B: 1879 – D: 1951 (72) B: 1884 – D: 1968 (84)
Vincenzo and Maria Pulera’
Their 50th Wedding Anniversary
This is the story of Maria Mazzotta and Vincenzo Pulera’. They emigrated from Fialdelfia, a mountain town in southern Italy, at the turn of the 19th century and established their home and family in Pittsfield, Massachusetts.
Their lives are told through stories given to me by 4 of their sons and 4 of their grandchildren. These stories are transcribed in their own words, as told to me. By the time I began my interviews, their 3 daughters, Mary, Barbara, and Rose had passed away. My historic research is limited to ship’s records and 1 visit to their home town of Filidelfia, Italy. It is my hope that family members will flesh out this research and add it to their own stories.
My grandfather, Vincenzo Pulera’ was born on September 18, 1878. His parents were Carmelo Pulera’ and Madonna Maria. My grandmother, Maria Mazzotta, was born in 1884. A visit to the Filadelfia graveyard indicated that the Mazzotta name was very prevalent, while I was unable to find the name Pulera’. So, it is quite possible that grandfather lived in one of the surrounding towns.
The Calabrian town of Filadelfia, sister of the American Philadelphia?
29.01.2016 | a cura della Redazione
(Antique map of Filadelfia)
At first glance, anyone would wonder why a small Calabrian town has the same name as Pennsylvania in the United States of America. Filadelfia, in the province of Vibo Valentia, is like Philadelphia, in America. Perhaps it was just a matter of names, enough to remember the common etymology, from the greek φιλαδέλφος (filadélfos), which refers to the concept of “brotherly love”. But that might be too simplistic.
Until 1783, the year of the terrible earthquake that devastated the region, this inland town of Vibo Valentia was called Castelmonardo. Then, just after the cataclysm that destroyed the town, it took on the new name of the city of Filadelphia. Its official history tells us that choosing the new name was likely the Bishop Andrew Giovanni Serrao, a native of the area and known for his progressive ideas who fell victim to the Army of the Holy Faith of Cardinal Ruffo, because of its adhesion to the republican ideal. Indeed, it is even possible that the origin of this choice was due to the fact that the reconstruction of the city was in large part due to the active contribution of the American Freemasons.
On the other hand, in addition to the concept of “brotherhood” inherent in the name chosen for it, easily traceable to the “values” of Freemasonry, what is striking about this story is the fact that the maps of urban Filadelfia in Calabria and the American city are almost identical. Indeed, the reconstruction of Castelmonardo, under the new name of Filadelfia, took place on the basis of the same urban plan conceived a century ago for the construction of Philadelphia by the British explorer and philosopher William Penn, the founder, in fact, of the British colony of Pennsylvania (literally “Penn’s woods “). On a different scale, in both cities it is seen that two large arteries that cross on two orthogonal axes, give rise to four quadrants.
In theory, through the segmentation of the urban fabric, it gives shape to a Greek cross, which leads the partition of four districts oriented to the four cardinal points. A bond that between Filadelfia and the Masonic Brotherhood, highlighted even in the arms of citizenship, as two hands shaking. In fact, at the turn of the eighteenth and twentieth century in this small town there was a Masonic Brotherhood dedicated to Giordano Bruno. That would go to explain the discovery of, at the height of one of the arteries that divide the town in two, a globe with a coiled snake symbolizing the knowledge about the world: a monument unmistakable Masonic.
Significant as well is the observation of Benedetto Croce, contained in a footnote on a page of the Italian edition of the life of the ” Vescovo di Potenza Forges Davanzati,” the choice of the name for the Calabrian town maybe have been due to the “fame” of the American Philadelphia, where as you know, in 1774 the first Congress of the United States was formed and two years later the American colonies declared independence, as well as the deep link with Masonic brotherhoods overseas. Hence, Filadelfia is a charming place, definitely worth visiting.
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When Maria and Vincenzo were living in Filadelfia, southern Italy was in a ruinous state. Four-fifths of the people were illiterate. Property was largely owned by absentee landlords who used their tenants like indentured servants. And many people were starving. Corruption was so great that many areas were entirely lawless. The mafia arose in part to help protect the people. This was a natural earthquake area with recurring earthquakes and landslides often killing hundreds. Because of the extreme poverty, rebuilding was very slow. It was within this physical/ historic context that Maria and Vincenzo grew up, were married in 1900, and raised their first three children. At the time of their marriage, James was 22 years old and Maria was 16 years old.
Records and stories indicate that Vincenzo traveled to America three times: once in 1901-1903, once in 1904-1907, where he worked in a Pennsylvania coal mine, and once in1909. This is when he established himself as a railroad laborer in Pittsfield.
This railroad map of southern Italy at the turn of the 19th century shows just how isolated the region of Filadelfia was at that time. I’ve traced the probable route that was taken out of the mountains, northward to Eboli. These are the first steps taken in the journey of the Pulera’ family to America.
Vincenzo sent for his wife and 3 children, Mary, Carman, and Barbara, in 1911. Ships records indicate that Maria left Filadelfia in September of 1911 with two children: Carman and Barbara. At the beginning of the 19th century, travel was largely along dirt roads and depended upon horses or walking. So she and her children had to travel by foot and/or horse and wagon down out of the mountain town and northward to Eboli (150 miles north) to catch the train there. Then, it was another 50 miles by train to Naples. In doing so, they were following the path to America that Vincenzo followed three times before them. She traveled the western costal railroad of Italy to Naples, and boarded the USS Canopic on September 12, 1911. Twelve days later, on September 24, 1911, They arrived in Boston, Massachusetts, after having been processed through Ellis Island. Six months later, on April 10, 1912, The Titanic sailed from England, on its maiden voyage to New York.
At the time of their reunion, Vencenzo was living at 233 Francis Ave. in Pittsfield. He traveled by rail from Pittsfield to Boston to meet his newly arrived family. At this time, Vincenzo was 33 years old and Maria was 27 years old.
Note: I was told that I was named after my grandfather. So, when I found out that grandpa was born Vincenzo, which translates to Vincent, I became curious. According to italiangenaeology.com, this discrepancy was reported by many other Italian families . It seems that the nickname for Vincenzo is “chenz”, pronounced “chains”. This sounds like James. Apparently, I was named after a mis-interpreted nickname!
A search of their children’s birth records indicate that the family lived at different addresses as follows:
1911- 233 Francis Ave.
1912 – 54 Pearl St. (Dominick is born\died)
1913 – 25 Circular Ave. ( Frank is born)
1915 – 328 Columbus Ave. (Pat is born)
1917 & 1918 – 39 Circular Ave. (Rose & Nick are born)
My father, Nick, the youngest son, told me about Dominick. He was the first child born in America. But he developed a bowel disorder and died in the same year. He told me that his mother searched for his grave marker, but never found it. Dad and I located the grave marker, which was hidden under the grass in the graveyard.
This is a photograph of Maria with her two youngest sons, Frank (left) and Pat. Frank was 4 years old and Pat was 2 years old. It was taken in front of 39 Circular Ave. At the time it was taken, Maria’s other children: Mary, Carman, and Barbara, were 15, 13, & 9 years old, respectively. It is quite possible that she was carrying her next daughter, Rose, when this picture was taken.
Maria and Vincenzo purchased 39 Circular Ave. in 1921.
My series of family interviews took place in 1993, starting with my interview of the eldest son Carman, who was 89 years old and living in a nursing home. Carman was the second child and an immigrant. He was my godfather.
In the early days, ma and pa took in boarders. One boarder was Pasquale Carchetti. One day he went to work and discovered that he had lost his money somewhere. He came home depressed, only to find that ma had found his money while he was at work. He was so grateful, he offered her a reward. Ma refused, saying that “it’s not my money”.
Wojtkowski the milkman sometimes would have breakfast at our house. I once asked ma how come she fed him breakfast. What did he ever do for you? “He gave me a half pint of cream one day that he had left over.”
