The first six years of my life were spent in New York City. I was born at home as was the custom at that time, with the aid of a midwife. We were living at the time at 246 48 East 112th Street. Later at some unknown date, we moved from 112th Street to East 116th Street, between Second and Third Avenues.
From my recollections, the latter location was considered a choice neighborhood. It consisted of well-kept brownstone apartment houses which were occupied mostly by doctors, lawyers, etc. and their extended families. The rooms were spacious and well ventilated, particularly the kitchen where we all seemed to congregate most of the time. The rooms were bright with an abundance of sunshine coming through the windows. The apartment was well heated and contained a full indoor bathroom.
In contrast, the 112th Street apartment was categorized as a railroad flat, due to its design. After one entered the large kitchen from the hallway, there were a series of bedrooms, connected to one another by doorways. This resembled a series of railroad cars linked to one another. Of course this floor plan restricted privacy to a minimum. At the end of the last bedroom, a doorway led from it to the front parlor, where its windows faced the busy street. When weather permitted, it was common for mothers in each building to open the front parlor windows and lean over the windowsills, on which were placed soft pillows in order to afford their arms the necessary comfort. From this vantage-point they were able to supervise carefully, while watching all the family members at play on the sidewalks outside. They seemed to assemble in groups according to the particular game of interest, and all of this without a Recreational Director! As I was growing up during this time, our family participated in a lot of these games, such as marbles, jacks, and kicking a flattened can called a patsy into neatly chalked squares on the sidewalk, each square being properly numbered for scoring. We also displayed our agility and expertise as we jumped rope, and performed all sorts of jumps with our very fast moving feet. Then there was “stickball” which my brothers were often playing. It consisted of one person pitching an ordinary ball and another person on hand ready to connect and hit the ball with an ordinary sawed-off broomstick. All of this was fun and most satisfying for all of us – and it was all free of charge!
After expending all this energy while playing, we often had the desire to buy and enjoy the famous Italian ices from the candy store at the corner of our street. The ices were served in small paper cups and could be purchased for just pennies. Accordingly, my brothers and I would call loudly to my mother, together in concert, as she watched us from her lookout window, and plead for her to drop the necessary coins to us to buy this delicious ice. She disappeared for a few moments, and we knew then that our petitions would be answered. She was digging up the money needed to buy our treats. She returned very soon, and as we eagerly waited, she very carefully wrapped the coins needed for the purchase in a little square cloth, which was securely wrapped. Seconds later the cloth was dropped down to us. Needless to say, we were all prepared with our arms raised high to retrieve this big catch. This was always a bonus for us to enjoy such a treat.
While we were busy at play, my mother was able to socialize with the mothers (mostly) from the adjacent buildings. They were looking out of their respective windows, carrying out the same routine of supervising their children.
I can vividly recall as I looked upward from the sidewalk where I played with my friends, that I was totally impressed with the combined variety of mothers’ faces, including my own mother. They were scanning the whole scene below, but were carefully watching the activities of their own children, to make sure they were not getting hurt or hurting anybody else. Still looking upward, each face seemed to look like a framed picture within itself, encased and framed by the window out of which each mother surveyed the scene below. What a wonderful way to watch young children grow and develop!
Concerning the front parlor where my mother’s lookout station was located, there was also an access door from the apartment hallway directly to this room. The parlor was used mostly to entertain guests and very special friends whenever they were invited. Family members refrained from sitting on the good furniture on display in this room, and as a general rule we has little access to this special room and only under strict supervision. The real hardship for all of us was that there was no bathroom in the apartment itself. Instead there was a very small room at the head of the hall stairway, just large enough to house a toilet with an overhead water closet and a long chain which, when pulled, would release sufficient water for flushing. This toilet facility was shared by both tenants on each floor! Unfortunately, most tenants had large families, as we had as well. Needless to say, the toilet was used non-stop, in the daytime and early evenings anyway.
