51a-Serrapede and Muro Families in America: How a baby book started the family history project

Introduction

Greetings to all. It is good to be back after Summer Break. Thanks to Michael Muro, Giuseppe and Vincenzo Carnicelli, the family of Antonio Eugenio and Aldisa Aiello, and the Dell’Amore family for the enjoyable entries they contributed to during June through August.

With this posting, Uncle Sammy and I begin a shift in the presentation of the Muro and Serrapede family history. While we still have official documentation to draw on, we realize that after the 1940 Federal Census there needs to be other sources of information that will add to or verify the narrative.

We are taking a creative approach by combining family stories, local history, news coverage, pop culture, and personal history. With all the resources available through the internet the possibilities are dazzling. To start, we won’t aim for dazzling or sparkling but hope you will enjoy this story about how the family history project got its start. If it touches the heart and warms the spirit that will be more than enough feedback for us.

EmilyAnn’s story: The Our Baby Book

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Cover of Our Baby, A book of Records and Memories.

I didn’t know what to make of Mom’s idea to use the “Our Baby, A book of Records and Memories” as a starting point for writing down her childhood memories. She bought this book while working at Brooklyn Union Gas during a long term temp assignment in the early 1990s. She said it put her into a cheerful frame of mind and provided the prompts she needed to recall specific times in her childhood. There were other journals and memory books on her bookshelf that she used to record other periods in her life. The end goal was to collect all these brief entries into a collection of vignettes and anecdotes about her life from childhood to young adulthood.

In the early 1990s through 1996 the internet was not part of our lives yet. I had taken creative writing courses in college but it was for the most part tedious and heavy handed. We read selected samples of different styles of writing. Then based on the sample we had to create something like it. There was no free writing, no prompts, nothing that got the creative juices going to take us on a journey into the flights of fancy creative writers can experience today. Thanks to the internet there is a wealth of techniques and exercises available. And then there are wonderful writing tools like 750words.com that keep one disciplined in their daily output. I’ve no idea where Mom got her unique approach to writing but it was working out well for her. As I watched the small collection of memories take written form, I thought there was something to the free form process she took using only illustrations to get started.

We began discussing the creation of a family history based on a collection of our experiences with the goal of writing them as short entries. We talked about diary or letter formats, something I learned in college when I took Russian literature. Dostoevsky’s “Poor People” was the very first epistolary novel I read. I found the format very engaging and the memories encouraged me to consider this project with Mom. We planned to start after she retired in 1996.

In 1997 Mom was 66 and I was 44. I started working at an investment bank and the overtime was extensive. Mom persevered at recording her memories and I was swept away with the job. I forgot about the “Our Baby” book until Mom passed away in 2011. I started going through her books like this and her private journals. The writing in each was sporadic and the style was sparse. Yet I could pick up her moods and the drift of what she might have planned for these fragments. I’m glad I have even these bits and pieces because they remind me of our discussions. The illustrations bring back times we sat on the sofa bed together enjoying time to be like kids as we made up stories about the stuffed toys Mom bought. She always said that she didn’t buy them, she met them as they were on the way to come live in our apartment.

I think that anyone who is a caretaker or companion to an older person can encourage them to start writing about their life using creative approaches. The “Our Baby Book” Mom bought at Remsen Books in downtown Brooklyn was meant to record the growth of a newborn baby. Yet it appealed to her enough to get the creative process started. To keep at it she also had a small collection of children’s books with illustrations by well known artists of the era of her own childhood. I’m so glad this small library is now mine. In turn it acts as a prompt to start me remembering pleasant times we had and all the stories Mom shared which will become part of this blog.

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Back cover of Our Baby, A book of Records and Memories.

About the “Our Baby” book”

Complete Title: “Our Baby-A Book of Records and Memories”

Illustrated by: Michael Hague

Published by: Arcade Publishing, a Little Brown Company, NY. 1990.

Notes

The Remsen Bookstore in Downtown Brooklyn is no longer open.

Brooklyn Union Gas was also called “BUG” by Brooklynites and people who worked there. After BUG and LILCO (Long Island Lighting Company) merged in 1998 Key Span was formed. In 2007 Key Span was bought by National Grid plc of Great Britain. See Wikipedia entry at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/KeySpan

Conversation with Uncle Sammy Sunday January 17, 2015

While we viewed some of the delightful illustrations from “Our Baby Book” Uncle Sammy and I shared stories about our favorite childhood toys. We also remembered what Emily shared about her Steady Teddy. Credits and links for all photos shown are given in the Resources section.

Emily Leatrice 1930s: The Steady Teddy

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Publicity shot for 1934 movie “Now and Forever” staring Gary Cooper, Carole Lombard and Shirley Temple.