One time the family found out about the death of one of ma’s relatives. We all decided not to tell ma about it right away because she had not been feeling well. That same night ma came down the stairs dressed in black. “You don’t have to tell me. I already know.” She mourned the death for 3 years. This will tell you how close to God she was.
Ma worked as a baker in the old country. She was blessed with gifted baking hands.
Pa went the same way to work every day. He’d leave the house, walk down Circular Ave. to where it crossed Francis Ave. Then he’s go down the embankment to the railroad signal shack that stood next to the bridge that spanned the tracks. He would walk the tracks from Pittsfield to New Lenox and back every day. The family struggled just to stay alive when we were small. He’d get up at 4:30 in the morning to put wood in the stove, then he’d be on the tracks by 7 AM. He was home by 4PM.
The embankment on the left is where the signal shack was. The bridge crossed over the tracks, connecting Francis Ave.( at the intersection of Circular Ave.) with West St., the center of commerce during the era of the train. It supported scores of hotels, restaurants, and retail stores. If you follow the track on the left, it led to Railroad St. (later named Columbus Ave.) This street had shipping stores, meat packing stores, a lumber yard, and mills. The picture on the left depicts grandpa Pulera', second man from the left.
Ma cooked, kept house, and took care of us all day. She made everything: cheeses, pasta, and bread. She bought chickens live from the man who brought them to people in the neighborhood. He would kill them for her in the house. Pa would hang the cheese in the cellar.
Ma was a saint. Pa was not. He was not a particularly religious man. He went to church on Sunday. Ma would get very upset and hurt whenever pa cursed in the house. “What did He (God) ever do to you?”
At dinnertime the children would complement ma on her cooking. I would not. This would make ma mad. She would tell me: “If you don’t like my cooking, get out!!”
My favorite meal was roasted red peppers. Ma would roast and peel the peppers and marinate them in olive oil and garlic. I would put them on bread with garlic and olive oil on the bread, then eat it.
I went to Riggs elementary school. I only went through the 5th grade. Then I quit to help support the family. I got called “guinea” a lot and would have to fight some of my classmates to get their respect. I couldn’t speak English, but learned quickly. I could speak unbroken English after a year of school. [Note: The offensive term “guinea” referred to the fact that southern Italians were generally dark complected next to other europeans. It was a racist inference that Italians had negroid blood in them.]
Ma didn’t want to get married. She wanted to be a nun. Her mother wanted her to marry, so she had to. Pa and two other men wanted to marry ma when she was 14 years old. She told her mother: “ since you want me to marry, you pick the man”. Pa visited the house for 3 years, but ma would not talk to him. So he spoke to her mother. On the day they were to go to town to get married it was raining. Pa said to ma, there is room for two under this umbrella. It’s OK for you to walk with me under it, since we will be getting married today. Ma said: “that’s OK, I’m not made of sugar. I won’t melt in the rain”. She walked by herself in the rain to town.
Ma could write her name, pa could not. He signed everything with an X. Neither could read. Both were completely uneducated.
Pa worked as a laborer in a Pennsylvania coal mine between 1904 and 1908.
I was 7 years old when I came to America with my mother in 1911. My sister Mary stayed behind with family and came over later on. I don’t know when. We arrived in Boston on the Conopic. While I was looking at the first tall buildings that I’d ever seen, a man called me over. I was reluctant to go. But ma said that the man wouldn’t hurt me, so I went over. The man had a bag with bananas in it and gave me one. I asked if they were OK to eat and he said yes. So, I tried to eat it, skin and all.
Mt. Carmel church celebrated it’s first mass in 1916. I don’t remember if it was Christmas mass. But if that was the first mass, ma was there. She walked to church every day all of her life, until she was physically unable to do so.
Mount Carmel Church on Fenn St. Father Santini
One time ma got sick and asked father Santini to pray for her. Pray for you, Maria? He said. You pray for me!
Before ma came to this country she got a letter from her brother. He and pa had gotten into a fight and he [pa] was hurt. Ma freaks out and begins to pull her hair. Later she gets another letter saying everyone was OK.
I used to pick coke and coal from the railroad tracks and carried it home for fuel for the house. I also helped to carry home railroad ties for the same purpose. Pa kept sawhorses in the back yard. We placed the ties on the sawhorses and cut them into chunks. We used pa’s two-man hand saw.
Ma could lift a 14 quart pan full of milk from the stove, while making cheese. She had a kitchen with a refrigerator in the cellar.
One day ma and I were walking down North St. together. She saw a man across the street with no legs, selling pencils. She asked me to take her to him. She opened her purse and gave the man some change. He thanked her and gave her a pencil, but she wouldn’t take it. She said: “you keep the pencil so you can sell it.”
When ma was young and living in Italy, she worked 8 hours a day, on her knees, in the fields for 8 cents per day.
Pa was 5’11” tall. No one had a better posture.
One of the most difficult sights I’ve seen in a human being was on grandma’s face; One day all of us boys were sitting with ma around the table. We had all been discharged from the service after the war ended. While we were away from her during the war, she had prayed to God to take her instead of her boys. She said: “thank God all of my boys have been returned to me safely. God can take me any time now.”
When I heard that the war was over, I drove over immediately to ma’s house to tell her the news. When I got there she was on her knees praying. She said: “you don’t have to tell me nothing”. Somehow, she knew that the war was over.
Your father [Nick…the youngest son] spent four years in the European theater. Once he got caught in a crossfire while in a foxhole that was half filled with water. They were pinned down for 2 days! He never spoke about the war. He just wanted to forget it.
Your father made one big mistake [Carman was crying when he told me this]. He was perfect, other than that. I used to pick on him all of the time. He had beautiful hair.
You couldn’t ask for a better boy, until your father got caught up with that man in Hancock. [My parents moved from Pittsfield to a rural town called Hancock.] He borrowed money from me to help build a house there.
[Much later in life, my father moved into his parents’ home on Circular Ave. His parents wanted the house to be used by any of the children who were not married. My father and mother divorced. Nick and Rose lived in the house together.]
Carman: He became so unbearable while living with Rose, that Rose moved out of the house.
[Nick & Rose in their youth. They were the last of the Pullaro children and the first of their generation to graduate from high school].
The bar room ruined your father’s life. One day I had a talk with your dad on the front porch about what effect his drinking was having on everyone. He listened to me, but didn’t say a thing. He just lowered his head and had tears in his eyes. He knew that what I was saying was true. He was such a nice looking boy.
Your father was very proud. I’d ask him to come over at Christmas time. I’d send him cards. I’d tell him that I’d pick him up. But he always said: “I’ll let you know”, but never did.
When he was 3 or 4 years old, I used to have him crying all of the time. When I look back on how much I used to pester him! Ma used to get mad when I picked on him. She threw a stick of wood at me one time! “Leave him alone!”
I used to take your father fishing all of the time. Lake Garfield was his favorite place. He was never a talker. He used to listen.
Nick, a friend, and Carman after a fishing trip together.
I can’t tell you anything good enough about my sister Mary. The woman was a saint. She was a beautiful human being. She was like the Mona Lisa. I used to bring her things. But, if she had one thing in her house that she knew I liked, she’d insist that I take it.
Pa was a very proud person. It was OK if he abused his family a little bit. But don’t let anyone else say anything about his family!!
Mary and I, when we were children, worked for $2 per day and went to bed at 7 PM. We would sometimes listen, with open mouths to stories that one of ma’s boarders would tell. They were nothing but fairy tales! Pa would send us to bed, but we would sneak down to the middle of the stairs and listen further to the tales.
Mary had the garden. Ma did not. Mary brought stuff from her garden to ma.
[Mary lived in one unit of a three family house on Division St. right behind 39 Circular Ave. It was situated on a lot that was just a little wider than the house, but very deep. Mary had a beautiful garden behind the house, which spanned the width of the entire house. You walked through an arbor of concord grapes to get to it. It had water and irrigation ditches. Purple and golden plumb trees grew there also.]
