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
chocolate kisses in his coat pocket.”
answered, “And that subtle idea was yours.”
Tootsie said, “Yes, and you and Rosie agreed to it.”
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
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
The twins and I had been school chums for four
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
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
part of Aunt Lena and Uncle Gasper’s wedding party.
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
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.
Grandma Lucia summoned us to the table with her usual words, “Tutti
we scrambled to our seats at the
extended dining room table.
Quietly, and with folded hands we listened to Padre Stefano say grace.
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.
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
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
this neighborhood and live in this building? It would be a good
investment for both of us.”
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.”
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
father said, “This is a difficult decision to make.
I would like to help you but ---------”
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.”
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.
not imagine that we would be moving back to our old
neighborhood. We were settled and perfectly happy on
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
course Miss Anderson, our teacher and friend
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
at the factory and she and Aunt Annie had become
good friends, but she missed living close to her parents.
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
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
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.
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
he had the time.
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
laughed and we cried as we said “goodbye” again.
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’
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
and stairs were newly carpeted. All the rooms were painted and the
outside of the building was painted
a rich medium beige with brown
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
look of another Brooklyn neighborhood.
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.”
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.