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
a golden opportunity that would improve the standard of living for his
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
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.”
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,
Stefano and the rest of my family.”
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
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
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.
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.”
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
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
decided that my daughters, Lena, Margaret and I will be in Brooklyn by
Christmas Day. I belong at my
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
the family. She must be the heart of it. Above all else she
trusted his judgment. He was a generous man, frugal
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.
weeks later we were busy settling into our new apartment on Nostrand
Avenue in Flatbush. Our
was tree-lined and although there were a few stores on our
block it was quiet and more country-like than where we
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
me with my homework.
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
starched white barber’s jacket and was ready and eager to
give his customers his superb haircuts.
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.
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!
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.