The Mercer County Italian American Festival invites you to share your story of growing up Italian (or with Italian friends). We all have stories that our grandparents or parents passed down to us or that we lived ourselves that, when shared, create a common bond among all of us. So tell us your story...
A Special Christmas Village
Author: Bruce Morbit Occupation: Human Resources Director Hometown: North Brunswick
Joseph Notarianni with his annual Christmas Village display.
My grandfather loved Christmas. He loved the buildup in the weeks before as he methodically and lovingly set up his elaborate Christmas village of houses and statues underneath the tree. I was one of his helpers, taking his instructions to carefully place a house or a tree in a specific place that he had in mind like an architect's plan. His village was so well-known in the local New Brunswick community that the Home News heard about it and published a photo of it.
Born in Calabria Italy, Joseph Notarianni came to the U.S., worked as a miner, married my grandmother Josephine who was widowed at the time with 3 children, and ultimately had 7 children of his own with her (10 kids!). What that meant at Christmas was a packed house for the annual Feast of the Seven Fishes on Christmas Eve. The night would culminate in that special moment when we all returned from midnight mass as we made our way into the living room to have the youngest born (that was me for a long time) place the baby Jesus in his crib in the manger in that fabulous village. We'd sing a Christmas song in tribute to the birth of the baby, signaling it was time to feast on the desserts waiting for us in the kitchen.
My grandfather was so proud of his annual display and even more proud of his family. I was so lucky to have been his helper.
Proud to Be First Generation Italian-American
Author: Patrizia Petrillo Occupation: Administrative Assistant Hometown: South Brunswick, NJ
(Photo: Il Gruppo Folkloristico Duronese)
I am a very proud First Generation Italian-American! My parents immigrated to the U.S. in 1959. They come from two small towns belonging to the Provincia di Campobasso in the Molise region. My father was born in the beautiful town of Duronia and my mother was born in the valley below, called Casale. Growing up, I was fortunate to have spent my summers with my Grandmother and cousins in Italy. The wonderful memories of the Ferragosto festivities filling the villages during the summer, with many of my relatives, will remain with me forever! In 1975, my father had started an Italian Folklore group in N.J. called "Il Gruppo Folkloristico Duronese". It was made up of my relatives who immigrated from Duronia and Casale, and of course, all of us "first-generation-ers too!" We traveled to Italian festivals around the East Coast, performing traditional Molisana , songs and dances, wearing our traditional costumes. We even performed half time at the Giants Stadium during the Cosmos Soccer game! It had gave us so much pride to be Italian and to be able to share this amazing culture with everyone. Last summer, I had taken my husband and two daughters (23 and 19) to Duronia for the first time! It was incredible to see my daughters standing in my grandmother's home, where I had spent the best summers of my life! The moment they stepped into this home, they understood why it was a special place. Planning our next visit soon! Ciao tutti!
Growing up Italo-Americano
Author: David Spinelli Occupation: Teacher Hometown: Trenton NJ
Growing up in Trenton in a large extended family was so memorable and has impacted me developing my identity as Italian-American-all thanks to my grandfather Frank L Cellini-a undertaker in the city of Trenton. St James on Paul Ave was our Parish and I attended St James Elementary school in the 1960's and the routine we had cemented the weekly ritual in my memory forever. As soon as I became aware of being in a mixed culture, I wanted more of it and begged my grandfather to teach me Italian-and he did.We would sit around the table and talk about Italy and he would answer my questions and excited me so much so that many years later I would acquire my Italian nationality ! Nevertheless, Sundays were made for us: 11:00 am Mass with NONNO and then to Deli Delite in Ewing, or another Italian Deli for Salumi; then back home to the smells of my grandmothers cooking. Next,our extended family came to town from NYC, Baltimore, and surrounding areas for the large dinner of Mostaccioli with Ragu' meat sauce, red wine and the stewed meats. Today, each Sunday I memorialize this tradition expressing passion through music and cooking cook ! Also raised my child in the same tradition and she loves it as well. The timelessness of "la via vecchia" is the solid foundation upon which we continue to thrive-family, faith and culture ALL provide a solid foundation in confusing and uncertain times !VIVA ITALIA !
On the Street Where I Lived
Author: Nancy LoPresti Adair Occupation: retired dean of the American Boychoir School Hometown: Newburgh, NY
DePolo's would be my first stop for the fresh vegetables on my mother's list. Across the street Maniscalco's meat market was next, where Nick wrapped the order in brown paper and the total was put on a tab my father settled at the end of the week, when he got paid; final stop on my adventure was to bring a loaf of bread from my father's bakery up to our apartment above. At nine years old, I had just completed shopping for a whole meal that would always be made with care and the artistry of a chef, but it was just my mom. Everyone knew everyone so there was no room for mischief; half the people on my street had last names that ended in vowels and the other half were relatives. They were all Italians which made growing up colorful and rather intriguing. I loved their warmth; I loved their honesty; most of all I think I loved that sense of always belonging.
My Italian Family
Author: Maria Picardi-Kenyon Occupation: Realtor Hometown: Hamilton
How I miss the old days! Sunday's at my Uncle Angelo's house on 404 Hudson St. he, my Aunt Justine and their seven children always welcome my dad, mom & me. I especially remember my cousin Ralph who was about 4 years older than me. He was the best! Once he got his license he would give me and my girlfriends rides everywhere. All my friends had a crush on him. Today I look at my grandson Nicolo and remember Ralph whom Nicolo resembles so much. My cousin was taken from this world much too young due to childhood diabetes. I would give anything to go back, sit around the Formica dining table, drink my uncle's homemade wine and enjoy just being together. After dinner we'd walk to Landolfi's pastry shop or the Panorama for real Italian ice. When I tell my children "these are the good old days" they don't get it. Someday they will. I pray they're blessed with memories of family.
Butler Street-Feast of Lights Memories
Author: Josie Dwyer Occupation: Retired-State of NJ Hometown: Trenton NJ
(Photo: Big Lew & Marie ( Merty ) DiMattia of Butler St)
Nothing was better than when September rolled around. We all knew one thing-The Feast was coming. My relatives would all come by, my parents would be cooking up huge trays of sausage-peppers and onions ..veal piccata.. chicken parmesan.. roasted pork with broccoli rabe.. cakes, cookies.. you name it! Oh the smells, the family, the smiles, the laughter. Nothing will ever compare to those Feast of lights days. Remember when Jimmy Carter came to town? And Sunday? Watching the Madonna being carried thru the streets? Nothing made you feel more Italian than that Feast. I adore my heritage and I miss my parents Lewie and Marie DiMattia for they instilled Italian traditions in me that I try to fulfill daily. I know things change, but, I hope I never do. No matter where I move I'll never forget my Chambersburg up bringing.
Immigrant Parents Are a Blessing
Author: Sandra LaMonaca Occupation: Administration Hometown: Philadelphia, PA
(Photo: Mom and Dad's Birthdays. Married 58 years)
Growing up as a first generation American you learn the true meaning of family. People, food, chaos abounds in an Italian family and everyone that enters becomes family. The traditions are shared among generations. Grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins they are all your immediate family. The kitchen is the heart and soul. Being able to speak fluently is a gift to treasure.
Rose and Gloria
Author: Nancy LoPresti Adair Occupation: Retired Dean of private school Hometown: Newburgh, NY
We would get into our 1949 Packard at 7:00 am for the "long" trip into New York City to see the relatives every other month. They all had names I could barely pronounce,but each of them was prefaced with either "tia" or "tio" even if they weren't genetic aunts or uncles. Gloria could be heard in the next county with her rather loud and boisterous voice and my memory of Rose includes a white chefs apron she wore everyday, even when she wasn't cooking. She was an exquisite cook and this apron somehow symbolized her expertise. When we'd arrive, the hugs, kisses and greetings were overwhelming for a child but this scene was the most predictable and unavoidable. Gloria's resonance announced to the neighborhood that we arrived, usually loaded down with goodies from my fathers bakery in Newburgh. The adults sat at a huge round oak table and talked for hours; if it weren't for the hand gestures, I would not have been able to interpret anything they were saying. Back then, they spoke Italian as if it were a code protecting their secrets from the world, even if it were only about the weather. The visits always included food, talk and laughter. Gloria always laughed; Rose always cooked. The day dragged on until we took a walk to get spumoni and said our goodbyes for half an hour. They lived in the tenements where companies now take tourists on walking tours to relive the history that created today's NYC. I don't have to do a walking tour; Gloria and Rose wrote that history for me.
Proud to be Italian American
Author: Dawn Maria Dent Occupation: Fiscal Analyst Hometown: Philadelphia, PA
When you grow up in an Italian American family and meet others with your heritage, you know they also had gravy at least twice a week, know what the overlooks are, have been to at least one midnight mass, know at least one Lou Monte song, had a relative who made homemade wine, bakes pizzeles for holidays, and is proud of their relatives who taught them the joys of being Italian American.
Feast of Lights
Author: Steven Chell Occupation: Police Officer Hometown: Trenton NJ
I remember when I was 5 maybe younger going to the feast of lights. My entire neighborhood was Italian decent and my grandmother (Who spoke Italian to me) would bake hundreds of Italian cookies for the event. We always enjoyed getting Italian hot dogs and the feel of the entire block shut down in celebration of our ancestry. I especially miss the way things were back then before crime and criminals took over the city. Things seemed to be so much happier and safe back in them days. The fireworks were always what I remembered looking forward to.
Author: Jaime Bryant Occupation: Real Estate Agent Hometown: Old Bridge, NJ ~ Spring Hill, Florida
(Photo: Italian Love ??)
My beloved Grandmother & Grandfather on their wedding day . Alfonse Patetta & Josephine Valentina Famighletti . They were the Heart of our family and taught us all about Our Italian Heritage.
Coming from the Villages
Author: Giacomo Patricelli Occupation: Road Construction Hometown: Trenton, NJ
In the early 1900's, my family came from Villalba, San Fele, and Picciano. And they settled in Trenton. Many generations of my family have lived in Trenton. They left these small villages for a better life in America. I'm proud of the courage they had to get on a boat, and come to Ellis Island. I did go back to Picciano, Italia to see the place for myself. As you could probably figure out, they didn't have the options available to them in these small towns like Picciano. My roots are from Trenton. I often wondered how it was to be like them, coming to America. I think we have lost our identity as a whole when it comes to the heritage of our beginnings from Italia. It makes me prideful to have walked down the streets of my forfathers both in Trenton, and in Picciano.
Great to be an Italian
Author: Joe Occupation: Service Manager Hometown: Allentown, NJ
I remember when I was younger, I remember eating pasta every Sunday and we always used to eat early. I really never knew how to twirl my pasta, and my parents used to teach me. I definently remember those days. That's all I really wanted to say. It's great to be an Italian.
Growing Up in the Burg
Author: Linda Calandra Occupation: Retired Educator Hometown: West Deptford, Gloucester County, NJ (nee Trenton, NJ)
I was born and raised in an Italian, Catholic family on Chambers Street. My dad owned his own shoe store and shoe repair shop. Mom, for the most part, was a stay-at-home mom but worked in a factory in Trenton almost until the day I was born. I remember going to church on Sundays at the Immaculate Conception Church and attended Immaculate Conception School on Chestnut Avenue...first holy communions, confirmation, and graduation.
As I walked through the Burg on Sunday's to church I could smell the aroma of fresh tomato sauce(gravy!) cooking for the Sunday dinner.
In elementary school I played basketball for the CYO on Clinton Avenue near downtown. Growing up, mom would take me and my two siblings to Arnold Constable's, Dunham's, or Nevus-Voorhees to get our Christmas and Easter outfits for church. Christmas was always fun, anticipating what Santa brought under the tree. Mom and Dad never tried to spoil us but had Santa bring us clothes and a toy or a bike or a pair of roller skates. Later, as we got older, it would always be a little something for the bank.
Those days are gone now but I will always remember the family and friends get-together. I sometimes miss those days. Dad has been gone now for 21 years and would have celebrated his 100th birthday this September 28th. Mom is still with us and is 93 years young. I am always grateful for the growing-up that I had. Good memories!
After 68 years of marriage at 89 and 88 you appreciate your parents heritage
Author: Peter Lieggi Occupation: Restaurantuer Hometown: Lawrence
My dad and mom. When they're gone, how will the stories continue!
I have written several times. Tonight I took my dad and mom to the Italian American Festival. Not knowing what to expect as my mom can't walk far anymore. What I found was peace as they may not have many years left, but listening to their stories of Chambersburg's legendary Feast of the Lights in the late 40's and how every man and woman spoke Italian and now listening to them in English the legend continues and all I have to do is make sure I get my mother the zeppoles before Sunday night. Thanks Mr Scarpati for keeping the tradition going!
Author: Vincent Aufiero Occupation: Sales Manager Hometown: Montclair, NJ
Well where do I begin? My grandparents lived with us growing up in Montclair, there are so many stories, however the one I love is my grandmother making home-made raviolis. The best part was when she would place a large sheet of plywood on her bed and place the raviolis on on the plywood. I used to sit there and count them, well over 100. This was done for Palm Sunday and Easter. These two holidays were just as important as Christmas Eve, and how can we forget Christmas Eve with the eel swimming in my grandfathers bath tub a couple of days prior.
