THIS ONE IS ABOUT MY MEMORIES OF MY “SAINTED MOTHER”, but there is one on my father. Sorry, I haven’t figured out how to turn this picture upright.
As I was pondering on how to begin this history of my wonderful mother, I began to realize that in order to tell about her, I was actually going to tell about my life growing up with her. All my formative years were controlled by my “DOING” things for her, no, not really for her personally, but to make things better for our family and home. I loved every second of it, but better still it made who I am todayMy first memory is me sitting under a metal kitchen table, looking at the table legs and my Moms as well. I could walk, but was hiding because my mother was trying to give me medicine which I later learned was Castor Oil. I knew what that tasted like and certainly wasn’t going to take it again. I had a very, very, bad ear ache, Just one of the many I would have for the rest of my life. There was someone else in the room, but I could not see him, as he was in a very high chair, which really was mine. I was crying because he was in my chair and eating from a spoon my mom was feeding him with. How did I know? Cause I would sneak out a little and watch. I didn’t like him because he used to bite my toes when my mom would carry me around in a little sack tied in front of her. Oh, by the way, at the time, I had double pneumonia and no one was allowed to touch me. That’s all I remember of that occasion, but my mom was there making me get better, and no fooling around!
Because of that sickness, I was kinda spoiled and my Aunt Angie, who at the time was very beautiful, thin, and had a husband, Uncle Frank Pici, that I later found out, was a bum, and left her in the lurch. She would come up to the fifth floor daily, where we lived, to play with me. She had no children and treated me like her own. She would take me down to her apartment on the third floor which was on the opposite side of the floor from my Grandparents, and near the bathroom for that floor as it was on all 5 floor of the building. She would let me crawl around on her floor, and it was fun because the house had a different smell than our house, which always smelled of food, while hers smelled like candy. She would keep me for hours so that my mom could cope with all the other 3 kids, besides, making the meals, cleaning the house, then to go downstairs on the third floor to my grandmothers to cook for all her in-laws. She would come get me across the hall when she was done, wipe my running nose and carry me up to have our meal. No, nothing special for me, cause after she ran out of mothers milk feeding 2 young boys, I had to be a big boy and eat what everybody else ate. Who was everybody else you ask? Well, there was my father, who never talked, then my big sister Elizabeth, who was 4 and a half years older then me, then my sister Jeanie, who was three years older than me, and finally my spoiled brat brother, who was one and a half years older than me. At this phase I was about three years old, and actually very bright, at least I thought I was. All us kids slept in one bed, in a very tiny room that just fit the bed. You had to crawl out over the back to go into the kitchen, which was after we passed through my parent’s room which was not much bigger than ours.
The kitchen was the center of all that went on in our house. It was where we did everything. Wash, bathed, ate, homework, played games, cried but no one listened, and most importantly kept warm. Why you might ask? Well, we had no heat or hot water in our little home, and get this; you had to walk to the other side of the building to be able to go to the bath room. You wouldn’t go unless all the kids would. Why? Cause it was scary. We had fun there only because we wanted to forget the boogeyman that was just around the pitch black corner; so we used to listen to each person who went to into the little stall that we all had to use, one at a time. It had no lights and had a big box high up with a long chain that I couldn’t reach and a bowl that was also too high for me. If anyone made any sound we would all scream and laugh, saying “We heard you toot”. Actually, we were scared because it was dark, cold, and we always heard noises, they turned out to be the pigeons on the roof in a coop, which was just above our heads. When we were all finished and made everyone pay the price for making even little squeak, by laughing and “you made a noise… Ha Ha Ha“., we would head back to go to bed. Our mom was ready with hot bricks. each wrapped in a towel and we each got one to put at our feet, and off to bed we’d go. Giggling and saying who would sleep where. The kitchen was heated by a kerosene stove that smelled awful, and on top of it, she heated everything from water for our baths, all our meals, fresh bread, and those red bricks. The bigger girls had the top of the bed and Al and my self would be on the bottom. When our cousins would come for the week-end and stay overnight with us, we’d have to make room for two more, Maryann and Elizabeth Abbot. It was always so much fun, cause we knew the next day we would all go downstairs to Grandma and Grandpa’s to have a big feast. Best of all, Grandpa would line us up and ask us each, to do something to get the nickel that he held out to us. Starting with the oldest first, he would ask our name. Here you must remember, he only spoke Italian and we all knew what he said, but we were never allowed repeat it! No Italian for this new generation! So starting with my sister Elizabeth, she being at the front on the line, would announce who she was and do something to please my grandfather. She was bold and brazen and didn’t let anyone including him to scare her. This certainly was not true for the rest of us. Next was my sister Jeanie, who would be crying cause she didn’t want to do it, but she knew she had to, so she would begin crying and singing at the same time. “Billy Boy, Billy Boy, where are you going”. “Billy Boy, Billy boy, can I come too?” All this as she cried. Then everyone would clap and laugh. Please remember that everyone would be there. All 9 children of my Grandparents, with all their kids, or about 29 people all together… Oh, I forgot, we always had Uncle Tom and Uncle Mike there as well, as they were my Grandfathers close friends from Italy, who he sponsored and brought to America. Uncle Tom was a little man with a big black mustache, and had a crazy giggle, while Uncle Mike was a tall thin man who wore arm garters and was the family bootlegger and he looked the part.