My sister Rose never married. She took care of both ma and pa until their deaths. She was a wonderful girl. When they were sick, she took care of them in their own home.
I was the black sheep of the family. I was a man of the world. Of all of the brothers, Frankie was the best family man. He’s a good boy.
How my mother could accomplish so much is amazing! You could put it down in the
Ripley’s Believe it or Not, and no one would believe it! In those days we didn’t have a lot of money. When she could get a bargain on something from the food peddlers, she’d buy it. She would buy left over tomatoes at .50 a bushels (usually $1). She would can them and put all of her canned goods in a closet in the cellar.
In the fall of the year, pa would want to show off. If a friend came over to the house, he’d take him to the cellar and show off all that my mother had accomplished. It was like a treasure chest of food. She’d make her own pasta. She’d make a dough called pellitelle and put her homemade sauce over her homemade pasta, and we’d eat it.
Since ma and pa got up at 4:30 every day, 8:30 in the evening was late for them. Ma liked Perry Como and would watch him on our 6” screen TV in the living room. And, when she learned that he had had a personal audience with the pope, she liked him all the more!
My father came home one night…remember I told you pa couldn’t read or write. We had a wind up Victrola record player
with the dog on it. He had a favorite record that he put a mark on. When he wanted to play it, he’d go through the record
pile…one-by-one….one-by-one and select the record with the mark. He’d hold it up and say: “this is it, here.” So, that
night I asked my sister: “Mary, when did pa learn how to read!?” And we both started to laugh. He looked at us and said:
“go to bed!” Both ma and pa liked to listen to Enrico Caruso. That Victrola was our entertainment.
Even when ma was moving around the house, hard at work or something, you could see her lips moving in prayer. She was always praying. My mother, in my book, had the most perfect faith of any human being … and that includes priests, too.
My brother Pat worked for Coca-cola for 6 or 7 years. Then he went to work for Borden for 28-29 years.
He was a working fool. He never asked retailers what they needed. He would take care of things himself.
If the cheese on the shelf was outdated, he’d replace it with new. Everyone trusted him. When he retired,
about half of the grocers in Berkshire County attended the retirement party.
About 250 people were called up to give their opinions about Pat. The Nichols boy stood up and said: “we
will miss him. We can replace Bordens, but we can’t replace Pat.
There was a girl that Pat would have married. I think he would have, I’m not sure. But when the war was over she went around telling people that she and Pat were going to get married. She was a good girl, too. But Pat is kind of funny. He didn’t want to be taken for granted. So, that broke it up.
My sister Mary’s husband, Dominic, was a man of all trades. He could do anything. Her son, Nick, reminds me most of Dominic. He was living on Circular Ave. when they met.
There was an ice house on West St. I worked there for a while when I was 10 or 11 years old. It was not a job. I just helped out in order to get free ice.
Grandma was kind of a stern lady. Everything she said, that was it! There was no getting around it. And she was a very religious person.
The cucumber story: I found a really beautiful cucumber in my mother’s garden one day. So I brought it to grandma. The moment I walked in the door and went to give it to her, she threw me out of the house. And I didn’t know why at the time. When I got home my mother told me then. Uncle Pat almost died from eating a cucumber. I think it must have happened before I was born. I don’t know what happened.
Mother’s lost teeth: One time my mother was in the garden and says: Frannie, I lost my teeth. I said: ma, what do you mean you lost your teeth? She said: I looked in the garden. I looked everywhere. I can’t find my teeth. Go up to nonnie’s quick and see if I left them there. Well, I go up to my grandmother’s house and when I got in the house, I didn’t know what to say. So nonnie kept saying: “what do you want? What’s the matter??” Finally I said: nonnie, did my mother leave her teeth here? And that was a riot for a long, long time. Grandma laughed for a long time about that.
Grandma was a great cook. Boy, she could cook up some meals! Christmas eves stuck in my mind more than anything. Christmas eves were always at nonnie’s house. All of the time. And my mother was a good cook, too.
Every Sunday we used to go up to nonnie’s houses to watch grandpa, Pat, Frank, and Carman play Briscola [a shrewd, addictive Italian card game]. They used to play “boss”. And the boss got to say what, and how much the other players could drink. Boy, I’ll tell you, when grandpa was the boss, he would get a big glass of wine and everyone else got only a quarter glass of wine. Grandpa used to cheat! I didn’t know it at the time, because I was a little kid. But later on in life Pat told me: “boy, it was terrible. He used to cheat terrible!” The more you could cheat, the better it was. Everyone got a big kick out of it. The object of the game was how much you could get away with. How much you could needle the other guys. Partners used to signal one another across the table. It was a terrible game!
Grandpa loved flowers. He had a tiger lily in the front yard. [This yard was approx. 10’X20’, surrounded by a low evergreen-type bush with thorns and red berries.] In the center of the lawn was a single tiger lily. I used to watch him. If there was a single brown leaf on it, he’d go over and snap it off. He always loved flowers. For a man, he loved flowers. When grandpa died, grandma set up an altar with votive candles. She used to keep flowers on that altar.
Their relationship, you know, if they were in the army, grandpa would be the lieutenant and grandma would be the sergant. My mother said that grandpa had a temper and could fly off the handle. But I never saw that part of him.
Grandpa made wine you know. And his cellar was so organized. When you went down into the cellar, there was a stack of railroad ties cut into firewood. Each piece was cut to exactly the same size and placed in a neat stack so that it looked like a wall. In the back of the cellar was a big round press with barrels around. Everyone drank grandpa’s wine when they played cards. He bought the grapes from Scelsi. We couldn’t wait to make wine. He used zinfandel grapes and made only red wine. He would press the grapes and fill six 50 gallon wine barrels. When the wine was almost ready, he’d be down there every day checking it. Until there were no more bubbles. Then he’d cap it and start drinking it.
Grandma would work with my mother in the garden. I never saw grandpa in the garden.
Grandpa’s friends and neighbors were: Mr. Masdaia, Mr. Decario, Mr. Detavio, and Mr. Zupasella. He kept to the neighborhood. Mr. Procopio was the only one of his friends that worked on the railroad with him.
My mother was a great lady. She was always telling me: “If you can’t say something good about someone, don’t say anything at all”. I remember that like it was yesterday. She always did for everybody. She didn’t care if they did back. That didn’t even matter to her. Every morning she used to come downstairs. I never saw that woman’s hair messed once. Her hair was always braided and put up on her head. She had on a clean apron every morning. She was up, and downstairs in the kitchen by 6:15 every morning. She went to church a lot, but not every day.
In the summertime, the first thing she did every day was go to the garden. She’d work in the garden for a couple of hours. She had her routine.
She’d bake bread on Tuesdays and Thursdays and make 1 or 2 little loves. She used to punch a hole in the top, cut a half of a stick of butter, stick it in the hole and let it go down into the bread. Then we’d eat the whole bread. She made zippoli during the holiday season. I think that my mother made the best of anybody. Grandma used to make them, but ma’s were better. [zippoli was a bread made with potato dough. It was rolled into rings or bends and deep fried in olive oil.]
The turkey story: I’ve got to tell you this story…I worked at the Buick garage and every thanksgiving, when I started working there, Mr. Burchard gave everyone a turkey. Well…my mother didn’t want a frozen turkey. She wants a live one. So
I said to Ed Burchard: Ed, I don’t know if you can do this, but my mother doesn’t want a frozen turkey. He laughed. He got a couple of guys with a truck and went down to Burgner’s farm and got the biggest turkey that they had
down there. They brought it back in a pickup truck. It had a little string on it’s neck. When they got it back to the garage, they drove in, took it off of the truck and handed it to me on a string. I didn’t have a car. So I was wondering how I’m going to get this turkey home. Finally they gave me a ride home in the truck. And, before me and my brother Nick killed that turkey, he almost killed both of us!!! Man…turkeys are strong! I told my brother: that’s it, I’ll never bring a turkey home again. The wings were very powerful. I tried holding the wings and my brother Nick was trying to wring its neck. That was a sight! I wish I had a camera on that thing, it would be worth a million dollars!
