Family Story: The Carola Hotel

Title:  The Carola Hotel

Location:  Agropoli, Salerno, Campania, Italy

Occasion:  Visit to Muro and Serrapede Families in Our Ancestral Hometown

Time:  Summer 1976

My Maternal Grandparents, Josie (nee Muro) and Sam (Sabato) Serrapede, took me on a three week trip to Italy in the Summer of 1976.  The main purpose was to celebrate my Grandmother’s retirement and to reconnect with the family in Agropoli.  Both my maternal Grandmother and Grandfather were born in that town which is near Salerno in Campania Province.

Grandma Josie was firm that we were going to stay at the hotel because she wanted the comfort of all the modern conveniences.  I did not understand her emphasis until after we arrived in Agropoli.

The Carola was situated at the foot of the Old Town, a slight distance from the high hill upon which the Old Town is located.  There was a view of the beach from our room.  It was especially beautiful at sunrise.  I remember how the water looked bronze and the side of the hill began to light up from the base to the top as the sun climbed higher in the sky.  At night we could see the night fisherman out in their rowboats carrying lanterns.  I was told the light would stun the fish and make them less likely to escape from the nets.

The weather was very hot and on some days slightly humid, on other days dry.  I ended up taking two showers a day, frequently washing my hair.  The hotel did not have air conditioning at that time.

My Grandmother and I shared a room while my Grandfather had a large room to himself on the floor above us.  We could hear him from the terrace right above ours as he talked to friends who passed by on the street below.  Our room was very simple by American standards.  There were no rugs or fancy drapes or slip covers.  I’m glad there weren’t because the room would have felt too closed in during the hot weather.  The walls were smooth and painted a neutral color, beige or sand.  The furniture was very simple, too.  Everything was very neat, well-ordered and very clean.  Given how bright the sunlight could be and how hot the long days were, I found that simplicity and order all I needed to be satisfied with the comfort the room offered.

I didn’t appreciate just how much the conveniences at The Carola Hotel meant to me until we visited Grandpa Sam’s sister Italia.  She lived in a very, very old Pre-WWII building right at the foot of the stairs leading up to The Old Town.  It was quite an accomplishment that Italia’s family had gotten running water up to her apartment.  The toilet, though, was still a shared facility.  It was situated in a little room in the hallway of the floor where she lived.  Other tenants on the floor also used that toilet.  There were times a bucket of water had to be thrown down to ensure everything got flushed away.

I wasn’t aware that the Carola Hotel was owned by the family from which Mary Angela (née Carola) Muro’s father was born into.

Mary Angela was my Grandma Josie’s sister-in-law.  We always called Mary Angela by her nickname of Angie.  Angie was married to Grandma Josie’s younger brother Peter Muro.

On February 13, 2014 Claudia Muro, daughter-in-law of Angie and Peter Muro, told me the Carola Hotel was closed some time ago.  Claudia is married to Angie and Peter’s son, Robert Muro.

Claudia told me that the Carola Family operated the hotel and its restaurant separately.  She knew one of the cooks who worked at the restaurant.  He wanted very much to work in America and he loved Wilmerding, the Muro’s home town in the U.S.A.  He was unable to complete the process, though and could not come here to live and work.

As much as I loved visiting all the relatives, I was thankful we had the hotel room to retreat into each night while we were in Agropoli.  I enjoyed the quiet company of my Grandma Josie and the view of the beach each morning and night.  I needed that quiet time after all the sightseeing and visiting each day.

EmilyAnn Frances May

May 14, 2014

Family Story: “Special Conversations”

Introduction

This short story is a distillation of many memories I have of family get-togethers at holidays and throughout the year.  My maternal grandparents were not close to my paternal grandparents due to the friction between my parents as the years progressed.  Yet in that tug and pull that worked on me there was always a little oasis of calm wherever Grandma Josie’s sister Philomena was.  In her company I could even enjoy prolonged conversation with my paternal Grandmother Blanche.

Here I will share with you the bond I observed between Philomena  and my paternal Grandmother Blanche.

Relationship Notes

Philomena  was the sister of my maternal Grandmother Josie.  Technically she was my Great Aunt but because I was so close to my Mom I grew up calling her my Aunt.  There was no separation of the generations for me.

Blanche was my paternal Grandmother.

Family Story

Title:  Special Conversations

Summary:  Philomena was one of the few relatives who enjoyed long conversations with Blanche.

Place:  Dyker Heights, Brooklyn, NY 1950s to mid-1970s.

Grandma Blanche never backed down from a question and always had the confidence to stand firm on an issue.  One thing I always respected her for was her encouragement that I be consistent in my views and behavior.  Grandma Blanche said I was too easy-going and too eager to appease everyone, too quick to want to quell a conflict.  “Sometimes you have to stand ground,” she said firmly.  “You can’t always have peace between two people.  It’s not important if they like you or not.  They have to respect you.”  If I continued to make getting everyone to agree with me or with each other, she warned, I’d be here, there, everywhere and nowhere in terms of having any kind of a moral compass.