So, next was Cousin Maryann, and when she came to the front of the line and it was her turn, she went up to him. He would ask her name, and she would say Maryann Abbott. He would stop her! Say “You are not a Bianco?“ Then tell her to go to the back of the line. He did the same with the next person, who was Cousin Elisabeth, her sister. Then came my brother Al, well, he was the inheritor of all that was Bianco, had my grandfathers nose, so he was allowed to do nothing, just smile, and get his nickel. Please remember here, that a nickel was a lot of money in those days, as people only earned $25.00 for 48 hour a week. Now it was my turn, I was next and came in front of Grandpa, and he would say, “You take this money and go to the coffee store and buy me De Noble cigars, and with the change buy candy.” Next came my sister Marie, who was just a baby, but the most beautiful little girl you ever saw, my Mom was considering putting her in a beauty contest, which was the rage at that time. He would give her a nickel and a kiss, which smelled of wine and cigars. Most of the other kids, Cousin Al, Betty, Neil , little Neil, were either not born yet, or too little to participate, but later they too would be in the line. But up came Marianne and Elizabeth’s turn again, but this time he gave a big smile and said now you turn! They then did what they did so beautifully and that was to dance… Tap dance! They got there nickle each and a kiss. That would end the session and all the men would sit down and play cards. Please realize that this was done every Sunday, no matter were his children lived. Sunday was the family all together day.
However, it was my mother who did all the cooking and baking. Wanna know what we had for Sunday meals? Well, first course was always soup. My mom would start very early in the morning by sending us all off the church for the 8 am mass. Then she would go down to the third floor and begin cooking. The soup, which was usually strachiatella soup, which was raw eggs dropped into a boiling hot spinach broth. Next she would prepare her tomato sauce, which would take a few hours; her meatballs were made with all kinds of spices and fried separately, then put into the sauce until it was ready. She would also prepare brachial, by taking flank steaks and split them, by laying them flat on the board and cutting them in half so they were thin and flat to be able to put inside all her special ingredients. They were chunks of garlic finely cut cilantro or parsley, and grated fresh imported parmesan cheese. She would then roll up each of the halved flank steak, tie it with a white string which was a roll that hung over the stove, then cut that in half crossways. These were then added to the sauce to blend in their flavors to make the sauce thick and flavorful. Besides the brachial, she always added pork chops and veal. The next course was always some kind of roast beef that became the main course after the pasta and sauce meat. if everybody in the family was there for the meal, there was always a large roasted chicken as a “filler”. Please remember that meat was always in abundance, cause our family was in the trucking business, Bianco Bros., delivering meat to wholesalers and butchers. For some crazy reason, as my Uncles delivered the meat, there was always some pieces that would fall off the truck by accident, and not to waste, it they’d give it to my Dad to share. Along with the meat, there was always some cooked vegetables. I must point out here, my mother who was a great cook and pastry maker, usually cooked the veggies too long, but hey, so what! Directly after the meat course, came a salad to allow everyone to digest their meal. Nuts and fruit were then served along with tons of laughter, as well as everybody teasing of each other. At this point the Chestnuts would be in the oven, forgotten. Yes, every time! The men would sit back down and begin to play cards, while the women would clear up, with my Mom running the show, and basically doing it all herself.
