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Rose Masciello's Autobiography - Chapter Twenty Eight

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                                    Goodby Again

 

Sally, Tootsie and I licked our wounds and discussed at great length the proper way to behave if one of us were ever
foolish enough to have another “crush.”  We couldn’t agree on one suitable behavior. We were three twelve year old
girls groping for a mature way to behave in a one sided romantic situation.

Finally Tootsie said “I believe it’s unladylike for a girl to chase a boy even if it’s done in as subtle a manner as secretly
putting chocolate kisses in his coat pocket.”

Sally answered, “And that subtle idea was yours.”

Tootsie said, “Yes, and you and Rosie agreed to it.”

Trying to avoid any further bickering between the two sisters and feeling a little miffed at being accused of agreeing
to a silly plan I said, “Maybe we should ask the seamstresses that work in your father’s factory.”

The twins agreed and the next day we had our answer. Most of the seamstresses nodded their heads in agreement when
one of the ladies said, “For some unexplainable reason it seems proper, normal and more acceptable for a man to
approach a lady with romantic intentions than it is the other way around.”  The twins and I actually followed the advice
but it didn’t stop us from confessing to each other which boys in our classes were our favorites.

The twins and I had been school chums for four years and they had become my best friends. We often made
plans for the future; our graduation, having steady boyfriends, attending each other’s wedding and of course our
children would become friends just as we were now. I never thought that anything would separate us, but something did.

It started at the end of a lovely day spent at my grandparents’ house at one of their Sunday family gatherings. I always
enjoyed being with my relatives but I was especially happy that day because it was one of those rare occasions when
I’d get to spend some time with my very first girl cousin; cute little two year old Antoinette.

Shortly before the “Great Depression” of 1929 Aunt Lena had married a fine young man, my Uncle Gasper. They had
a lovely wedding with Aunt Margaret as one of the six bridesmaids and I was one of the two eight-year-old flower girls.
I recall how excited Aunt Margaret and I were as we dressed up that Sunday, anticipating our walk down the aisle as
part of Aunt Lena and Uncle Gasper’s wedding party.

Two years later Aunt Lena gave birth to a baby girl.  My wish had come true—I had a girl cousin at last, but she was
just an infant and I was ten years old.  She lived a block away from the Palmeri Family and I lived quite a distance away
in Flatbush.

Now I was grateful to be in the midst of all my relatives. Little Antoinette was sitting on the floor surrounded by five
noisy but lovable boys, just as I had done just a few short years earlier. Then I had been the oldest grandchild. Now
little Antoinette was the baby of the family and she enjoyed all the attention that the Palmeris lavished on her.

When Grandma Lucia summoned us to the table with her usual words, “Tutti a tavola” we scrambled to our seats at the
extended dining room table. Quietly, and with folded hands we listened to Padre Stefano say grace.

We were a hungry crowd and thankful for the food which we were about to eat. We sat at the table for hours, telling
stories, anecdotes and enjoying every delicious morsel of food that Grandma and my aunts had prepared for us.

It was getting late and way past the children’s bedtime. My grandparents, not sparing hugs and kisses, bid goodnight
to their children and grandchildren who rubbed their eyes and yawned as they filed out the door.

The house was now quiet. Padre Stefano put his hand on my father’s shoulder and said, “Giovanni, stay a while longer.
I have good news that I want to share with you. My landlord and his wife are selling this house in order to move
closer to their married children. I am thinking of buying it but I need your help. Would you be willing to move back
to this neighborhood and live in this building? It would be a good investment for both of us.”

My father answered, “Padre Stefano, I’m settled on Nostrand Ave.  I have a barber shop there. My children are
doing well in school and Giovanna and the children have made friends there.”

“But Giovanni” said Grandpa, “you are paying rent to your landlord, and I’m paying rent to my landlord. If we pool
our money together we can afford to buy this house. This is a six family tenement building and by collecting rent money
from the other four families we can live here rent free.”