I was 12 years old when my father died. All I can remember my father doing was working. He could fix anything, including plumbing and electrical. He worked every day, except Sunday. He liked to hunt. He didn’t take me hunting because I was too young. But he went with my brother Nick.
I think that my mother worked in the woolen mill. She was the tough one. My father used to holler a lot, but when it came to discipline, my mother did it.
The only time my father ever really got mad at me was when I let the stove go out one time. In the old days you had to put coal in the stove. And that was my job…keep the stove going. Well…one day I got fooling around and didn’t get home in time. The stove went out. When I got home, everyone was sitting there in the cold. Man, that wasn’t too good! It was like a big celebration when we went to kerosene.. My father put a pump in and the jug was upstairs.
If you went into grandma’s house when she was saying the rosary [along with the radio] that was it, you were right there brother! And you didn’t leave until it was over.
My mother and father were simple people. It didn’t take a whole lot to make them happy. If the family was going good, they were happy. They were family oriented. I remember when my brother Nick went overseas. My mother was mad. She didn’t like the war. But she never talked a whole lot about it.
My mother could read. She read the paper every night. That was the extent of her reading.
We got a round screen TV. But we didn’t have it for too long. I used to go up to grandma’s to watch TV. When Perry Como was on, you couldn’t talk.
During the war, grandma, Mary, and Mrs. Coppa (who lived at the foot of Division St.) would listen to Gabriel Heatter on TV (radio?). He was a gloom and doom news announcer. He would start his news with: “I’ve got some bad news tonight! The women would sit together and listen to the news.
My father was not a garden person. He didn’t go in the garden. He would do the hard, set-up work like digging holes for the tomato plants, etc. But, once it was going, it was my mother’s job to keep it going.
When I first got my beagle dog, my mother was worried that it was going to bark. So, we brought him in the house. And he barked in the house. So, finally, I go downstairs and the beagle was stretched right out in front of the stove, fast asleep. So, the next day I said to my mother: “ma, you see how nice he fell asleep in front of the stove?” She said: “he ought to, I
gave him a half of a sleeping pill. I figured if it doesn’t hurt me, it won’t hurt him.”
My father made wine with grandpa at grandpa’s house.
My mother didn’t talk about Italy at all. She didn’t teach me to speak Italian. She told me that I had to speak English. If you don’t speak English in those days, you were in trouble.
I think that my mother went as far as fourth grade in school in the old country. I think that she was 9 years old when she came here. I don’t remember my mother ever going out with girlfriends or doing anything but work. I used to help my mother in the garden. And, when I got my house on Peck’s road, I used to pick her up 3 times a week so that she could work in the garden there.
That’s all that I remember about my father’s death is that he was sick for a while at home. He went to the hospital a while later, then died. He was only 54 years old. After he died ma was kind of worried about how she was going to run the house. That was her biggest concern. I was the only one left home then. My brother Nick had just gotten married.
Ma got a widow’s pension and a little social security. Whatever money I made I left 4 or 5 dollars and gave her the rest. We got along fine. After I moved out ma was all alone in the house. My brother Gigi had an empty apartment in his building on Fenn St. She resisted moving there at first. But after she did, she got to like it on Fenn St. Mt. Carmel church was right across the street.
My mother died of a heart attack. I went to see her in the morning of the day she died. She sent me to Mazzeo’s to get some artichokes. She told me, when you get out of work today, stop by and we’ll have some artichokes. So, I went there at 3:30 and we had a couple of artichokes and shot the breeze and laughed together. She seemed fine. That next morning they called me at 5:30 at the fire station. By the time I got to the hospital, she was dead.
Pat and Frank stories
Pat: When we were small that’s all we had was a wood stove downstairs to keep us warm. The heat used to come upstairs through the floor registers. In the wintertime it was so cold ma would be up most of the night checking us so that we didn’t freeze to death. She’s come in to check us and stick blankets underneath us.
One time ma gave me an awful beating. I was with somebody and we went to the shoe store down on Columbus Ave. I stayed
outside. The other kid (I won’t mention his name, but we were close friends) went inside. He took some of the money that was in a drawer and came back out. We went home. After we got there, Ambrose [the store owner?] visited both houses. Ma never waited to find out what the story was. She grabbed me and she beat the living hell out of me. She nearly killed me! They [a neighbor?] had to stop her, or she would have killed me!. Later on she found out that I didn’t do it. I found out later on that she confessed how badly she felt about the beating to my brother Carman. But she never said anything to me.
Another time when I was a kid she would tell me to stay the hell away from the water. But I wanted to go swimming. I went up to the lake (the Salsbury Place). I’m down there swimming and see this woman in an apron coming through the woods. And who the hell was it? My mother! She grabbed me and kicked me all the way down West St.
When I was a kid , my nickname was Moon Mullens.
When my father made the wine in the fall, I was the guy that helped him all the time. We Had a machine that you turned to mash the grapes. Pa gave me the job of turning the press crank.
He’s doing his job and I’m doing mine. I’m fooling around and all of a sudden my thumb got caught in the
gears. Pa looked up and blood was gushing out of my finger and instead of helping me, he called me a jackass in Italian and gave me a whack! “Why did you do that, you jackass!?” Then he bandaged it up for me. But that didn’t deter me from continuing my job! For some reason he always wanted me to help him make the wine.
Frank: We often wondered how ma and pa felt about one another because they didn’t speak much to one another or show affection or embrace. But I found out. One time ma fell down in the cellar and broke her shoulder. She tripped on a hose. The ambulance took her to the hospital. My father didn’t go. But he sat on the porch. I was there. And I says: “pa, what’s the matter?” And he said: “ah, you know. This is the first time your mother’s ever been out of this house as long as we’ve been here. And, without her around here, I don’t know what we’re going to do.” But there was love there. He sat down there on the porch railing and cried like a baby. I was 15 or 16 years old when this happened.
Ma was in the hospital for 2 weeks. She had a pin through the elbow because of a compound fracture. It was so bad that the doctors had to put an adjusting screw and a piece of steel in the joint. After she got home, the doctor came up once a week to turn the screw. Each time she would scream in pain. Each adjustment brought the bones back into alignment.
My father worked in the garden. My mother didn’t. She had plenty of other things to do around the house! This was before my sister Mary started her garden on Division St. Before Mary’s garden our neighbor, Mr. Porro, and pa shared a garden. Each had one half to take care of.
Pat: One time when I was 6 or 7 years old I got lost and a polish woman found me and called the police. When they returned me home, my mother started on me again. She used to tell me: “you’re always in trouble!”
Frank: Pat, do you remember Mr. Stetson? He had broad shoulders and a big gold chain. It had a big gold tooth on the end of it! That thing shone like heck when the sun hit it!
He owned the Lion’s Head Inn (a bar room) at the foot of the railroad bridge stairs on West St.. It was right after P.T. Brighams. And just before the Busy Bee restaurant. West St. must have had 40 – 50 businesses on it. It was a hopping place!
Pat: Ma was the disciplinarian. Pa would get mad. But he never touched us. Ma had a temper!
When I was a baby, one time pa was holding me and I peed on him. I wet on him and he took and threw me in the
sink,he was so mad. My mother came in and wanted to kill him. But Pa took an exit fast!!
Frank: Ma and pa got up 5 AM every day. Ma fixed pa’s breakfast for him. If there was any coal to bring up from the cellar, pa brought it up. He’d pile the wood up behind the stove so that my mother didn’t have to go downstairs after it. He had to be on the job by 7 AM. He left the house about 6:30, walked down Circular Ave., down the banking and onto the tracks behind the station. In the wintertime he’d go down to the station and stay there until it was time to go to work. He was a laborer most of his life. The last 2 or 3 years of employment on the railroad, they told him he could take it easy. They made him a track inspector and then retired him at 65 years of age.