The relatives were polite to Blanche but kept their conversation to a minimum and of the most topical kind.  I’d watch my Aunts seek a retreat because once Blanche got started it was hard for her to stop.  The conversation could roll on and on and go back and forth between different time periods in her life .

At some point Grandma Blanche lapsed into the role of the Great Mom who knew everything and was going to make sure you learned about lessons her mother taught her or what she learned from experience.  Not everyone was always in the mood for a lesson, especially at holiday dinners.  There was never any offense taken but more a sense of wanting to be distracted by something else.  I’d watch whoever Grandma Blanche was seated next to offer to help wash the dishes or make the coffee.

The only person who sought Blanche out was Grandma Josie’s younger sister, Philomena.

Aunt Philomena was a quiet, modest woman of great faith.  She was especially devoted to the Blessed Mother and would share her experiences of prayer and divine intercession with whoever would ask her.  Aunt Philomena always said  she persevered through the many difficulties and challenges in her life only because she had a powerful advocate in the Blessed Mother.  Like Grandma Blanche, Aunt Philomena was also a teacher.  She just had a softer way but she was always insistent that God is in all things that happen to us.

Given Grandma Blanche’s belief that there were very definite forces for good and evil in the world I can now see how they would enjoy each other’s company.  I think that Grandma Blanche’s upbringing in an Orthodox Jewish home and Aunt Philomena’s great faith in God through devotional worship shaped them in different ways.  Yet they could look past the differences and find a common bond.   They both believed that in God there is mercy and justice, instruction and guidance.  Given how loquacious Grandma Blanche could be and how low key Aunt Philomena was they were an example of complementary forces in action.

 

EmilyAnn Frances May
Sunday, December 7, 2014

 

 

 

Family Story: “Please Stay!”

Introduction

Nick and Rose Muro are my maternal Great Grandparents through my Grandmother Josie Muro Serrapede.  Philomena and Rosie were my Grandmother’s sisters and my Great Aunts.  Since I was so close to my Mom and her generation I called them my Aunties.

This story is about Auntie Philomena.

Philomena’s mother Letizia passed away when she was a young child.  Nicola married again a few months later.  His new wife, Rosina, was a widow with a young son.  Rosina had five small children to become a mother to upon marrying Nicola.  She enforced her new role through the strict manner in which she ran the household.

Everyone in Wilmerding called Nicola and Rosina by their American names, Nick and Rose.  Their American names are used in the telling of this story.

Family Story

philomena muro - emay file
Philomena Muro circa early-mid 1930s.

Title:  “Please stay!”

Time Period:  1930s through 1940s

Locations:  Wilmerding, PA and Brooklyn, NY

Summary:  Coming to America dealt a change in lifestyle Nicola never expected.

Nick journeyed to Calabria after the death of his first wife Letizia.  He met and proposed to Rose while there.  Rose, a young widow with one son, accepted his proposal.  They were married within the year.  Rose had a big job waiting for her in America:  to become mother to Nick’s 5 young children by Letizia.

Rose soon began having her own children by Nicola.  As the household increased in size Letizia’s oldest children got more chores to do everyday.  Rose wanted to be a mother to all the children but her strictness did not lend itself to that perception amongst Letizia’s children.  Although Letizia and Rose’s children got along very well and had good relationships for all their lives, Letizia’s children were never completely on-course with Rose.

Letizia’s three daughters were, in this order, Josie, Philomena and Rosie.

Josie was the first to leave in the late 1920s to get a job in Brooklyn.  She married within 18 months and made Brooklyn her new hometown.  Back in Wilmerding, the extra chores then fell on the next of Letizia’s daughters, Philomena.  Every morning she had to clean the floors in the children’s rooms.  Philomena was up very early mopping the floors and scrubbing the corners of the rooms.  All this was completed before she went to school.

After graduating school at age 14 Philomena decided she had enough.  Once her sister Josie was married and living on 66th Street in Dyker Heights, Brooklyn, Philomena slowly considered, prayed and eventually realized her plans to came up to Brooklyn.   This happened within a few years of graduating.

Nick pleaded with Philomena to stay in Wilmerding.  His sons Louis and Peter were also going out-of-state in search of work.  Nick said, “Dearest daughter, per piacere! Stay with us.  My blood is going all over the country.”  Philomena was not moved.  She proceeded with her plans.

Philomena got on board the train and made it up to New York.  She headed straight for Josie and her brother-in-law Sam.  Once she had gotten a job, Philomena had a discussion with her brother-in-law Sam.  Sam said it was better that Philomena get her own place.  The apartment he and Josie shared could not accommodate another adult since his daughter Emily needed her own room. Sam and Josie wanted to have another baby, too.

Philomena persevered and succeeded.  Her hard work and gentle nature won over a family in the theater who hired her as a nanny.  That was an experience Philomena always treasured and a story for another time.

In time Rosie came up to Brooklyn, too.  She had the assistance of Josie and Philomena.

