In order to get a true feel of where my father came from and how he lived, I will need to touch on his parents. They both were unique in that they did not fit the term Immigrant. My Grandfather was a man that drove himself forward as soon as he arrived here in lower Manhattan in the year 1894. He was single, strong, and very smart. He immediately found work in a large fish market, called Fulton Fish Market and after a while, saw that he could fill a need for people who lived in buildings on Mulberry St, where he lived, all of which had many floors. If they wanted fish, they had to plan to shop for it separately as it was sold only in the one area near the river. So, he bought a “push” cart and began buying “end of the day” fish at low prices, as he bought them from his old bosses knowing what they paid for each particular fish. He would start very early every morning and begin his route on Mulberry Street at Canal St, mainly because all the people living there were Italian emigrants who spoke no English. He would walk along yelling OH Pesh!! OH Pesh, and as he pushed, a bell hanging on a wire across his cart would ring and ring, with the bounce of his pace. People came and bought, more and more, as they learned that his fish was fresh, his prices were fair, and mainly because he gave them credit, trusting them to pay when they didn’t have the money at the time he came by. I don’t know how much he earned, but it must have been substantial, because he was able to save enough to travel back to Italy after only 5 years, and then as an American Citizen, to marry and return with his new wife to continue his business and begin a family. His wife, a giant of a woman for an Italian of her time, was from a family called Belloise, who were associated with his family living on the hillsides of Vesuvius Mountain, which has little towns along it’s base, and one called Avellino, was where they lived. Both families were notorious for being “Robin hood type bandits” on the local highways going through the mountains heading North and South. I believe, but am not sure; a bandit called Il Tremilyre was his grandfather, whose name was Salvatore Bianco. This Salvatore was also famous for his flirtatious ways as he walked through the towns, with his shotgun on his shoulder, acting pompously being the warden for the local Baron’s land.
When Aniello arrived back in New York with is new wife in early 1901, she was very close to having their first child. In September of that year, she did and it was a boy, who one day, would be my father, Salvatore Anthony Bianco, the first of nine living children of my Grandparents. There were one or two babies that didn’t make it in between, at least that is what Aunt Millie, their youngest daughter, told me. It was very common in those days that babies were lost to disease, or some other malady, so parents just accepted it, even though they were very sad at their loss. When my father was born, he was treated like a little god. As in all Italian families, the first son would inherit all from his father to carry on the name and traditions. So, from the start, he was spoiled and got whatever he wished. What was very different about my Grandfather was that he told everyone who spoke English, to speak only American English to his son. Yes, his children were to understand Italian, but English was to be spoken in and around them, and this was very surprising as he only spoke Italian. Thereafter, every 18 months or so, another child was born to them. Next to come along was a daughter, named Louisa, then another, Aniello, and another, Angelina, and another, Anthonio, and another, Michelle, and another, Josepeh, and another, Rafaella, and another, Amelia, and finally that was it, and just enough! It took fourteen years to accomplish this and all the other boys learned fast that they were always beholding to Salvatore. One time, many years later in the mid forties, when I was 10, while working with my Uncles, Michelle, or Mickey, told me that my father got everything and all the other sons could do was watch and envy him.
Salvatore was sent to Kindergarten at age 5 and his teacher was a Miss Speirer. She was wonderful with Children, as I can attest to, as I too, was taught by her when I too was only five. The school was around the corner on Prince Street, between Mulberry and Mott, and was called St Patrick’s School. It was the school set up by it’s church that was located around the corner on Mulberry St between Prince and Houston Sts, it was called St Patrick’s Old Cathedral. A Newer, Bigger, and more famous Cathedral, also called St Patrick’s, was built in Mid-town on Fifth Ave and 39th St. very much later, where a Cardinal was in residence who was called Cardinal Spellman. After his death, a very large High School was built in his honor called Cardinal Spellman. At any rate, and no matter what, our church was wonderful, beautiful and had catacombs beneath it. Completely surrounding it was a very old Cemetery that dated back to the earliest days of when Manhattan was just beginning under British rule. In that cemetery there was an actual Prince who was buried there just after the church was founded. He had a tall column as his grave headstone that way went above the height of the 12 foot red brick walls surrounding the church. From Our Grandparents window, you could see the cemetery and the obelisk elegantly standing with a head shaped dome with a royal crown slanted on it, and a stone shaped scarf around its neck, with a crest showing his royal heritage. This grave was why the street directly along side it was named Prince Street.
The school was run by 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. Their scull cap 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 bow that hung down over the 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 funny and kind who constantly pushed her finger under her bonnet scratching an eternal itch. Her name was Sister Sicilia, a woman of Irish decent who we all loved, that had charming ways to make us children react. Hey wait, this is about my father and not me, but this only shows that we experienced the same things while growing up.
I really don’t know too much about how he 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 run by French Christian brothers, and coincidently, I went to a High School called De La Salle having teachers, 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, as fast as a ball dropping to the floor, and then simply call out the correct addition. Wow!
He never finished High school as he was needed in his father’s business, as it was growing very fast. Now Grandpa had many 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 a team of horses, Grandpa would buy another string and wagon for that son. The horses were kept in a stable which was few streets south down on Mulberry St., near Grand Street, which had four floors and a ramp going from floor to floor. It’s still there today, but is now a garage with an elevator., It was after my father left Bianco Bros, and after few years, their business failed for lack of direction, so his brothers rented this garage and operated it for many years until each retired.
After their days work, all the boys had to stable the horses, and clean the stalls to be ready for the next days work, but when they returned home, they found their mother ready with a meal fit for kings. This is a good place to stop and describe her, to start with, I remember her as being a giant in my young eyes. She was nearly six foot tall and weighed about three hundred pounds, all of it loaded with laughter, always a gigantic smile on her face and bellowing laughter, while she leaned out their third floor window to watch the world go by, then to gossip with her neighbors across the street, all doing the same, and leaning out their windows. 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 trucking of meat for their local butchers and bananas for fruit wholesalers. When he was 20, he began going to Broadway nightly, dressed in a fine tuxedo, custom made to fit him perfectly. That same Tux, I gave to my son Michael, who may still have it, he was the only one thin enough among us, to be able to fit into it. At one time I too wore it, that is, when I was in my 20’s to my fourties. 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. 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. My dad had it made, but his brothers didn’t appreciate the fact that he got to do everything, and they could only 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. The salesman couldn’t believe it and said that the car was a show room sample. My father said do you want to sell that car or not and then showed him the cash. Well, they drove away with that car. As it turned out that car became the turning point in my father 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”, that turned out to be either too powerful, or just very bad. All aboard passed it around as they traveled north, 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 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 wiskey!
After a while, still working with his family, 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 seat, steering wheel and a curved roof. On top of the cab was a metal catch-all to hold a canvas cover. 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 cursed at him for buying something that had to maintained, that no body knew how to drive, that needed this stuff called gasoline to run, 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.”