid, did they put me in the first barrel with no shoes, socks, shirt, but with throw-away short pants. In the beginning, the smell was wonderful, but as I scrunched down into the barrel, it was much stronger, so much so, that I had to come up for air every so often, and be very dizzy in the process. Actually, I had to come up anyway, as each time I did, I had a small bucketful of the contents in the barrel. That bucket was passed to a brother who then dumped the contents into the squeezer; I did this continually till the barrel was empty, and then on to the next, and so on till all five barrels were empty. When this part was done, I would look at my feet and hands, wow, they were red, and my legs too, were dyed red. I’d like to know how you would feel going to school the next day and try to hide your hands. I might mention here that next to coffee, wine is my second most important drink, or visa-versa, depending the time of day.
OK, so what’s a squeezer you might ask? Well it is a free standing device that was made of cast iron, and very, heavy. It stood on three legs and on top of them was a flat iron surface with a channel at it’s circumference that would catch the juices from the squeezed grape rynes. Vertically standing on the top of this base and directly inside the channeling was series of 1”x2”hardwood slats a half inch apart held together by three steel rings, one in the middle an two on each end, top and bottom. In the center of the flat iron base was 2” solid steel threaded bar that was welded at the bottom to the base and stood vertically straight up past the height of the wooden slats by about one foot. See photo below!
This wine press we had for years; until Dad and Mom moved to California. Then I gave it and all his other wine making equipment to Mr. Brutto, his main wine distributor and very our close friend. There is another great story about this man and his family that needs telling… but when? The picture shown is a smaller version, as ours had three metal rings, and could hold more Ryne.
A giant bolt made to screw onto this pole had two places for pipes to be inserted, to give strength to the person, or persons turning it down. On top of the still wet and juicy Ryne there was placed two 2” thick flat semi-circular hardwood boards, each were a half that fit snugly between the center pole and the wooden slats, when together fit around this pole, pushing down the Ryne. As the bolt was turned down into the squeezer, it would press the boards that would then press fermented grapes. Another set of boards was placed over the first set to keep the mixture under tremendous pressure. As the grapes were being squeezed, a liquid, like dark red blood would run from it into the channel and then to a point that was flared to allow the liquid to fall into an awaiting pail. The crushed fermented grapes were taken from the fermenting barrels and put into the squeezer, one barrel at a time, till all barrels were empty. The liquid that went into the pails was passed along into the second room and poured into each barrel equally to add “The Blood” that gave strength and body to the soon to be wine.
This ended the first steps in making homemade wine. The now filled barrels in the second room would stay for months till after tasting a shot glass with his father every so often, and they both agreed that the wine was ready. My father would then add a few tea spoons of sulfur to each barrel, as this would stop the fermenting process and the wine would remain with that level of alcohol and maturity, and not ferment further into vinegar. Wine was now ready to drink! WAIT, wait… We’re not done yet!
What do you do with the Ryne that is now squeezed dry and looked like matted red saw dust that is again back into a cake form?? Throw it away? Are you crazy? This is why you make wine the in the first place. This dried stuff is gold…pure GOLD! You take one of the upright, now empty barrels, clean it, and throw these dried rynes into it after separating and loosening it. You then add two gallons of pure grain 100% Alcohol into the barrel as well, let it stand for another month or so… and now they would go the same process of squeezing this second batch and what do you have… “Grappa”. What’s Grappa used for? A thimbleful of Grappa sipped very very slowly will knock you out, but as you fall to the floor, you’ll first feel your throat burn so much that you will spew out flames and burn the kitchen curtains. You don’t get a lot from the batch, a little less than the two gallons of “alcky” you put in, but at the rate you can drink it, it will last a long time. It was usually served to guests on holidays, proudly mentioning how strong it was this year. So, now you know the process that my father had to use to make wine from all the boxes of grapes that didn’t get sold. He followed the same procedure later when making his own wine.
The wine business had its good points, but making an awful lot of wine between Thanksgiving and Christmas was not the way for a young stud to spend an adventurous time. Actually it was fun, but very hard work when it was first the three of us, then when Al went to College, just the two of us. Actually my mom was right there with us doing as much, or even more than us. What a woman… and she was my mom! By the way!! Her story is coming soon…to theaters in your neck of the woods!
So what did my dad do with all this wine, some great to drink and others not so hot, that he would wind up with each year? It was usually anywhere from 5 to 10 barrels, or 160 to 320 gallons of wine, and our family could barely drink a barrel in a year. Why it too was gold… GOLD! No not like the Grappa, but dad turned it into real money…Three to Five dollars a gallon depending on the quality! Distributing it is another story, with a lot of laughs and a lot of work. My Mother knew exactly what to do with the money collected and my father just smiled with his stogy in his mouth and let her do whatever she wanted, which was always to save it to use later for us 6 kids.
