73-Serrapede Family in Brooklyn-Our Losses, Our Gains 1940-43 Pt. 2

Note about posting length: Due to time constraints I am posting complete chapters in our family history narrative. Since I am posting once or twice a month I am not able to break each chapter into smaller, weekly postings

Introduction

Between 1935 and early 1941, the Serrapede family lived on 65th Street between 11 and 12th Avenues in Dyker Heights, Brooklyn, NY.  Their younger son Gerald passed away in 1941.  Their daughter Emily was entering what we now call the ‘tween years when this happened.  She often shared vivid but brief family stories about the years 1940-43.  These stories contained a moment in time that encapsulated many elements of the Italian-American community she grew up in.  At first they seem to offer only a slice of life in the community just as the United States was coming out of the Great Depression and the challenges of the 1940s and WWII loomed ahead.

Emily left out details like which Aunt she stayed with after school in the months following Gerry’s death.  She also would say one Aunt lived upstairs and another Aunt lived next door.  Sometimes the Aunt next door lived “a few doors away” in another family story.  Since she was deeply affected by the sudden loss of her baby brother it was natural for her to be preoccupied as she lived through that time of being cared for by her Aunts.  In the retelling of her stories there was always an element of distance between herself and the events she described.  But in reality she was never alone.  She always said her cousins were with her after school.  Emily referred to her cousins by name.  Yet for the stores she related about the years in the early 1940s she never mentioned her Aunts as their mothers.  She described events as if she were an onlooker or an audience member of a very short film that starred a limited cast in a specific location.  The only time she described the interaction between herself and the other members of the event she described was when the family story concerned coming home to find Josie resting in bed or going back to bed.  Emily stayed there with her in the quiet until her cousins or one of her Aunties showed up to take her to their house until dinner time.

The Aunts were described as good homemakers who had husbands that had steady work.  Their children lived at home and helped the families out.  Things were difficult, though, so her parents, Aunts, Uncles and cousins all helped each other in their day-to-day living.

The discoveries and connections made through the 1940 Federal Census ties together all the threads of Emily’s shared stories and memories.  It all comes together so perfectly in that the details from the entries for the Serrapede, Errico and D’Agosto families confirm and expand many of the details Emily could not provide when she recalled these times.

In this posting we will recap the key events in the life of one Aunt who lived in the same multi-family dwelling as the Serrapede family.  This is Emily’s maternal Aunt Elisa Scotti Errico.  She was affectionately called Zia Elisa (Auntie Elisa) by all generations.  Uncle Sammy describes Zia Elisa as the Grand Matron of her branch of the Scotti and Errico families in Brooklyn.  The story of her life and role as told through the Census records for 1920 through 1940 provide an opportunity to compare and contrast how the traditional household she and Vincenzo created saw the family through the Great Depression in somewhat better circumstances than we previously thought for the family during those years.

The other Aunt who lived on 66th Street was Filomena Serrapede D’Agosto.  We will look at her role in Emily’s life in the next posting.

Continue reading “73-Serrapede Family in Brooklyn-Our Losses, Our Gains 1940-43 Pt. 2”

73-Serrapede Family in Brooklyn-Our Losses, Our Gains 1940-43 Pt. 1

Introduction

In 1940 the Serrapede family lived on 66th Street along with the Errico and D’Agosto families.  They had been living there from at least 1935.  The ties between the three families went back to their ancestral hometown of Agropoli back in Italy.  Not only did the families share the hometown in common but they were related by ties of blood or ties of marriage depending on whose direct line you considered.  These ties of blood, faith, family and honor carried over into the first and second generations in America. 

The 1940s Federal Census provides us with many details that support later developments described in memories and stories shared by family members with Uncle Sammy and me.  In this posting we begin a three part series that shows how the concepts of family in the Italian-American community were at work for these three families throughout the years as they went through cycles of losses and gains.  Nobody was ever alone and nobody was ever without recourse to help. 

Relationship Notes for this posting

Josie Muro Serrapede:  Josie was the daughter of Nicola and Letizia (nee Scotti) Muro.  Her Aunt Elisa was also called Zia Elisa.  Elisa was Letizia’s youngest sister who immigrated to the United States in the 1910s. 

Sam Serrapede:  Sam worked as a bootblack in a barber shop.  In addition to this job, he was an all around helper for the owner of the shop.  He worked long hours 6 days a week to provide a comfortable standard of living for his family.  Josie carefully managed the family budget and made all decisions regarding the running of the household.

Emily Leatrice and Gerry were Sam and Josie’s children.

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Elisa Scotti Errico:  Elisa married Vincenzo Errico while they lived in Wilmerding near Letizia and Nicola.  In the 1920s Elisa and Vincenzo moved to Brooklyn, York.  Josie came up to Brooklyn in the late 1920s and lived with the Errico family until her marriage to Sam Serrapede in 1930.  Vincenzo worked as an auto mechanic.