There is nothing else that can compare to growing up Italian. Vince
The Lady with the Brown Suitcase
Author: Sheila Grosso-Beers Occupation: Advertising Coordinator for Dept of Treasury Hometown: Hamilton, NJ
(Photo: Tribute to 'Old Lady Fisher' Legendary Mid-Wife ~ Trailblazer ~ Entrepreneur ~ Humanitarian Circa 1900-1930)
According to testimony of countless peers, Carmina Santomenna-Radice-Frascella, should have been sainted. Born in 1867 in San Fele, she was one of the most kindhearted, influential humanitarians of her time. She rose early to attend 5:00 mass at St Joachim's and delivered over 3,000 babies from North Trenton to Chambersburg through 1932. Since families had no money, payment would be a loaf of bread, or a chicken. Often SHE would bring THEM food! Carmella would go down to the Lamberton Market and barter for tomatoes for the whole neighborhood,"quanto costare pomodori?" "15-cents a basket." "No, quanto costare tutto?" She lined up the baskets in the alley around her house and sold for 10 cents a basket (not a penny more than she paid). She acquired 4 stables of horses and won the City garbage contract. This gutsy little woman from Italy, who stood little more than 4 foot tall, became a political powerhouse when it came to votes because she knew everyone and they all respected her. She acquired many homes which she used to provide shelter for the poor; it was during the Depression and she rarely collected the rent ~ some homes running 17-20 years behind! On Easter, Thanksgiving & Christmas she would have her wagons loaded up with food and off the horses would go - delivering food to the needy throughout Chambersburg and South Trenton. The kindness of Catta'Mella is legendary and made a real difference in the lives of so many~perhaps even your own descendants.
Author: Nancy LoPresti Adair Occupation: Retired private school Academic Dean Hometown: Newburgh New York
(Photo: Mr. & Mrs. Rosario "Rudy" LoPresti)
It never dawned on me that we had a normal life; I went to a Polish school, lived in an Italian neighborhood bordered by the Orthodox Jewish community and Eastern Europeans. My father's bakery, LoPresti Brothers, was on the corner and it became the center of all that was Newburgh. On Sunday mornings everyone would line up and wait their turn to congregate in the warm and casual atmosphere of the simple place. My father's name was Rosario but everyone called him, Rudy. The whole town knew who he was, yet his English was marginal; his smile boundless. It's what I remember most as a child about that bakery. The smell of the brick oven baked bread and rolls, the pignoli cookies in the showcase, Ignatio creating roses to place on a beautiful wedding cake, were all that identified the bakery; my father's smile and kindness is what identified him. The bread was iconic. He delivered to the cadets at West Point, the airmen at Stewart Air Force Base, St. Luke's Hospital, Mt. St. Mary Academy, Grossinger's Resort, and in the summer, to the clambakes in the Catskill Mountains. Everyone waited for the bread anticipating how it played a role in every important event. They all loved the bread; they all loved Rudy.
When I was a young girl my grandmother would make homemade pasta in our basement, can homemade spaghetti sauce and can peppers. My mother made homemade Pizza, fried dough with raisins, and her Wedding soup is out of this world. My dad worked 3 jobs and spent every chance he got with us. Took us on vacations, and helped us with anything we ever needed. My mom worked as a Secretary and still had time to cook a home-cooked meal. My parents came to all of our sports games, and we had every bit of love and guidance a child could ask for growing up. Typical Italian family we had good food,wine,learned to play bocci, attended the Italian Festival every year, family gatherings, ate pasta a lot, learned Italian cuss words, and how to dance and entertain guests. When my mom cooked it was as though she cooked for an army. We always had everything we needed growing up and had plenty of fun. We learned how to work hard for what we needed, and never give up.
Grateful to be Me
Author: Marie Antoinette Mignano Falcone Occupation: Occupational Therapy Field Hometown: New York
Both my parents were born in the city of Naples 1921 and came to America in their teens. I was born 63 years ago in Manhattan and lived on Broom Street in little Italy. My parents, afraid that my brother and I wouldn't be raised Italian enough, they took us back to Italy every summer to stay by their siblings...and we learned the meaning of love and family. It was so natural to speak, read and write in Italian first that English became a second language. I was in my teens when I realized many of my friends were raised so differently and I wanted so much to be more Americanized (I was born here) lol. As I grew up with all the superstitions and traditions of an Italian family I am so grateful to be me to know what family means and the bond between mother, daughter, son, spouse and all my first second and third cousins. We all have the same morals and values. We all make an effort no matter how far we are from each other we never forget the value of la famiglia. It's something we cherish more than anything else in life. My goal is to pass on my values, traditions and even superstitions to my grandchildren and great grandchildren with the hope that they continue to do the same. Love, family and compassion - that's all we need??
Sunday Family Mornings
Author: Gerri Fardin Occupation: Administrative Assistant Hometown: Jersey City
My dad was born in 1913 in Naples, Italy. He came to the USA in 1922 where he was forced to get a job to support my grandmother & 2 aunts since my grandfather had passed away. After being discharged in 1946 from serving in WWII for the Army/Air Force, he met my mom & married in 1947. Immediately they started a family of 4. I was the only girl & with 3 three brothers, I was not spoiled by any means. I started to help my mom in the kitchen when I was about 7 yrs old. On Sunday mornings, the aroma of garlic & onions sauteing in preparation of mom's homemade gravy, awakened my brothers. That was mom's way of getting them up for Sunday Mass. Her gravy would cook for hours adding the meatballs, braciole, sausage, etc. My dad always bought the fresh Italian bread that we couldn't resist soaking into the gravy. Mom would try to stop us by saying there wouldn't be any left for dinner--knowing she always made enough to feed an army. These memories take me back to those days I will cherish forever. I hope my kids continue the tradition with their families so mom & dad get the aroma of the great Italian feast they served our family every Sunday for dinner. I'm sure they would have the biggest smiles on their faces from heaven!
Gratitude to the Association that keeps Italian Tradition Alive for youngsters
Author: Peter F Lieggi Occupation: Restaurantuer Hometown: Lawrence Township
My name is Pete Lieggi, the son of immigrants. First generation Italian Americans sometimes have a different chance than either their parents or second generation Italian Americans. You go to school, learn American customs, see your parents adopt these practices to make you see why they came to the Land of Opportunity. If it was not for Mr. Scarpati, a man I hardly know but through my parents, who continued the tradition of the Feast of Lights from Chambersburg to Mercer County Park so now my parents enjoy this festival at age 88 and 87 may not have many years left. When my nieces were young my parents brought them to experience their Italian heritage in the land of their ancestors, Italy. Many people in America don't have that chance because of the cost of air fare, but from Rome to Naples, Venice to Florence experience through pictures and food how delicacies still exist. I am not going to write of accomplishments and such because since age 15 I have been in the local papers along with my family and parents in the restaurant world and sports for a time, but experience the festival and for the children to see where their ancestors lived, why they came, and why the tradition continues. Bona Festa Mercer County, Bona Festa Italia!
Miracles on Sunday Mornings
Author: Nancy LoPresti Adair Occupation: Retired Academic Dean of Private School Hometown: Plainsboro, NJ
We always had that unforgettable aroma of gravy wafting through the house, especially on Sunday mornings. She would get up at 5:00am to get things started, then let it simmer for hours until it was just right for dinner. Let me clarify: dinner for Italians on Sundays was at 3:00 in the afternoon. Maybe because we sat there for two or three hours or maybe because everyone worked so hard during the week, this dinner was more like a retreat from their everyday obligations. My mother knew it was building memories. Since my father was a baker, he would bring the fresh bread upstairs from our bakery and my sisters and I would get to "dunk" chunks of crusty bread into the bowls of gravy my mother would hand us. It cooked the entire time we were at church but by some magic or miracle it was perfect every time.
I have wonderful memories of my grandfather, Gennaro Gioia, who I lived with in the same house until I married. He was a kind, gentle man, who his family loved so well and he loved his family dearly. And he also loved his American Flag.
Gennaro served in the Italian Army in Sicily. After he arrived in America in 1916 he served three years in the American Army and became a citizen. He believed in America.
I lived with my grandparents in a two-family house that had beautiful roses in the front garden. And the garden had a flagpole. On this flagpole my grandfather proudly unfurled his American Flag. He kept it in an old dresser drawer, neatly folded in the traditional triangle. On every patriotic holiday he would lift the flag from its resting place, reverently carried it outside, unfolded it, then ceremoniously hoisted it on the pole and watched it wave in the wind. A quiet smile would come to his face; then he would sit on the porch, take out his pipe and enjoy a few peaceful minutes to himself.
He would never put out the flag if it was raining or leave it out beyond sunset, always checking his watch to see at precisely what time it would have to come down. Then the ritual would continue. He would unleash the rope, lower the flag slowly, and then refold it carefully. Before he replaced his beloved flag in its resting place, he would put it to his lips, kiss it gently and then slowly close the drawer.
I knew all of this because I watched his every move. He was so proud to be an American and so very proud of his American Flag.
My Grandfather cut Albert Einstein's Grass and My Dad is the best Chef in Mercer County
Author: Peter F Lieggi Occupation: Server Hometown: Lawrenceville
(Photo: One of their writeups in the 80's by Jim Fitzsimmons of the Trentonian!!!!!)
My dad Ennio "Andy" Lieggi came to America in 1947, as his dad Rocco Lieggi was the gardener for Albert Einstein's home on Mercer Street in Princeton. My dad and mom Gina survived fascist government, nazi occupation, and Allied liberation. They raised 5 children as Joe, a Air Force Sgt. during Vietnam served his country between 1969 and 1973. My brother Ennio "JR" was a US Marine during Vietnam, bartender and waiter at Lieggi's Ewing Manor between 1977 to 2002. My brother Paul a lawyer, me, Peter, a restaurant owner's son, Notre Dame High, MCCC, and Rider graduate, and my sister Anna, who raises two daughters Rachel and Alexandra. My dad worked for Princeton Inn in the 40's and 50's, Stacy Trent, and Marroe Inn in the 50's. He made Don Young and Don Ottaunick successful in the 60's. Made Glendale Inn with his brother Tony Lieggi a success. Kept Fred Gmitter and Joe Samerone in the black with Golden Goose in the 70's, and for 26 years owned and cooked for the best people along with my mom at Lieggi's as we had the Kirov Ballet in '86 thanks to Shelly Zeiger. He is 87, and she 86, and me a proud first generation Italian American as he worked as a chef for 63 years.
Ahh! Waking up to the smell of my grandmother's gravy and meatballs and the sound of church bells ringing on Sunday morning is surely missed! My grandmother would also make baby meatballs, as she would say for my grandpa....and everyone's hands would be sneaking those meatballs.....I could hear him yelling, get out of there those meatballs are mine!! We would Dinja the Italian bread in yes, the one meatball and gravy that she let us take and there, that was our Sunday breakfast!....Miss them and those days!
Bacon and eggs, not in our house
Author: Dori Colton Occupation: Retired Hometown: South Philadelphia
Growing up Italian in South Philadelphia during the 50's was an experience I wouldn't trade for all the money on the main line. My fondest memory... the Sunday Morning gravy (yes gravy not sauce). Waking up to that smell luring me down the stairs in the morning, straight into the kitchen where I began my quest for that piece of Italian bread to dip into the pot as the gravy simmered for hours on the stove. Bacon and eggs, not in our house, at least not on a Sunday morning. Who in the world would want Bacon and eggs after the tease of that simmering Gravy. And, as the Summer Sunday slowly got underway, the sound of our home grown, South Philly, opera singer would drift thorough the windows of my uncle's home (who lived across the street, next door to my aunt, and shared the alley with a few other Aunts and cousins.) As the day progressed, the volume on my uncles record player increased, and I knew then that Sunday was here and family was alive and well.
The Magic of Dance
Author: Patricia Florio Occupation: Past Court Reporter - now published author Hometown: Ocean Grove, New Jersey
(Photo: Grandma and me in her backyard in Brooklyn, 1953.). As a young girl, I lived in my grandmother's house in Brooklyn. That's where she taught me to dance. "Pa-tree-zee-ah," I heard her call me from her apartment. As I entered her living room, she had on her favorite aria, nessun dorma, I took off my shoes and stepped up on top of Grandma's bare feet. That's how she taught me to dance the waltz. She lit the living room by pulling on a chain connecting one small dim bulb to the electricity. We were still virtually darkness which gave our dancing a more enchanted feel. I held onto Grandma's soft middle for dear life as she had changed the record to something more festive. She twirled me around while the candles from her altar flickered, illuminating the painting of the Blessed Mother hanging on the wall. After a very robust dance, we fell to the floor laughing, but Grandma always applauded my improvement. "Brava, Patrizia," Grandma chanted, her face flushed, breathing faster with every breath she took, but still wanting to dance some more.
She held a recording of Carlo Butte, her favorite tenor, whom she said was honored as "la voce dorata dell'italia," the golden voice of Italy. She hugged his picture to her chest then put it down to dance with me. I felt the warmth of my grandmother's body engulf me; the musty odor of her dress as the scent of my grandmother. My days were always filled with the mystery of song and dance.
Food and Family
Author: Julia Aveta Occupation: housewife Hometown: Fairview, NJ
I can still smell my mother's ragu cooking on Sunday mornings, and my father going to the Italian deli in Fairview to get bread, cheese, and a whole lot of stuff, then fighting with my mother on how much money he spent. It was so funny. My mother and father got married in Naples, Italy more then 50 years ago and moved to Fairview, NJ where my three brothers and I grew up. It's all about family, food, and being together. Even though my dad passed away, my brothers and I moved away, my mother at 82 is still cooking for the family. I have to say that I love being an Italian.