My father said, “This is a difficult decision to make.  I would like to help you but ---------”

Padre Stefano looked dejected, and his voice, now almost a whisper said, “Giovanni I thought you would consider this
a great opportunity for us. You have some experience in buying and selling “Handyman’s Specials.” I had hoped that
together as owners, we could turn this into a beautiful building.”

My father said, “Padre Stefano, I have not forgotten your kindness to me. You helped me to come to America. I became
part of your family and it was with your help that I was able to go to Barber School and learn a trade. Let me discuss
this with Giovanna.  She may be very happy to live back here again.”

That night as my father drove us back home there was complete silence in the car, except for the steady rhythm
of raindrops against the windows.
  My brother and I sat in the back seat of the car.  Tony was soon fast asleep. As I
looked out into the dark night my tears made a blur of the streetlights.
  “This may only be a dream,” I thought. I could
not imagine that we would be moving back to our old neighborhood. We were settled and perfectly happy on
Nostrand Avenue. How could I leave my friends, Sally, Tootsie, Aunt Annie and the rest of their family, Mr. and
Mrs. Moesner at the bakery shop who never missed giving a birthday party for the children on the block, and of
course Miss Anderson, our teacher and friend
.

During the next few weeks my parents’ discussions centered around the important decision of whether or not to leave
Flatbush and move back to the old neighborhood. We all seemed to have mixed emotions. My mother enjoyed working
at the factory and she and Aunt Annie had become good friends, but she missed living close to her parents.

My father was doing well at the barbershop, but he felt indebted to his father in law. He was also aware that owning
a tenement building in partnership with Grandpa Stefano might be a financial benefit to the whole family.

I felt that I was being uprooted again, and yet I couldn’t deny the sense of security and great affection that I felt when I
was surrounded by my grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins—and now I had a girl cousin! It would be fun to push
little Antoinette in her stroller all around Knickerbocker Park.

I’m sure that my father had a few sleepless nights and I know for certain that my mother said a few extra prayers
for guidance before the decision was made.

My grandparents were happy to learn that my parents had made up their minds to move back to the old
neighborhood. Papa and Grandpa Stefano bought the tenement building and quickly hired carpenters, plumbers
and electricians to work on the much-needed renovations. My father had sold his barbershop and was free to
help with the alterations and painting. Grandpa still had his produce market and enjoyed being “Supervisor” whenever
he had the time.

A few months later we moved out of our apartment in Flatbush. I’ve blocked out the memory of saying goodbye to
my friends on Nostrand Avenue, especially our parting goodbyes with Sally and Tootsie.  I’m sure that it was
painful and that we made promises to keep in touch, but somehow after a few years we made other friends and
our lives went in different directions. Many years later Sally, Tootsie and I made a point of getting together. We
reminisced, we laughed and we cried as we said “goodbye” again.

My parents, brother and I moved into the renovated tenement building that we, ourselves, now owned.  Our flat was
on the second floor, a floor above my grandparents’ flat.

Each of the six families in the building had their own bathroom. The coal stoves in the kitchens were replaced with
steam heat radiators in every room. We also had the luxury of an ironing board that we pulled down from the
kitchen wall. All the stairway banisters leading to the third floor were now highly polished dark wood, and the
hallways and stairs were newly carpeted. All the rooms were painted and the outside of the building was painted
a rich medium beige with brown trim.

Grandpa Stefano and Papa Giovanni were proud of their investment and the whole family was proud of them. My
father the “entrepreneur” had done it again! The “partners” hoped that this was the start of improving the
look of another Brooklyn neighborhood.

We had a “Royal Celebration” at our next Sunday family gathering. Padre Stefano was named “King”, Mamma Lucia
was his “Queen.” Giovanni was a “Prince” and Giovanna a “Princess.”  We children joined in the celebration and
clapped our hands while the “King” proudly proclaimed, “Some day you children will inherit this tenement building.”

The clapping of hands grew louder when Grandma Lucia came out of the kitchen, wearing a smile on her face, a
silvery cardboard crown on her head and carrying a big pan of steaming lasagna.