Living at home during the last three years before I married took on a whole new look and meaning.
We, like many other families, suffered the financial effects of the Great Depression during the 1930’s. Many businesses were forced to close down completely, unemployment was at an all-time high, foreclosures were common events, Wall Street was a barometer of financial chaos, and bread lines and soup kitchens were common sights. For a while, several of my brothers joined the ranks of the unemployed, and on a daily basis they feverishly scoured the want ads in the paper for any kind of job opportunity that might become available.
I recall during that time period that my brother Louie, after much job searching, was finally successful in getting a job as a chauffeur and gardener. The people who hired him were quite wealthy and owned a beautiful home in Rockville Centre. Louie was required to work six days a week at $10 per week, and was expected to purchase his own chauffeur’s cap!! Louie, of course, was more than willing to accept any and all job requirements, as he was anxious to have the opportunity of earning money once again.
With less money available to her during these hard times, my mother was forced to make many concessions. She expertly prepared cheaper yet satisfying meals for “our gang” at home. She did a marvelous job of serving what we referred to as a “poor man’s supper”. Our menus consisted mainly of generous portions of soup, flavored mostly with cheaply priced soup bones, and lots of hearty vegetables, or perhaps a large pot of lentils or beans. The beans were cooked with lots of garlic, celery and onions, and just prior to serving time, a variety of small pasta shapes were added to the bean combination (Pasta e Fagioli). It was mouth-watering and most enjoyable to eat. In addition to the above, we always looked forward to my mother’s delicious spaghetti and meatball dinners. Friends and relatives always raved about her special tasty sauce, as we did as well. Spaghetti was always on the menu in our house on Thursday and Sunday. That custom seemed to be the case in most Italian homes.
All of the meals my mother prepared were served with crisp Italian bread and a big bowl of salad. Despite the connotation of “poor man’s dinner”, we always felt very fortunate, enjoying the food that fully satisfied our very large appetites. We knew very well that each meal was prepared with much care and love, despite its simplicity.
Almost immediately after graduation from high school in 1934, I obtained my first and only job, having been hired as a secretary-bookkeeper in a real estate office in Malverne. I was hired by Lucian J. Bisbee who operated the office alone except for one part time salesman. At the time Mr. Bisbee was in his late 70’s. After the interview was over he informed me that I was accepted , and I would start the next day. He also told me that my wage was $10 per week for 5 ½ days. I was thrilled to know that I would now join the ranks of others who were wage earners like myself. One of the advantages of this job was its location. It was situated just one mile from my house, making it convenient to walk to and from the office without any difficulty. Besides, the exercise was healthy. Just as my brothers did, I also contributed toward the household fund to help toward expenses. In my particular case, I gave my mother $8 and was able to buy personal items I might need with the balance of my salary. I seemed to budget my needs very well.
As for attendance at church, my mother and father left the decision whether to attend strictly up to each of us. They felt that we were mature enough to make such a decision. As parents they prepared us well, to obtain the necessary catechetical instructions in Sunday School. We also received the sacraments of baptism, communion, and confirmation. Therefore, with such a strong base, we were able to pursue our faith in our religion on our own.
As a young child, without any prodding, I was always drawn with a deep desire to attend church. I always found much peace there, and still do today. To pray and to communicate with our Lord Jesus Christ nourishes and heals our minds and our souls, and gives to each of us the opportunities to enjoy the world we live in.
Accordingly, as I grew older, I became more and more attached to our local church and found comfort in its religious teachings. I also was attracted to its activities as well, which our pastor, Father Lynch and his assistant, Father Burke offered to the young people of our parish (Our Lady of Lourdes R.C. Church in Malverne). The organization that was formed to sponsor such activities was called the Legion of Mary. It was directed and moderated by Father Burke. While it was considered a social club for young people, it also fostered and encouraged activities which emphasized social, moral, religious and human values. We met once a month in the church hall on Wednesday evenings. At our very first meeting I was elected to be Secretary, a post which I held for three years, only because no one wanted the job!! We attended novenas together and heard missionaries delivering interesting sermons, which were geared to stimulate our minds in a positive way. We also participated in projects to raise money for worthwhile causes, including financial help for young missionaries. We often arranged to go on bus trips to places of interest, which was always enjoyable.
