I have reserved this chapter to express my thoughts and impressions during my years as a child, then as a teenager growing up, and finally as a young woman getting ready to marry.
But before I begin, I must speak about a very noticeable change which was very much in evidence at the time when I was eight years old – two years after our move to Lakeview. Not only was it a very noticeable change for each of us to witness, but we were all completely “in the dark” concerning the whys and wherefores. The mystery and silence of this whole situation continued for many, many years, long after Dad and I married. It was then that the facts of the situation were finally discussed openly among all of us in the family.
Without any prior notice or knowledge, we realized very suddenly one day that my father was no longer the very qualified Secretary Delegate of the Rockmen’s Labor Union, but neither was he the breadwinner of our family.
As was later divulged to us, it was because of threats made to my father and all our family that caused him to resign immediately from his position at the union office. At that particular time, union bosses were not only beginning to get very powerful, but many of them became involved in crooked scams, in order to line their own pockets with money. Such was the case at the time of which I speak. The powers that were in charge expected my father to demand and collect extra dues and assessments from the hard-working laborers. All of this would be without any benefits to the members, nor would it benefit the International Union fund. Instead, the money was to be fraudulently collected and put into the hands of the big bosses for their own personal use. When my father flatly refused to carry out their orders, he received a threatening letter stating that not only he, but his family as well, would be “wiped out”.
Needless to say, my father became worried and fearful, not only for his safety but for the safety of all of us. With calmness and diplomacy, in the need to protect us from any harm, he submitted his resignation for reasons of poor health. He did not want to “make any waves” concerning the web of crookedness that was ready to surface. At the same time, his resignation would remove him from any of the illegal entanglements that were ready to be implemented. For his own protection, he made copies of all the records he kept while he was in charge, concerning all important data, up to and until the time of his resignation. He did this to defend his honesty and integrity. At the same time, he wanted to maintain the respect of the many immigrant employees who always looked up to him with great respect.
From that day forward, we only knew what we were told – that my father was no longer employed because he was in poor health. But sadly, all of this brought about a complete change in his personality. He shied away from any responsibility as head of the household. More and more, my mother took on the duties and responsibilities that up until now he had done. This tended to make him withdraw from many things, even people, and he soon began to take long naps each day. Life for him was completely changed. It was a far different routine from his previous years working in the union office – changed from a routine of leadership, management, communication, etc. to a daily regimen of inactivity.
As the oldest single brother at home, Tony assumed my father’s role, and with this role, became the disciplinarian as well. With Tony and my mother in control, we all “toed the line”. Even thought there was a slight change of command, family life at the Vecchio household continued in its usual happy setting, with many interesting things happening continually.
My experiences at school were a very big part of my life, and accordingly contributed to many happy years of my growing up as a child. To go to school was a treat for me, never a dreaded chore. I loved every minute I spent in the classroom.
My years in the Woodfield Road elementary school flew by quickly. While I was a third grade student, my teacher recommended to my mother that I transfer to the fourth grade in January, which I did. In June of that same year I was promoted to fifth grade, thus completing two years in one. (I don’t believe they continue this practice in the public school systems any longer. I graduated from eighth grade at age twelve, and then proceed to go to the high school in Malverne.)
Having left an eighth grade class of 13 students, my admission to high school seemed to open a whole new world for me. I soon realized that now I was confronted with a much larger group of students, who at first seemed strange and a bit unfriendly. But soon I learned that we could and would become good friends, as we anticipated four exciting years ahead.
Beginning with my first day in high school, I was determined to participate in as many activities as I possibly could – and I did. I was active in the Student Council, took part in the class plays that were presented each year, played volleyball, joined the gymnastic team, sang in the glee club each year, and was selected as a member of the National Honor Society. I graduated with scholastic honors, at age 16, in June, 1934.
My courses of study in high school consisted mainly of business courses such as typing, bookkeeping, shorthand, commercial law, etc. My high school diploma was identified as a commercial diploma. During those years, young girls were encouraged to work in offices as secretaries and it was fairly easy to find those positions, particularly in New York City, where there were a variety of offices. It was ideal to work for insurance companies or law offices or banks, as they offered many opportunities to their employees to advance themselves as time progressed.
My achievements in school made my family very proud. After all, I was one of the very few in my family who completed high school.