As for bathing, this was accomplished in the kitchen area, where there was a full sized old-fashioned tub with legs. Today it is considered a collectible. The bathtub was covered with a removable veneer board, which was utilized as a drain board and a counter as well. Since the kitchen sink was located directly next to the bathtub, this proved to be very practical. However, you can imagine how privacy for bathing could cause problems at times. Privacy could only be achieved by means of a planned schedule, and full cooperation among our family neighbors. At times patience seemed to be in short supply, but in general we did manage to survive and live through the whole ordeal. The following sketch illustrates the floor plan of the 112th Street apartment.
I am unaware of what work my father was engaged in prior to my birth, but I assume the improvement in our housing and our move to East 116th Street was brought about by an improvement in his occupation and subsequently in our financial status. Fortunately, through my father’s abilities and qualifications, and having a good command of the English language as well, he was accepted and hired as a Secretary Delegate in the Rockmen’s Labor Union. His office was located nearby to our new apartment. The members of this union were men who were hired to do road and highway projects. They used picks and shovels with lots of muscle power and determination. For the most part, they were Italian immigrants who were eager to work and start a new life here in America. My father’s job requirements were varied. He not only kept extremely accurate records pertaining to the union membership which included data concerning dues, minutes of meetings, records of by-laws, etc., but he also acted in the capacity of interpreter and liaison person as well between the members and management. This was most helpful to the workers, as their understanding of the English language was very poor and very limited. This posed problems for them at times, and when this did happen my father was available to explain to them the information they needed to know, with great ease and understanding. He also supported and defended them, making sure they were being treated fairly at all times. All of this elevated my father, in the eyes of his fellow workers, to a high pedestal of honor and respect. He was truly a friend to all with whom he worked.
During this particular time in my life, there are vivid pictures of my father that come to mind. They reflect his image in so many wonderful ways. Before he left for work each day, I could see him grooming himself before a full-length mirror hanging from the wall. He was always so well attired, wearing a dark tailored suit, a white shirt which came with a removable highly starched collar, and a tie to complement his suit. His special pin, which properly identified the union of which he was a member, was always pinned in its proper place on the lapel of his jacket. He was a perfect model of what a well-attired businessman should look like.
I also remember him as a gentle, loving father and husband. Each morning he made certain to bring my mother her first cup of coffee while she was still in bed, as she slowly awakened, contemplating the many tasks ahead of her for the day that was ready to begin. After she was served, he proceeded to come to each of us, while we also were still in bed, awaiting his entrance. He carefully dipped a teaspoon in a large mug of coffee which he carefully held in his hand, and with much order and precision, he gave each of us several sips of the very excellent coffee he brewed in his own special way. While pampering us, he never failed to give us his daily lecture as to the importance of honesty, obedience, and respect. This was a daily ritual before he left for work each day, and which we had to hear before our day was ready to begin. We had his words of wisdom almost memorized word for word. We heard it so often.
By analysis, a valid description of both my mother and father would be that of being truly loving parents whose goal in life was to give us total love and security, tempered with firm rules of discipline and respect of human values.
While still living in New York City, there were many things and events that took place at that time, which have become permanent images in my mind these many years. I have listed four of these experiences which can put in proper perspective the “then” and the “now”.
- In my opinion, the iceman was always one of my heroes. Each day he would enter our street, using a horse and wagon, which was properly identified with the large painted letters ICE, and was filled to the brim with blocks and blocks of ice. After properly parking the wagon, he would jump down from his driver’s perch, proceed to the back of the wagon, pull the heavy canvas curtain which helped to keep the ice from melting, and with his very sharp ice pick, would chip a block of ice. The block of ice was then lifted to his shoulder, which was covered with a burlap bag to insulate his shoulder from the cold temperature of the ice. Next he would enter the apartment building and then proceed to the proper apartment, regardless of what floor it was on or the amount of stairs he had to climb. He would carefully place the ice in the old-fashioned iceboxes, all the while carrying on a friendly conversation with whomever was in the kitchen at the time. These iceboxes were not very large. Each icebox was divided into two sections, an upper compartment and a lower compartment, each with a door. The lower compartment held a minimal amount of food, usually milk, butter, and eggs, and perhaps a small dish or two of leftovers. The block of ice was always kept in the upper compartment. Underneath the bottom of the icebox was placed a rather deep metal tray to catch and hold the melted ice water. It was important to remember to empty this tray daily. If it was forgotten, you had a very wet floor to contend with, and the tenant below had a dripping ceiling and a vicious temper to go with it.
