So many stories are similar

When I speak around the country of my book and the Italian immigration, so many of you remind me that the immigrants’ story is the same for all. My friend, Marvin Greenberg, writes a brief essay of his memories, and I am including it here. I know you will appreciate the familiarity. His pictures, though a bit hazy, complement what he says. Sooo…Marvin… 

Family and neighborhood memories are my most pleasant. I grew up in the 1930’s in Brooklyn NY. 

Our neighborhood was ethnically diverse with mostly Italians and Jews; not unusual because both groups of immigrants arrived in NY during the early 1900’s and settled in the crowded neighborhood which consisted of small homes and a few small apartment buildings. 

On East 9th Street, where the homes backed up to each other, there were alleys from which we could look into the tiny backyards of the Italian families holding on to tradition… grapevines, tomato plants, zucchini and an old Italian guy with a black hat smoking a stogie while sitting on the step admiring his harvest. Though I was only 7 or 8 years old, I could go out unaccompanied except for a few brave friends; prepared to run like hell when the old guy screamed at us. 

But it was such a friendly and comfortable neighborhood, surrounded by groceries, barber shops, candy stores, meat and poultry shops… everything we needed without venturing afar. And people worked to survive and get ahead. Despite the ethnic diversity, we never heard a slur. 

I lived in a two family home; my parents and my sister lived upstairs; myself, my grandparents, a single uncle and my married uncle with his wife downstairs. My grandmother cooked in the basement. On Fridays when she baked challah for the Sabbath, she set aside a special small one for me. She made chicken and chicken soup with the order of the meal fixed… chicken, applesauce and then the soup. The floating fat, which grandmother thought medicinal, burned my mouth. “It’s good for you,” was her common refrain. 

The pictures are my father’s friends…neighbors and workers. These two handsome guys had a convertible touring car. What a treat it was to ride with them. I felt like a king. Their dress, current then, now seems hysterical… sleeveless undershirts and pants pulled up high with suspenders. Classic! 

WHat a great fast, it was in a haze...

I loved these guys, one holding my sister

It was a memorable joy and one I treasure. We were so lucky and so safe.

Thank you, Marv

Explore posts in the same categories: Growing up Italian, Stories of the 1940's and 1950's

2 Comments on “So many stories are similar”

  1. James O'Shaughnessy Says:

    What a great story. “It’s good for you” rate right up there with “That’s good luck”. The first applied to things like fat (in whatever form) and anything that tasted terrible. While “That’s good luck” was heard in response to anything from 3 consecutive sneezes to having bird poop land on your head.
    Thanks Marv! And, btw…that is one sleek looking ride!

  2. Fran Loszynski Says:

    Even though I grew up in a Polish neighborhood one thing we had in common with our Italian neighbors was the love of family and good food! The Pisano family embraced our Polish sausage and we couldn’t get enough of rigatoni and antipasto! Our shops were similar and our love for browsing the family album was there also.

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