On weekdays, she would get us up at five am, make us dress for school, then sent us off to mass without breakfast, so we could all receive communion, return home, eat, and then off to school. We all went to St Patrick’s school which was around the corner from our building. The church, St Patrick’s Old Cathedral, was directly across from us and it was just steps away. It was all done within a half hour. We did have two barriers to cross every morning, and it was our going down four flights of stairs to the last level which had “Bums”, that slept on the stairs going down to the ground level. Amazingly, we had no problem navigating between them, in fact we got to know most, and found out about how they wound up there. One guy was really very intelligent and liked to talk to us. It seems they all were sober that early in the morning, and didn’t start drinking until they left. The reason they used our building as a place to sleep, was that they were chased by the Police where all the bars were, on Third Ave, which was three long blocks west of us. Some went to a little park on Delancey Street, some went to “Jersey Alley”, and some found buildings like ours to sleep in. At times, when we walked on Third Ave in the afternoon, we would see drunks sleeping inside the columns of the “ell”, the elevated train track going North and South on Manhattan Island, that traveled up and down Third Ave. Many were killed by cars when drivers hit them when they fell asleep or lost their grip on the ell pillar and just flopped into the street, where cars were zooming by. Every so often a “paddy wagon” would cruise by and pick up all the drunks, take them to a deserted place and dump them there.
You would think we were frightened all by this, but we knew we were safe on Mulberry St, cause every adult became our parent and kept watch over us and thought nothing of it to yell at us or threaten us by making an attempt at a swing, mainly to frighten us to listen and be good. My mother knew it was safe on our street and never worried for our safety, as long as we stayed on our street. When we were home from school and would play downstairs in front of building, she would look out our window and check on us. We also had someone watching full time over us and it was my Grandmother, who looked out her third floor window most of the day. She and her neighbors would whistle to each other and then talk in Italian and laugh and laugh. She loved to laugh and every time we’d visit her, which was at least three times a day, she never stopped laughing. She was big, I mean big… six feet tall and at least 300 pounds, all of it shaking as she laughed. Because my Mom was an “In-law” she treated her as most mother-in-laws treated their sons wives. She always made my mother subservient to all of her family, but my Mother took it. If they ever did it front of my oldest sister Elizabeth, she would yell at them and how wonderful my mother was and how she did everything for them. After a while, none of my Aunts, or my grandmother would dare to say anything in front of my sister.
My mother never bought “readymade” anything, as she did it all herself. Every few days she would make bread that was better than any store bought stuff. She would finish the bread and then make macaroni… Gnocchi, linguini, shells, which we called “Bobbies noses”, manicotti, ravioli, and with the little dough that was left over , she fried E’ Zeppallela, which was bread dough dropped into very hot vegetable oil. She’d take it out after it was crispy brown, then shake powered sugar over them. Many times she would stick mozzarella bits into the fresh dough, or her homemade jam, or little fish, into the middle before she dropped it into the oil. It was fun to help her, as she would sing as she worked. She loved to sing and did so all of her life. I have audios of her when she was 95. Somewhere in this story, I’ll have her sing as I have many tapes of her singing away. While she sang she would take a large round board about three foot in diameter and place it on our metal table with a towel in between. Her rolling pin was just a three foot solid wood bar of about two inches thick and be able to do wonders with it. When making macaroni, she would roll out the dough till it was paper thin and nearly the size to the board, then put the rolling pin down in the center, and lay one half over it. She would then pick up the dough and be able to place it over a cord tied across two places. this allowed the dough to dry. When it was dry, she would again pick it up, put it back on the board, and cut it the different shapes of macaroni she had planned to make. All our meals were fresh like the pasta she made every few days. All our vegetables were from jars that she canned, everything from eggplants, to string beans, all our fruit was from jars that she canned, which included peaches, pears, apple sauce, but mainly tomatoes. Tomatoes were the most important, and she would have us all help to cut, clean, crush, squeeze them, then wash the jars and caps, and new rubber washers that sealed the jars. Then help her when she poured the cooked boiling hot tomatoes into the waiting jars. It was wonderful to help but more to watch her being so happy with all of us around her. She would sing the same songs over and over. She lived for us, but she lived for my father even more, and used our fear of him to frighten us to be good. I was usually the guy who got into trouble, as I wanted to try everything and wound up being more in the way than anything else.
Here she is at 95 and as usual singing and smiling!
This ends my first attempt at this writing, and I’m amazed at how much comes back as I write. It’s 11:00 Pm on January 3rd, 2012 A lot more to come, as I’m about 8 years old and my mom now began to teach me to be me.
It’s now May 4, 2012, and I’ve just edited it again with only a few changes that my memory recalled as I reread this. Now it’s 12/30/2014, after a terrible year of Cancer, a Triple by-pass from heart failure, an Ileostomy(wearing a bag outside my stomach while my intestines healed from the cancer surgery). Rereading the above make me realize how wonderful our lives were growing up with a mother who lived only for her Children, what God was supposed to have created women for. But life has changed, as now women want to be independent, free, making their children second to their own desires.