My father, who had his main business to run, stayed with it with his brothers, but after a while, because of the connection the trucking business had working mainly with wholesale meat dealers, he found he could buy and sell “Spring Lamb” that was a main course with Italians at Easter. So, he would travel to the South by car; buy spring lambs, have them delivered to a friend’s cooler, then just days before Easter use his same distributors from his wine business, to sell and deliver them to their same customers annually, usually Italian families. This business really took no time from the trucking company, so he then started looking for another market to bring to New York, and it was Christmas Trees.
He started going to Canada to buy Christmas trees in early November and would have two or three railroad cars of trees shipped to Jersey City, NJ, the same yard he used for grapes, they were to arrive about two weeks before Christmas. When they arrived, he would open the cars and begin selling bundles of trees to his wholesalers. Some bundles had three trees wrapped together, some four and some only had two. As it worked out, the bundles with the most trees were made up of smaller trees, and those with only two were very tall, full and round. His distributors would then sell these bundles to men in different sections of New York and New Jersey, who found places on street corners, to open and sell their trees to people who passed by, wanting to get their home ready for Christmas. His railroad cars were in a staging area where his customers could come to pick up their bundles. When I was about 10, he would take me along on weekends to help him. I loved every second, as we would start very early in the morning, first have a cup of his coffee brew, which was day old black Italian coffee laced with scotch and milk, enough to keep you warm inside for hours. I would watch him, with his cigar in his mouth, chewing on it, but never lighting it, and because it was always so cold in the yards, his nose would drip. Guess what, my nose now does the same thing and I think about my dad and how he looked, and to boot, later I too went into the Christmas business, but big time, like him a leader to first bring different Christmas ideas to people. Double guess what, my son Michael is also in the Christmas business.
At the cold railroad yard, I would watch him, knowing he was the boss and my father. His customers would arrive and yell to him “Sally”, another year, but I can’t pay you till after Christmas. He would smile to them, without having to say anything, and they knowing all was well, because he was “Sally”. I would help his customers load what they bought, as small as I was, and they would tell my father “Sally, you are training him good to take over the business.” He would then open his little book, ask them how many bundles of what count, and note the sale, some paid at once, and some would pay later, but not too many ever paid at once.
The begining of the Second World War, rationing began, making meat and meat products hard to get, and only available by using “Meat stamps“, which were given to each family according to the amount of family members it has. This forced most of the Wholesalers to stop their deliveries to local distributors, who in turn could not sell to local butchers. This forced The Bianco Bros trucking to temporary close down. My uncles, as well as all men under the age of 40, had to report for induction to enter the Armed services. Uncle Al went into the Army and became a cook stationed in Battle Creek, Michigan.
Uncle Joey joined the Navy and was on a Navy destroyer that was damaged in a few sea battles, so that when he came home, had a quiet and solemn attitude, possibly being a little shell shocked. They have a new term for it today, called “Post Traumatic Stress”.
Uncle Mickey when reporting for his physical into the army, acted crazy. He told me he actually sat on a steam radiator so his body heat was very high, He was classified as “4F”. Uncle Tony actually was “4F”. Uncle Raffie was helped by Uncle Pete, an uncle through marriage, who was then very connected, (Ring a bell? Lanza!), and got him “Deferred”. Uncle Pete was a wonderful man and everyone respected him, including me. Whenever we would meet, he, walking with two of his private soldiers close by, would call me over and ask about my mom, and tell me to kiss her for him inti my ear so no one could hear. He had gone to school with my father and always was there for him. Bianco Bros never had to join a Union, when all other truckers, and their drivers were forced to. My father being the oldest son was not inducted. He went to work at the Brooklyn Navy yard and was hired as carpenter building wooden ships. He had no idea how to use a hammer, but that is where the government made him work. Our meat supply dried up just a little, but my father could have made a fortune selling meat that was made available to him because of his friendships with the wholesalers to people in the black market. He told us that he could not take advantage and make money that way. Many people who had his same contacts made tons of money selling meat, bypassing food stamps and charging double.
When the Second World War was coming to an end, we moved to the Bronx, as that was the plan my Grandfather had to have all his children move there and remain together, and I said before, it didn’t happen, We lived on the first floor of a rented apartment in a 2 family home on 205th St. between the Grand Concourse and Mosholu Parkway, it was a paradise in comparison to the three rooms on the fifth floor cold water flat on Mulberry St. As was always the case when kids moved into a new neighborhood, I had to prove myself to the boys my age and had to fight anyone who thought they were going to control me, so fight I did and after a while, no one bothered me except when I fought the neighborhood bully. I had Belloise blood in me, and had no problem with any who thought they could fight and beat me. They first called me “Lefty” because I did everything backward, so they couldn’t understand how I fought. Eventually they all called me “The Saint”. Why? That’s a story for another time, but for now to say they all went to public school and I alone, went to Catholic school. I didn’t allow cursing in front of me. Eventually they respected me for it, called me The Saint and it stuck.