All the while the ice man was busy on his rounds delivering the ice, we lost no time in scooping up the chips of ice that were in abundance on the floor of the wagon. There was something special about these fallen pieces of ice that attracted us. Sometimes our cheeks felt like frostbite was ready to set in, but we devoured it all nonetheless. When the iceman returned after his last delivery, we thanked him and he smiled in approval. He knew we would be there again the next day scheduled for ice delivery, and we would be ready for some more ice chips. He could always depend on our business!
- From time to time a horse-drawn carousel wagon containing model horses that mechanically moved up, down and around to the rhythm and tune of some automated music, would come through the street where we lived. The horses were very colorful and ornate. As soon as we heard the music announcing to us that the wagon was on its way, we immediately asked either my mother or father for the necessary money required to ride the horses. The real thrill was to go around, always with the hope of catching the gold ring. It seemed to be so close at times, and in reach of our outstretched hands, but seldom were we so fortunate. Most of the times we were fortunate to ride the carousel, but occasionally there were times that we were denied the opportunity, only because money happened to be a scarce item at that particular time. With such a large family, the important essentials of food, clothing, etc. were first priorities.
- There were certain noises that I can distinctly remember as I was growing up, which were definitely conspicuous, yet seemed to blend with the action and life of the city streets, sounding off with an identity all its own. Such was the case with the horse-drawn milk wagons that went through the streets of the city very early each morning. The unique noise of the wagon wheels, together with the steady rhythm of the horses’ hooves emitted a combination of sounds and rhythms that in a sense resembled a musical composition all its own. We all seemed to rely on hearing these sounds each morning, as it indicated to all of us that a brand new day was about to begin.
We were one of the families in our block that did not have milk delivered to us. Instead, one of my brothers was delegated to go to the nearby grocery store each day to purchase it there. They were assigned to take turns on particular days to carry out this errand, so that no one was overworked and the task at hand was shared fairly. There was a special handled metal milk jug that was carried from home to the store where the milk was purchased. The owner of the store kept the ice cold creamy milk in a special large vat. When my brother arrived with the metal milk jug in hand, the owner of the store would ladle the milk from his vat into our milk jug, and place the tightly fitted cover on its top. After leaving the store with the milk in hand, my brother then would stop at the bakery as instructed, to purchase a large bag of freshly baked rolls. Upon my brother’s arrival at home, we immediately sat down at the table to enjoy our very simple but delicious breakfast: warm rolls with butter and a cup of hot coffee that was mixed with heated milk. I never remembered drinking fruit juice, as is served today with breakfast. Nevertheless, we enjoyed the rolls and coffee. It seemed to be a perfect way to start the day.
The noise of the elevated trains that ran overhead on Third Avenue was another noise we all soon became accustomed to. Speaking of those elevated trains, I vividly remember riding on them occasionally with my mother. What a thrill it was for me to look into the various windows of the apartment buildings, as our train speeded by. At each fleeting moment, my eyes seemed like they were working overtime, trying to focus and to observe what the inhabitants of these apartments were doing at the time the train was passing by. I saw some sitting on chairs, some eating at a table, some standing in the middle of a room talking, some young children engaged in play – in short, they were people just like us, doing the same things we did. Observing all this from the train was a lot of fun and it also provided the spectator a little insight on human behavior.
- Food shopping at the beginning of the 20th century was far different than our modern one-stop markets of today. To begin with, refrigeration for the homeowner was inadequate. Because of the small iceboxes and their minimal storage space, it became necessary to shop daily for fresh fruit, vegetables, meat, etc. I remember accompanying my mother occasionally to an area along Third Avenue. Underneath the elevated trains that ran overhead were located rows and rows of vending carts. The vendors who manned these carts sold almost anything you might want or need. Besides fresh fruit and vegetables, they displayed and sold such things as linens, towels, underwear, socks, gloves, handkerchiefs, sweaters, jackets, etc. My mother carried a large and sturdy heavy-duty shopping bag each time she set out to do the daily shopping. I recall her going from cart to cart, selecting fresh varieties of whatever vegetables and fruit she had planned on using that particular day for our menu. Of course, now and then she would try her luck at getting the vendor to reduce the price a bit to fit her budget. It worked sometimes, but not all the time.