Author: Rich Eckstein Occupation: Network Enterprise Director Ft Dix Hometown: Born Trenton - Live East Windsor
(Photo: Peter & Angelina Bentivogli - My Grandparents). Daniel(e) Dario Bentivoglio born 17 June 1859 in Sante Anatolio di Narco, Italy. He married Virginia Proietti who was an orphan & the Proietti name was either the orphanage or the family that ran the orphanage. Daniele came to the US first and then brought his family over in 1899. He dropped the end vowels from his first and last name. Daniel & Virginia had 4 children - Guido "Peter" (1891-1979), Christina, Constantine & Pia "Nellie". Daniel owned a tavern on Washington & Mifflin Streets and then on Chestnut & Elmer (Pete's Cafe). Guido "Peter" (never heard Guido used) married Angelina DeLeo & had 5 Children, Joseph William, Loretta (my mother), Irene, Gloria & Dolores. Peter owned the "Lilly White" Laundry which went under in the 30's and also bought the tavern on Chestnut & Elmer from his father for $10.00. Peter & Angelina raised their children during the depression to be family oriented, work hard, support the US & that education is extremely important even though there was no college in their future. The 5 Kids, 4 of which are living today, had 10 children who then had 14 grandchildren & 6 great grandchildren. The 10 children have 1 Associate's, 9 Bachelor's, 8 Masters & 1 Doctorate. The 14 grand children have 10 Bachelor's, 6 Masters & 1 Doctorate (95%) at this point. More to follow. The decedents of Daniel & Virginia are living the American Dream based on the same principles that Peter & Angelina taught their children.
Author: Joe DeVito Occupation: Hometown:
(Photo: DeVito Family).
Honoring Angeline Favata DeVito's 100th and 1st birthdate, born October 16th, 1911...My mother, Angeline, is here with Fred, Husband & Dad Andrew and Phyllis. My Uncle Chris is in background. Circa late 1930's at 141 Bayard St. in THE 'BURG!
A Saucy Lady
Author: Nancy LoPresti Adair Occupation: Retired Educator Hometown: Newburgh, New York
Every Sunday morning was the same: there she was with that big pot stirring away as though it were a cauldron of magic. And it was. My mother would get up before the sun and start her "gravy". She never measured anything yet it came to perfection every Sunday when we were allowed to sample by dipping big chunks of Italian crusty bread into the pot. The bread came from my father's bakery only moments before the taste testing, as we lived right above the bakery and had access to any of the wonderful breads and pastries he made. She had come from a large Calabrese family and he directly from Santo Stefano Quisquina in Sicily; in spite of what most people think about this mix of cultures, they made the perfect pair on Sunday mornings...and in my memories.
A Proud Italian American-A life blessed with a beautiful family
Author: Josie Di Mattia-Dwyer Occupation: Sr.Tech M I S Hometown: Trenton NJ
(Photo: Gennaro Di Mattia, my dad Big Lew Di Mattia, Uncle Nick Di Mattia, Uncle Jim Di Mattia(as a boy) and cousin Nicky Di Mattia). Growing up in chambersburg was a world like no other. We are the fortunate ones. We are the children of the proud Italians who came to this country to build a better life for all of their decendants. Today, when I tell people that I am going over this cousin's house, or that cousin's house, they look at me with the strangest looks on their faces. When I say, aren't you close to your family; the answer 90% of the time is NO. I can't imagine not having my cousins. We are more like sisters and brothers than cousins. If you didn't live it, you dont know it. Oh and not to mention the terrific family I had growing up. My parents, Lew and Marie, my siters, Mary and Theresa. What a wonderful life. I remember my dad and mom and the feast of lights. Oh what a party. My mom cooking away in the kitchen in anticipation of the family coming from Morrisville, PA to visit. Our grandmothers coming to sit on the porch to watch the proccession in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary coming down the street. My dad, who always made sure to teach us girls the italian way of life..The smells coming from the numerous bakeries, the music playing, Sinatra played in our home. Homemade wine poured freely.. Macaroni, sausage, meatballs, antipasto, home made desserts. WOW!! Christmas eve, the 7 fishes which we still do today, is a tradition that our parents instilled in us...
(St. Joseph's Day - 1945). My grandmother grew up in the St. James parish in Trenton. When she was newly married, my Grandpop had an infection and was not to survive. My Grandmom would go to the church every day and pray that if St. Joseph would help heal her husband, she would throw a feast in his honor every year on March 19th. Miraculously, my Grandfather healed and that year she began to hold this feast. My Grandmother would get assistance from friends, the Altar Rosary Society at the Church and her family. Smells filled the air - Veal cutlet, breaded vegetables, that bread!, lasagna, minestrone, and of course, trays of her homemade cookies!! The altar would get built and each shelf would get designated to St. Joseph, the Blessed Mother, and Baby Jesus. Anise, flowers, and each food would get adorned to the table. The tables would be set in the finest linens and people would come in and eat then the dishes were washed, tables reset and the next group would come in. An unfortunate family would always get first honors to eat. A few years ago, a St. Joseph's Day fund-raiser was held at Angeloni's in Hamilton and I went to see if I could meet anyone who remembered. I met some elderly folks from Trenton who remembered Marie's house and her feast!
Author: Mary Ann Sestili Occupation: Retired Hometown: Pittsburgh, PA
(Photo: Max Sestili). Everyone called him Max, a version of Massimo, his given name. A gardener by trade, an artist unsurpassed. He was my dad, the most generous person I've known.
He could not turn from an outstretched hand in need or want, "Get a dish and another chair" he requested when anyone from the neighborhood came to the door; he was happiest when it was dinnertime.
Once when I asked him how rich he would have been had he kept all that he gave away, he shrugged. "Probably a millionaire, but look what I would have missed." He embodied the spirit of his mother, whose surname Pacifico fittingly means peace.
He died some time ago - two days after his beloved 4th of July - when flags are unfurled under the hot July sun. Family barbecues, children, and sparklers at dusk made him so very happy.
He didn't want to die, this magnanimous man, but finally accepted death with courage in spirit with Samuel, when called by God, answered, "Here I am Lord, your servant listens."
When his journey ended, more than 500 came, with stories about his gifts of food and money; jobs when others turned them away; jokes in times of sadness; visits at times of illness or when their loved ones lay dying or dead.
His was the motto "When I am dead and gone, tell the kingdom of the earth that I have loved it more than I have ever dared to say."
The Aversano Girls
Author: Josette Zito Geraci Occupation: Cosmetologist Hometown: Trenton, New Jersey
My mother Helen Marie Aversano Zito, was the youngest of 9 children, seven of whom were girls. Pauline, Cucatine(Carrie), Pasqual(Charlie), Rose, Angelina, Mildred, Josephine(Josette), Louise, Helen. My grandfather, Antonio Aversano, worked at Robeling. He and Conceila raised a family on 424 Elmer Street Chambersburg. The memories are too many to mention, the family was large the parties, the diners, the weddings, the baptisms, the communions, the confirmations the holidays (Christmas & Easter)were always celebrated with church ( St. Jochams & St. Anthony's), food( always pasta), wine, family and friends. I can remember one Christmas Eve we had 35 people at the table. My mother and my aunts started preparing the seven fishes dinner three days in advance. Of course, I must honor my father, Philip Zito, who was in public service for 30 years. He was under sheriff, Mercer County, and played the accordian for just about every fund raising event, as well as weddings, any most social gathering taking place in the Trenton and surrounding area. Josette's was the place to get your hair colored and styled (Hanover St.) the Campus Flower Shop, was the place for Flowers and Mildred's Beauty Shop (124 Butler Street), was the place for the local Chambersburg women to get their hair done. Next door Uncle Buck sharpened knives and slicing machines for just about every resturant and deli as far away as Bordentown. There is so much more, I thank God for a wonderful family.
The Greatest Memories
Author: Phil Zito Occupation: Car Rental Agent Ft. Lauderdale Fl. Hometown: Trenton, NJ
My parents met in Asbury Park. My mom, who was from Elmer St. in Chambersburg met my dad while he played his accordion on the beach. Instant love. My dad was from Newark but bought a home on Leonard Ave. in Hamilton Twp., where I was born. My mother was one of seven sisters and one brother. While most moved to the suburbs, I had an aunt on Butler St. and another on Elmer and yet the ones who had moved away from the Burg were not more than 2 miles away. Sundays were typical; mass at St. Anthony's and dinner at 2:00 pm for no less than 15 people for we always had 1, 2 or 3 aunts stop by with the cousins, yes the cousins who were more like extended brothers and sisters. Christmas eves in the 50's, 60's and 70's were always at my house with one being bigger than the last. Maybe it was because my mother, Helen, was the youngest. Also we had the pool so every night in the summer was like a family reunion. We were so close yet very competitive. We fought like crazy but don't you dare talk about my relatives!!! Yes then, there was the feast of the lights. Perhaps they were the greatest memories of all. It was a five night party. My aunt Mill lived at 125 Butler St. right in the middle of it all. I remember the Italian girls. Oh and never forget those whips. Memories!
Author: Clement Bottone Occupation: Self employed Hometown: South Plainfield, NJ
Who doesn't remember have an early Sunday dinner with the family when you were young? Well I remember everything like it was yesterday! My Grandparents lived in Plainfield, NJ on East 2nd St. and we would head over there every Sunday in the early afternoon....I was 7 yrs old. As soon as I got there I would rush to break off the ends of the freshly bought Italian bread and start dunking away in the gravy still simmering on my Grandma's old fashion stove...it was great. Then of course when dinner was ready I would love to make a meatball sandwich from the homemade meatballs my Grandma would make, and I still think of her whenever I have one of those sandwiches. Anyway, that was part of my childhood and something that has been long gone. It will always be apart of me and something I think of often...they were the good old days when I was 7 years old...that's funny.
(Photo: Roseanne McKeever with her mom Rose and brother Mike in their Grandparent's backyard on Franklin Street in Trenton, NJ, circa 1955). Every Sunday, rain or shine, our family walked from our home on Melrose Avenue to our grandparent's home on Franklin Street in Trenton for Sunday dinner. It was a multi-generational feast with everyone crammed somehow into Grandmom's small kitchen. There was a hierarchy - the adults had ravioli and the kids got 'macaroni' with Grandmom's gravy. After dinner we would spend time watching Grandpop's buddies from his club play bocce in the adjacent yard, or visiting neighbors so Grandmom could show off her grandkids (at least I think she did - I never did learn much Italian).
Our holiday dinners would move into the larger dining room with even more family attending. I remember waiting for Santa on Christmas Eve - Grandmom always heard the sleigh bells even if I didn't. We would sit on the bottom steps of the stairway waiting for the festivities to start.
The Watermelon Man
Author: Frank Mancino Occupation: Mortgage Banking Hometown: Trenton, NJ
All four of my grandparents were born in the old country. My father's father was named Antonio Mancino, but he was better known throughout North Trenton & Chambersburg as the "Watermelon Man".
Everyday he would drive his truck to the Philly Produce market and come back with a truckload of produce to sell in the Trenton area. He would drive around and yell "watermelone" in his broken accent. My grandfather put his four children through college (no easy task) doing this for a living.
In 1936, in the middle of the Great Depression, he opened the "Mancino Fish Market and Fruit Produce" at 404 Hudson St, directly across from the Hudson Beer Garden. My father was born above that store. My nonna and aunts and uncles all worked at the store. If someone needed food but didnt have any money, they would write an IOU in "the book". And since no one had much money then, they would barter for food and services. What a wonderful concept.
I grew up in the mid 1960's in Ewing. I remember going from my nonna & grandpop's house on E.Paul Ave to the store and to the Beer Garden to eat. It was a wonderful time in my life and I miss them all so dearly.
Even now, almost 50 years removed from my granpop's passing, when I mention my last name to someone from Trenton, every now and then they say, Hey, I remember "The Watermelon Man", are you related?
A Bi-Cultural Home
Author: Richard LaPadura Occupation: Retired Hometown: The Bronx NY now living in Monroe Township NJ
(Photo: Theresa LaPadura Oct.2,1918 - Feb.16,2011). I am happy to be an Italian American. I was introduced to beautiful music as a young child. The music of Puccini, Verdi and many other composers sends my head swimming, it is so lovely. I was also introduced to Italian Art through my uncle, "The Artist". The love of family and friends was paramount in an Italian home. I still can remember the aroma of my mother's cooking. But I didn't feel this way when I was growing up. I was raised in a strict Italian home. My parents were trying to instill in me the traditions of the "Old World". I on the other hand wanted so to be an American. As a result it was a struggle. There were many quarrels and misunderstandings between my parents and myself. I did not appreciate my mother's delicious food. I felt I was eating depression food. I can remember visiting my mother's friend and was happy to have a bowl of Campbell's Vegetable soup with a sandwich of ham and cheese on white sliced bread. I felt like an American forgetting my mother's Minestrone Soup filled with fresh vegetables and a slice of Italian bread cut from a round loaf smothered with butter. I had to mature to appreciate my heritage. Today these foods are considered "Gourmet Cuisine".
C&D Family Shoe Store
Author: Marie Calandra Occupation: Hometown: Trenton, NJ
(Photo: C&D Family Shoe Store on Chambers Street in Trenton, circa 1955). In 1946, following the Second World War, Vic Calandra established a shoe repair shop, located at 431 Franklin Street, with what little money he managed to save while serving in the U.S. Army. Two years and a lot of just plain hard work later, he purchased the land on Chambers Street where he opened C&D Family Shoe Store and where it remained until its closing. With only $900 worth of merchandise, mostly children's shoes, amounting to about 200 pairs, six chairs and one fitting stool, the new shoe department was ready for business.
The Shoe Store was on one side of the store while the repair shop was on the other. For the first ten years he made his living repairing shoes and used any profits from the sale of new shoes to replace his stock. Eventually, due to very fine customer service and fair prices, Mr. Calandra was able to discontinue the repair shop business and expand the new store by adding and enlarging to three times the size of the original store, with a large apartment living quarters overhead.
Courteous service and well trained help was the key to the success of C&D Family Shoe Store.
In My Mind and Heart Forever
Author: Philip F. De Vito Occupation: Hometown: Lawrenceville, NJ
(Photo: Uncle Joe's back yard party, circa 1960). The De Vito family resided at 141 Bayard Street in the heart of Chambersburg. I spent my youth there with my parents and three siblings. The most exciting time of the year in the 1940's and 1950's was the Italian Feast known to us as the "Feast of Santa Maria Cassandra."
