THIS IS THE START OF MY MEMORIES OF MY SAINTED MOTHER
it won’t finish till I’m no longer here
As I was pondering on how to begin this history of my wonderful mother, I began to realize that in order to tell my memory of it, I was actually going to tell about my life growing up. 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 me who I am today.
My 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 on the other side of the floor from my Grandparents, near the bathroom for that floor. 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 kids, to make the meals, clean the house, then to come down to my grandmothers to cook for all her in-laws. She would come get me 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, 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 couldn’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 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 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 batchler friends from Italy, who he sponsored and brought to America. Uncle Tom was a skinny little man with a big black mustache, who had a crazy giggle, while Uncle Mike was a tall thin reserved man who dressed impeccably, wearing fancy arm garters and was our family bootlegger, looked the part. They both were a part of our everyday family lives, sharing our meals, and we all called them Uncle.
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, 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. 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. 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 to church for the 7 am mass. then she would go down to the third floor and begin cooking. The soup, which was usually Stracciatella soup, which was beating raw eggs (as in scrambled) pouring them into a boiling hot spinach broth that had loads of garlic. Next she would prepare her tomato sauce, which would take a few hours; her meatballs were made with all kinds of spices and browned separately, then held till the sauce was boiling and thickening steadily, then add them, but many always disappeared in the waiting process. She had previously prepared “braciole”, by taking flank or skirt steaks by laying them flat on the board splitting their thickness with the grain to be able to put on each all her special ingredients. They were chunks of garlic, finely cut cilantro, or parsley, and freshly grated imported Parmesan cheese. She would then roll up each halved flank steak, tie it from a roll of “saved” string which always hung above, then cut each in half crosswise. These were then slightly browned in a frying pan then fin ally added to the sauce at the same time as the meatballs to blend in their flavors to make the sauce thick and flavorful. Besides the brachole, she always added sausages, pork chops and veal.
The next course was always some kind of roast beef that actually became the main course after the pasta and sauce meat. If everybody in the family was there for the meal, there was always and roasted chicken as a “filler”. Please remember that meat was always in abundance, cause our family was in the trucking business, called 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 kinda fall off the truck by accident, and you couldn’t throw away good food 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 for one reason or another. 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 after the women cleared up, with my Mom running the show.
On weekdays, she would wake us up at six am, make us dress for school, then send us off to mass without breakfast so we could all receive communion, thereafter, return home to eat and then finally 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 done within a half hour. We did have two barriers to cross every morning, and they were 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 with 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 in the area where all the bars were, Third Ave, just three block west of us. Some went to a little park, 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”, an elevated train track going North and South on Manhattan Island that traveled up and down Third Ave. Many were killed by cars when they fell asleep and 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 of all this, but we knew we were safe on Mulberry St, cause every adult acted as 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 just 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 had someone watching full time over us as well, and it was my Grandmother, who looked out her third floor window most of the day. She and her neighbors, all doing the same, 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 say 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 “ready-made” 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, linguine, shells, which we called “Bobbies noses”, manicotti, ravioli, and with the little dough that was left over , she fried E’ Zeppa-la, which was extra bread dough pieces 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 even 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 singing when she was 95. Somewhere in this story, I’ll have 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 a three foot solid wood bar of about two inches thick and she was 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 round 3foot diameter 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 into the different shapes of macaroni she had planned to make that day. All our meals were fresh like the pasta she made every few days. All our vegetables were from jars that she previously 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 into the jars and caps we washed, with new rubbers washers that finally sealed the jars. We’d help her when she poured the cooked boiling hot tomatoes into the waiting jars. Hot! Hot! Hot! 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. ( “You can’t be true dear… there’s nothing more to say”) 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.
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 only about 8 years old and my mom now began to teach me to be me, by making me do all the things that needed to be done, my father came home after working 15 hours every day… exhausted.
It’s now May 4, 2012, and I’ve just edited it again with a few changes that my memory recalled as I reread this.