Elisa and Vincenzo’s daughter Theresa was Emily’s Baptismal Godmother.  Elisa and Vincenzo’s other children were Concetta, Annette, Matthew, Frank, Anna, Rita and Filomena.

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Filomena Serrapede D’Agosto:  Filomena was the eldest daughter of Gennaro and Emilia (nee Pappalardo) Serrapede.  She married Giuseppe D’Agosto in Agropoli before coming to America.  They settled in Brooklyn.  Giuseppe was a civil service employee.  He worked as a truck driver for the Department of Sanitation.  The D’Agosto family hosted Sam when he arrived in the United States.  He lived with them until he married Josie.

Filomena and Giuseppe D’Agosto were the parents of Frank, Emilia, Martha and Lillian. 

Quality of Life in 1940

Sam’s hard work earned him a salary of $1300 in 1939.  The 1940 Federal Census gives the rent for the cold water flat on 65th Street as $35 a month.  Past review of the differences in rent between steam heated apartments and cold water flats showed that sometimes the difference was no more than $5.  Yet that $5 would go very far when the family had stayed on budget.  It was the dream of every immigrant family to own their own home.  Josie and Sam were also saving for one.

The average middle class income ranged from $900-1300 a year depending on which sources you use.  I’ve read that $1000 a year was more the average salary.  Not having time to research this in depth I think the Serrapede family lived modestly but comfortably.  When Emily was older she often talked about how she always had dental problems.  Josie and Sam never hesitated to get her the dental care she needed.  The dentist was paid on time just as the doctor was if she got sick.  There was never any hesitation or stinting on things like that.

Josie economized in other ways.  For school Emily had two skirts and two blouses.  There were sweaters and jackets she got from her cousins.  Everything was used until she outgrew it or it wore out. 

Family Story:  The Icebox and The Window Box

The Serrapede family used an old fashioned ice box for many years.  Refrigerators were still expensive in the early 1940s.  Emily remembered the iceman making deliveries of a large chunk of ice each week.  One of her jobs was to empty the pan under the refrigerator that collected the water as the ice melted. 

When it was very cold in the winter, Josie also used what Emily called “the window box”.  It was a small metal box that held small food items.  It was somehow secured to the outside windowsill where the cold winter temperatures kept the food fresh.

Emily never liked having to fetch anything from the window box since it meant opening the window to the chilly winter air which was keenly felt when it entered the warm kitchen.

Continue reading “73-Serrapede Family in Brooklyn-Our Losses, Our Gains 1940-43 Pt. 1”

In Memory of Sabatino (Tino) D’Ambrosio (1940-2019)

Dear family and friends,

We are saddened by the loss of our cousin Sabatino (Tino) D’Ambrosio.  He passed away on October 25th, 2019 following a bout of illness after heart surgery.

Tino was the son of Dante and Rosie (nee Rosemarie Muro) D’Ambrosio.  He was born in Brooklyn on October 18, 1940 and was named after his paternal grandfather, Sabatino.  The family always used the shorter, more familiar form of his name, Tino. 

Tino’s mother, Rosie was the daughter of Nicola and Letizia (nee Scotti) Muro of Wilmerding, Pennsylvania.  Rosie was the sister of our Josie (nee Muro) Serrapede.  Rosie came up to Brooklyn from Wilmerding in the late 1930s.  She married Dante D’Ambrosio in 1939 and settled into married life in Dyker Heights, close to where Josie and another sister, Filomena, lived.  Tino grew up with many cousins for his friends.

Tino was a master craftsman and house painter.  For most of his professional life he was self-employed.  In addition to being a painter, he also was very skilled at hanging wallpaper so well you could never tell where one panel ended and the next began.  He ran his own business and enjoyed a reputation for his many other decorative talents.  By family, friends and clients he was known for the flair he had in bringing to full expression the vision the homeowner had for the room to be painted or wallpapered. 

Tino married Suzanne Torzilli in 1966.  They had two daughters:  Casandra (birth name:  Rosemarie) and Florence.  The family shared their lives with the many companion dogs and animals Suzanne rescued and made a home for.  Tino, Suzanne, Casandra and Florence were part of the traditional Christmas Eve dinners hosted by Josie and Sam Serrapede each year.  We share warm memories of those holidays together.

At the time of his passing, Tino was living in Florida.  Tino was pre-deceased by his parents, younger brother Dante (Danny Boy), first wife Suzanne and his daughter Casandra.  He is survived by his second wife Angela and a step-daughter.  His direct line descendants are through his daughter Florence and her husband John Richards:  granddaughter Francesca and grandson Stephen.  Through his sister Abbie and brother Stephen, Tino is also survived by his nieces and nephews.

Please join us for a moment to offer a prayer for the repose of Tino’s spirit and for loving memories to comfort his family in the days ahead.

–EmilyAnn Frances May

–Sam Serrapede, Jr.


Candle and Book
Public domain image
Pixabay
https://pixabay.com/photos/book-lamp-night-reading-candle-1824814/