We all worked 4 days a week for a long time. After 1940, work picked up . We then worked 5, 6, or even 7 days a week.
Pat: There were 4 or 5 set days of work. But, you worked more if they needed you.
Pa came home around 5 PM every day. He never went out on work nights, he’d stay home. Saturday he spent time with wood and things like that around the house. Come the week end he’d go out to play cards. Sunday mornings he’d go down to Holmes Road. I would go with him. We’d walk track all the way back to Pittsfield (up to the station from Williams St.).
Frank: Sunday mornings was the only time pa wasn’t dressed in his overalls. On Sunday morning he would dress up to go to church. When he came back from church, my mother would have dinner ready. Ma went to an earlier mass because she had to come home to do the cooking. She had 6 or 7 hungry birds to feed!
Pat: When we were growing up we never did anything special with our father…like go anywhere with him. Time spent with pa was time when we were working with him. Me and Frank cut railroad ties for firewood. He’d give us a stick and tell us to make the blocks that long.
We’d cut 1 tie at a time that length. He’d say: “I want so many blocks done today”. We’d cut and pile the blocks. When pa came home at night he’d come down and check them. “OK, good”, he’d say. Then he’d give us some money and we’d go to the old Spa Theater. It was on Union St., right across from the Berkshire Public Theater. The theater was upstairs in the building. The movies cost 10 cents in those days. Frank: We’d buy 2 bags of popcorn and go to the show.
After Sunday noon dinner, pa’s day was his. He’d go out to play cards for 3 or 4 hours with his buddies. Mr. Ranti was one of his regular buddies.
I never remember pa drinking anything but wine. This is another mistake I made: what happened was the wine used to work and pa used to go down once in a while to clean off the top. So, I liked wine. He had the spigot already tapped in to the barrel. I went down one time and thought, geez, the wine ought to be good by now. I was fooling around with it and put a little wine in a glass. And when I backed off on the spigot, I left it on a bit. Oh, God! Pa was rip roaring!! Not too much of it ran out because when I was going out of the cellar the back way, Pa was coming down into the cellar. I was lucky that only a little had time to spill out. He ran in there and tapped the keg off. By the time he came back looking for me I was gone! If he’d ever caught me there, I would have gone to meet my maker long ago!!
Barbara & Sam
Pat: My first job was at the Union Lunch on Columbus Ave. It sat on the bank of the railroad tracks facing what is the parking garage behind England Brothers. I was a dishwasher there when I was 14 years old. My sister Barbara’s husband Sam Monitto was the cook there and got me a job.
Frank: I worked at the Musgrave Knitting Mill on Brown St. It’s now the Wayside Furnature Store. I worked there for 3 years, earning $9.60 a 5-and-1/2 day week. Then I went to work for the Boston & Albany
Railroad for 3 summers. They’d hire extra people in the summer. Then I worked for the Hartford Railroad for 10 years. Finally, I went to General Electric Company, just before the war.
Pat: After Union Lunch, I worked for the Miller Ice Company on Circular Ave., pedaling ice. During the depression I went to General Electric looking for work. There was always 500 other people looking for a job, too. C.C.Chesney, a GE bigshot, picked me out of the crowd and said he had a job for me. He gave me a slip and said to take it to a building and talk to the boss. Let me know how it turns out, he said. When I got there I found out it was a job sandblasting the insides of tanks. He took me inside of one of the tanks. I saw a guy in there with a mask on. I said: is this what I have to do? Well, he said, that’s your job. I said I’m gonna go back and see Mr. Chesney. OK., he said. But let me know when you’re gonna start work. So I went back to see Chesney. He looked at me and said: when are you gonna start work. I said: I’m not. He said: what do you mean you’re not!? Look, I said. You give me a pick and shovel and let me start from here and I’ll dig a ditch for you way over to that building. But don’t tell me I’ve got to go in those tanks to work. When I got home and told ma that I refused a job, she almost started on me then. But she started crying instead. Things were tough then!
Frank: You know, on that job you were only good for 6 months. Then your lungs were shot. That’s why they wanted strong healthy boys.
Pat: After that incident is when I went to work for Miller. Then I went to Coca-Cola. I started in the bottling plant on West Housatonic St., across from Friendly Ice Cream. And then I went into the service.
I spent 4 years in the Pacific Theater during the war. I was in the Phillipines, New Caledonia, New Guinea, and the Soloman Islands. I saw McArthur once, but you couldn’t get near him. And Admiral Halsey spent an evening with us at a show.
I was in artillery. We shelled Manila once, for about 3 days. I was chief of supply. I kept the gunners supplied with everything. I got a citation for that, you know.
Frank: I was in the service for only 6 months. I got injured and they gave me an honorable discharge. I was training for the artillery.
I went to Briggs elementary school, Tucker school, and Plunkett school. I only graduated from the 9th grade.
Pat: I went to the same schools. Plus I went to 1 year of high school. That was it…10th grade. We had to go to work to help the family out. Nick & Rose [the youngest children] were the only ones to graduate from high school. [This accomplishment earned my father the nick name of “the professor” throughout his life.]
Frank: When I graduated for 9th grade I knew 3 languages: English, Italian, and French. I could speak and write. We learned English in school.
Pat: Because we were Italians with an accent we got called guineas. We never said anything, we just turned around and used these [our fists]! After a while they left us alone. The Irish were the majority on the west side when we were small. They were the ones who picked on us.
Pat & Frank: Ma and pa showed no interest in what was going on in the world. They used to listen to an Italian station on the radio. Pa never got sick. Once he got a double hernia that he had taken care of. He went from healthy to dying. He got pneumonia and was getting over it when he ignored his doctor’s warning to stay in bed and rest. So, he got a relapse and got too weak to ward it off. He became so weak that the doctor [Dr. Christiano] came to the house to check him out and said: I’m sorry Mr. Pullaro, but you’re going to have to go to the hospital. But he died anyway. Pa killed himself.
Grandma and grandpa were just ordinary people. Hard working people. In their day they had no washing machine. Grandma had to wash clothes by hand. I remember vegetable and meat trucks coming around to grandma and ma’s house. Grandma was kind of strict with me because I needed it. Grandpa was easy to talk to. Grandma was
strict, let me tell you! My uncle Pat went up to the lake once, and grandma went after him, from Circular Ave. to the lake
. Ask your father [Nick] about that!
Grandma was a very, very religious lady. Said the rosary every afternoon.
When grandpa got sick and was taken to St. Lukes Hospital, I used to go see him. I know he had pneumonia. I don’t know if he died of that.
My mother and her boys were very close. We used to sit in front of grandma’s house and talk for hours. It was a very, very close family. Many times they would all meet at my mother’s house on Division St. I don’t remember any harsh words that went between the brothers and sisters. When ma died, everyone very slowly got separated. They got further away from one another. There was nobody there to keep a close knit, you now? Ma operated a sewing machine at Ellison (Tellison?) mill. She used to knit and crochet a lot. And she went up to North St. with her sisters Barbara and Rose.
I believe that, in all of her life, my grandmother never was any further from home than Mt. Carmel church.
Ma had 10 pairs of rosary beads. She was very strict about where you were going and what time you were coming home. Later on in life when we were going to work, she’s want to know where you were going to work.
The first job I had, down at the Loomis Co., I made good money…$85 to $90 per week. Good money as a kid! I worked there for 4 months, 10 hours a day. I’d take the money home and gave it to my mother. She gave me some of it and managed the rest. When I was old enough to have a car, then I had the money to buy it.
My mother and father were very much concerned about each other. I believe that my father died of cirrhosis of the liver. When he died, all of us but Frannie were old enough to take care of ourselves. My mother got a pension.
