I was born September 9, 1927 in a house (1075 60th Street) in Brooklyn, New York, delivered by an old Italian lady who was an amateur mid wife. My poor mother! I was 9 lbs! No hospital. In a feather bed. We lived in a 3 family apartment house owned by my Grand Father who spoke little English but tried. If we got on his nerves, he used to say, "Go uppa stairs!" I remember a big party when he got his citizen papers. I used to help him study for his test. When he went before the judge, he said, "I'ma no speka Inglish too good but I study hard. I hopa you maka me a citizen." The judge said, "Nuncha worry, Nunzio, I'ma gonna passa you." Judges haven't changed much.
In my early years we lived on 58th street in Brooklyn between 11th and 12th Avenues. There were few cars then. I remember the peddlers all had horse and wagons. One used to come by yelling, "Hey bannano," another, "Aschallola (escarole) frisca (fresh)... another, "Fresh fish." We loved it when the ice man came in the summer. We would all stand around expectantly as he chipped the ice blocks with his ice pick. The chips would fly and we would scramble for them. It was our ice cream. My parents did not have a refrigerator. We had an ice box in the summer. I remember the ice would melt and drip into a pan underneath. It had to emptied periodically. In the winter we had a large metal window box about the size of an air conditioner. My Mom would keep butter, milk and eggs in it.. There was no ice purchased in the winter. We were not poor. This was common. The milk man had a horse and wagon. The horse knew his route and would walk ahead of him to the next house as he delivered. He would leave the milk in a little box outside our door. There were no school buses. I walked several blocks to PS 105 from when I started kindergarten to the 6th grade. When I graduated I went to Pershing Junior high which was 13 blocks away. Three of them were avenue blocks. My children don't believe me when I tell them I walked barefoot through the snow to get there. All of this is true except perhaps the barefoot part.
When I was about 13 we moved to the Marine Park section of Brooklyn. 2049 Brown Street. A one family home. The Mondellos were proud home owners. My Mother's family were furious with my Father because he took her miles away to the "country" where they would never see us again. It was in fact pretty undeveloped and remote at the time. There were potato farms just a block away. It was a bus and train trip to visit my grandmas. We had no car, but we did it every Sunday. There the family would gather with Aunts and Uncles and cousins for the traditional all day meal. There was a lot of food and home-made wine and singing and talking and playing. And lots of love
We had no telephone, no TV, no computers, only a small radio. But strangely enough we were happy.
Two blocks away from our house on Nostrand Avenue there were trolley cars running. They didn't go very fast so we used to hitch a ride on the back. When we finally got a phone it was a party line. Then we graduated to a dial phone and my Dad bought a car! A brand new 1941 Chevy for $800 dollars. We were rich!
When I was 15, I worked in a one man butcher shop after school. I delivered orders on a bike and helped out in the store. I learned a valuable lesson there that I pass on to aspiring business men. One Saturday, we had finally closed and I was exhausted. Saturday was a long day and it meant cleaning out the cases when the store closed, scraping the butcher blocks, putting down fresh sawdust etc. We were just about to leave when the phone rang. It was Mrs so and so calling. She forgot to include bacon in her order. Would my boss please have the boy deliver some. She needed it for Sunday breakfast. Well my mouth went a mile a minute...."Is she nuts." I told my boss. "No way". "Carl" he said, patiently, "Butcher boys are a dime a dozen. I need every customer I can get. Either you deliver the bacon or don't come in on Monday." Well I wanted the job so I reluctantly agreed. P.S. He drove me in his car and I got a good tip. Moral of the story. Every customer is important if you want to stay in business.
I graduated from grammar school went to James Madison High School, World War 2 was raging. No butter, no tires, no gas, no sugar, no coffee. Almost every house had a little flag with a star indicating that the family living there had someone in the service. Unfortunately some had gold stars which meant the service man or woman had been killed. My Father was an air raid warden and voluntarily patrolled the streets at night to make sure every one had their lights out.
Then my time came. I was the bright old age of seventeen and I eagerly enlisted in the Navy. Wouldn't you know the day I was called up to active duty, August 11th, 1945, the Japs surrendered (It was the atomic bomb and me I guess) the war was over. After serving my tour I was discharged returned to Brooklyn, went to college, got married, and here I am living and working in Kingston, NY. I have to tell you that even though I love the Hudson Valley. It's a great place to live. Unlike Tony Bennett, I left my heart in Brooklyn and it will always be there.