My feast day celebration started at my grandmother De Vito's house where we were met by all our aunts, uncles, cousins, and family friends. The house was filled with laughter and stories reminiscent of the good ole days! Best of all, the aroma of food filled the air and we would listen to the stories and eat and eat!
At 5:30 the procession with the Blessed Virgin Mary would commence and our eyes were wide with wonderment as we stood outside grandma's and watched her go by....we would all say a prayer to her to keep our family healthy and safe.
We eventually moved away from the Italian neighborhood taking with us the memory of the feast and our childhood.
I revisited the feast years later. The wonderment was gone, my family was gone but all of those "glory days" will be imprinted in my mind and heart forever
Growing Up In Chambersburg
Author: Harry Camisa Occupation: Retired prison guard, author of INSIDE OUT:Fifty Years Behind the Walls of NJ's Trenton State Prison Hometown: Trenton, NJ
(Photo: Antonio Bucchicchio, Harry Camisa's great-grandfather, dressed in the uniform of the Italian Army's elite Bersaglieri Corps. Photo taken in Trenton, early 1900s.). I was born in 1928 in the Chambersburg section of Trenton and lived for a few years with my family in "the projects," the Donnelly Homes. When we lived with my grandmother on Hamilton Ave., I would see the milkman go by with his horse and wagon, and when the occasional car would pass, my grandmother would jot down the numbers from the license plate and put two cents on "the number" with the neighborhood bookie.
My grandfather was a barber on Hamilton Ave. in the early 1930's. Most of his customers had their own shaving mugs with their names on them and nearly all of them worked at the John A. Roebling steel fabricating plant, also on Hamilton Avenue. It's hard to believe that while charging only 15 cents for a shave and a haircut, my grandfather managed to raise eight children.
Very few of the old Italians had cars, so they rarely left "The Burg." Almost all of them had gardens where they grew tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, and, of course, a fig tree. In early fall, the smell of grapes permeated the air since almost everyone grew their own grapes and made "Dago red" wine. During lunchtime in the cafeteria at Junior Four all the Italian kids had meatball, sausage, pepper and egg sandwiches while the non-Italian students ate peanut butter and jelly.
The biggest event of the year in the Burg was the Feast of Lights, a religious festival honoring the Virgin Mary. Residents would pin money on the Virgin's statue and walk barefooted behind it as it was carried through the streets.
An Italian Family Living in Princeton
Author: Terry Panicaro Occupation: Hometown: Hamilton, NJ
(Photo: Princeton University Power Plant Team, 1933). Growing up in Princeton on Humbert Street, there were only two or three families with cars. We walked everywhere. My father, Giovanni (John) Talia worked at the Power Plant in Princeton University. The buildings were powered by fine coal. Many mornings on his way to work, he would exchange greetings with Prof. Albert Einstein. Mom took care of the house, my brother and I, and like most of the Italian families, took in boarders. They were men working in construction or the W.P.A.. Mom washed their clothes in a deep double sink by hand, using a wash/scrub board. No washer.
Once a year, we would go to Chambersburg to order and have delivered many crates of beautiful grapes to make homemade wine in our wine press. We would shop in the Italian stores on Butler Street for other special foods.
I recall my Dad belonging to the American Legion Post 76 with their meeting hall on Mercer Street in Princeton. From 1942-1945, my brother, Dom, and many other boys met there in groups prior to walking to the train station to board the Dinky on their way to World War 2.
Thomas Conti School of Business
Author: Daniel DiLeo Occupation: Hometown: Bordenton, NJ
I remember vividly being a young child (about 4 or 5) who spent time with my grandparents in the Chambersburg section of Trenton. My mother's family had a small bake shop which was located on Mott Street, in the middle of the block between the Clin-Mott bar and the Hudson Beer Garden, across from the Roebling factory. I can still remember the hum of the factory; a sound we call today 'white noise'. My grandfather, Thomas Conti, was a baker. Every day he baked his bread a little past midnight and then early in the morning delivered loaves to customers around the city. On Saturdays he would collect in the afternoon from customers who fed their families with his product. As a pre-school child I would accompany my grand-pop as he collected from his customers. At this young age he taught me work ethic. My job was to sweep the bread crumbs out from the back of the truck. Today as a fifty-something adult in the retail business world in New York City I tell people that I am a graduate of the Thomas Conti School of Business. His approach to dealing with his customers is engrained in my DNA. My name is Daniel DiLeo and I am proud of my Italian heritage and thank my grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins who engrained on me a sense of hard work, honesty, education, and family pride. It is now my turn to take this culture and heritage to the next generation to ensure they do not forget where it all began and how difficult it was to achieve.
(Photo: Vincenzo Paxia (right) in the tailor shop at Maury Robinson's, Trenton, NJ, 1963). I was born in a village in Sicily in 1933. Life was simple. Most of the boys played in the streets. To keep us out of trouble, we were given the chance to go to a trade school, where I learned how to be a tailor. I started this training around the age of 10. And for the next 6 years, I learned all aspects of being a tailor. I later attended Bologna School of Design where I received my diploma. I worked at various tailor jobs in Modena after graduation.
One day, my godfather suggested that I apply for a tailor union job in America. My uncle who lived in Belmar, NJ would sponsor me to come there. So, I came to America in 1958. I remember that the first thing that I saw was the Statue of Liberty.
While working at Brooks Brothers clothing factory, my uncle who was in the tailor union in Trenton got me a job making leather coats in a factory on the corner of Carol and Perry Streets. One night, while at a bar, I met a man who made slipcovers who offered me a job. His shop was in Princeton.
While waiting for a bus in front of Landrock's, an expensive men's clothing store in Princeton, I met the head tailor. Noticing that I was sharply dressed, he asked me what I did for work and I told him that I was a tailor. He offered me a job at the shop. I eventually ended up at Maury Robinson's in Trenton. I enjoyed working for Maury for 18 years. When I became a citizen in 1964, Maury wrote a nice story about me for the newspapers. When Maury died, I opened my own shop. My shop is located on College Street in Trenton.
(Photo: DiMattia Children - Five Girls, One Boy - circa 1995). We were five girls and one boy, raised on Charles Street, between Chestnut Park and the Park Theatre. My parents rented the house from Mrs. Carroll, an Irish woman, who would pick up the rent once a month and always stayed for an Italian dinner. Our home was open for family and friends who enjoyed my mom's Italian cooking and baking.
My sisters and I took piano lessons at the Trenton Conservatory of Music and performed in their recitals. My brother took trombone lessons.
Our radio was always stationed to the Opera on Saturday on WOR, church and Bishop Sheen on Sunday, and classical music throughout the week.
When we were small, my mother would bathe us and change our clothes for when my dad returned home from work. When he worked evenings she would gather us around the stove, while bricks were heating in the oven, and tell us stories until the bricks were heated enough to be wrapped in a towel and taken to bed with us. My mom made our clothes and my dad repaired our shoes.
We always had healthful meals like polenta, escarole and beans, broccoli rabe, fish, chicken, beef, a lot of delicious one-dish-meals, salads and pasta and meatballs.
Mrs. Carroll sold the house to my parents, which my father renovated inside and out from top to bottom. My mother went to work, so we had to help out - each one of us having a week to make lunches for school, clean up after dinner and start our week off by making Sunday dinner, at which time we could invite a friend.
(Photo: Amedea Angelini, Great Grandmother of Alexis Adie, 1963, at her 80th birthday). Her decision to leave had come. Amedea strolled from her Terni home with her husband Teodoro and baby girl, Ellia, in her arms. Terni was a beautiful city in Italy. It was 1902, and the sights on the mountains were breathtaking. Amedea would never say so, but she would miss it. When she was ready to board their ship she turned around and took one last glimpse of her home, knowing that it was probably the last time she would ever see the place she came to know so well. They were traveling in hopes of finding a better life.
The boat ride was steady and slow. Upon their arrival, all Amedea could do was shyly follow Teodoro. She knew no English and felt lost while hearing the unfamiliar words that everyone around her spoke. Making their way from Ellis Island, they headed straight for the Chambersburg section of Trenton.
Teodoro worked hard, but never predicted what would transpire in the upcoming years. The Great Depression began and he was working hard just for food. Amedea felt useless as she saw her husband suffer. Amedea did the best she could do by taking on odd jobs. The children taught her the American traditions they learned in school.
Amedea died in 1974 at the age of ninety-one. She left thirteen children in her place to pass on her Italian heritage. One of which was my grandmother, Fresia. I am grateful to know that if it weren't for Amedea's decision, I wouldn't be here in New Jersey. This story of my family somehow makes the world feel smaller.
Author: Grace De Forte Del Aversano Occupation: retired Hometown: North Trenton
(Photo: The De Forte Family). This is my family portrait. It is a treasure to me and I am happy to share it with you. I am a De Forte one of eight children born to Vincenzo and Lena De Forte. My parents and my brother Sam are no longer with us, but we remain as close as ever. My father worked hard to support us, and my mother... well she must have had a certificate as teacher, psychologist, guidance counselor, teacher, nurse, but most of all "mother". It was a house full of love and respect for one another. The oldest helped the younger and it went right down the line of the eight of us. We lived in a modest house in North Trenton. We were really poor, but my mother would cook many pasta dishes-most of which are now considered "specials" by many Italian Restaurants today. We didn't have much, but we had each other and the great values instilled in us by our parents. I am proud to say I am a De Forte kid and proud to be Italian! Respectfully submitted by: Grace De Forte Del Aversano.
Author: Johnny DeCarlo Occupation: Meatball Chef Hometown: East Rutherford, NJ
(Photo: Johnny DeCarlo). In my very large North Jersey Italian-American family, meal time was always extremely important-because it brought us all together-it gave us a chance to see each other and talk, whether things were good or bad. Friends and family sitting together and enjoying meals made from recipes passed down from the generations is the ultimate symbol of love. It's not even necessarily about the meatballs (which, in my opinion were the best thing my grandmother made and the direct inspiration for me becoming a meatball chef), it's more about the fact that she carefully shaped them by hand, with passion and pride. See, it made her happy to see everyone visiting and everyone enjoying them, and just enjoying themselves so much. It may sound silly, but whenever I roll a meatball, I feel so good inside. It brings me back to my childhood and it brings me back to all those wonderful Sunday afternoons filled with at least a dozen people visiting. And that's why I make meatballs today as my occupation-to help bring back that old-school experience that's lost in this drive-thru era. Feasts like the Mercer County Festival bring back those experiences as well. They transport me to my childhood-where I hold some of the warmest, fondest memories of my life that I want my kids to learn about and continue long after I am gone. Come visit me, Johnny Meatballs, I'll have my Johnny Meatballs stand set up at the outdoor food pavilion!
Recollections of Chambersburg
Author: Peter Inverso Occupation: President & CEO, Roma Bank Hometown: Hamilton, NJ
(Photo: Feast of the Madonna di Cassandrino in Chambersburg, circa 1937). My recollections of Chambersburg are of growing up in a closely knit, uniquely Italian neighborhood, where large families were measured by eight or more; where the roles of a father and mother were well defined, as were the roles of their children; where lack of respect or courtesy was punishable; where family ties were stronger than the Gordian knot; where relatives may have fought with each other, but outsiders dare not; where the church, clergy, nuns were revered and a family blessed if one of their own was called by God to serve Him; where there was no casual dress for Sunday Mass; where wrongs, real or perceived, caused feuds and grudges that could last for decades; where discourse principally took place on front porches, stoops, or the corner bar or club; and where the weekend meant obligatory visits to relatives.
It was said that in Chambersburg everyone knew your business, and they probably did! Chambersburg was as much a life style and attitude as it was a geographic delineation. Predicated on a deep pride of ethnic identity, the Burg was the Burg, in great measure, because of the institutions woven into its fabric-its churches, schools, bakeries, restaurants, specialty food stores, neighborhood bars, tomato pies, and The Feast of the Madonna di Cassandrino. Plentiful societies and clubs provided a focal point for the men to meet, argue over who was better-DiMaggio or Williams, play pool and cards, and vent their "machoism".
In the forties and the fifties, society was not as mobile, and while demographic change was beginning, life in Chambersburg principally revolved around day to day contact in the neighborhood with families and friends, who served as a safety net and support structure for each other. I was the beneficiary of that support and consider myself fortunate to have had Chambersburg as the setting for my early life experience.
Mimi's Pastry Shop
Author: Adele Ciaramella Weber Occupation: Retired Hometown: Trenton, New Jersey
(Photo: Mimi's Pastry Shop located on Butler Street across from St. Joachim's Church in Trenton (Chambersburg)). My childhood was blessed with happy memories. Our family lived above my grandparent's bakery on Butler Street. The bakery was known as Mimi's Pastry Shop located directly across from St. Joachim's Church. My grandfather was known to all as Don Angelo Ciaramella. He, along with my dad Michael, and uncle Dominic would do all the baking and also made the famous Italian Ice that many people would come to buy. On Sunday morning after all the masses, people would walk down the church steps and go directly into the store to get these wonderful treats. After my grandfather passed my mom and dad would run the store under the name of Nancy's Sweet Shop. After school, most of the kids would come in and get Italian Ice.
Life was safe and full of love. I remember the Feast of Lights which was the best time ever. We would buy goods from the many merchants that lined the street. The lupini beans, hard nugget candy and, of course, the pea shooters. There was always time for family and friends. Each Thursday and Sunday were spent at grandpops and grandmom eating our pasta.
I wish I could give the gift of living in the burg to my children and grandchildren so that they could understand what it was like to live in a neighborhood of unmeasurable love and friendship. I am truly blessed to have lived "Back in the day" when life, family and friends were gifts to be treasured and respected.