You know what really makes it so hard, when we’re talking about grandma and grandpa? You’re going to find it out through anybody you ever talk to…We’re talking about people that were average, or possibly, a little less. They were nothing but just average people that had no excitement in their lives, you know? Everybody stayed pretty much close to home. Their lives were their family.
My brother and I used to go to the Boy’s Club. The club closed at 9PM and by 9:15, if we weren’t home, there was something else to pay, boy! No roaming around or nothing. And we were told to cross the street next to the YMCA, walk down North St. to Columbus Ave. We’d walk down Columbus Ave. to Daniels Ave. There used to be an A & P store there. We’d cross the street right there, walk up to Circular Ave. and go home. And, I’m telling you, my father had an old sedan and sometimes it would be raining and he’d come looking. And, boy, you better be on that street, you know, that he told you to walk on…and no other!!
Marion, Carmela,and Elaine stories:
Carmela: When I got married and had to move to New York., leaving my mother was very difficult for me. I called her every week faithfully and we would talk, so that she wouldn’t miss me too much. It felt like we were visiting. This went on for many years, until my mother’s death. I came to the funeral and was very depressed afterwards. I always felt sad that I had to leave her. I had depression for a long time and it took me quite a while to get over it.
The Butterfly Story: The following spring, one morning when it was nice and cool, I opened up my window in the yard and just put my chin on my hand and looked out at everything green. Everything was beginning to turn green after the cold of winter. Then, this beautiful butterfly came and landed on the sill and fluttered its wings a few times, stayed there for a few seconds, and then took off. And, I know it had something to do with my mother’s soul, because right after the beautiful butterfly took off, I didn’t feel that
deep depression any more.
Jim Pullaro: What kind of butterfly was it Carmela?
Carmela: It was a Monarch.
Jim: When I went to Uncle Carman’s funeral, I experienced something similar…a Monarch butterfly landed on a gravestone in front of me, fluttered a few times, and flew away. I remember how struck I was by this!
Carmela: It must be that it is symbolic for our family to have the butterfly explain to us that life and death…we have to accept them. Isn’t it something, Jimmy, that you seem to get relief from that terrible depression…that it seems to be lifted. It worked that way for me. And I said: “that has to be from my mother’s soul, because I feel different now”.
I remember grandma telling us children that “everything was sleeping” in the winter. I’d say: “everything looks so bleak out there, grandma”. And she’d say: “Well, it’s time for them to go to sleep…the trees, the bushes, the grass…everything has to go to sleep. It’s not their time. Its time is in the spring. And then it will be reborn again. Everything turns green. God does that. We have to accept that. That’s just like life and death”. She had an answer for everything!
Marion: If she ever had an education, she’s scare you!
Carmela: Grandma taught us that, without our faith, we are absolutely nothing.
A lot of times I couldn’t understand why I had to leave my family. I had to leave everybody. So grandma used to tell me: “this is your time. There is something there that you have to do. As much as you hate to leave it, you have to do this. You have to go there with your family. There is something that God has for you there that you have to do. And you can only do it there. You’ve spent the time that you had here. But the time for you now , for the rest of your marriage, is there. There’s something you have to do there”.
She was very accepting of everything. She had a philosophy. Uncle Carman used to say: “do you get this woman? Can you really understand the depth of this woman? She had no education! If she ever had education, she’d be dangerous!!”
Marion: She was something!
I don’t think that my mother (Mary) had any schooling. What she learned, she learned from older people around her while she was growing up. I think that she came to this country when she was 7 years old. She didn’t go to school here.
Carmela: Ma went to work in the Berkshire Woolen Mill when she was 12. She told them that she was of age to work. She ran 2 yarn machines. I think that she worked there almost until she got married.
Grandma used to say: “don’t look for the big blessings. They’re few and far between. Thank God for all of the little ones.
I’d rather have a lot of the little ones then to wait for the great big ones to come along, because the little ones are really
the blessings”. She had a philosophy that was beyond her years. She could best people with education and PhD’s!
My parents never had much money. My father used to do odd jobs: plumbing, etc. And people would never pay him for
his work. But during the war years my father was paid with butter, eggs, and cheese. Other people didn’t have it, but we had it.
My mother used to sew our clothes, because there was never enough money to buy clothes. So this is why she would make pretty aprons for us. And pretty dresses. We would get 2 pairs of shoes a year. And she tried to make sure that one of these pairs was at Eastertime. Table doilies and bureau doilies and couch doilies appealed to her the most. In those days, if you owned a set of doilies that was very impressive. She crocheted beautifully. And she taught me how to crochet.
When mother and father started dating, grandpa had to go on the date with them. He had to sit between them…in the middle. They couldn’t sit next to each other or hold hands. Dominic asked grandma and grandpa to marry my mother. At first they were not too happy about it. But they finally consented.
My mother was the one with the green thumb. She could stick her thumb in the ground and something would grow out of there. She was fantastic with flowers. She grew tomatoes…3 or 4 dozen plants a year.
Once, when Carman was fishing in Canada, someone told him that fish made very good fertilizer. He gave his mother a bucket of fish and put one under each newly planted tomato plant. In a couple of days all of the plants were dead! She was so mad!!
My mother had a love for children, just like her mother did. She loved us and passed it on to us. My children tell me that I’ve passed it on to them. And, if I have nothing else in life, I have the love of my children. And it all goes back to grandma. I can’t tell you that my mother ever showed anger.
Shortly before he died, my father got his plumbing license. It was hard for him because he had little education. (Kay Barry?) helped him get it. He was the disciplinarian. But he never had to spank us, because he just had to look at us and we knew exactly what he meant. One of my father’s rules was that everyone had to be home for dinner so everyone could eat together. When it was time for dinner, pa would go to the door and whistle once. You stopped whatever you did and went home. One time my brother, Gig, didn’t show for dinner. Pa said, we’re going to eat dinner just like we always do. But when he comes home, rest assured he will be punished. Punishment was being sent to your room without dinner. Finally Gig came home and was sent to his room without dinner. Later in the evening, after pa went to a friend’s house to visit, ma brought some food up for Gig. She said: ‘you know that I’m going against the rules. You know that you did something wrong”. He said: “I know. I won’t do it again”. She gave him his food and said: “don’t let daddy find you with it”. She could not allow him to go to bed without food. Her heart was so loving that she could not allow him to go to bed hungry. But that was our punishment. Go upstairs to our rooms without eating.
Marion: Pa would send Gigi down to Joe Calibrase’s store. He’d say: “I want you to go down and get me a pack of Camels. I gonna spit on the stove and by the time it dries I want you back”. This was his way of telling you to hurry up!
Mom would help the nuns out with the altar…crochet covers for the altar.
Carmela: She kept pa’s death to herself but she was very sad because she said to us several times: “we could have spent our old age together, but God wanted it otherwise”. Family was important to both of them. They loved the holidays.
Marion: On the 4th of July dad would take us down to Clapp Park to see the fireworks. He had a model T Ford with running boards. Every Sunday he would take us out for a ride and on the way back he would stop for ice cream cones. That was how we knew that we were on our way back home…stopping for cones.
When dad died, his father said: “here I am dragging a leg in my 80’s and God takes my son in his 50’s”.
Marion: I was at the hospital when he passed away. Carmella and my mother were there. I said: “you better go home, you know, you got Joe [Carmella’s husband) coming home. Your children are coming home from school. I’ll stay with him”. So…he was laying down and all of a sudden he sat up in bed. I grabbed his arm and said: “where are you going?”. He said: “I’m going to the bathroom”. So, I got the nurse and told her that pa had to urinate.
After pa died, Carmela said: “ look at that, for the sake of a few hours, I could have been there for him when he died”. And grandma said: “well, God didn’t want you to be there. If He’d wanted you to be there, you would have been there. You have to realize and accept that this is what the Lord wanted for you. So don’t get upset about it”.