My father was a man for his family, no, not one to dote over us, but one that provided for all our needs, and was there when we needed him. Not to mention we got his cars after he would buy a new one, about every three years. Most men would go out at night to drink and whatever, but he would be there for us till later in the evening, when he would go one block south down to 204th Street. Living there was his Uncle Sal Belloise, my Grandmothers brother, He had a four story family brick home, and always sat on his stoop (the front stairs to his building) and just for the fun of it would actually panhandle, asking people who passed, by saying “You Gotta soma change? Here was a guy whose two sons were Champions of the World in Boxing, didn’t need the money, but loved just to con people. Well, mostly weekday nights my dad would go to Uncle Sal’s basement and play cards till late into the night with all the old cronies of the neighborhood. This was his only recreation… from attending major Broadway plays nightly when he was young, to playing simple card games with his friends. He was happy with his life, knowing he did what he wanted, whenever he wanted, and now was a time to relax. Many times, I would go with him, down narrow steps to the finished basement and smell the room with all the Italian men smoking and drinking wine, sitting at a big round table laughing and talking in Italian, usually with a few curse words when someone would lose too many times. His life from then on was… Work… home to eat, then TV, and then to Uncle Sal’s. It was for him a comfortable way to retire, with a wife that was there for him in every way. Eventually he bought a one family home in the country, still in the Bronx, but near the border of Mt Vernon. It had four floors with bedrooms for everyone and a few as spares, as two of my older sisters were married by then. There were farms still around that mainly grew vegetables for the Manhattan market. If you go there today you will see glass hothouses that protected the crops in the winter, but broken, abandoned and no longer used.
Being too far from Uncle Sal’s, his weekends were spent with us, him barbequing flank steaks like they were hamburgers, and my mom baking everything from bread to all kinds of macaroni. Us kids would have all our friends over; a home that had happiness, love, respect, and peace. So much so, that all my friends called my parents “Mom and Pop” and truly meaning it, as their homes didn’t have what we had. Best of all, each of us would bring our old cars to wash, wax and just be together. At the time I didn’t realize it, but most men were not like my father, they were only after what they could do for themselves, while he was there for us, all the time, soft and easy. His few friends, and two neighbors, would come to drink our sometime good wine, and always Dewars scotch, but mainly, to be there with us. It did help that there was always great food for all, my mother’s great homemade bread, steaks, fresh vegetables from our garden (don’t forget my mother was a farmer) and wine galore, sometimes great and sometimes just so, so!
A note here about my taking over his books when he retired; when he was 64 in 1965, neither he or my mother knew that he had terminal cancer of the throat and wouldn’t live much longer. Our doctor, Dr Carlino, also a family friend who joined in our family get-to-gethers, took me aside and told only me privately about my father’s condition, so I told no one. In those days, cancer was a disease that no one talked about, or even knew too much about, and was therefore kept secret. So, without telling them,or anyone else, I suggested to them that they retire sooner, rather than wait till he was 65, which was less than a year later. They agreed that it was a good idea so he bought a new Chrysler station wagon, the one with wooden side panels. Then we loaded it with their immediate needs, and they headed for California to spend their retirement days with their other five children and loads, and loads of grandchildren. I told them that I too would follow later. Before they left, my Dad gave me his small account book, (I still have it), as well as all his personal financial papers, and asked me to handle everything that needed taken of. I was to sell their house, and send them the funds. When I looked through this business book with him, I noticed that there were about 8 men who hadn’t fully paid him, and still owed him quite a bit of money. I said that he shouldn‘t worry and that I would collect the money for him. He said “No, no, forget about the monies due.” I said why, they owe you and I’ll get the money. He then said to me: “Don’t do anything about these debts, forget them, as these were his friends and the men who made him all the money he earned from the trees, grape, wine and lamb businesses. They did the all work and what money they owed him now, was small compared to what he had gotten back tenfold from them selling his stuff. So, he said listen and learn. People, who work for you, earn for you a lot more than you pay to them, so when the time comes, forget their debts“. This is a lesson I too followed the rest of my life. When the time came for me to retire, I gave my all businesses to my employees free and clear. It felt good… maybe not too “business” smart, but I followed my father’s advice and am proud of it.
He died six months later, and I cried!
Many years later my mother took me aside and told me how mad she was at me just after he died. She felt that he should have been near his family and friends when he died, as they were his life, but they couldn’t be there to be at his funeral as he died in California!