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Rose Masciello's Autobiography - Chapter Fifteen

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                              Reunion in Brooklyn

 

Christmas Day had come and gone, but the holiday spirit would not be quenched until with joyful sounds of tooting horns
and rattling noisemakers the old year had slipped away and the New Year, 1922, had been welcomed in. 

My parents had been looking forward to celebrating the start of this New Year with their cousins Sadie and Vito, but that
was not to be. Fireworks announced the start of a new year. Much partying was going on, but not for my parents. They were
taking care of me, their very sick child. I was just two months old and had developed a bad case of bronchitis. This was
the beginning of many more episodes of pneumonia, bronchitis and long fits of coughing that kept my parents awake. They
were forced to attend to me on many nights.

On one of the doctor’s frequent visits to the house he shook his head and sadly announced that I was a frail child and needed
constant care. He noticed the cold air in our old ramshackle house and advised that I be kept warm. My young parents were
frantic with worry. This house was all that they could afford. The walls were thin, the wind whistled and the windows rattled.
There was a pot bellied coal stove in the kitchen but the heat didn’t reach out far enough. My parents in desperation stuffed
some rags around the window frames to stop the icy wind from coming in. When the temperatures went down to freezing the
rags turned into chunks of ice that my father patiently and worriedly scraped off the window frames. At times he would yell, and
hope the landlord would hear him “
Thisa housa gooda only for da Eskimos!”

Giovanni and Giovanna, the once carefree young lovers, had uprooted themselves from a land of sunshine and wide-open
spaces. Now they were enduring bitter cold weather, cramped living quarters, the loneliness of a separation from families and
now a sick child, me, Baby Rosa.

Giovanni realized that he could not afford to move into a better neighborhood in Rockford, but was determined that he and
his family would not spend another winter in this house. He decided that it was best to leave his job at the Department of
Sanitation and accept his father-in-law’s assistance. He wrote to Padre Stefano and told him of his decision to move to Brooklyn.
Giovanni explained that he could afford the train tickets but needed to work very soon after arriving in Brooklyn. He thanked
Padre Stefano for any assistance he was able to give him.

There was great excitement among the members of the Palmeri family when Giovanni’s letter was read to them. Giovanni
received a very encouraging letter from his father-in-law stating that he would be happy to assist them in any way he could.

Giovanni resigned from the Department of Sanitation and said good-bye to his fellow workers. They wished him buona fortuna
and jokingly teased him about missing his “high notes”. His boss complimented him on being a very conscientious worker
and gave him a much-appreciated bonus.

My mother had been sick with worry over my poor health during the winter months, but now as spring filled the air I seemed
to be recuperating. Now Giovanna was happy and looking forward to joining the rest of her family in Brooklyn. Her prayers
had been answered. She smiled as she recalled one of Mamma Lucia’s familiar quotes, “When God closes one door He opens another”.

The time had arrived when Giovanni and Giovanna packed their few belongings, thanked their relatives who had so generously
sponsored them and were ready to leave Rockford, Illinois.

Vito drove them to the train station. Sadie, sitting next to her husband, held a basket of food she had prepared for the couple to
take on the train with them. When they arrived at the station these kind sponsors promised to visit the Palmeri family in Brooklyn.
They would miss each other. They dried

their tears and wished each other “Farewell and Ciao.”

We had a Bon Voyage. My parents told me, when I was older and asking questions, that I was a good little baby on this trip
and actually seemed to enjoy the train ride.

We arrived in Brooklyn in May of 1922. I was now seven months old. The reunion of my parents with the rest of the Palmeri
family made it a true “Merry Month of May”. I, the first grandchild in the Palmeri family, was almost smothered by gushing, loving relatives.

Soon Giovanni, Giovanna and Baby Rosa were living in a very comfortable four-room railroad flat on Central Avenue. My
grandmother, grandfather, Aunt Anna, Aunt Lena, Aunt Margaret and Uncle Pat (Pasquale) were living just a few blocks away in
a larger railroad flat.

Giovanni was now busy looking for work. He knew he was not interested in cleaning the streets or even paving them. Working
with bricks or concrete did not appeal to him. Before joining the army in Italy he had gone to school and was a good student.
Now he was in America and didn’t know the English language. He was certain of one thing; he wanted to be his own boss.
Padre Stefano sensed his son-in-law’s dilemma and came to the rescue. He approached Giovanni, put twenty-five dollars in his
hand and suggested that he learn to be a barber at a school located at the Bowery in New York City. My father gratefully accepted
both the money and the idea.  The next day he enrolled at the Barber School. He graduated with top honors as the most skilled
hair cutter in the class. He quickly found a job as a barber. Before too long he opened up his own barbershop in one of the
better neighborhoods in Brooklyn.

Giovanna was very proud of him. There was only one problem. She had long raven black hair that she wore in a bun and wanted
Giovanni to cut her hair.  He absolutely refused to cut off her beautiful long hair that he called a woman’s crowning glory!

Giovanna wore a bun for many years before Giovanni finally agreed to cut her hair into a short bobbed style with bangs that were
all the rage at that time. However, he would not tolerate Giovanna wearing makeup; it would cover up her natural beauty!

Giovanni was content with his decision to be a barber. Many of his customers spoke English. He was learning this new language
and while he waited for customers he read both his Italian newspaper,
Il Progresso, and struggled while learning to read the
American newspapers. His customers called him Mr. John and always complimented him on the great haircuts he gave them.
The prices then were ten cents for a shave and twenty five cents for a haircut.  One day he thought of a new idea for his
business.  He decided that ten cents was too small a sum for shaving some of those tough beards. It was a tedious job and
a shave sometimes took longer than a haircut. Besides that, the men were able to shave their own beards. Giovanni “the entrepreneur”
had a sign made up which he placed in his barbershop window. It read “Haircuts Only – No Shaves”. He had very few complaints
and the idea worked out very well. He had more customers and better tips for himself and another barber whom he found
it was necessary to hire. Giovanni was proud of being the first barber in the neighborhood to advertise “Haircuts Only”. Soon
other barbershops liked the idea and put out their own signs.

Giovanni was learning to read and speak English.  Not only was he a skilled barber; his business mind directed him into still
another venture.