Mom got up at 5-6 AM. It would be very unusual for her to sleep until 7. She’d get up and put the coffee on. She’d take out the bread and make dad’s lunch. Dad would ask us children to help her with lunches.
The other children at school would ask us how come we had homemade bread. We would say: “our mom makes it, doesn’t yours?” Mom would cook all day.
In the old days vendors would come in trucks and deliver food to the houses. Mr. Shapiro was the chicken man. John was the fruit man. Grandma used to buy fresh eggs from a farmer in NY State. He delivered them to ma and grandma. Neither nonnie nor big nonnie would accept supermarket chickens or eggs. They wanted fresh.
Carmela: Someone told ma that oil from a roasted walnut would heal chapped lips. She tried it on my brother Carmen and it worked beautifully!
Early on we had a wood and coal stove in the kitchen. The family could not afford a ton of coal at a time, so [McInerny] delivered small loads for us. Brothers Nick and Gigi used to go down to the railroad tracks with buckets and fill them with coal that fell off of the train. There was no electric iron. There was a flat iron on the stove. She had an old copper vat that she filled with water and heated on the stove. She would wash all of the clothes in this.
Someone showed dad how to build an oil burning stove. Mom was afraid that he would burn the house down. But he built it and it worked perfectly.
Mom and dad loved us and did everything they could for us. Ma used to make grape jelly with the concord grapes from the vine in the back yard. We used to eat those grapes, too. Grandpa used to slice a half-inch thick piece of butter, put it between two slices of bread and eat it. He didn’t worry about cholesterol.
Grandma used to get a big rack of bananas from John and hang them in the cellar. Grandpa would go down and eat as many as he wanted. Grandma would say: “who’s eating all of the bananas?” Grandpa would say: “not me!”.
The lemonade story: Grandma would make a big pitcher of lemonade…5 to 6 lemons. She would put it in the cellar because it was cool. Grandpa would come home, go downstairs, and help himself. For every glass he drank, he’d replace it with a glass of water. Finally, when we got a glass, it would taste like water. Poor grandma!
It was grandpa’s job to set the table. He loved flowers. When he set the table, everyone got a flat plate and a bowl for soup or spaghetti. Grandma had 1 plate and 1 bowl that had flowers on the bottom. He had to get that bowl and plate. That was his. Everybody got odds and ends, but he got the matching place setting.
One time sister Barbara’s dog, Trixie, jumped on grandpa’s tiger lily that was planted in the front yard. He almost knocked it over. Grandpa was swearing all over the place! “He couldn’t jump anyplace else!”, he said. “He had to jump on my flower!”.
Grandpa had a straw planter in the living room. It was full of fresh flowers. He took care of them and watered them. Grandma wasn’t too much in that department. Her department was cooking, cleaning, sewing, etc. She had a washing vat on the stove. She used to boil clothes until they were white! She used octagon soap. She also washed her hair with it. She had the most shining, beautiful hair. Sister Rose had to fight with grandma to get her to get a wringer washing machine. Grandma wanted to do everything by hand. “Nobody understands me”, she would say, “they don’t come out clean!”.
Carmela: She was a beautiful woman.
Mom had a combination record player and radio. No TV. She had a collection of Carlo Butti Italian records.
Once grandma was making a cake and I got a pencil and paper and was watching her. I was going to write down
the recipe. Grandma measured everything by hand. She saw me and said: “what are you doing?”. I told
her that I was getting ready to write down how much I’ve got to put in. “I don’t measure nothing”, she said. “Keep your eyes open, do what I do. And, you got enough”. Marion cooks like that today.
Marion: One time grandma was making cookies and I asked her “grandma, how much baking powder do you put in?” Grandma asked me:” how much was that?” Two, I said. “Not enough!”, she replied. She’d put in more and say: “I think that’s right…and one more for good luck!” She made cakes like no one else.
Elaine [Carmela’s daughter]: I remember nonnie making fresh pasta and laying it out to dry on the bed.
Marion: I remember telling grandma: “gee, grandma, that [your cooking] smells delicious!” “Why not?!”, she said: “That’s the way I make it!” “Well”, I said: “how come my mother’s cooking doesn’t taste like that?” She said: “Well, your mother doesn’t know how to cook like me”.
Sister Rose would come home from church on Sundays with her girl friends Jessie Tetti and Julia LaCassio. Grandma would have a bunch of small bowls lined up on the table with a little sauce and a meatball in each bowl, and a piece of bread. Everyone who came in the house had to eat this. It was an insult to grandma if you didn’t! If you said: “gee grandma, I’ve got to eat pretty soon at home”, she’d say: “you sit down and eat here first, then eat over there!”
Carmela: She was a very giving person.
Marion: Grandma was going to be a matchmaker between Julia and brother Pat. Cupid!
Pat said: “ma, she’s a nice girl but I don’t like her in that way.” Grandma said: “you could learn to like her”. She wanted Pat to get married so bad! She knew that Julia was a nice girl, from a good family. What more could she want for her son?
Carmela: In the old days, that’s the way marriages were made. That’s the way it was for grandma and grandpa. Marriages were commitments between parents.
Marion: Grandma wanted to be a nun. But her mother and brother didn’t want her to be alone. So her brother fixed her up with grandpa and that was it. She had all these children…and loved the children. But the love for God she had, to become a nun, was not the same love she had for my grandfather.
Carmela: She loved her children dearly!
Marion: When grandpa died, grandma cried because he was the father of those children. But she said she wasn’t living in sin anymore.
Carmela: All of her life she felt that the part of her that was given to God was taken away from her. She wanted to be married to the Lord. The fact that her brother told her that she had to be married before him made her feel violated.
Carmela: She felt that, how could she give herself to a man in the way that she had to do in marriage?
She had no choice but to accept the choice that her family made for her. As much as she loved God, she knew that this was for her, and she had to accept God’s will. Like she always told us: “that’s what God wants for you, that’s what you have to do”. She resigned herself to that fact.
I told her: “gee grandma, it’s a good thing you listened to the Lord. We wouldn’t be here if you didn’t listen to Him! She laughed at that.
Marion: When John the fruit man came, grandma would go out and say: “I want some red grapes and green grapes. She would pick them out herself. When it was time for the children to come home from school, four or five would pass by the house every day on their way home. She would be sitting on the front porch with the grapes. “Yoo hoo. Come here”, she’d say to them. They’d go over to her and she’d take a sprig of grapes and say “that’s for you” as she gave each child a sprig. It made her feel so good to give those grapes. Sometimes she’d do the same with sections of apples. She had to give them something every day when they came home from school.
Carmela: You know why she did that? She used to tell me: “remember, when we do it in His name, we do it for Him. Whether you share with someone or do something for someone, He can’t be here for everyone, so we have to do it in His name”. If there’s anyone who has a pure Christmas spirit, it’s grandma.
Grandpa was a “beau Brummel”. He had to have no wrinkles in his collar…no drops of food on his tie. He did his shoes himself. He shined them to within an inch of their lives. He would dress this way to go to a movie. He never left the house in a t-shirt or anything like that. He was always well dressed. We don’t know what it was like to see him in old things, when he was going out into the street.
He was around the children at meal times. He was a father figure. A family man. But he didn’t do things like go fishing with his children or anything like that.
He loved the Christmas tree. It had to be a real one, full of decorations. Aunt Rose would read the names on the presents under the tree and grandma used to hand them out to the children. Grandma would prepare a fish dinner at Christmas. At the end of the evening the children would collect their gifts and kiss grandma good bye. And everyone would go home.
After dinner we would go out to play until the street lights came on [around 7 PM]. Then we’d come in and listen to the Amos and Andy show on the radio. After that we got washed up and went to bed.