Wine flows down Hudson Street
Author: Joseph Picardi Occupation: retired Hometown: Trenton, NJ
(Photo: Angelo and Justina Picardi). Our father, Angelo Picardi,made some of the best home made wine in the area which was much in demand in the neighborhood and environs. At eleven years old I was dragging a cart loaded with boxes of grapes down Hudson Street in the wee hours of the morning and sending them down a chute to my waiting father in the basement, turned wine cellar. While the wine was fermenting the odor would permeate the house and our clothes when our mother, Justina, would hang them in the basement in bad weather. The nuns and our classmates in St Joachim's would always know when my father was making wine!Neighbors would always stop my father or me and ask when the wine would be ready.Our mother would tell us not to tell anybody about the wine because my father sold it which we later found out was illegal. It was the worst kept secret in Trenton. My father sold the wine for our family's livelihood especially in the winter when he was laid off from his construction job. We were seven kids, two sick with diabetes. My father was pretty easy going when he sold the wine and sold to anybody who came to the door. Unfortunately he sold to a State ABC agent. The fire department came to the basement, broke the forty barrels, and pumped the wine down the gutter to the "boos" of the neighbors. The headline in papers the next day was "Wine Flows Down Hudson Street."
Guidance of a Brother
Author: Lou Zanoni Occupation: Co-inventor of the LCD, Chairman WZBN TV Hometown: Ewing, NJ
(Photo: Lou Zanoni, age 5, at family wedding with brothers and cousins, peeking out at the camera). I was born in 1933 in the bedroom of the house my family lived in on Princeton Avenue in Trenton. My father was 55 years old. My mother was his second wife. After his first wife died, he returned to Pescantina, Italy, to find another wife. Like other northern Italians, we lived in north Trenton and my mother never cooked with tomato sauce. We ate polenta and rice. My father liked to hunt rabbits and pheasants and taught me to use only one shot, so there wouldn't be too many pellets in our dinner.
My mother never really acclimated to her life in Trenton and I grew up speaking mostly Italian until I started school. I have a sister who is five years older. I also had my father's first family - three grown stepbrothers and a stepsister.
This picture was taken at a family wedding. Two of my brothers and several cousins are all dressed up for the occasion. I was there, too, about five years old, peeking out at the camera from behind the skirts of a nun.
One of my brothers, Andy, fourth from the left, took a special interest in me. He was a HAM radio operator and then a radioman flying international routes for TWA. He taught me about electronics and pointed me in the right career direction...to the radio shack in the U.S. Navy, then to electronics school, and after graduation to the RCA research laboratories.
(Photo: Damiano Family with Giuseppe "Joe" kneeling in white shirt and father "Mastro Antonio" with hat). "Mastro Antonio" is what they called him in the Burg-a master of inlaid wood and cabinetry. Apprenticed as a boy to a cabinetmaker in Naples, Italy, my father produced furniture, bars and other wooden items that were veritable works of art. Roman chariots and fine steeds were intricately designed into the bedroom set he proudly made for our mother.
uring World War 1, my father left Philadelphia to fight for Italy. He was captured and imprisoned by the Austrians. In their jail, he and other prisoners received no food and were forced to survive on rodents. The Italian government declared him a "Cavaliere, Ordine Militare d'Italia" (Knight, Military Order of Italy), for his wartime service.
A strong man and father of 13 children, "Mastro Antonio" taught by example. Since I was four-years-old, I was straightening nails for him with a small hammer. As we grew, my 7 brothers and I would help him in his shop after school and on weekends. He would show us how to do something just once. If we ever made a mistake, there was no scolding, just a disapproving look that made you realize it was to be redone. He always emphasized, "Make the back look as good as the front; don't cut corners." Thus we became skilled carpenters by the time we entered middle school.
A friend once said to him, "If I had your sons, I'd become rich." My father answered, "If you plant potatoes, you get potatoes."
St. Joseph's Day Table
Author: Bart L. DiNola Occupation: Real Estate Sales Hometown: Hamilton, NJ
(Photo: DiNola-Caprio family at the St. Joseph's Day Table, circa 1952). Growing up in an Italian American community has influenced my life in so many ways that I can't mention them all. The thoughts that come to mind are family, pride and a work ethic instilled by observing my parents working so hard in the restaurant and vending business. Even though they were very busy I remember their kindness to any cause. They supported and helped organizations that were in need e.g. St. Michael's Orphanage in Hopewell.
The most vivid memories that I have growing up involve the family gatherings at my grandmothers home on Evans Avenue in North Trenton. The St. Joseph's Table was the best. There were always friends and cousins, aunts and uncles - who really were not cousins, aunts and uncles - but were treated as family because that was our way of showing respect to our family's friends.
St. Joseph Day at my Grandmother's, Philomena DiNola Caprio, was a very special occasion. After having the dough baked at Immordino's Bakery (now Franca's Bakery) the table was decorated with bread, fruit and vegetables. My favorite was the finocchio, you know, the licorice tasting celery, fennel. All of my grandmother's lady friends would take an abundance of food home.
Of course my father, Bucky, put the spread on for grandmom and she was extremely proud to have the Festa and share with everyone. Growing up Italian, it was always that spirit of sharing and giving of one's self, that I learned at an early age, which makes me most proud of being an American of Italian descent.
I grew up in a row home on Franklin Street in the Chambersburg section of Trenton where the backyards were the size of a postage stamp, but the land was fertile. My father, an immigrant from Calabria, Italy, lovingly tended to his 50 tomato plants, lettuce, peppers, and a small herb garden. My father would weed, water, and feed his crop each evening after putting in long hours for the Trenton Water Department. Every August, we would harvest the tomatoes and my younger sisters and I, with my mother orchestrating every move, would peel, boil, drain, and fill 100 to 150 jars of tomatoes. We would then carry these jars to the basement and line the shelves with our day's work. Our family of ten would enjoy the fruits of this labor all winter and into the following summer. Most of those jars were turned into delicious sauce to accompany my mother's homemade pasta which we ate every Tuesday, Thursday, and Sunday. This small plot of land was precious to our family; my father would only grow plants that would yield food for feeding his family was no easy task in the 20s and 30s.
My Easter Italian Style
Author: Sally (Saletta Tramontano) Van Fleet Occupation: Retired Hometown: Born in Brooklyn, currently in Hamilton Square, NJ
I remember when I was about eight years old when we would go to my grandmother's house, a brownstone in Brooklyn, NY, for Easter Dinner. There were four floors to the brownstone and my grandmother lived in the first two floors and the two remaining floors were occupied by two of her children and their families. There must have been 20 to 30 steps between floors, too much to bare. Money was tight, regardless, my grandfather, surprisingly, always made a big meal of pasta, meat balls, sausage, salad and freshly caught raw clams was our appetizer. There must have been about twenty of us gathering around several tables huddled together. My grandfather and uncles would pour the red wine and everyone would be drinking, laughing and telling stories. We hadn't seen some of our relatives in awhile so it was really a treat to look forward to. We had three Sallys present (our nickname for Saletta which was our grandmother's name); so, we would be called by either Sally #1, Sally #2 or Sally #3 (from oldest to youngest) to avoid confusion. I enjoyed seeing and playing with my cousins. We would wait anxiously for dessert time which was when my aunt would bring out a cake resembling a small lamb with coconut icing and my grandmother would give each of her grandchildren a cake with a whole, dye colored egg baked in it. I felt surrounded by love and I'll never forget it.
They Knew the Secret for the Happiest Days
Author: Cav. Gilda Rorro Baldassari, Ed.D. Occupation: Consular Correspondent & Chair NJ Italian and Italian American Heritage Commission Hometown: Hamilton, NJ
(Photo: Battaglia and Sorrentino families and friends). Could your happiest days be spent being forced to live in a segregated part of town, in a modest wooden house without running water, gas, heat or electricity, with a wood/coal stove that only warmed a few of the rooms downstairs, and an "out house" supplied with a Sears and Roebuck catalog in lieu of Charmin? Add to that a 12-hour work day from 6 am-6 pm, and from 7 am-12 pm on Saturday.
Strange as it may sound, my mother, Dr. Mary Sorrentino Battaglia, often spoke of the "good ole' days," with nostalgia. Growing up, my sisters and I were told countless stories of the Italian immigrants, who, upon arriving in Mays Landing, were made to live in a part of town called "The Grade," where they were constantly called "Wops, Guineas or Dagos."
When my grandfather opened his bar and grill in town, the Klu Klux Klan paid an unwelcome visit shouting, "You dirty Dagos; go back to ITLY' where you belong!" To add to the frustration, when my mother became a typist in the Atlantic County Clerk's Office, she would often have to write a restrictive covenant stating, "This property cannot be sold to a Negro, a Jew, a Catholic, or an Italian."
Despite the difficulties, Italian immigrants continued to fetch up to that village because of the Cotton Mill of the Mays Landing Water Power Company. During the summer, my mother joined her siblings to work in the mill, amidst screaming machines, where the cotton would swirl around them like snow in January.
So why "the happiest days," one might ask? Her answer was simple. On Sunday, after mass, at Saint Vincent De Paul's Church, the extended family and friends gravitated at my grandparents' home. They would all make a contribution to the feast, the wine, music and dancing. All the generations joined in entertaining themselves. No one was left alone or isolated on Sunday or any other day. All were shown love and value. They knew the secret for the happiest days.
Author: Franny Trionfetti Verdi Occupation: Chef Hometown: Trenton, NJ
Fortunately, unlike many adults today I have beautiful childhood memories growing up at 609 Chestnut Ave., Trenton, nj across the street from my Dad's restaurant "TRIONFETTI'S". Everything was so innocent and happy. I remember walking with friends to the restaurant and treating them to spaghetti and meatballs in the kitchen. My Dad sending food to the nuns and priests at my school; Immaculate Conception. Walking to "Ike's Corner" our jitterbug meeting place - drinking milkshakes that Hutch made and dancing our feet off. Only the girls of course. then going to the "Diefies" we called it to meet all our friends and maybe find a boyfriend. All very innocent and thrilling. Of course the food was fantastic; My Mother also worked at the restaurant and eventually my whole family did at one time or the other. My twin brother "Sonny T" who had the Sonny T Trio; Bucky, Sonny V. and he played there. In fact that is how I met my X husband. Today I conduct cooking classes - all my recipies are inherited from Trionfetti"s Restaurant; the famous Meatballs and Gravy - Chicken Caciattori - Veal & Peppers, etc. Even now as I write this, I have a lovely, serene, happy feeling in my beautiful Chambursburg memories. I could go on and on but gotta go now. Franny T
Grandma and Grandpa's House
Author: Janet D'Onofrio Brooks Occupation: Self-employed Hometown: Brooklyn, NY (Bensonhurst)
Like many other Italian-Americans most of my memories of growing up revolve around food. We lived just a couple of miles from my mother's parents so we would often have Sunday dinner there as well as Christmas and Easter dinners. All of the cooking and eating always took place, you guessed it, in the basement! In the spring, Grandma would take care of her garden where she grew figs and other vegetables. She and my grandfather would sometimes come to the Poconos with us for a weekend. She would often walk out to the road to pick dandelion leaves for a salad that evening. The bitter, fresh taste of these "weeds" was fantastic. My grandfather made wine every year and always had a small bottle of it on the dinner table every night. His wine equipment was in the cellar, which smelled of grapes and wine all year long. Only the men and boys were allowed to touch or go near the wine equipment when the wine was being made. The only exception he made to this inviolate rule was for me. He actually allowed me to turn the handle of the presser one year! Grandpa's favorite breakfast food was a raw egg. He would take a knife and poke a tiny hole at each end and then suck the egg out from one end. Sometimes after dinner, if it was the right season, he would slice some peaches and soak them in his wine. They tasted like heaven!
Author: Phyllis Bruno Occupation: Sales Hometown: West Windsor
My father was sent here from Italy at 14 to work in the factories. He fought in WWII for the USA. Eventually he went back to Italy married my mother and wanted to stay in Italy but the opportunities for work were in the US; mom was not happy! All of my aunts and cousins remained in Italy. We went to Italy on occasion so I always missed the family there. I married a Hungarian-Polish man (now divorced) and although my daughter being around my mother knows she is Italian but really did not understand how much! So two years ago I took my 8 year old daughter on a cruise that stopped many places in Italy then went to southern Italy for 10 days. She met everyone as I did the 1st time I went at 7; I will never forget that trip. I have always felt my soul is in Italy. All of my cousins and their kids and everyone showed her so much love. We were even lucky to see a festival in my father's town in the mountains that has small alleyways and there was music and food around every corner. It was a trip so memorable that she will never forget. She now understands how Italian she really is and now with the internet we have re-connected with all of my family and their families and the world has become smaller place and we can all be close once again. Ciao xo
Growing up in Chambersburg has given me so many wonderful memories of my Italian heritage. I am a 3rd generation of Italian decent. One particular memory I have is of my grandmother, Anna Maria (Vannozzi) Poli. She was, to me, the most gentle and kind grandmother in the world. Having my Grandma live next door to us was such a blessing. Both my parents worked when I attended St. Joachim Elementary School, so instead of coming home to an empty house, I would go to Grandma's. Most days, but especially in cold weather, she would whip up her special concoction in a coffee cup. It included a raw egg yolk, one teaspoon of sugar and a nice amount of Marsala wine. It was so tasty, that I really looked forward to it after school.
In today's world, the egg yolk is not considered healthy and the wine, of course is never given to children. Today, I'm thankful for my good health and the enjoyment of a good glass of red wine. Grandma's little concoction really wasn't the healthiest, but it has a secret ingredient that made it so special and that ingredient was love.