But the real treat for all of us who belonged to the Legion of Mary was our weekly tea parties. They took place on Sunday afternoons from 1 to 6 PM, and were held in our church hall. We had live music for dancing and refreshments were served as well, which consisted of tea, coffee and lots of delicious doughnuts. The admission price was 50 cents – a real bargain without a doubt.
After the dance was over, a large number of us would proceed from the church to the house of any member who would consent to such a planned invasion of people. Upon our arrival there, we immediately rolled up the rug, turned up the radio, and continued our dancing non-stop. The host or hostess would graciously offer light refreshments. We listened to the big band sounds of that particular time as we danced around the room. It was good clean fun and it all ended by 9 PM, which was curfew for all of us.
Fortunately for me, I was allowed to take part in all of this pleasure only because I was in the safe company of my brothers Frank and Johnny, both of whom were members of the Legion of Mary as well.
It was around this particular time that my destiny was beginning to take shape and form. New members were being solicited to join the Legion of Mary from our church altar each Sunday. There were two Pappalardo brothers who heard this appeal one particular Sunday while attending mass. At the next scheduled meeting both brothers, Sal and Joe, appeared to formally register for membership in our club. I, as Secretary, asked for their names in order to make the necessary notations in our membership roll. Dad proudly remembered and bragged to everybody years later the details of this first encounter. His famous quote in reply to me when I dutifully asked him for his name, address, etc. was as follows: “The name is Pappalardo… Salvatore Pappalardo. It is spelled P-A-P-P-A-L-A-R-D-O. You better learn how to spell it because it’s going to be your name someday!!!” Needless to say, I was speechless. How could this perfect stranger have the nerve to say such a thing to someone he did not know? I found out later that he felt as though he knew me because he knew my brothers Frank, Johnny and Eddie through their association with baseball. My brothers played on a team called the Lakeview Ramblers, and Dad and Joe played with the team sponsored by the Malverne Club. Often both teams opposed each other during the scheduled games. In all probability, and unbeknownst to me, he must have noticed me as I sat on the bench as a regular spectator together with my family, rooting loudly for the Ramblers.
That club meeting was my first encounter with Dad and his brother Joe. After that very first meeting, Dad began to mingle with other members (some of whom he knew) and began to gather information about me, such as where I lived, where I worked, etc. With the information he had gathered, and to my complete surprise, he stopped in at my office at 5 PM and politely offered to drive me home. I was a bit confused and totally unprepared at the moment as to just how to respond. But something inside of me said to accept his kind invitation, and I replied in the affirmative with gratitude. That was the beginning of what turned out to be a two year courtship, a formal engagement on June 19, 1937, and subsequently an exchange of marriage vows at Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Malverne on September 4, 1937.
When I walked into our house with this young man whom my mother had never met, I was a bit apprehensive as to what my mother’s reaction would be. I used my smarts and introduced Dad as a friend of both Frank and Johnny, and explained to her that they all played baseball together in the same league. As luck would have it, she was favorably impressed with Dad’s demeanor, as he warmly extended his hand to shake hers. Without hesitation she invited him to stay to have supper with us, and Dad in gratitude gladly accepted. Fortunately my brother Frank was at home at the time of our arrival, and he too accorded Dad a big welcome and a handshake as well. Of course, there would be many more Vecchios yet for Dad to meet, but judging from the initial meeting, Dad recognized that my mother was definitely on his side. With this evidence of support, he was confident that in the weeks and months ahead, he could and hopefully would be accepted by all of my family. As far as he was concerned, it was a good beginning, and he was optimistic.
I became interested in joining our church choir. Mr. Kuhn, the Choir Director, was always recruiting new members. Consequently, I was admitted and was assigned to sing in the alto section, just as I had been singing with our high school glee club. Soon after I joined, I convinced my brothers Frank and Julie to join as well. They enjoyed singing as much as I did. Later on Dad and Uncle Joe also joined. Going to choir rehearsal was something we all looked forward to doing, as it soon became a social occasion as well. After rehearsals were over, we all went downstairs in the church hall to have coffee and cake together, discussing the events of the week, and enjoying the camaraderie to the fullest. Dad was feeling good about this whole new development as it gave him a wonderful opportunity to get to know me better, and to progress in his relationship with the Vecchios. I too was hopeful that this relationship which had just begun would continue.