Nick was saddened by the movement of his children away from the town he had settled in.  He had expected them to remain close so he could see his grandchildren and great-grandchildren in future years.

This was America and the family dynamic had changed.  Even if Letizia had not died the Muro family was no longer in Agropoli.  America offered opportunities family never had back in Italy.  Sooner or later, the movement away from the first generation who settled here was going to happen.

—As told to EmilyAnn Frances May by Philomena’s son
November 1, 2015

Family Story: “Made with Love”

Introduction

 

Zia Elisa circa early 1940s.

Elisa Scotti was born on September 4, 1891 in Agropoli.  She came to the United States in 1912 and settled in Wilmerding, Pennsylvania where her twin sisters, Concetta and Letizia were living and raising their families.  In the 1920s, Elisa and her husband Vincenzo moved to Dyker Heights in Brooklyn, New York.  Elisa was Letizia’s youngest sister and played a role in the life of Letizia’s daughter Josie that was very close and very important to Josie.  Elisa’s youngest daughter Rita and Josie’s daughter Emily grew up as cousins and best friends.

Letizia had two more daughters, Philomena and Rose (Rosie). This family story is from Philomena’s son.  I hope you will sense something about Elisa from the telling.

Everyone called Elisa, Zia Elisa, even her Grand Nieces and Nephews.  This is how I address her, too, since this is how my Mom and Grandmother Josie discussed their memories with me.  There was no separation of the generations and no designations such as Great Aunt, Grand  Aunt, and so on.  Zia means Aunt, but the manner and tone in which we used it, Grandma Josie, Mom and me, was more in the sense of Auntie.

Family Story:  Made with Love

Place:  Brooklyn, NY

Time:  Mid-Late 1960s

Summary:  A blanket made as a gift over 50 years ago keeps on giving love and warmth.

“Zia Elisa crocheted a very large, thick blanket for me.  I was headed off to grad school.  She said she wanted to be sure I was warm in the winters.  I was to attend university in Upstate New York.   Winters up there are always colder than downstate.

“The blanket endured dorm life and several moves.  Here it is.  It’s been washed and cleaned and hung to dry over and over.

” It was not only made with love but was made to last.”

I was amazed when I saw the blanket.  It’s of the kind we call an Afghan.  It is well used but is still in good condition.  The design of tan and dark brown chevrons looks like it was made with acrylic yarn.

Zia Elisa’s Great Nephew wasn’t the only one who used the blanket made with love.  Zia Elisa passed away in 1988.  She did not live to see that her niece Philomena would also use the blanket when she needed care and went to live with her son, the one for whom Zia Elisa first made the blanket.

 

As told to EmilyAnn Frances May
September 30, 2014 Tuesday 6:44 p.m.

 

Family Stories: “Free samples”

Introduction

Nicola “Nick” Muro, 1950s.

I thought it would be a nice change of pace to share some very short stories that are finally being attached to the family members of the Serrapede-Muro Family tree.   I began writing down the stories in 2013.  They vary in tone and content.  Some are vivid, others more a recall of an event so long ago.  All are recorded in a manner that I hope conveys something of the people in the story.  The way in which each one is told also reveals a little about the person telling the story, too.

The following story is about my maternal Great Grandfather Nick Muro.  He ran a small grocery store located on the ground floor of the building he owned on State Street in Wilmerding, Pennsylvania.

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Family Story:  “Free Samples”

Time Period:  Late 1940s to mid 1950s

Location:  Wilmerding, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, USA

Summary:  Nick’s attempts to attract new customers doesn’t work out as he expected.

Nick was a very generous man.  He had a kind heart, too.  If anyone from the plant(1) was laid off or had a decrease in hours they often experienced hardship.  Nick would extend credit to them when they came to buy groceries.

One customer, though, took advantage of Nick’s kindness.  This customer’s wife came into the store and told Nick not to give her husband credit.  “The money he saves here, he drinks away at the bar,” she told Nick.  Nick understood the wife and put up a sign that said, “Do not give any credit to Mr. _____.”  When the other shopkeepers heard the story in private from Nick, they also refused to give this man any credit.

Nick wanted to get more customers into his store so he had his wife Rose cook up some dishes using the fresh vegetables he was getting into the store.  Corn, tomatoes, peppers, onions–all were made into tasty dishes which Nick put out for anyone to try.

Many people started coming in first on their own, then with their children.  Rose told Nick, “We should open a restaurant if you’re tired of the grocery business.  What’s going on here?”

Nick told Rose he wanted to extend the experiment a little longer.  When no new customers resulted from this promotion he stopped offering the free samples.  None of the people who had come to eat at the store came back to buy groceries from him.

 

—As told to EmilyAnn Frances May  by one of Nick’s grandsons, who is still living in Brooklyn, on January 9, 2016.  His mother Filomena was the daughter of Nick by his first wife Letizia.

 

(1) WABCo (Westinghouse Air Brake Co.)

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