Grandpa made coffee one time when we all went over. He put the coffee in and put it on the stove. He sat there waiting for it to perk. It started to perk. It was perking so hard that Rose was afraid that it would run over onto the stove. “Hurry up and take it of the stove:, she said. “It’s so hard to clean”. So, grandpa took the cover of the pot off and put his finger on the pipe to stop it from perking! Then he took his hand off and swore. He said: “boy, that’s hot!” Rose said: “what did you think it was going to be? Cold??”. Everyone tells that story. Wherever we have a coffee pot perking.
Grandpa swore very sparingly around the house because grandma got very cross. And she would make him understand that she was cross. She’d walk from room to room with that grim look on her face.
Elaine: When we would go over to great grandma’s house, she would take us aside and whisper things in our ears.
Carmela: Yes. I remember seeing her do that. After we left, I would ask you what grandma had said. And you would answer that you couldn’t tell because grandma said it was a secret from her to me. Do you know that I never knew to this day what she told her?
Elaine: Well, now I’ll let you know! She told me: “Be a good girl. Go to church on Sunday. And, listen to your parents”.
Carmela: She’d reach into her apron pocket and give her 50 cents. “Put this in your bank”, she said. “Don’t spend it on candy”.
All of my mother’s children, except Frannie were born on 59 Circular Ave. Ma and pa owned the house. It was a 6 room house: 3 up and 3 down. But my father broke his shoulder and could not wok for 16 weeks. After a couple of months, the bank would not accept interest only payments on the mortgage and they foreclosed on our house. The house was sold to the DiTavios. This is when we moved to Division St. Mike Ricchi owned the house. Frannie was born there.
Jim: Does anyone have a story about Aunt Barbara or Aunt Rose?
Elaine: I remember Aunt Barbara told me that the brothers and sisters had to take turns watching the babies of the family. Aunt Barbara said that she used to pinch the baby to make it cry so that someone else would take the baby and she could go out to play! Then she would have that famous giggle she was noted for.
Aunt Rose used to wait for us to come back from blueberry picking on Greylock Mountain. Then she would offer us fifty cents for our berries. I told her I wanted to eat mine!
I remember sitting with pa one morning when Carman came dragging in the house. He liked to gamble and would sometimes stay out all night. Whenever he came in after an all-night game, pa would look at him and say: there he is, il topo della note! (the rat of the night).
Pa had a posture that was straight-as-an-arrow. But, when the railroad retired him, he started to lose that. Dad held his finger up to me, pointed it straight up in the air and then bent it, as he was telling me this story.
One night after he retired, we were sitting on the front porch together. I noticed he looked down in the dumps and said: what’s wrong pa? He said: ah, well…now that they took my job away, what’s there for me to do?
When you were born Jimmie, I told pa about you. He asked me to take him to the hospital to see me. When we got to the maternity ward, he told me to ask the nurse to take my diapers off. When she did, pa pointed to you with a smile and said: now, that’s a boy!
Pa liked to play cards on the week-ends. One place he went was the Bradford Café on Bradford St. One time he was late for dinner. Ma had the food ready and pa wasn’t there. She told me to go and get him. I went there and stood over him while he played cards. After a while, he looked up and said: “what do you want?” Ma wants you to come home for dinner, I said. “I’ll be there when I get there, he said. Go home!” As I was leaving, he called out to me: “Nicky, he said, don’t ever do this again!” And I didn’t either!
When you were first born, Jimmie, we lived off of upper North St. on Chatham St. Your mother would take the bus to Columbus Avenue. And, pa used to meet your mother and you show you around to his friends.
My brother Pat served in the Pacific during the war. When war broke out, I was shipped to Europe. Pat was sent to the Pacific Theater. He fought against the Japanese under General McArthur. He was a Tech, Sergeant and was responsible for keeping the fighting soldiers supplied with what they needed in the field. He won a lot of awards.
Jim’s note: Uncle Pat was awarded the Victory Medal, the Good Conduct Medal, the American Theater Campaign Medal, and the Asiatic-Pacific Theater Campaign Medal.
The Pulera' Sisters
Mary...Rose...(My mother, Rosemary & me)...Barbara
The Pulera' Brothers
Nick...Frank...Carman...Fortunato (a cousin)...Sam (Barbara' husband)...Pat (front)
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This is a picture of North Street, facing south. The street on the left is Fenn St. Mt. Carmel church was 3 blocks down on the right of Fenn St. Perhaps we’re looking at Maria, on her way to church?
The Busy Bee Restaurant was located on West Street, next to the railroad station. It was a popular place for travelers and locals as well.
Elaine Curzio, my second cousin, was kind enough to let me link her wonderful family movie to my website. Interspersed with footage of the Curzio family is footage of grandma and grandpa Pulera' and their children. Enjoy!
The author’s reflections...
Over the years I’ve done a lot of thinking about memories. I don’t have specific visual memories of my grandfather since he died when I was 4 years old, a time when we remember feelings, rather than images. This period in our lives (between birth and 4 years old) is one of few visual memories. Psychologists refer to this "apparent memory gap" as childhood amnesia. I was the first son of a son born into my generation of Pullaros. I am told that this held a special place and meaning for grandpa.
I’ve learned that our brains record our experiences in two very different ways, with two separate ways of memory-making. Very, very early in our lives, even while in our mother’s womb, every time something happens to us, we feel something about that experience. Later on in life, these feelings can be re-felt.. This kind of early memory making, and our ability to automatically re-feel these memories, forms the basis of our emotional lives.
My main interest in life has been to learn about how trauma affects us. I learned a method of working with those special feeling-memories, when the feelings involve our reactions to trauma. I have spent many years since helping others to do the same. This method involves helping people slow down their thoughts enough to witness the feelings that are presenting themselves under thought’s surface. The witnessing of small bits and pieces of our traumatic reactive feelings heals us. And helping people get to this special place takes lots of quiet contemplation and their strong desire to do this work. I tell my clients, time and time again, to pay attention to the little things that happen to them in their sessions and afterward. It is easy to miss the subtle energy shifts that are a result of this work, but the act of witnessing them…bringing them to awareness…is the blessing that leads to emotional healing from trauma. I am reminded, here, of what grandma told her young children: Grandma used to say:
“don’t look for the big blessings. They’re few and far between. Thank God for all of the little ones. I’d rather have a lot of the little ones then to wait for the great big ones to come along, because the little ones are really the blessings”.
And, as I sit in contemplation during a session, assisting others in their healing process, I am reminded of what my cousin Frannie told me about grandpa:
“ He had a tiger lily in the front yard. In the center of the lawn was a single tiger lily. I used to watch him. If there was a single brown leaf on it, he’d go over and snap it off. He always loved flowers. For a man, he loved flowers. When grandpa died, grandma set up an altar with votive candles. She used to keep flowers on that altar.”
I’ve asked myself many times: is this part of me something that once lived in grandma and grandpa, and was then passed on to me?
The quality of these early feeling memories…whether they are pleasant or painful…..is what shapes the quality of our adult emotional lives. The existence of the pleasant feeling memories is what helps us survive our traumas and gives us something to hold on to when the life journey gets rough. It gives us the strength to resolve the effects of our traumas.
We learn how to love by experiencing how it feels to be lovingly held, fed, and taken care of
….not by being told how much we are loved.
I get a wonderful feeling whenever I recall my father telling me about grandpa…how he would hold me and show me off to his friends.
Once, when I was 6 or 7 years old, I was outside playing in the snow at grandma’s house. When I went in, grandma took off my coat and mittens. She must have felt that my hands were cold because she pulled me to her and placed my hands under her armpits. We stood there looking into each other’s eyes, grandma with a big smile on her face. I couldn’t speak Italian, so I never understood a word she spoke all of her life. But, at that moment, I understood her perfectly. She was telling me she loved me by making me FEEL loved. Grandpa was doing the same, all those years ago, as he held me up for his friends to see. When I was 8 years old, me and my parents moved away to a lonely house in the country. While there, I endured a trauma that affected most of my early life. I firmly believe that the ways in which I was held by those two beautiful people saved me. It gave me the strength to heal myself.
Grandma and grandpa……I love you!