In the February issue, I wrote about growing up Italian in Newark. I was blown away by the dozens of e-mails and letters I received from other Italian-Americans raised in Newark or in similar neighborhoods. I heard from “kids” I grew up with; I even got an e-mail from the granddaughter of Mrs. Mangano, who owned the neighborhood grocery store I described in my column. Here is a sampling:
“I lived in the ‘barracks’ at Tiffany Boulevard from the time I was three until we moved in 1956 when I was eight. The barracks were built as low-income housing for World War II veterans and their families. It was a sad day when my parents had to relocate because the development was being closed. My parents bought a house in North Newark, and a new chapter in my life began.” —Marie (Scalamoni) Tobia, Caldwell
Thanks Marie, I didn’t know that Tiffany—the block I grew up on—had that history.
“My first 12 years of life were spent on Ridge Street across from Sacred Heart Cathedral, where I was an altar boy for two years. I remember being sent to Giordano’s Bakery every Sunday after church to get the fresh, hot bread. Often a significant portion of one loaf would be missing by the time I got home, prompting a light slap in the back of my head from my father.”
—John Burdi, Oak Ridge
Hey John, the best part of a loaf of Giordano’s bread was always the end or the crusty part, which everyone in our family would fight over. Your father gave you a light slap on the back of the head? My father gave me a finackle, which, as you know, is an Italian expression for getting hit very hard with the knuckle of the middle finger of a closed fist. Today, that is otherwise known as child abuse.
“I grew up in North Newark and had your dad as my history teacher in Broadway Junior High, and I graduated Barringer High in 1964. I lived on Parker Street, and my years growing up there were the best years of my life. I would frequent Danny’s sweet shop or Pepe Brothers candy store on Verona Avenue and spent much of my allowance at Liss drugstore, where candy was three bars for 10 cents. Another treat was waiting for the carnival, which came to the little Italian church on Summer Avenue once a year. I can still smell those zeppoles cooking in the big pot of oil.” —John B., Toms River
I hate to give my father a hard time, but he was even a history teacher at home. Mussolini, Hitler, Roosevelt—fun stuff for an 8-year-old.
“I grew up Italian in Jersey City. I spent every Sunday at my nana’s with tons of aunts, uncles and cousins squished around one table, with everyone talking over each other. I don’t think anyone ever heard what each other was saying, but we all seemed to love the company and the tons of food.”—Anne Armelino, Montville
Jersey City was only a few miles from Newark, but it felt like a million miles away. Was it just me, or did most Italian-Americans stay in their own neighborhoods?
“Who could forget tomato season in August? I would take Mom to a farmers’ market under the Skyway in Newark and be tortured as she haggled over the price of tomatoes. Who knew you could fit 14 bushels in a Celica? It was always the principle, since she could afford $6.25 but she had to get them for $6. The process would start again in September when my father needed grapes. Same place, same vendors, same torture.” —Enrico DiBrita, Middletown
Enrico, you made my day. My late grandfather, Luiggi Calvello, who would look forward to tomato season every August, is probably looking down on us right now with a smile on his face. Now THAT’S Italian.Click here to leave a comment