Author: Donna Mule' Bacsik Occupation: Director of Elementary Schools Hometown: Hamilton, NJ
Waking up on Sunday morning, not to the smell of bacon sizzling, but meatballs frying...dipping bread in oil at the kitchen table before it was considered gourmet in fancy restaurants, walking behind the statue of Our Lady during "a festa" in Chambersburg...buying Italian ice after school on a hot day, picking up fresh dough for mom or grandmom at the bakery for homemade pizza or fried pizzelles, just a few of the many memories of growing up Italian. The best memories, however, flow from my experiences of being educated by the Religious Teachers at St. Joachim's School. My parents sacrificed to send me to Catholic school and entrusted me in the care of the Filippini sisters. I think we were the only school in Trenton that served pasta fasole for lunch! We can laugh now at the funny things, like not knowing anyone's first name until 3rd grade because Sister called everyone by their last name; but the fact of the matter was that those Italian nuns raised me, and like most Italian "moms," they made a difference in the lives of their children. Growing up Italian and being educated at St. Joachim's was synonymous with growing up in a loving, but discipline, well-fed, faithfilled environment, not to be traded in for anything else in the world!
I was born in 1929 in Scotch Plains, NJ to Italian immigrants. Most of the Italians then in Scotch Plains were from a mountain town on the Adriatic Sea side of Italy named Montazzoli and the men had trades. My father was a carpenter and built the house where I and 3 siblings were born. In the summer we (Italians in Scotch Plains) would go to Echo Lake Park in Westfield where the men would cook spaghetti in big pots on the fireplaces and we would row boats and play baseball. Cook Avenue in SP would be closed off for block parties complete with a band. September saw our "Festa" and the men from the Italian American Clubhouse would parade through town with a flag honoring St. Nicholas, our patron saint. There would follow a Mass, then the carnival ending with fireworks depicting the flag, Statue of Liberty, etc. There were communion and other parties under my grandfather's grape arbor. Lots of relatives, all great! And my youngest brother grew up to be Acting Governor of the great State of New Jersey.
My dad came to America very young and learned to speak English very fast that's why I couldn't speak Italian. All my childhood days from birth to about 20, my Italian speaking grand parents spoke to me in Italian. I understood everything they said but I couldn't answer them in Italian. But when I married to a very strict Italian family I learned to speak it well. They had an Italian grocery store in the Burg. I lived with then and worked in the store. Everything we sold was Italian.
Later I bought the business from them and sold everything Italian…home made Italian sausage, home made Italian Cappa Cola. I even made home made Italian Roast Pork.
Then around 1973, I started to make Weight Watchers meals because I was a Weight Watcher. Meals such as stuffed shells, manicotti and cheese cakes. I called the meals Little Joe's diet delights. I even made my own invention of Italian sauce Weight Watcher style.
When my husband died 15 years ago, I closed my business and now, at 90 years old, I can say that I am very proud of being Italian.
Sleeping On A Cot
Author: Sal Sammartine Occupation: Retired Hometown: East Windsor, NJ
I grew up in an Italian section of Queens, NY. It was called Corona, not too far from the World's Fair Grounds. We grew up on the street. We only went home to eat and sleep. Sunday mornings you could smell the meatball frying since all our mothers were making gravy. We thought everyone was Italian until we were 13 years old! There was always a game of stickball going on in the street. We had about 40 guys in our neighborhood with names like- Garibaldi, Pressimone, Lodovichetti, Buchignani and Sammartine. We all went to the same school. However, by the time we wrote our names on a test paper, the test was over. Our mothers made us lunch but by the time we got to school, our lunch bags were full of grease! If you did anything bad your mother would be waiting with the wooden spoon. My mom went through 500 wooden spoons in a year. All our family lived within walking distance of each other. We lived in Corona for 20 years in the same 3 room apartment. I slept on a cot in the living room. In 1952, I got drafted in the army and - you guessed it - I was still sleeping on a cot! We had great times, good friends and we were all like brothers. I only wish I could relive those days again!
Growing Up Italian Was Fun
Author: Tina Belardo Occupation: Home Maker Hometown: Hamilton, NJ
Growing up Italian was fun. My sister and I learned to eat rabbit, squab, blackbirds, and even squirrel. I even had the courage to taste crocodile in Cape Town, South Africa a few years ago. You see, my father was a hunter so, what he shot, we ate. We lived on Quaker Bridge Road in Mercerville and had forty apple trees. I would follow my father with a wheel barrel as he burned the caterpillar nests. To this day, I cannot stand the sight of a caterpillar! My mother was a fantastic cook and she made meat ravioli, gnocchi, and the best "Risotto Con Funghi" you ever ate. One day, she instructed me to clean out the inside of a squab. My Aunt came in to find me doing this "with a fork." I never heard the end of it. When it was wine making time, my father, who was from Genoa, made a lot of wine and I stacked the bottles on shelves in a little room of the cellar. I learned a lot those years before we moved to Miami, Florida and I must say, "I am proud to be Italian!"
P.S. We love to attend the Italian American festival and the food and oh, those beautiful Italian songs.
We Were Poor, but....
Author: Jean Anziano Persie Occupation: Hometown: Columbus, NJ
I grew up in Brooklyn, NY, lived in a multiple family dwelling in a cold water flat. No central heat, only a big black stove in the kitchen. Every family had a bin in the cellar, and in that bin was coal, my father's home made wine and my mother's home made Tomato Sauce. Mama was always the first one up in the morning, went to the cellar, brought up coal, newspapers and twigs of wood and started the fire so that we would wake up to a nice, heated kitchen - that was in the early 1930's.
We lived near a live chicken market. They sold live chickens and eggs. They had whole eggs, and they had cracked eggs which were much cheaper. My mother used to send my oldest sister to the chicken market to buy those cracked eggs, and they went a long way in feeding us - Potatoes and Eggs, Peppers and Eggs, Onions and Eggs - delicious sandwiches on crusty Italian Bread. We didn't know the word "salmonella" in those days.
We were poor, but we didn't know it.
Sunday, Sunday, Sunday.......
Author: Dolores Taylor Occupation: Science Teacher Hometown: Born and raised in South Phila. Living in Hamilton past 28 years
A typical Sunday in my Italian home started with my nose tingling from the aromas coming from the kitchen.......and it was only 6AM! Ever since I can remember my Mom would start frying the meatballs, sausages, pork, and other delicacies while I was still all cozy and warm in my bed....no matter what time of year. Then you heard the blending of tomatoes, spices, and other stuff as she prepared our "gravy" for the week. Usually by the time she mixed all this together in my grandmother's huge "gravy pot" (came over from Italia), we were already awake and trying to steal a meatball or two before Mom stood guard! Somehow my Dad always found his way to that pot with a fork and a hunk of bread to dip while he ate! My Mom always knew what we were doing. Years later she would tell us that she always counted the meatballs she made and by the time dinner was on the table at 3pm every Sunday, there were always about 10 missing..but she didn't mind...it wouldn't be a Sunday in our Italian house, or in those of all my aunts, cousins, and uncles, unless were had a pot of gravy with homemade macaroni (not called "pasta" back then!).I carried on the tradition with my 2 children too, I wonder if they will do the same? Well it's the only way they are going to get the family recipe!
Who Needs Friends
Author: Teresa Brown Occupation: Day Care Provider Hometown: Ewing, NJ
The best thing about growing up Italian and Catholic was the size of the family. Aside from having 3 sisters and a brother I had 11 cousins on my mother's side and 7 cousins on my father's side. I never needed to make friends because we all pretty much lived in the same neighborhood even my grandparents. We had great summer barbeques where one would meet your cousin's cousins and second cousin's on your grandmother side and there was always somebody to play with. And the food! If you left any of my relatives' homes hungry it was your own fault. Sundays all us cousins would walk to mass together and stop at the candy store on the way home. There was always an older cousin to tell you if you had enough money and a younger sister or brother you had to share your candy with. But we never ate too much candy because Sunday dinner was at 2 o'clock. All my relatives made homemade tomato sauce on Sunday so it didn't matter where you ate. You knew you were having macaroni and meatballs, sausage, pig knuckles or country ribs all cook in the same pot with the sauce. To me the best thing for Sunday night supper was the inside of the warmed italian bread dunked in a bowl of steaming tomato sauce. There was nothing like it. Being Italian is definitely all about family and food.
Well growing up in a Italian family is just the greatest. i had a big family on both sides the DiMattias and the Dainos My Father had 6 younger brothers and My Mother had 2 younger sisters and 4 brothers..i have lots and lots of cousins and living in "The Burg" on a Sunday morning all you could hear was Sinatra and the old timers talking Italian and smelling Gravy, fresh bread and pastry....food, food, food. i think everyone could agree that we worent spoiled with alot of money but every house had alot of love from your family to your neighbor family everyone watched out for one another and you grew to love them all and they grew to love you.I myself have two of the best sisters anyone could ever want, My Father and Mother passed away at a young age and all that was left was my sisters and myself and were as close now as we were growing up. Our kids are always there for eachother and they know what it is to be there for your family. Friends were always welcome in our home and everyone had lifelong friends. I wouldnt want to be anything else.
Growing up Italian
Author: Marie Del Aversano O'Connell Occupation: Secretary for the State of New Jersey Hometown: Trenton, New Jersey
Growing up Italian meant family dinners every Sunday. Of course, it was a pasta dinner, but only after the antipasto and some kind of meat; THEN was the pasta. Of course, everything was homemade; the "gravy", the meatballs, the pasta; everything that COULD be homemade, WAS homemade. I still remember the macaroni machine in my grandmother's basement. Every Sunday, we would visit family after mass. Of course, everyone lived within blocks of each other. I still remember the smell of meatballs frying at my grandmother's house. We kids would always grab a piece of bread, dip it in the "gravy" cooking on the stove and then pick up a meatball freshly fried and pop it in our mouths.
Of course, there were the holidays and the holiday specialties. Easter meant Easter Bread, Pastia and Appizzagain, and Ricotta Pie. Christmas meant homemade Christmas cookies; at least 10 different types. And after baking for 3 weeks, most of the cookies were given away to neighbors, relatives, co-workers, etc. Christmas Eve was the big holiday for us. The seven fish, of course; shrimp, schmelts, calamari, etc. Oh, and, of course, roasted chestnuts.
I remember walking through my grandparent's yard and "talking" to the tomato plants. My grandfather told me if I didn't talk to them, they wouldn't grow. I wanted homemade "gravy" so you could bet I was talking to those tomatoes! Not to mention the eggplant and all the fresh herbs.
Now that our Mom has Dementia, my brother and sisters enjoy telling my nieces and nephews about the different foods we brought to the Jersey Shore in a picnic basket. There was eggplant parmigiana, eggs w/zucchini flowers, breaded/fried veal cutlets and mortadella sandwiches. I recently was at the Farmer's Market when someone was having trouble pronouncing "mortadella," and I remarked, "I think I am sick of it, as I ate so much of it growing up." My nephew practically choked when his Mom told him, "Of course Nonni also brought a small Italian coffee pot filled w/espresso." It was always wrapped in a red & white linen cloth to keep warm. Back then there weren't any Dunkin Donuts selling coffee w/shots of espresso or Starbucks selling iced cappuccinos.
Our Dad was a waiter and worked nights, so having family meals was very special. I remember there were bread crumbs all over the tablecloth, as Dad always ate bread w/his meals. He enjoyed cured olives and eggplant salad and peppers. It seemed every meal had three or four courses.
When our Dad retired he enjoyed cooking, so he made the meals for my little sister and Mom. When my sister came home, she went right into the kitchen (renovated basement) and Dad would uncover her meal. We tease her how spoiled she was, but she is a wonderful Mom and homemaker!
The movie musical "Nine" is coming out soon and there is a song, "Be Italian." I'm proud growing up Italian!
My mother and father came to this country in the late forties. I was born in the early 50's and have one brother. My father started out with basically no money. He worked in an olive packing factory for a while and my mom was a seamstress. My father eventually landed a job as a dish washer in an Italian restaurant named New Corners in Bayridge Brooklyn. He eventually moved up and started cooking and by the mid 50's opened up his first pizzeria. I remember growing up in the store which was my home for coming home to and doing my homework in the back booth. I watched all the teens hanging out with their greased hair. We had a TV in the pizzaria and I remember the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show and all the kids eating in my fathers pizzeria screaming. My father could not understand it. Since then he has opened other pizzeria's. I remember one named O 'SOLE MIO...great times in that place. In between places he would take us to Italy for a year or so and come back to the US to start all over...crazy but now I appreciate the travel and richness of knowing my roots. God bless this country.
My Family Around the Table
Author: Denise Gurrera Myer Occupation: Senior Program Manager Hometown: Marlton, New Jersey
I come from a large Italian family. My grandmother, a native from a small Italian village-Valva, Italy, gave birth to seven children. There were thirteen grandchildren so you add in everybody's spouses and that makes for a large gathering around the table. Many of my mother's siblings have passed on and she and her sister are the only survivors. So now I survive on memories around the table.
During the holidays we sat down to the smells of garlic, homemade sauce and freshly grated cheese. Along with the food came the disagreements. To this day I remember the argument between my uncle and my mother over how many teaspoons were in a tablespoon that lasted for 2 years. Of course there were always the behind the scenes discussions over who made the best meatballs and sauce.
We were never a wealthy family but we were a family devoted to one another and to our heritage. We took care of one another in the good times and the bad. We paid our bills on time, loved our children, and cried as our loved ones passed. Our memories are filled with smells of tradition, love around the table, and the pride of being Italian.
Author: Donatella Occupation: House Wife Hometown: Italy
I was born in the beautiful Sardegna in 1969 , moved to Northern Italy when I was very young. I always loved to cook, and drive fast:) In 2001 I married an American Military man and moved to the States. The first year it was really hard for me. I missed my family very much, especially for Christmas, but happy to follow the man I love. In 2004 my husband passed away and I felt even more lonely with three kids to raise. I thought of going back to Italy but my life is here now. I keep in touch with mom and family 2-3 times a week:) so I won't miss them much. One thing I miss most is my mom's delicious eggplant parmigiana. I have the recipe and it comes out good, but mom's food is not replaceable. I love my kids and I am happy now and can't wait to join the festival. Donatella
Proud Italian American
Author: Joe Piscopo Occupation: Entertainer/Actor Hometown: Hunterdon County, NJ
My Grandparents came from Southern Italy - the Province of Avellino, and on my Mom's side, Salerno in Sarno. When my Grandparents came here, they could not speak English and were the subject of prejudice and ridicule for being from another country and culture. However, they learned the laws and language of this new world called America. They raised their children as Americans.