While growing up, I must admit that my family lauded me with much attention and praise. Perhaps it was because I was the youngest. Perhaps it was because of my achievements at school. But mostly, I guess it was the fact that I was the outgoing one, which made my presence at home and among my friends very much in evidence (talking being one of my favorite pastimes!!).
With this kind of home background, the closeness among ourselves seemed to grow deeper as the months and years passed by. Of course, there were trivial squabbles that would crop up now and then, but they were always resolved satisfactorily in the end. Perhaps having to work together as a family taught us a lot. One of the duties we were taught and required to fulfill came under the heading of hospitality. My mother was firm in her belief that anyone and everyone who came to our house should be made welcome and always to feel as comfortable as being at home. Accordingly, she passed this social obligation on to us; it was to be fulfilled without any excuses. We never objected and carried out her expectations with ease. As we brought in an extra chair, or cleared dishes from the table, or brought in additional items such as coffee or fruit or cake, we injected our witticisms and jokes along the way. Those sitting around the table replied with impromptu responses that always added color and humor to the conversation going on at the time. As was the custom, my brother Louie, without any coaxing, always took out his banjo. In minutes we were all singing together a variety of songs – some old, some new and, of course, some of the Italian folk songs, including O Sole Mio. It was a great way to relax and conclude another one of my mother’s delicious meals.
At this point I must relate one of the many funny incidents that occurred at the time of one of our family dinners. This particular one was attended by Uncle Henry (Vecchio) and Aunt Rose and a few of their grown children (our cousins). They lived in New York City near the area where we once lived. It was always a treat for them to leave the city for a brief time to visit us “in the country”, as they identified the location where we lived. After the dinner was over, my sister Rose delegated herself to be dishwasher, and each of us grabbed a dish towel to dry the stack of dishes. Since this dinner took place on a Sunday, Dad was invited to attend as well. He seized the opportunity to include himself as a member of our kitchen crew, knowing that this would keep him in the good graces of the Vecchios. As my sister Rose was carefully preparing the soapy water for washing, we very quietly plotted among ourselves, Dad included, to pull a fast one on poor Rose. The rest of the conspirators included Eddie, Frankie, Johnny, and of course, me. Soon the dish washing brigade was in full operation, and with so many hands to assist, the stack of dishes were clean and dried. However, Rose was unaware that we kept immersing the clean dishes which we had already dried back again into the soapy water. She commented as she was busy soaping the dishes, that she didn’t realize there were that many dishes to wash. After about 20 minutes of this torture (with no tell-tale clues coming from us), she realized that she had been an innocent victim of foul play. In good nature but with determination, she removed her apron, threw the dish cloth back in the soapy water, and firmly said, “I quit!!” We all laughed but agreed to atone for our sins by finishing off the already cleaned dishes and washed the pots as an extra bonus. Meanwhile, Rose left the kitchen to join the others in the living room. She deserved a break, and in her good nature just marked this down as another Vecchio prank, in which Dad had the special recognition of being a participant.
Dad’s presence at our house continued to accelerate, and all the while it helped to build a warm relationship with all my family, but particularly with my brother Frank. Both Dad and Frank seemed to hit it off since their very first meeting at our house, and they became almost inseparable. As the attraction between Dad and me grew, he continued almost daily to pick me up after work at the office. In gratitude, my mother never hesitated to ask him to stay and join us for supper. This gave her the advantage to know him and to observe him better as each day progressed, but she still was not ready to give either one of us permission to go on dates alone – yet.
Looking back on those times, I must say that Dad got along famously with all my brothers, and they in turn treated him fairly and kindly as well. There was a lot of common ground among them which they shared, including a wide range of discussions concerning politics, entertainment, sports, etc., to name a few. As for baseball, there were allegiances in many different camps. My brothers Tony and Julie rooted for the (National League) New York Giants; Jimmy and Louie were (American League) New York Yankee fans; Eddie, Frank and Johnny appreciated both teams. But Dad was definitely a Brooklyn Dodgers fan and carried on his praise and admiration for the Dodgers alone. He suffered much argument and abuse from all my brothers, all in a kidding way of course. To give him much needed support, I soon became a Dodgers fan as well. Soon the opportune time would arrive when I would be enjoying baseball games at Ebbets Field to watch the famous Brooklyn Dodgers play.
