is about families, then remembering one’s youth is also about genealogy.
It is said
that once we grow older, all we have left is our memories. As I find myself ever so present in that category, my
remembrances of yesteryear grow more vivid.
Accordingly, I am proceding to share some of my memorable recollections
of a youth long gone, but deeply etched into my memory.
When I was
about five years old, my parents and I, an only child, moved into the west
side home of my paternal grandparents, Domenico and Maria Rosa. They lived on the first floor and we rented a flat on the
second. The neighborhood was a
melting pot of ethnic European immigrants and their first American born
offspring. It was more Italian
than anything else, but not truly one of Chicago’s ten original Little Italy
communities. Yet all of the neighborhood sights, sounds and smells were
Italian. My first recollections
were of my grandpa and grandma speaking Italian to each other with their
Vagliese (Basilicata) dialect. Then, I cannot forget the Italian spoken on the
street between neighbors; the “negotiating” between the women shoppers and
the Italian produce peddler; and the angry dialogue between grandpa and a
neighbor who dared to conduct manual labor on the Sabbath Day, Sunday.
playing numerous times, I was mesmerized by the operatic tones blasting from
the Italian barber shop next door; or the excitement of the Italian organ
grinder and his monkey begging for pennies with a tin cup; or the sight of
nonno returning from work with a sack of dandelions over his shoulder for the
next meal of dandelion and neck bones cooked in olive oil.
were those aromas. Ah, those
delightful smells of garlic, olive oil, pasta gravy and those tantalizing
Italian spices emanating from so many windows up and down the block.
How could I
forget Christmas Eve downstairs at my grandparents with a feast of baccala and
all the trimmings which I anticipated for days before the event? How could I
forget grandma telling me stories in half Italian-half English about her home
in Italy? How could I forget grandpa reading his bible on Sunday mornings for
an hour as he walked back and forth along the back yard sidewalk? Or Saturday
evenings downstairs when grandma and grandpa would entertain their paesoni
with pitchers of home made wine and stories of their homeland especially those
scary ghost tales.
I will never
forget so many times when I would go into the dark basement for something and
become startled to find grandpa at his corner desk, quietly writing letters to
relatives in Italy. Or watching grandpa proudly working in his vegetable
garden of tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, zucchini and a variety of Italian
neighborhood consisted of two story brick residences, but also several
apartment buildings. Along Grand
Avenue due east were the Italian delicatessen, the Italian bakery and the
pizzeria. We had no nearby
Italian Catholic Church, but not too far southeast was Our Lady of the Angels,
the future site of that disastrous school fire.
whatever Italian I remember today from those early impressionable years
growing up with my Italian born grandparents.
Although both spoke some English, primarily grandpa, they mostly
communicated with me in their native tongue.
I regret, like most of us who today are knee deep into our genealogical
research, not asking them more questions and primarily those pertinent
questions. But who knew then,
what would drive us in the future?
As I look back
on that golden age of my innocent youth, I do so with the complete realization
how privileged I was to have spent seven years with my grandfather and
seventeen with my grandmother, sharing their home, their lives and their
It was that
time and that place which truly influenced me to understand what it was to be
Italian. I would not trade those
years for any other. In that era,
it was the grandparent’s home which served as the heart of the family
center. Not only did I have a share in the lives of my grandparents, but
uncles, aunts, cousins and other extended family members who regularly
congregated at the home of my grandparents.
This experience cannot be measured in time or counted in dollars-but
only weighed in value.
One could say
the earliest seeds of my interest in genealogy began at that Hirsch Street
home of nonno and nonna starting in the late 1930's.
What a family tree which grew from those first seeds!
© PIP Chapter 1, 2003 ~ Webmaster: LPRoots@yahoo.com ~ page last updated on Tuesday, April 22, 2003