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Rose Masciello's Autobiography - Chapter Sixteen

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                                   Giovanni’s Business Venture

 

Like most immigrants Giovanni had come to America with the hope that he and his family would enjoy an abundant life. This
was the land of opportunity, yet he had to face reality. What possible chance could there ever be for him to raise the standard
of living for his family? He was twenty-three years old, married, and had a wife and child to support. It would be impossible
for him to find the time to further his education. He knew his limitations, but was confident in his own ability to find a way to
provide a more comfortable and enjoyable lifestyle for himself, his wife and child.

My mother was like most mothers at that time who did not go out to work, but stayed at home to take care of their young
children. Mamma Lucia worked at the factory only because her children were grown or in school.

Giovanni now had a reputation for being one of the best barbers in his neighborhood. Soon he had enough customers to
warrant the opening of his second barbershop. He worked long hours; from eight in the morning to eight in the evening, six days
a week.

One day two men came into the shop while my father was giving a hair cut. They waited for the customer to leave. Then they
explained that they were “Insurance Men”. If Giovanni paid them one dollar a week it would pay for protection of his barbershop. 
If anything in the shop needed to be repaired their “Company” would pay for it. My father very politely explained to them that
everything in his shop was new and he was not interested in their plan.

Two weeks later, when Giovanni arrived at work, he was stunned to find the big front window of his shop shattered. He swept
up the pieces of glass scattered on the sidewalk and wondered if the boys playing ball in the street could have been responsible
for this. He had the window replaced. The very next day the “Insurance Men” confronted him in the barbershop. They insinuated
that he was being very foolish and stubborn not to pay insurance to have his shop protected. Once again Giovanni made it
clear that he had no intention of paying anyone to protect his shop.

A few weeks later Giovanni was not too surprised, but furious to find that his shop window had been broken again. He worried
and felt that the two “Insurance Men” were the culprits. He wondered how he should handle this situation. Should he pay them
one dollar a week? What else could he possibly do?  He hoped never to see them again but unfortunately these men were
persistent. A few weeks later my father saw the two men approaching the barbershop. Giovanni remembered that he was
Giovanna’s “Adonis”, young and brave. But was he brave enough to face these men who might be connected to the Mafia?
The two men strutted into the barbershop, but before they opened their mouths to speak, my father, agitated and with
fire in his bright blue eyes, warned them that although he was no longer shaving his customers he had saved his very best
sharp razors for “special occasions” like this one. The two cowardly men quickly skipped out of the barbershop – never to be seen again.

Giovanni was a hero! On the other hand, was it possible that those kids playing ball accidentally broke the window – twice?
Did the two men actually work for a legitimate insurance company? Giovanni never knew for sure, but his window was never
broken again. Those weeks of anxiety were over.

Giovanni was grateful that he had learned a trade and owned his own business. He was well liked by his customers. Many
of them spoke English, so he enjoyed the conversations they usually had while he cut their hair. They spoke about politics,
the economy, business opportunities and many other topics, that he found interesting and educational. He also enjoyed
reading his newspapers while he waited for customers. He was especially interested in the Real Estate Sections. He had
recently learned that a “Handy Man’s Special” meant a low priced house that

needed repairs. The idea of investing in one of these houses took root in the back of his mind. One Sunday, his only day off
from the barbershop, he went to look at a house that was located nearby. The owner of the house, a kind and honest elderly
man pointed out to Giovanni all the repairs that were necessary. He sensed the young man’s ambition and eagerness to own the
house and was moved to lower his price to an even two thousand dollars. Of course Giovanni did not have two thousand
dollars, not even one thousand dollars! Giovanni was resourceful. He could afford a small down payment and felt confident that
he was able to pay the mortgage payments every month. The deal was closed.  The key to the house jingled in his pocket and he
was practically walking on air when he arrived home and told my mother that he had just bought a house. She laughed and said
“Oh you bought a doll house for our Baby Rosa? Where is it? Let me see it”.  My father answered “
Certamente cara, andiamo a fare
una passeggiata”
– Certainly dear, let us go for a walk.

Without any further explanation my parents were soon outside pushing me in my baby carriage as they strolled along the few
blocks to the “new” house that we now owned. Giovanni proudly led his young wife up the front steps. A torn up screen door
greeted her. Giovanni opened the heavy front door – it squeaked. They walked inside. The rooms were large; all of them dilapidated.
Paint was peeling off the walls, and a dusty chandelier was hanging sideways from the ceiling.

Giovanna didn’t know whether to laugh or to cry, but she trusted Giovanni’s judgment, so she threw her arms around him
and lovingly congratulated him for his generosity and courage to buy Baby Rosa “
thisa biga doll housa!”

My father hired a handy man who slowly but efficiently went about making the repairs. Giovanni himself went to the house on
Sundays, carrying buckets of paint and brushes. He had painted his own barbershop so painting these rooms was not a problem.
In a few months the “Handy Man’s Special” was in tip top condition. The outside of the house looked cheerful – all white with
yellow trim. Giovanna had sewn pretty, yellow ruffled curtains and hung them over the two kitchen windows facing the front of
the house. Giovanni was proud of his artistic choice of colors. Neighbors passing by stopped to greet Giovanni with
Bravo Mr. John” as they admired his handiwork. They praised him for turning an old run down house, which had been an eyesore,
into a lovely looking property that was an asset to their neighborhood. These compliments always made Giovanni hurry home
to proudly tell his Giovanna that his “handyman’s special” had improved the appearance of the whole neighborhood.

My parents were excited and thrilled when a buyer paid them four thousand dollars for the house, twice the price that Giovanni
had paid for it. My parents were truly grateful. Mr. John, the barber, had found another interest, the real estate business, and was
eagerly looking forward to improving more neighborhoods