From Third Avenue she would then proceed to her favorite Italian butcher shop. There she would find a large variety of very fresh meats, and her butcher would cut and trim whatever she selected to suit her taste. I can remember seeing the large racks of meats hanging on special hooks in the cold storage area, through a glass window that separated the storage room from the front part of the butcher shop.
After returning home with a full bag of provisions, she immediately began to plan the dinner for that particular day. Considering the size of our family, everything that my mother cooked was usually eaten in its entirety; rarely were there leftovers. Of course, our meals were always served with lots of fresh, crispy Italian bread. It helped to fill us up, and it helped to stretch the food as well. A glass of dark red wine was also served with our dinner once a week, usually on Sunday. It was too costly to serve it on a daily basis. My older brothers and sisters were allowed to indulge on a very limited basis, and only according to age.
As you can easily imagine, cooking for such a large family was no easy task. But my mother seemed to manage it all with such ease and pleasure. She was considered a wonderful cook by all of us, and by all others who were fortunate to be invited to our table. The wonderful smells that filled our kitchen as the food was being prepared signaled to each of us that another delicious meal was on its way, ready to be devoured with much pleasure and satisfaction. It is during this time of which I speak, that I can clearly remember that there always seemed to be many invited guests sitting around our large kitchen table. Many times the guests were the nurses and doctors who were on the staff of the Fifth Avenue Hospital in New York City. My mother always had a deep interest in the nursing profession, and found great pleasure in encouraging the friendships of these nurses and doctors by preparing great dinners for them. Among her guests very often was the Supervisor of Nurses, Miss Frances Lurkins. Miss Lurkins was absolutely impressed with my mother’s charm and her friendly and generous ways. I suppose part of the admiration she had for her related to how well she seemed to handle such a large family. But a large part of this admiration was because my mother unselfishly volunteered and gave much of her time and labor as well to help in the many drives that the hospital often sponsored to raise money. It seems the hospital was expanding constantly and was always in need of funds. My mother did lots of tedious crocheting and made intricate pieces of fine lace work to help raise the needed money. In addition, she also went door to door in our neighborhood, soliciting donations. Considering her many responsibilities at home, it is no wonder that she was so highly regarded and admired among her friends.
Gradually while all of this was in progress, my mother continued to make friends with more and more of the staff members, nurses, doctors, etc. She was beginning to become well known on almost every floor of the hospital. Because of her many contributions to the hospital, our family was granted a bed, at no cost to us, should ever a medical emergency arise. Quite an honor, I would say.
Among the doctors my mother had the pleasure of meeting over the years was a Dr. Mary Edna Butterworth, a pediatrician. Almost instantly a new and close relationship began, which later on was extended to Dr. Butterworth’s unmarried sisters, Charlotte and Alice. Dr. Butterworth also had a married brother, Sam, whom we never met. The Butterworth women lived in a beautiful 18-room mansion situated on 137 acres of farmland in Morristown, New Jersey. I do not know if the ladies were born there, but I do know that they spent many years growing up there.
It was this acquaintance, which my mother initiated, that later involved me in the friendship with the Butterworths as well. This friendship is still ongoing. From what I was told by my mother, I was named at birth in honor of Dr. Mary Edna Butterworth, thus my name being Mary Edna. A short while after I was born, Dr. Butterworth died at a very young age, succumbing to cancer. This was a deep blow to the remaining two sisters, who continued to occupy the big house in Morristown.