My Father became a lawyer who represented mostly non-English speaking American workers. My Father also was a Captain in the Second World War - fighting for America.
My Uncle Ben was a chemical engineer who worked with the great Italian physicist, Enrico Fermi, helping to develop the nuclear program for the United States. My Uncles on my Mom's side were all engineers.
This is the Italian American Heritage that I was raised on - love and honor, loyalty, character, commitment. In the name of my Parents and Grandparents, I will always be a proud Italian American.
Author: Nancy Adair Occupation: Retired Dean of Private School Hometown: Plainsboro, NJ
Rosario LoPresti was born and lived in Santo Stefano Quisquina, a small Sicilian town, until he turned thirteen. His stories of herding the sheep and walking to Palermo always fascinated me because basically, my father was a shepherd, those characters that accompany Christmas stories...mine was in my living room. I could picture this young boy, who along with his cousin and two dogs, lumbered through grassy hills picking olives, drinking from streams and sleeping in caves just doing his job and singing as he passed the hours. When he told his stories of chasing rogue sheep through fields and getting lost along the way, he always seemed to recall these days with great delight and pride. Maybe it was this determination to be happy while working, even as a shepherd, that resulted in the respect he elicited from his workers when he came to America and opened his own bakery shop in Newburgh NY. When I was a teenager and brought him his dinner I was amazed at the men filling bags, kneading dough, cutting rolls by hand, singing in the most beautiful tenor voices. Of course, each one was from Italy and trying to work toward citizenship; and, in many of their minds including my father's, this was the greatest of all acheivements. He loved this country; he loved his family and he loved knowing that hard work brought him all that he ever wanted...a very happy life.
American Italian, Big Family
Author: Connie Mancuso Occupation: Mom Hometown: Philadelphia, PA
I have nine brothers and sisters. I am the middle, we are American, Italian. My dad is all Italian and he grew up here in America for reasons you might understand - not the best conditions for an Italian boy to be raised in Palermo, Sicily. I loved my dad. He just passed this year and he taught us values and to work hard and to appreciate everything in life and to care for one another. He was an only child and he married here in the states and had a big family that he loved and taught us business and started a family business, which until this day is still running. I have always been proud of my Italian heritage and tell my kids now the stories my father told me. I loved him and miss him. My aunt who raised him also raised me for a short while with my sister and she taught us everything about good eating and boy did we learn. I can cook like no other. I love being Italian and my heriatage and I am proud of it.
I Wouldn't Change a Thing
Author: Grace H. Del Aversano Occupation: Retiree Hometown: Trenton, NJ
I am so proud to be Italian because I feel it has made me a better person. I am from a family born and raised in the Italian section of Trenton-North Trenton. One of eight children of Vicenza & Lena De Forte. On Christmas Eve we celebrated with my mother's famous pasta ala olio with anchovies. My parents went to midnight mass and after mass we were treated to sausage sandwiches. My father had a huge garden. He grew everything from tomatoes to zucchini. My mother would cook and jar. I could smell her "gravy" as if she were cooking it right now. Music was the center of things for us. My sister played the piano and we would sing all the Italian songs we knew. One special feast was San Calugio - we couldn't wait for this day with all the special music around us. I married in 1962 to Anthony Del Aversano. His family was from the Italian section of Trenton called "Chambersburg." When we first settled in many of them asked, "So what kind of Italian are you?" I thought Italian was Italian. I got an education. I learned about the different areas and many foods and customs. We joined St. Joachim Church (now Our Lady of the Angels) and became friends with many different groups of Italians. I learned to cook many different dishes from lamb chops to gnocchi. I wouldn't change a thing! I am proud to be Italian.
I AM Italian (part)
Author: Larry Riley Occupation: Sales Hometown: Plainsboro / Oakland NJ
You might wonder what Larry Riley is doing writing about growing up Italian, but I am Italian (part).
My Mom was born Elaine Mandracchia in Hell's Kitchen New York. She is the daughter of a first generation Italian butcher and Irish mother. My Grandfather was a great Italian cook, knew his meats and spoke Italian. Grandpa Tony was a city kid who knew the lows of the Depression and was a family man who loved to cook and pass along his love for Italian food to his grandchildren. He taught us how to cut meat correctly, how to cook his Italian favorites as his Mother taught him. His example of how to be a good family man and a good cook was always an inspiration.
My Dad was an Irish kid from the Bronx who joined the Navy to see the world. His favorite ports were in Italy. My Dad wanted to speak Italian like a native and he took Italian language classes. During visits to Italy he spoke Italian so well that he was asked where in northern Italy he was from by Italians he met there.
My Mom and Mother-in-Law are great Italian cooks and they have also taught me to cook their Italian favorites. Eating their Eggplant, Pasta, and Meatballs spoiled me and made restaurant meals second best.
I have been able to teach my children to cook my Italian favorites and now you know that I am Italian, part.
My Dalessandro Grandparents
Author: Glen Key Dalessandro Occupation: Computer Programmer Hometown: Penndel/Langhorne, PA
They're both gone now. I'm as old as they were when I became aware. I don't know much about my Grandparent's past and never really tried to know. They didn't seem to have much fun; living quietly, wearing old clothes, keeping busy and watching black and white TV. They must have had some fun, they conceived eight children.
They came from an unfashionable part of Italy and the people that stayed behind lived lives of pure poverty. My Grandparents came to America by boat - steerage class. Steers shipped to Europe and people shipped to America. By any standard, they did well. Their children all prospered and everyone had a chance to pursue happiness.
My Grandfather arrived just in time to volunteer to fight in World War 1. If he survived, they would automatically become citizens. Mustard gas and the face of Death in France did not stop him.
Our present day ideas about Italian cooking and eating for pleasure were nowhere to be found in their kitchen, even though everyone was fed and no one was turned away. Espresso and cappuccino were yet to be ‘discovered' in their household and everyone drank very weak tea from the same teapot with one or maybe two tea bags for the whole family.
I'm glad that my Grandparents took the greatest chance in their lives and came to America. They enjoyed Life's trip until the end of their days in their own way. My hope is that we will do as well.
Growing Up Italian in Chambersburg & Proud Of It!
Author: Angelo V. Candelori Occupation: Retired Administrator, Princeton University Hometown: Hamilton, New Jersey
I had the good fortune and joy of growing up Italian in what I consider was the greatest neighborhood in the world, Chambersburg. When we were kids, Chambersburg was the heart of Trenton and the sole of the Italian-American community. The 1940's and 50's were simple times with simple needs.
The people of the Burg were a composite of various ethnic groups, but overwhelmingly of struggling Italian immigrants and their descendants. It was a safe and secure bastion of good, honest, hardworking and trusting people.
As in any Italian neighborhood, food was the centerpiece of the Italian-American family. There was a constant aroma emanating from the homes throughout Chambersburg that was distinctive, mouthwatering and appetizing. No mistake about it. It was definitely Italian.
There was also the near overwhelming and pleasurable smell from the numerous produce stands and family run markets scattered throughout Chambersburg. To compliment that wonderful smell, most backyards in Chambersburg had at least one highly prized and tenderly cared for fig tree. Many had grape arbors in which they took great pride and gave meticulous attention. The smell of grapes in particular, was especially obvious during the grape season and the season of homemade wine. Many homes had anywhere from one to several wine barrels and a wine press in their basement. Everyone who knew the art of wine making had their very own little wine processing plant. No question, the Burg wine was always acclaimed the best.
Growing up as an Italian-American in Chambersburg during the decades of the 40's and 50's were fun filled and fantastic years. Those years were squeezed in between the era of the depression from the late 1920's to the 30's, and the terrible decade of the 60's with Vietnam, marijuana and civil rebellion. I thank God that I was one of the privileged ones to have experienced Chambersburg during the 1940's and 1950's. They were great times. My only regret is that my children and grandchildren were not around to experience those wonderful years.
No Regrets Only Fond Memories
Author: Albert D. Brogel Occupation: Retired from NJ Division of Motor Vehicle Hometown: Hamilton, NJ
I was the 8th of 12 children born July 1928 to John & Angelina Brachelli. Although poor financially, they were wealthy with love and devotion to family and friends.
Because of the number of children, we moved from one school district to another - going to 3 different schools in one year.
I can remember going to Welfare to pick up 100 lb bags of rice, beans, flour, etc. and helping Pop push the wagon home.
Mom was a good cook and baked large batches of bread. We brought it to Tallone's to be baked.
Remember John A. Roebling where the sound of the wire turning could be heard in the still of the night; Coca Cola - we watched through the window as the bottles processed; or crashing weddings on the weekends - ElDorado Hall or Nardi's. How about the September feast with the Madonna being carried down Butler Street.
Mom worked as a short order cook at Freddie's on Kent Street where for 50 cents you would receive a large dish of spaghetti with 2 meatballs. On Sundays she would treat us kids with a gallon of root beer which she purchased for 25 cents.
Coal was expensive, so Pop would take us kids to the railroad tracks to gather up coal for our coal stove - our only means of heat and cooking.
I had a wonderful life in the Burg. Those of us who are left still acknowledge our childhood without regrets, but fond memories.
Growing Up Italian in Chambersburg
Author: Maurice T. Perilli Occupation: Chairman, Roma Bank Hometown: Hamilton, NJ
To all who called Chambersburg home, I ask: "Remember (Santino) Venanzi's Grocery Store?" I was born upstairs! October 29, 1918. The second of the five children who shared in the lives of Armando Perilli and Agnes Vannozzi Perilli.
Remember (Rose and Alex) Trionfetti's Restaurant? My little brother Gus would go to the back door and - for 25 cents - Mrs. Trionfetti would send him home with a kettle of soup that fed the whole family!
I have vivid memories of being an eight-year-old Italian American headed into The Great Depression. I remember the day our family purchased a property at 547 Chestnut Avenue. The first floor housed my father's printing business, "20th Century Publishing Company." The second and third stories became our living quarters. (As times got tougher, we rented a home at 569 Chestnut Avenue for $35 a month.)
Over the years, my brother Bill worked for Coca Cola, my sister Louise enrolled at St. Francis School of Nursing, my sister Florence held a state government job and my youngest brother Gus did well in school while helping with the household chores.
Other people and places to remember? Playing ball on Davis Alley with used gloves and bats donated by Goo Goo Radice, The Agabiti Club, Pete Tonti's first "minute steak" sandwich shop on Anderson Street...and, sadly, World War II, where Bill, a Marine, was lost in the Pacific, and where I served in the Coast Guard with former state senator Sido Ridolfi, who later encouraged me to run for office.
My generation is privileged to be the last to have directly witnessed the Italian Immigrant experience. We lived through their period of transition to a new country, home and culture.
I was born in the Germantown section of Philadelphia in 1938. The start of World War 11 was just months away. We had no computers, air conditioning or television. News came from the radio, newspapers, and movie theaters.
I attended Francis Daniel Pastorious Elementary School, where I was constantly teased. "You Italian?" my classmates would ask, derogatorily. ‘Mussolini lover; meatball; wop!' I soon learned that in the Germantown of those days, being Italian was not very popular.
I am a first-generation Italian American. My father was born in Margherita Di Savoia, in Puglia in 1905. My mother was born in 1905, her parents also from the Meridionale.
Members of my family were very modest; indeed, they never mentioned the word sex. My instruction regarding "the birds and the bees" occurred when I was 15-years of age. My grandmother took me aside, and said, "Gilda, you are growing nicely and it's time for me to tell you something very important. We sat on the parlor sofa, my grandmother resolute, but nervous. "Gilda, promise me. Never let a man touch your" ---she couldn't go on; it was too embarassing. After taking a long breath, she composed herself and courageously blurted out ---‘Don't ever let a man touch your knee! That's where it all begins.' The conversation ended.
My mother was Italian and I embraced the life of being half Italian and Irish and German on my father's side.
My grandparent's home was the place for family and holiday gatherings. My Nan made all of the food and never sat down the whole time we were eating. She was such a great cook and we always looked forward to her meals.
In the summer months in Ocean City, NJ, we could smell her food blocks away coming home from the beach. We looked forward to the chicken cutlets, roasted potatoes, tomato salad with lots of garlic and bread for dipping into the juice. Then the fruit and pizzelle or a homemade cake or pie.
I was able to know my maternal great-grandparents who came from Italy to start their family in South Philadelphia. My Nan told me all about her life growing up with 5 sisters and two brothers.
The closeness of our family since I was a little girl was all from my Nan. She was my best friend and taught me so much. Spending time with family and gathering around the table enjoying a glass of wine and good food will always bring a smile to my face. She lived to be 95 and I miss her very much. I will always be proud to be her granddaughter and carry on the Italian heritage in our family.
Im a a 21 year old women who was born & raised in Edison NJ. Growing up I was raised by both of my parents & grandather which are all 100% italian. I rembember always having that sweet gravy aroma just floating around the house. The most fun of it all was when I would sit at the kitchen table and help my grandfather roll out homemade dough to make spagetti on holidays. We also used to make homemade pizza,that came out amazing and delicious when you took a bite out of that sweet cripy cheesy pizza it was like a pizza right out of Italy.Before I was even born my Grandparents owned a fancy restaurant called Dominick Italian Restaurant. As a little kid I remember always playing in the restaurant till one day my grandfather sold it to Robert Wood Johnson Hospital so they can build on to the hospital. It didn't end there he soon then bought a beautiful white mansion in New Brunswick. As I was growing up I spent alot of time there (expecially the kitchen)...hey I'm 100% italian, I love to eat. I learned how to cook from some of the best Italian chefs I know. Always being raised by Italians taught me alot about the Italian culture too. Lastly my family and I used to, and still, go up to Manhatten to see our good friends, owners of another wonderful fancy Italian resturant called Ennio and Michael's Italian Resturant. I truly grew up Italian.
