My mother, Maria (Mary) Costandini, was born in a little town called Picerno, Italy (near Siena and Florence) on January 15, 1878. She was eleven years old when she came to America in 1889. I seem to believe that she emigrated here with her parents, Rosa (Rose) and ??? Costandini, as well as her sisters Clara and Grace, a brother Fritz, and perhaps another brother (name unknown, if such a brother existed).
As a child, I can recall discussions concerning the untimely death of her father. I believe he was working on a road construction site here in New York City (as did many immigrants), and succumbed to a fatal blasting accident. This left my grandmother a widow at an early age, to take care of family responsibilities alone. I understand that as a means to help her with the expenses of running a household and the support of her family, she operated a small store, selling general food supplies, including a penny candy counter, which was very popular at that time. There was a vast assortment of brightly colored candies, encased in glass; each item was priced at one penny. Needless to say, these candy displays were eye-catching, and many a little face rested on the glass itself, during the process of making a decision. Making the decision to buy five pennies worth of candy was no easy task, and it often put to test the amount of patience a store owner had in serving his young customers.
From my mother’s narration while growing up at this particular time in her life, she related that once in a while she was left in charge of the store, while it was necessary for her mother to run a few quick errands. It was at this time that she was faced with a few little tots who did not have the money to buy the “sweet things” staring them in the face. Of course, the generosity with which my mother was well endowed took care of the needs and desires of these innocent little ones. There was no demand or exchange of pennies required. Instead, a generous amount of confections was carefully handed by my mother to the little outstretched hands. The smiles of satisfaction and pleasure on their round faces was a picture of joy and gratitude. My mother in her generosity felt that money was not necessary to satisfy the heartfelt wishes of an innocent child. Needless to say, my mother was not left in charge too often, as my grandmother soon realized that generosity without income just doesn’t work out too well, nor does it pay bills.
As often was the case in the early years of my mother’s childhood, marriages were often arranged between heads of families. Many times the emotions and the feelings of the prospective bride and groom were secondary, and it was the logic of economic security for the newlyweds that became top priority.
As was required, both the families involved went through the formalities of family introductions by holding dinners and visits at each other’s homes. This gave each of the families the opportunity to learn more about each other as well as the prospective bride and groom. The criteria for the bride were virginity (of course) and an assessment of her capabilities as to household management, cooking, serving, knitting, etc. As for the bridegroom, he did not necessarily have to have a lot of money, but most importantly, he had to have an occupation that would be ample to support himself as well as a wife and a family. In addition to the qualities of good character, the prospective bridegroom had to have ambition to work. He also had to be a perfect role model as husband, father, provider and protector, ready to take on all responsibilities of married life.
Such an arrangement as described above resulted in my mother and father’s marriage. My mother and father were married on September 20, 1891 and started their life together in an apartment located at 303 East 111th Street, New York City. This area is now known as Harlem, and is considered an undesirable and low grade area in which to live. Of course, at the turn of the 20th century, this section was safe and far different than it is today. She was thirteen years old (imagine!) and my father was a very mature and responsible young man of 21 years. The marriage took place two years after my mother’s arrival in America, and nine years after my father’s arrival.
My mother could not read or write English, and with such an early marriage, together with all its responsibilities, she did not have the time to go to school to learn our language properly. However, she relied upon the knowledge and expertise of my father. He was well qualified and able to take care of any and all responsibilities as to our family affairs, as well as the intricate matters of records pertaining to our home and family. In addition, my brothers and sisters, including myself, were able to assist my mother by reading communications to her, or by writing communications for her, as the needs arose.
But the language barrier never, ever deterred my mother from making friends or meeting people socially. She was an outgoing and friendly person, endowed with a jolly disposition, a radiant smile, and a positive, upbeat attitude at all times. (I have been told by many whom she knew that I inherited her traits.)
At the time my mother was growing up, marriage for young girls meant having large families. Women were dedicated to all the work and responsibility which motherhood was involved with, with little time for anything else.
Such was the case concerning my mother’s marriage. She had her first child ten months after she married. After that, she continued to have babies just about every two years. She had a total of thirteen children, two of whom died at an early age. In addition she had a miscarriage. She also gave birth to a full-term stillborn baby boy two years after I was born. I was told by others in the family that the tragedy and shock of my maternal grandmother’s death, which occurred at the same time of my brother’s birth supposedly, had been the cause of his death at the time of delivery. This, of course, is only family opinion without any medical diagnosis or research to confirm such a statement.
On the following pages are listed the names of the thirteen children in our family, together with pertinent information concerning them.
My mother died on May 7, 1947. She was 69 years old.
Vecchio Family Members
|Julius (#1)||4/2/1896||8/14/1896||4 ½ months|
|Julius (#2)||Carrie (last name?)||1/24/1902||6/29/1965||63|
|Louis||Rose (last name?)||5/9/1904||6/20/1982||78|
|Frank||Helen Caparelli *||5/14/1913||4/11/1970||56|
|Mary Edna||Salvatore F. Pappalardo||9/19/1917|
|* Divorced in 1951|