Now it’s 12/30/2014, after a terrible year of first finding I had an Ascending aortic aneurism, then Cancer, an Ileostomy procedure after the cancer operation (wearing a bag outside my stomach) while my intestines healed from the surgery, and finally the big event! A Triple by-pass from heart failure.
Rereading the above makes me realize how wonderful our lives were growing up with a mother who lived only for her Children, what God created women for. Life has changed as now women want to be independent, making their children second to their own desires.
Its now Oct 30th 2015 and again I’ve slightly edited it and now will continue on growing up with my Mom guiding me.
As well as canning each year for all the family to share and then some, my Mother would take all her children to Harvey’s Lake in Pennsylvania, where she grew up. My father would drive us there through the most beautiful country, The Delaware Water Gap and it‘s Indian head mountain, beneath it a famous hot dog stand called “Johnnies Hot Dogs” where we would stop each time for a long awaited pee, then onto Yatesville, Penn. He would stay overnight and then back to work in New York. We would fit right in with my Mother’s family in Yatesville, Pa. who consisted of her older sister Aunt Mary, her husband Ralph Rossi, there 4 sons, Freddie, Carmen, Anthony, and Louis; her two brothers, one, Louis Fabrizio who owned a coal mine, and his younger brother, Anthony, neither had any children at this time. There was two younger sisters, Alice and her husband, James,with two sons, Vince and Armando and a daughter, Lillian; and finally, Aunt Florence, divorced, with one son, Vincent. who we called Vincy-boy
We had been coming here for as long as I can remember, and after two weeks we all would travel on to Harvey’s lake, where there was a beautiful house that was actually on the lake and it was owned, by Uncle Louis. We would settle in and all the boys slept in one room and the girls in another. Thereafter each day was a wonder, as we did all the things boys do… swim underwater, row our boat, and fish, and fish, and fish, as it became our mainstay, along with all the jars of canning that came from the big garden in Yatesville, as my moms sister and her Mom always canned everything they grew. The two women who stayed were my Mom and Aunt Alice, both two peas in a pod! Freddie and Carmen were a little older and they would “pin” in the local bowling alley, and as each of us got older over the years, we would wind up doing the same thing. The camaraderie among the boys was great each protecting the others, and the girls did the same, except they had to pitch in at mealtime… Hey! Boy will be boys with no time left to help out after a terrific day at doing everything, best of all. GETTING INTO TROUBLE!!! As for Little Vincy-boy, being very small and young, would just love to fish all day in one place,,, so it was easy for us to watch him on that same bank along the lake. Being that the house was on the water, the front porch was actually in it, so you could dive from the porch directly into the water. One day my brother Al decided to try to dive, but he picked a place that was somewhat shallow and he dove straight down, instead of straight out allowing him to enter the water at an angle. So sure enough, he landed directly on his head, boom, out like a light. We all jumped in to help him and dragged him to the edge of the water, he was very heavy since he was unconscious, and a little fat. Out he came, but with blood running down his head. Somebody ran for my Mom who was screaming as she ran to us. She held him in her arms as he awoke crying. Sure enough, he had a big cut on his scalp but that was all, so we all looked at each other and started to tease him. Yah yah!- Yah yah!- Yah! Yah! What a ding dong! It turns out Al always did a belly-flop and always hurt his stomach, but this time he went straight down and boom, that was using his head! Ha, Ha-Ha !!! Sometimes My Mom and Aunt Alice would run out of food, and they would toast their homemade bread and put sugar on it, and that was our food. I never learned where they got money in the first place, but they managed somehow.
When the summer ended and we had to go back to school, my father was there to bring us home. He always drove the same way each time and it was through the small cities of New Jersey… Boring but more importantly we had to hold “it” in till we got to Delaware Water Gap and finally “Johnny’s Hot Dogs”. My mother was smart enough to keep us quiet by saying as all mother’s would say. “It’s just around the corner”, or, “Just a little further over the next hill” and we all would say, “Oh Mom”!!!!