Dad continued to enjoy his visits with me and all my family at home, but he was also desperately hoping that he would be given permission to take me out somewhere, sometime, and preferably soon – just he and I. But up to this point, my mother was still firm in her feelings that this was not about to happen yet.
Alas, destiny was on our side. This time my brother Frank, with Dad’s assistance, helped to make a probability a reality. As it happened, Frank had a special girlfriend, Mildred Whittemore, of whom he was very fond. But without a car of his own, he was unable to ask Mildred out on a date. As for Dad, he had a car available to him, but it was no use to him as far as taking me out on a date, without my mother’s permission, But soon Dad and Frank put their heads together and plotted a solution for the benefit of all parties concerned. What about double dating for the four of us? What an excellent idea!!! It was worth the try to get the necessary clearance. Surprise of all surprises, upon Dad’s presentation of this request to get my mother’s approval, he was given positive assurance of consent and approval with little or no hesitation, all of which pleased the four of us. For Frank, it gave him the opportunity to date his girlfriend with the use of Dad’s car. For Dad and me, it was equally as exciting to know that at long last we were being given a limited amount of freedom as well as the pleasure of being together. And as for my mother, she was feeling very secure in the knowledge that her young daughter was in good hands, having the protection and security of an older brother in attendance. Of course, curfew for us was 11 PM, and we were smart enough not to violate this rule. And so it began – our courtship and dating, for its two year duration until our eventual marriage.
During our two year relationship, Dad and I managed to keep busy socially. We went to weddings, parties, baseball games, concerts, movies, and often took interesting day trips together with the members of the Legion of Mary. In addition, Dad and his brother Joe were members of the Malverne Fire Department. Consequently, we were often invited to attend their exciting fire tournaments, as well as fabulous dinner dances which the fire department offered to all its members gratis.
But during the very early months of our courtship, I was suddenly confronted with many thoughts of anxiety and doubt as to whether our relationship should continue, despite the encouragement and approval from all my family. Was this the young man with whom I could share my life, and would I be unselfishly dedicated to him as well as the family which would follow? Would he be willing and able to cope with my outgoing ways, my naiveté, and my own varied interests? Would he be as fully dedicated to family life and responsibility as I hoped he would be? Accordingly, after searching my soul for answers, I announced to Dad that we should not continue to see one another any longer. Of course he showed many expressions of disappointment and surprise, but gracefully accepted my decision with much dignity. I shall always remember his response. He said, “Mary, I want you to know that I’ve really enjoyed being in your company, and regardless of your present decision, if there is anything I can do for you, should the need arise, don’t hesitate to call me.” I was impressed with his gentleness and understanding. I thanked him for listening, and as we parted, I knew that both our minds were crowded with many thoughts and flashbacks, which included the good times we had shared up until this moment.
Needless to say, this development caused much havoc with two people in particular at our house. The first person was my brother Frank, who was devastated when he learned of it. Gone was his opportunity to continue dating Mildred Whittemore – no car, no girlfriend. The second person was my mother, who showed both disappointment and anger as well. She expressed to me in no uncertain terms that I never should have given Dad the “heave-ho”, and that he was far too kind a person to have deserved such a break. No matter what reasoning I gave her to justify my actions, her ears were shut, as she proceeded to argue in Dad’s defense. For the time being the case was closed.
A very long week (for me) went by, and without admitting it to anyone but myself, I was missing Dad’s presence very much. Meanwhile, both Frank and my mother showed their disappointment with the outcome of this affair in many ways.