When I was twelve years old and ready for Confirmation, my mother asked Charlotte Butterworth if she would consent to sponsor me as my godmother. Of course she was elated and eagerly accepted, feeling very honored to be asked. So my name now became Mary Edna Charlotte in its extended form. From that day forward I corresponded faithfully with my godmother until her death at age 90. In her role as godmother, she always responded to all my letters, with much interest. Up until the time Dad and I were married, my mother and I and sometimes other members of our family always went to Morristown to visit the Butterworths once a year, usually in the summer. That visit was always a special treat, and we were treated with much warmth and hospitality. Years later, Dad and I arranged a visit there with our children. I believe it was Rosemary, Sal, and Jean. Still today, Sal remembers very vividly that visit – the big house, the barn, and the beautiful grounds surrounding this majestic home.
Many years later both Alice and Charlotte died. The estate was eventually left to Theron H. Butterworth (nephew) and his sister, Elizabeth Gordon (niece). It was while going through papers in the Butterworth home during the time of the estate settlement that Theron discovered the many letters which I had written to his Aunt Charlotte (my godmother) over the many years we had corresponded. After finding these letters, he immediately packed them together and mailed them to Dad and me. He felt that they would be meaningful to us, and should be kept in our possession. Unfortunately these letters were misplaced or lost during one of our moves. They would have been interesting to read and to share with you all now, since I began writing them at age 12 until my 39th birthday, near the time when my godmother died – a total of 27 years of events and happenings. Theron’s letter, which accompanied the package he mailed to us, was the first communication between us. Needless to say, this opened up a whole new friendship. I acknowledged the receipt of the letters, for which I thanked him, and expressed my appreciation for his thoughtfulness. At this point in time, we exchanged letters about twice a year. My letters were full of our family activities, and his letters were mostly about his work in Public Health with the Federal government. Prior to this assignment he worked for the World Health Organization, spending much time overseas.
After Dad’s death Theron and I continued to correspond. In May of 1980 Theron extended an invitation to me as well as Grandma (Josie) to visit him at his apartment in Arlington, Virginia. He assured both of us that his apartment was spacious and large enough to accommodate us comfortably. But after discussing the invitation with Josie, she and I decided that we accept his kind invitation to visit him, but we would rent a hotel room in Washington D.C. close enough to where he lived, so that visits back and forth could be conveniently arranged. It all worked out beautifully. Needless to say, we were wined and dined and accorded lots of attention. On our first evening in Washington Theron met us at the hotel and took us out to dinner. Our conversations were most interesting to each of us, as we became acquainted with each other. Of course Theron recounted many stories concerning my mother, which were related to him by his Aunt Mary Edna, the doctor. He vividly remembered the time my mother gave him a bag of valentine candy hearts on Saint Valentine’s Day. He was about seven years old, at a time in a child’s life when candy is always a big treat.
On the second evening of our stay in Washington, Theron arranged to have a taxi pick us up at the hotel to bring us to his apartment. He cooked a delicious chicken dinner especially for us, baked a special loaf of zucchini bread, and made homemade chunky applesauce with raisins. We enjoyed the friendliness and hospitality that Theron accorded us all the while we were in his company. Around 10 PM we agreed to leave. Theron had ordered the taxi to take us home safely to our hotel.
The third day of our stay afforded us some sightseeing to add to the few tours we had already taken. Before leaving for home in Pennsylvania the next morning, we telephoned Theron to say goodbye, and to thank him for all his kindness and hospitality.
Since our initial meeting in Arlington, Theron and I have enjoyed a wonderful friendship these past 15 years, which still continues to the present time.
In January of 1981 Theron moved from Arlington to Hershey, Pennsylvania, where he still resides. We have exchanged many visits, many times, at each of our locations.
I find Theron a very interesting and generous man, well read, well educated (he has a doctorate degree in Bacteriology), well-traveled, gentle, thoughtful, and truly a gentleman in every sense of the word. I consider him a true friend. He apparently enjoys my company and my outgoing ways, which seem to complement his wit and dry humor. On his visits here in East Stroudsburg, he is always amazed as he observes our wonderful family in action, “Pappalardo vintage”, and never hesitates to express his admiration. This, of course, makes me very proud, and humbly grateful. Dad and I were truly blessed.