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Rose Masciello's Autobiography - Chapter Twenty Two

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                    Marriage Vows To The Rescue

Giovanni had seen a slice of life in New York City that he could never have imagined while growing
up in the small town of his birth. Although the streets in America were not paved with gold, as the old
rumor would have it, he believed that opportunities were everywhere, and he’d look hard to find them. 
He thought about moving to a new neighborhood.  He scanned the Real Estate ads and searched relentlessly
for a golden opportunity that would improve the standard of living for his family.

One evening after dinner my father sat in his favorite chair, turned to my mother and in Italian said,
“Giovanna, you know how very much I’ve wanted us to move to a better neighborhood. I’ve been searching
and have finally found it. It’s called Flatbush and there is a barber shop on Nostrand Avenue that is being sold.
On the same block there is an upstairs apartment that I went to see. It’s perfect for us and I can hardly wait for
us to move there. I know you will like it.”

My mother had expected this dreaded moment and had hoped it would never come. Her face went pale as she
said, “I am perfectly happy living in this house. You know how much I enjoy living close to Mamma Lucia, Padre
Stefano and the rest of my family.”

“But you don’t understand” said a bewildered Giovanni. “We will be living in a more refined neighborhood
and I’m sure I will be earning more money in the new barber shop.”

Giovanna was not easily convinced and said, “Money is not everything. I’d rather be living close to my family in
this Italian neighborhood where we all understand each other.”

Giovanni, unable to hold back his frustration yelled out, “You want to live near your family? Am I and our
children not your family? And when will you ever learn to speak English if Italian is all you ever hear?”

Giovanna burst into tears. My brother and I looked on, confused and frightened. We had never seen our parents
angry with each other and had never heard them raise their voices over an issue that we didn’t quite understand.

Giovanni had not expected such a defiant and uncooperative reaction from Giovanna and with anger in his voice
shouted, “Have you forgotten that an ocean separates me from my parents, brothers and sisters?  Yet you place
an obstacle in the way of a better future for our family and make yourself unhappy over living an hour’s ride away
from your parents. I had hoped that you would share my dream of coming to America so that our children’s way
of life would be better than ours, financially and culturally. Don’t you realize that you are still thinking like a child?”

Giovanna did not answer. She wiped her tear-stained face, raised herself slowly from her chair and walked over
to where my brother and I seemed to be rooted to the floor.

She said, “Children, it’s past your bedtime. Your father and I are tired. We’re sorry that you had to hear us quarreling,
but tomorrow is a new day. You know we love you and we will do whatever is best for you.”

The next day Giovanna walked a few short blocks to her parent’s home. There she unburdened her confused feelings
to her mother. Tearfully she explained that she was torn between the love she had for her husband and children and
her wish to be near the closely-knit Palmeri family.

Grandma Lucia reminded her daughter that seven years earlier, a few members of the Palmeri family had taken
refuge with sponsors in Illinois. Padre Stefano was in Brooklyn longing for a united family while Mamma Lucia
waited until Giovanna gave birth to me, her first grandchild. Then she waited for my baptism. Finally she
said, “I’ve decided that my daughters, Lena, Margaret and I will be in Brooklyn by Christmas Day. I belong at my
husband’s side.”

Giovanna returned home with her mother’s words ringing in her ears. She also recalled the words, “Love,
honor and cherish for better or worse.” She reflected on the fact that Giovanni was the breadwinner and head of
the family. She must be the heart of it. Above all else she trusted his judgment. He was a generous man, frugal
when necessary, but at all times he had his family’s best interest at heart. Giovanna felt a new found compassion
for her husband and knew that she had grown up at last.

A few weeks later we were busy settling into our new apartment on Nostrand Avenue in Flatbush.  Our street
was tree-lined and although there were a few stores on our block it was quiet and more country-like than where we
had previously lived.

Our landlords, an elderly couple, both white-haired and rosy-cheeked, lived on the first floor. We lived above
them, on the second floor. Having no grandchildren of their own they treated Tony and me kindly and often helped
me with my homework.

On our corner of the block there was a Delicatessen and on the other corner there was a bakery. In the middle of
the block stood a shiny red and white striped pole in front of “John’s Barber Shop.” Giovanni proudly wore a
starched white barber’s jacket and was ready and eager to give his customers his superb haircuts.

My mother often walked with us after I’d get home from school, me on my bicycle, Tony in his little red wagon;
all of us munching on the candy that our landlady had just given us as we started out on our walk. We’d wave to
my father as we passed by his barbershop, but if we saw no customers we’d go inside to share our candy with him.

As I write, a feeling of “de ja vu” comes over me. A vague vision--from my baby carriage. I wave to Grandpa Stefano
as we pass by his Produce Market.  Uncle Pat runs out with fruit for me, my mother and aunts, Lena and
Margaret. How sweet those strawberries were!

Out of my reverie I return to Nostrand Avenue. I remember the time that my mother, in her thick Italian accent
asked the storekeeper at the Delicatessen for “Pomoleeva to washa” as she scrubbed her hands together. The bright
young man, amused but helpful, brought her a few bars of Palmolive Soap. They both laughed as she nodded her
head. She was glad that she had made herself understood. When Giovanna was happy we were all happy. We
looked forward to exploring the rest of our neighborhood.