But destiny was at work again, as Frank came to grips with the situation on his own. He decided to look up Dad, and came up with an idea which he felt would be a perfect solution to this dilemma. He suggested to Dad that the four of us (Mildred, Frank, Dad and I) should go to a movie that particular evening. Dad, in shock upon hearing Frank’s suggestion, very cautiously asked him, “Did you speak to your sister about this?”, whereupon Frank’s reply was, “No, but don’t worry about her. I’ll arrange everything.” As things continued to develop, I walked home from work that evening, and upon my arrival was immediately greeted by Frank. In just a matter of seconds, he laid out the plan. The four of us were going to a movie together. Dad would be picking us up at 7:30, Mildred at 7:40, and then to an 8:00 movie. Terrific!!
I guess the love bug at that moment must have been working overtime, because I was feeling ecstatic as I heard the good news. I knew now, for sure, that I was anxious to resume my relationship with Dad after experiencing a long week without his company. Needless to say, my mother was just as happy as I was, as we all waited for Dad’s reappearance once again and his permanent return.
The saying “absence makes the heart grow fonder” is certainly true in every sense of the word. Dad’s absence, even though only a week, made both of us certain that we were definitely meant for each other. I have always been grateful to Frank and my mother for the very special roles they played in the events of our lives, both mine and Dad’s.
A short while after the above event took place, and with our assurance to everyone at home that Dad and I were definitely together again, invitations for dinner at our house were extended to Dad’s father and Josie. In Italian families, as in many other families, getting to know the families and backgrounds of both bride and groom was then, and is still today very important. Through mutual social occasions such as dinners, a good rapport between families can be established, while learning more about each other. At that very first dinner meeting, we had the pleasure of meeting Dad’s father (Grandpa) and his stepmother Josie (Grandma). We were very much impressed with both of them. Their command of the English language was very good, although Grandpa spoke with a slight Italian accent. They were finely dressed, very cordial, and expressed great interest in learning more about all of us.
Soon after this initial meeting, visits between both families accelerated. Little by little, as time passed, we met Dad’s five brothers and their families as well. Four of them lived in Brooklyn, and of course Dad and his brother Joe lived in Malverne. We also arranged a separate meeting with Dad’s mother, Santa Distefano. She and Grandpa had been separated for many years, and she lived in various places, including Swartswood, New Jersey.
Cordiality between both families continued to grow. Dad’s brothers seemed to enjoy coming to our house whenever the occasion arose. They all seemed to fit in well with all of us. Interestingly, there was a similarity between both families: a dominance of the male gender – six Pappalardo boys, eight Vecchio boys. I did notice, however, that these Pappalardo brothers seemed to lack the unity among themselves that was always present among our family members. Perhaps whatever disunity might have been present could have been attributed to some of the unsettled times which they experienced while growing up. Dad and his brother Joe, however, were always close with one another. They were, for a while, both single, lived in Malverne together, and shared the same interests, including the fire department as well as baseball.
In 1934 my brother Jimmy was married to Jenny Cass, and two years later, Johnny was married to Marie Genovese. Jimmy and Jenny set up their first apartment on West 21st Street in New York City, near Jenny’s parents. Marie and Johnny eventually settled in Lakeview. These were the first two marriages that I witnessed. My oldest sister Anna and my oldest brother Charlie were both married before I was born.
At this point in time, there were still five single brothers and two single sisters living under the Vecchio roof. Up until this particular time, my father and mother had boasted of twelve grandchildren. But there would be many more on the way, following the marriages that were yet to take place, including Dad’s and mine. The total number eventually increased to 32. In addition there were a great number of great grandchildren – I do not know the exact number.
The following table illustrates the number and names of the children each of my brothers and sisters had, and the number of grandchildren.
|Charlie* (and Frances*)||Vincent*, Peter*, Mary*, Edward, Carmela*||3||2||5|
|Anna* (and James*)||Edith, Josephine, Marie, Clara, Antoinette, Joseph*, Anne||1||6||7|
|Tony* (and Helen)||Mary Ann, Vincent||1||1||2|
|Jimmy* (and Jenny*)||Vincent, Marianne, Michael, Rose Marie, Paula||3||2||5|
|Johnny* (and Marie)||Johnny Mike||1||0||1|
|Frank* (and Helen)||Frank, Gail||1||1||2|
|Eddie* (and Doris)||Edward, Robert, Maria, thomas||3||1||4|
|Mary (and Sal*)||Rosemary, Sal, Jean, Paul*, Peter, Frank||4||2||6|
|* – deceased|
|Note: Rose (and Tony), Louie (and Rose), and Julie (and Carrie) were childless.|
Events continued to accelerate at our house after the recent weddings of both Jimmy and Johnny, and we were all trying to get adjusted to having two less around the dinner table.
