Reunion in Brooklyn
Christmas Day had come and gone, but the holiday spirit would not be
quenched until with joyful sounds of tooting horns
noisemakers the old year had slipped away and the New Year, 1922, had
been welcomed in.
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
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
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
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,
Giovanni realized that he could not afford to move into a better
neighborhood in Rockford, but was determined that he and
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
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
and jokingly teased him about missing his
“high notes”. His boss complimented him on being a very conscientious
and gave him a much-appreciated bonus.
mother had been sick with worry over my poor health during the winter
months, but now as spring filled the air I seemed
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”.
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.
would miss each other. They dried
their tears and wished each other “Farewell and
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
seemed to enjoy the train ride.
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.
Giovanni, Giovanna and Baby Rosa were living in a very comfortable
four-room railroad flat on Central Avenue. My
grandfather, Aunt Anna, Aunt Lena, Aunt Margaret and Uncle Pat
(Pasquale) were living just a few blocks away in
a larger railroad
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
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
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
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
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
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