But it is interesting to note here the rather rigid rules to which I was subjected. Despite all of this, I never, ever questioned my mother’s reasoning and always accepted her good judgment. The first rule I adhered to was making sure I returned home immediately after school was over – no stops anywhere. My girlfriends were allowed to come to my house to visit, or perhaps sit around our large table and work on homework together. On the other hand, there were times my friends wanted me to visit with them at their houses. In order for this to happen, my friends had to come to my house to get my mother’s permission, since we had no telephone. Most times these requests were granted, which pleased us very much. Meanwhile my mother knew exactly where I was and who I was with.
Starting with elementary school through high school, I developed a close relationship with three girlfriends whose friendship continued on an ongoing lifetime pattern. Their names were Dorothy Papst, Lillie Andros, and Gladys Ward. Unfortunately, Lillie was killed in an automobile accident, and Gladys died of natural causes several years ago. Dorothy is the lone survivor of the three.
I’d like to add a little interesting note concerning Gladys Ward, as it was she who was responsible for my brother John meeting Marie Genovese. It seems that before the time that Gladys’ parents moved to Lakeview, Marie’s family and the Wards were next door neighbors living in the city. Marie and Gladys were young children at the time and, as neighbors, played together. It was on a summer visit at the Wards’ house in Lakeview many years later, that Marie had the opportunity to meet my brother Johnny. It was love at first sight. A few years later they were married.
While I was in high school, I realized that dating was acceptable under parents’ supervision, but in my case, it was not a privilege that my mother allowed. She was the typical strict Italian mother, still of the “old school”, who would not allow me to go out with a boy alone. (I was too young and it was too risky!!) To demonstrate this theory of discipline, the following incident will give the reader an inside view of my mother’s reasoning. I asked for permission to attend the Senior Prom, as this would be one of the last affairs I would be able to attend before graduation. All the seniors were looking forward to this big event. There were two boys who were interested in taking me, but before saying yes to the one I was interested in (Carl Carlson), I decided to get an OK from my mother.
Needless to say, the answer was an emphatic no. She would not consent to my going out with a boy; however she granted me permission to go to the prom with my brother Frank. I did not brood or lament, but rather looked forward to attending this much talked-about affair. And so, off we went, Frank and I, ready to join and meet all my classmates with their dates. Yes, I wore a pretty long yellow gown, and yes, Frank bought me a beautiful corsage, but yes, we had to be home by 11 PM!! Things are quite different today – yes? Nevertheless, we had a wonderful evening. Everybody in attendance seemed to enjoy the camaraderie, the dancing, and the refreshments that were served. It was a perfect evening, and would be remembered for many years.
Perhaps you might be interested to know what kind of entertainment was available to me as I was growing up. As a young child, it consisted of my playing with dolls, playing house, or sometimes playing school. (I always wanted to be the teacher, but that privilege had to be shared among those of us who were playing together at the time.) I also enjoyed coloring with crayons in special coloring books, and sometimes I tried to draw things freehand, hoping a halfway decent picture might be the final result.
With lots of ground space around our house, it was a perfect place to play tag or hide-and-seek or 1-2-3 red light, and other outdoor games as well. I often joined my brothers tossing and catching softball, which helped them to keep in shape for their scheduled baseball games.
It is interesting to note here that I never owned or rode a bicycle or roller skates or ice skates, and so I grew up without ever enjoying the freedom and the pleasure derived from these sports.
As a teenager my interests began to change. The varied activities in which I participated while attending high school gave me much pleasure and satisfaction. In addition to this, my girlfriends often joined me at my house. Together we listened to the radio to hear the popular songs of the day. We knew the top ten by heart, as well as the artists who made them popular. We were very interested in the new dance of that era, and with the accompaniment of the radio, we would go through the routine of the dance steps, including the Charleston. We often fantasized that we were a part of the Rockettes!! We would also take the time to practice and sing the songs we had learned and were still learning in our high school Glee Club. On many an afternoon this took place in the presence and earshot of my family. After we completed each song, they never failed to give us generous rounds of applause, all of which built up our egos rapidly. How wonderful to have a fan club, even if it is just your family.
Occasionally I was allowed to go to the movies (matinee of course) with several of my girlfriends. The big treat was stopping after the movie at the ice cream soda shop, where we savored delicious ice cream sodas or milkshakes, depending on our individual choices at the time.
Of course, in whatever spare time I had available, I managed to read as many books as possible, which I borrowed from our school library or the one located in Malverne. For me, reading has always been an enjoyable pastime and an educational one as well.
In summary, as you can see, I enjoyed doing a variety of things while growing up, all of which afforded me much pleasure and many happy moments.