Our formal engagement took place on June 19, 1937, but the events that prefaced it were interesting. One particular Sunday afternoon, long before the above June date, Dad and I attended the customary weekly tea dance at church, together with Frank and Johnny. The hall was filled with members of the Legion of Mary as well as guests, and the band was in full swing. In minutes, couples paired off and everybody, including ourselves, was dancing to the music and the catchy rhythms of the live band.
After a few fast numbers, the band played a slower and softer piece. Dad and I were enjoying the change of pace, and the song itself, entitled “I’ll Get By”. As we danced, the band vocalist softly began to sing the words, “I’ll get by, as long as I have you…”. We were both very wrapped up in the song and its message, which seemed to have meaning for both of us. Suddenly, with little warning, I heard a voice softly whispering in my ear, “Will you marry me?” Wow!! I thought quickly to myself – this is a proposal and it’s happening right now. What do I do? What do I say? I recovered from the shock of what I heard in seconds, and was quick enough and smart enough to say “Yes, I will.” I was certain at that very moment that this was my golden opportunity to enter into a life of promise and love and happiness with a partner who, in the years ahead, did fulfill all my expectations. Needless to say, as we danced, we were filled with the feeling that the world was ours alone. We were indeed two happy people.
Of course, now it was necessary to get approval from my parents as well as “big brother” Tony. Fortunately, approval was given without hesitation. However, my mother, being the honest and frank person she always was, said to Dad, “You have our blessings to marry our daughter, but I’m going to be honest with you – we have no money for a wedding reception.” Of course, that was the gospel truth And not an exaggeration by any means. Our family finances were far from lucrative, and certainly not large enough to finance a reception whose list of invited guests would be endless.
Dad quickly responded that this would pose no problem, and that he would be more than happy to bear whatever expense would be incurred. A true and generous gentleman, I would say, who was displaying his ability to handle any situation at any cost. Besides, he did not want to postpone our wedding for any reason.
Despite her pride, my mother gladly accepted Dad’s offer, and thanked him for his generosity and consideration.
With full family support behind both of us, Dad and I eagerly looked forward to our marriage still ahead. But first we had to plan a date for our official engagement. We mutually agreed upon June 19, 1937.
Accordingly, my mother, as mother of the bride, arranged to have a small gathering at our house to mark the occasion, limiting the guest list to family members and a few close friends. Of course, with big families such as ours, the term “small” can be loosely interpreted.
The day of our engagement was finally here, and guests would soon be arriving. But before their arrival, Dad privately slipped the engagement ring on my finger. Inside the ring were very tiny markings. The inscription read: S.P. TO M.V. 6-19-37. How beautiful and how personal!! I was happy and full of gratitude. I could only see complete joy ahead for both of us.
The guests soon came, and before long our house was full of people. There was lively conversation going on in every corner. They all seemed to be enjoying the compatibility, the delicious refreshments, and the “home-made” Vecchio musical entertainment as well. Of course, during all of this, I proudly displayed my new ring to everybody present. Their reactions of admiration elicited many oohs and aahs as well. At the proper time, I opened up all the beautiful gifts that were given to me for this special occasion. They were eventually well-used and became a part of our home after our wedding. It was a beautiful day which we all shared, and long remembered.
With Dad’s constant visits to our house, he soon became a participant with my brothers in planning many harmless family jokes. It seems the Vecchio humor had begun to rub off on him. But of course, it was never known who the person would be to fall prey to the planned plot.