As a little girl, Emily was a big fan of child star Shirley Temple. Here was a little girl who got to dance and sing with the greatest stars. One of Emily’s favorite toys was a brown Teddy Bear she named “Steady Teddy.” When Uncle Sammy and I saw this publicity shot from the film “Now and Forever,” we think Emily’s beloved bear looked like this. She had once described Steady Teddy as brown and very fuzzy.

Uncle Sammy Late 1940-Early 1950s: Lionel Trains

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Lionel Trains advertisement circa late 1940s.

Uncle Sammy never had one place in the apartment where he could leave his Lionel train set at all times. He slept on a cot in Josie and Sam’s room since Emily had the small bedroom to the side. The kitchen was too small. This left the floor in the living room the only good place where he could set up the tracks and the train for an extended play period.

Living in such tight quarters created a stress for him in relation to his playtime. Uncle Sammy told me he was so excited to play with his train set that he was determined to make the trains go as fast as they could. The train was powered by a little transformer that had a lever that was moved into different positions to control the speed.

The train set came with a little village that had houses with working chimneys. To make smoke appear from the chimneys little tablets were dropped into them. The heat generated by the trains going around the track caused the tablets to melt and release a thin plume of smoke. Uncle Sammy noticed that when he made the trains go faster, the smoke would rise up quicker. He got such a kick out of that. As he made the trains go faster and faster, he put more tablets down the chimney. Josie was worried about the train set breaking so she’d come out and tell him that if he didn’t stop she’d have him put the train set away.

EmilyAnn 1950s: Betsy Wetsy

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1950s commercial for Betsy Wetsy.

The earliest memory of my childhood toys center around Betsy Wetsy. I had special dolls that stood on my dresser or sat on my bed. Those were for show and not to be brought out for play. Betsy Wetsy was made of a soft vinyl with hair you could wash. I loved taking her into the bath tub with me. I also enjoyed brushing her hair after it dried.

Betsy had very thick eyelashes that I tried to curl using Mom’s eyelash curler. I pulled on them so hard some of them fell out. Since I brushed her hair so much she soon got a bald spot. It was hard for people to understand why I loved that doll so much even though she looked so poorly.

Our neighbor Mrs. Anzalone told Mom that she should throw Betsy out and get me a new doll. She couldn’t understand why I was the only little girl on the block with such a worn out doll. This talk made me very upset and I told Mrs. Anzalone that I would never throw Betsy out just because she lost some hair.

Mrs. Anzalone came out a few days later with a little bonnet and bib she made for Betsy. She said Betsy was a pretty doll who needed the bonnet to protect the rest of her hair. Once I put the bonnet with lace around the edge on Betsy, I stopped brushing her hair after washing it. I also wasn’t mad at Mrs. Anzalone anymore. It was good to sit out on the stoop and say hello to her now that I knew she really didn’t dislike my darling Betsy.

Resources

Shirley Temple and Gary Cooper
Publicity shot from the 1934 film “Now and Forever”
Tumblr Photo Album of Leila Hyams

http://leilahyams.tumblr.com/image/137594785934

Shirley Temple’s Teddy Bear “Grumpy”
from the 1934 movie “Now and Forever”

https://www.theriaults.com/shirley-temples-teddy-bear-grumpy-1934-film-now-and-forever

1940s Lionel Train advertisement
from Pinterest

“Vintage Lionel Model Trains”

Collectors Weekly

http://www.collectorsweekly.com/model-trains/lionel-postwar

Betsy Wetsy Doll Commercial by Ideal: Vintage Toys & Games for Christmas

Circa 1950sX  masFLIX
YouTube

 

Betsy Wetsy

Wikipedia

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Betsy_Wetsy

6 thoughts on “51a-Serrapede and Muro Families in America: How a baby book started the family history project

  1. How bittersweet! I loved Betsy Wetsy also, but I was envious of my older cousin who had Lionel trains. When he outgrew them and gave them to my brother, I was so mad because he said trains weren’t for girls…. Great post, Emily!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh Amy, that is some story! I used to love watching the train sets with little villages that were on display in the department stores during the holidays. I wonder if many little girls today are big fans of Lionel train sets, too?

      Like

  2. I love this post EmilyAnn. I especially love your interactions with your neighbor regarding your doll. What a kind gesture she made. I love the example of your mother finding a non-traditional path for preserving her memories. We really do need to find something that speaks to us so that we can accomplish our goals. There is no one size fits all when it comes to creativity.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you! Our relationships with our neighbors was complicated by a community driveway but with the exception of one nosey neighbor I think everyone coped very well. There will be more moments like this up ahead. Yes, the vehicles for self-expression are unlimited. The important thing is to find the one that works best with your temperament and life.

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