Growing up in Chambersburg
Author: Patricia Kelly Occupation: Receptionist Hometown: Trenton, NJ
My Father was a Big Irishman, my Mother was Italian, very Italian. I am the youngest of 3, we grew up on Tyler Street right across from Carroll Robbins School, we were the only ones with an Irish last name in the area. But none the less our house was the gathering place for all the Aunts and Uncles, the food that crossed the tables was unbelieveable, home made ravilois, homemade gravy made with fresh tomatoes, anything left over would be made into something else. My Mom and Dad rented rooms to college students to get extra money and those students even after they left school and married remained friends, good friends wasn't even the word back then, everyone was a friend in the Burg, you knew everyone and they knew you. Milk and rolls delivered to the house, the vegetable man going around on his truck, the ice man, so many good memeories and times, family gatherings. My family and I still keep up the Christmas Eve tradition, the fish, the drinks and lots of family all gather together, it don't get any better then that!!!!!!!
Casa Nostra - Our House
Author: Daniela Occupation: Teacher Hometown: New York, NY
For myself, growing up Italian has to be one of the greatest gifts in life. It meant pasta every Sunday, with the HUGE pot of salsa, tomato sauce, cooking on the stove-which everybody would always dip into with a piece of Italian bread, only to get scolded for doing so. It meant having the house smell of the delicious sweets your Nonna Rita would make, especially for the holidays-la torta di ricotta, le pinse, le zeppole, i cantuccini con le mandorle. It's the seven fishes on Christmas Eve, all of the family sitting down together, yelling at one another to pass various dishes around-of course to us, we were just talking, very loud. It meant having your Nonno Stefano telling you to speak Italian in the house and your Nonna Ucci throwing you wrapped candies from the window, and you yelling up to her 'Grazie.' It meant having your Zio Niccolo come over and give you five dollars for an ice cream, and you were like 'Wow, five bucks!' Growing up Italian meant not realizing how lucky you were to grow up with this super extended family, and once your grandparents passed on, without your knowing it, that love, that desire for your culture, your background, your family history lingers on and you still want to share it. And that makes me smile.
Author: Carlo Pocino Occupation: Sales Hometown: Trenton, NJ
My Parents came to this country in 1968 when I was 18 months old. Growing up Italian in promenent american culture wasn't that easy, but I learned quickly since all off our relatives and friends where intrenched in the Italian heritage. First experience was at St Joachim Catholic School, learning my religious studies, and the mixing of cultures between all the students. Every Sunday After mass we would have our sunday dinner at home, then my father whould tell us stories of the old country and we would be fascinated for hours, Little by little we would start to be proud of our ethnic background. My dad whould take us to the Columbus Parade At Columbus park and we loved it,again another dose of Italianism. Then came the Feast of Lights WOW, every year My brothers and I could not wait for this, The Food,the friends the Atmosphere. My Parents would meet all their Gumbas and give us a little spending money we were off to the races, for 12 years then it was over! And then the recarnation The Italian American Festival at Mercer County! Year is 2000 and now I have children of my own taking them to the festival just like my father did with me. That my friend's is passing down the Italian heritage. My children also loved it! Sadness, I moved to Calfornia 2006 and missed 3 years off That Special feeling off Italianism! But the great news, ILL BE THERE 2009! COUNTING THE DAYS!!
Author: Pete Lupinacci Occupation: City Administrator Hometown: Pedivigliano vicino Cosenza, Italy
I was brought to this country from Italy at the ripe old age of 3 months. It's needless to say I don't recall a thing about the trip but man, do I remember growing up in my adopted Chambersburg. My father, mother, sister and I lived in a humble little row house on Mott Street. I can recall it's entire length being tree lined and littered with stores and restaurants including Dimucci's Food Market, Tammaro's Fruit and Produce, Ike's Luncheonette, the Hudson Beer Garden and the ClinMott Tavern. It was a wonderful time and place to be a child. My grandfather would take me to Columbus Park as an infant to watch him and his stogie smoking friends play multiple rounds of bocce. There were kids everywhere and although we weren't blessed with endless supplies of toys or sports equipment we always managed to have fun whether that meant wiffle ball and football at Immaculate Conception/St. Joachims or basketball and hard ball at Columbus. It was truly the proverbial "Life of Riley" and I didn't even know it. I'm wondering how many people can relate to my fondest memories. One was the collection of change from the front of Immaculate Conception church on Saturday afternoons after the wedding masses ended and the other was waking up to the tantalizing aroma of meat, garlic and onion wafting through the house on a Sunday morning. A simple life during simple times. What I wouldn't give to experience that all over again.
Is it sauce or gravy?
Author: Loretta Stanzione Occupation: Retired Hometown: Brooklyn, NY
At a recent affair the MC asked the mostly italian american audience, "tell me once and for all, is it sauce or gravy?
We knew exactly what he meant.
Some of "us" grew up saying sauce, the others saying gravy.
I don't know why and neither does anyone else.
It never fails to start a friendly debate when-ever my friends get together.
So tell me "is it sauce or gravy"?
Thank God for Family and Coal Stoves
Author: Frank Chiorello, Jr. Occupation: Retired Hometown: Hamilton, NJ
(Photo: The Chiorello Kids). I was born in 1928, the fourth child of an Italian family of 15 children. We grew up in and around Chambersburg, moving to bigger houses as the family grew - though each of the houses had only one bathroom. Imagine that with so many kids. I remember playing ball in the street, hustling the cars along because "we had a game to play!"
When the Jersey tomatoes were in season, all of us would go to my grandmother's house to can tomatoes. The tomatoes were cut in small pieces and we shoved them into soda bottles with a couple of leaves of basil, then the bottles were capped. For this job we received two cents each to go buy penny candy.
I remember mom, cooking gravy (sauce to you non-Italians), it simmered on the coal stove for at least four hours. What a pleasant aroma. The other meals I remember were made with eggs. She made eggs and peppers, eggs and rice, eggs and hot dogs, eggs and red gravy, eggs and potatoes, and eggs and sausage - it all tasted good.
Winters were rough. We had one coal stove in the kitchen for cooking and heating. Many times I washed up fast, put on my underwear and ran downstairs to get dressed by the warm stove. I remember going to bed on freezing nights when my mom or pop would come in and throw heavy coats on top of the blankets to keep us warm.
Fruits, vegetables and fish were sold by "hucksters." My favorite was the man from Prior's donuts. He would sell doughnuts leftover from his deliveries - a real treat!
I Wanna Be Italian
Author: John Anthony Occupation: Retired Hometown: Warwick, PA
I was a teacher to an Italian-American boy who was having difficult with the English language. I saw promise in this kid because he was so creative and artistic. His parents were most appreciative and soon invited my wife and me to their home for dinner. My wife is Italian, so I knew what to expect. I was not disappointed. The boy's father and I became close friends. He even permitted me to make wine with him. The best.
Well anyway that was twenty-nine years ago. So much has happened in that time. My best friend died, all his children are grown and have families of their own. That young boy I took under my wing is a college graduate with a degree in the arts field. He has a wonderful wife and three lovely girls. My wife and I still stop by to see his mother and have a cup of coffee with her. She is a wonderful lady and can be rightfully proud of her kids. I am very proud of them all but especially of one.
I grew up the youngest of four boys and two girls. We spent every holiday with Aunt Frances, who also had a large family. Our first meal would be a little soup, followed by, my personal favorites, lasagna and fussilli. Some other options were meat balls, sausage, braciole and neck bones in gravy; the smell and the taste were awesome. After the delicious dinner came the even more delicious pastries. While the old timers sipped their espresso and coffee the kids indulged themselves in the cannoli, baba rhum, cream puffs, cookies and biscotti. But, we weren't done yet. We had to save a little more room for the chestnuts and peanuts. Every Sunday Mama went to an early mass, came home and started the gravy and meatballs. I woke up every Sunday morning with the smell of gravy on the stove. I would look around the kitchen for some Italian bread to dip into the gravy. Sometimes I would even steal a meatball right out of the pot. Everyday after school I would go home, change my clothes and go to the Italian bakery around the corner. I would always make sure that I bought it hot, right out of the oven. The loaf never made it home without missing both ends. Thinking of those times, have inspired my wife, Carmela and I attend the festival every year. We always have a great time and look forward to this year!
Author: Joseph Zalescik Occupation: Media Specialist Hometown: Hamilton
My mother was born to Italian parents on Franklin Street in Chambersburg. I was born in 1960 and one of my early childhood memories was going to my grandfathers backyard and being told not to eat any of the peppers hanging on the close line. So what is a 6 year old to do but take one and eat it. It was extremely hot and I never said a word about eating it. I did survive. To this day I can eat hot peppers and carry the memory of my grandfather Pasquale Greco in my heart.
I'll always be a "Jersey Girl"
Author: Toni Marie Candelori Becker Occupation: decorator Hometown: Trenton New Jersey
Growing up in Chambersburg in the 50's 60's was the most wonderful time in my life. My mother died when I was about 3 years old and so I went to live with my Aunt Goody and Uncle Al and their 2 children John and Linda on Butler Street. Next door was my Aunt Eva and Uncle Louie and next door to that was my Grandma Petronilla and my father Tony. We had a huge family scattered all over Chambersburg,and Family was the most important thing in our lives. My cousins still are a part of the very same community we enjoyed as children. We had a huge Italian family who shared each others lives daily. Living on Butler Street was the best. There was a butcher shop across the street (Pete's) if memory serves me well then there was Landolfi's Pastry shop Licciardello's Produce futher on Butler then there was Italian Peoples Bakery and Colonial Bakery on Hudson street Cattanni's poultry market on Whittaker and Of Course the Roman Hall and the Napolitan Hall. Wow, everyday you would get all your shopping done fresh. I can still remember the smell of the bread baking in the afternoon and eating Pastichotte from Landolfi's. Although I 've been gone from Chambersburg since 1965 it is still very much a part of my heart and my life.
Family, Food, Friends
Author: Jim Carlucci Occupation: General Manager, Passage Theatre Company Hometown: Trenton, NJ
(Photo: Jim Carlucci). Growing up in a basically Italian American family meant that almost any day could turn into a "festa."
Sure, we gathered together for holidays, birthdays and to celebrate weddings and other life events but with an extended family apt to cross paths frequently even a quick visit would turn into an occasion. A drop-in to a relative's house would not be complete without a cup of coffee and a sweet treat of some kind, no matter what the time of day. If the visit fell close to a meal time, then a more substantial repast would be provided.
An invitation to take a place at the table was not a polite suggestion. Anyone crossing the threshold, not just relatives, was welcomed and offered a little something. Sharing refreshment, elaborate or modest, was the duty of host and guest. Multiple generations gathered around the table for anything from coffee and a snack to a full-blown feast. Breaking bread was a sacrament.
From the simplest fare to the most elaborate meal, the food nourished our bodies just as the boisterous discourse nourished our souls. Hours spent lingering over the last morsels of a meal and savoring crumbs of conversation; each bite garnished with companionship and camaraderie.
The long days filled with laughter and love; family, food, and friends.
My Dad Gave His Life for Us!
Author: Denise DeFelice Black Occupation: Musician/Bandleader Hometown: Fort Lee- now Atlantic City
Growing up in Fort Lee and being Italian has saved my life. My dad, Frank, a Telephone Co employee by day and a member of the Benny Goodman Orchestra, died in 1956. His early death became the reason for me to be a real Italian woman. My dad left all of his instruments to my brother and I got my dad's record collection. That record collection wound up being the catalyst that began my musical career.
After serving and returning home from the Army in 1973 I landed a job at The Mike Douglas Show where I met my husband. Although he was 38 years older, Howie and I were inseparable. He was the Band leader at Palumbos, Sciollas, and Cozy Morleys. My Italian stamina proved to be handy in all of these male dominated jobs I took on. I began doing fundraising shows with an Italian twist and continue to do so from my home office in Egg Harbor Twp, NJ.
My dad's death was my birth at age 6 years old and I owe my Good Italian Mother for all of my success. I belong to Unico Atlantic City and enjoy learning from my more learned members. My Bariese and Abbrusese heritage is most prominent in the kitchen and I collect Italian-American Singer pictures as a hobby. I am currently doing the best thing yet and that is working with Connie Francis on her new path, old tunes. I'm glad I found your site. BlackMagicSwingBand.com
Author: John Scarpati Occupation: President, Scarpati's Recycling and Salvage Hometown: Hamilton, NJ
I grew up the youngest of eight children - seven boys and one girl. We lived on Roebling Avenue, across from Hewitt School (which is now gone), in Chambersburg until I was 12. I wanted to be just like my brothers. I looked up to them and they took me under their wing. My brothers used to shine shoes to make money to help support the household. The shoeshine box got passed down from brother to brother. It was like a rite of passage. I was still a young kid, about 8 or 9, when it reached me. I used to go to the local bars - the Tremont, Bartolini's and the El Dorado to shine shoes each night. I would come home and empty all the coins out onto the kitchen table. My mother would give me a small portion and keep the rest to help run the household.
All of my brothers went into the service. I wanted to be just like them and went to enlist but they wouldn't let me since all my brothers had enlisted and one of them, Michael, had died while in the service. That was when we moved to Hamilton, on Edinburg Road, to the home in which I still live.
When we moved out to Edinburg Road my brothers and their friends used to gather at my parents house every Sunday morning for breakfast. If it was a special occasion they would come back for dinner. I continue the breakfast tradition to this day with friends and family. It's the place where the idea of the Mercer County Italian American Festival was born.