Such was the case one particular time when a scheme was planned to “pull a fast one” on Dad. The conspirators in this case were my brother Tony and, of all people, my mother!!! On this particular Sunday afternoon, Dad came to visit with me. He entered the kitchen through our back entrance as he always did. He was carrying a large, beautifully wrapped box of chocolates for me and my family. He was greeted by my mother and Tony, who were both in the kitchen at the time. After asking them where I was, Dad was promptly directed to go into the living room to join all of us. We were very much occupied listening to the radio at the time. (Radio was big entertainment those days.) Before leaving the kitchen en route to the living room, Dad placed the box of candy on the kitchen table. As he entered the living room, he greeted everybody and proceeded to sit down on the sofa next to me. After some time had passed, he informed me that there was a box of candy waiting for me on the kitchen table. I proceeded to the kitchen to retrieve the candy. My mother and Tony were still in the kitchen, and with no expressions on their faces or hints of divulging the plot they had schemed, handed the box of candy to me, still beautifully wrapped. I brought the candy into the living room to share it with everybody there. I carefully removed the beautiful wrapping paper first, then removed the top cover, and finally removed the special paper that always covers the top layer of the confections. But lo and behold!! What did I discover – a box full of coal ashes!! (We had a coal furnace at home at that time.) You can well imagine the shock on Dad’s face. He was totally embarrassed and had no explanation to offer. By that time, we were all in stitches laughing, but nevertheless, we were “in the dark” as to the identity of the pranksters. The two schemers, my mother and Tony, immediately appeared in the living room to witness the results of their joke coming over “live”. They too were rolling over with loud laughter. It was a funny scene to witness as it actually happened.
Dad realized that the Vecchio humor was still running on “high” and he had no intention of changing any of it. He took it all in good stride and enjoyed the whole thing as we did as well. Of course, my mother was gracious enough to place all the chocolates that had been removed from the box, on a serving dish, for all of us to savor and enjoy, and in so doing she felt exonerated.
With marriage in the foreseeable future, Dad felt sure that he could carry any responsibility which marriage would present. He felt, too, that he was financially able to support a wife and eventually a family. After all, he worked steady for his father, as did his five brothers. His father operated a very lucrative tile and marble business known as Nation Tile and Marble Works, Inc. The huge brick building which contained the office, warehouse, and showroom was located in East New York, a part of Brooklyn.
Grandpa, in his wisdom, trained his six sons to learn this up and coming trade of setting ceramic tile, which at that time was growing in demand, as were its labor unions. Accordingly, after eighth grade graduation, each of them soon had a trowel in his hands, but only after receiving the proper amount of training and apprenticeship. After all, Grandpa was the expert in that field, and what better way was there for his sons to learn the trade? Dad and his brothers were soon accepted into the Tile Layers Union. Grandpa had already been a member of the Union for many years. In 1937, the wage for a tile setter was $13.50 per day, which was considered good money at that time.
I must set aside a paragraph here to elaborate on Dad’s perseverance to further his education. While working for Grandpa, Dad became interested in drafting and architectural design. Fortunately, he was accepted at Cooper Union in New York City, a highly rated college. He attended classes at night, and tuition was free. There were two requirements for admission. You had to be a resident of New York City and you were required to pass the entrance exam. He had no trouble with either requirement, and accordingly was accepted. In his junior year he was awarded second prize in a design competition. He completed his four years of academic training and graduated in 1929, with a degree in architectural design. I always proudly told him that he deserved much praise and recognition for all his efforts and determination in attaining his goal. He had many natural talents and advantages in his favor: he had a high IQ, was an avid reader, and had a photographic memory. I always marveled at his degree of remembering what he read with so much accuracy. Our children, grandchildren and great grandchildren can be proud to know that a part of their intelligence has been a byproduct of Dad’s genes.
As soon as Dad was given approval for our marriage, he realized then that he had to start saving – and in a hurry! Accordingly, he very wisely set up a special checking account in both our names, so that the necessary funds would be available to either of us if needed. Initiating and maintaining the checking account was the ideal way to save money toward the wedding. Dad was well aware of his easy and generous ways of spending money, and accordingly agreed that I should be the disciplinarian to maintain good habits of less spending and more saving. It became habit forming, and our checkbook balance soon began to grow.
Of course, I could not contribute to this account, as I still wanted to continue helping out at home. Dad understood the situation very well and was in total agreement.
With much optimism, we both were looking forward to fulfilling our wedding plans still ahead of us, and were ready to accept and do whatever would be necessary to complete them in time for our wedding – September 4, 1937.