56b-Serrapede Family in America-A Depression Era Childhood-My Book House, Part 1

Introduction

When Emily went to school her parents wanted her to cultivate an appreciation for classic literature, myths, legends, poetry and music of her own and other cultures. In this posting we discovered that the series of books they bought for this purpose is still loved and in demand today.

Relationship Notes

Josie and Sam were born in Agropoli, a town in Salerno province in Italy. Josie’s parents, Nicola and Letizia Muro, settled in Wilmerding, PA in the early 1910s. Sam came to the United States in the mid-1920s and lived with his sister and brother-in-law in Brooklyn, NY. Josie and Sam got together after Josie came up to Brooklyn and were married in 1930. Emily Leatrice Serrapede, their first child, was born in 1931.

Emily was the older sister of Gerry (Gennaro) and Sammy (Sabbatino). EmilyAnn knew her as “The Mom.”

Family Story: Building the My Book House Library One Volume at a Time

Emily remembered that Josie waited for a salesman to come to the apartment one day. She asked Emily to wait with her. When the salesman came in he carried a small suitcase. Emily wondered what kind of dolls or dresses were inside.

Josie took the book which the salesman handed her and carefully looked through the pages. At first Emily wasn’t that excited about getting a book. Josie still had to read to her so she wasn’t sure what good the book would be.

Josie leaned over to show Emily the book. “Look sweetheart, what do you think of these pictures?” The inside of the book contained brightly colored illustrations. Some were of baby animals, others were fairies, and oh those twinkling stars in some of the night time scenes. As Josie showed Emily other books in the series Emily asked if the salesman was going to leave them all there at once. She also wanted to know where the books would be kept. She asked Josie to make sure her books would be safe.

Josie explained that she would be getting one book at a time. The arrangements were made with the salesman that afternoon.

Emily did not remember how frequently he came with a new volume but over time the bookcase Josie bought contained twelve volumes plus two bigger books. One was about Holland and the other about France.

There was an extra volume in the series for parents that recommended suitable games and activities that could be created around the stories in the books. One activity Emily wrote about in her “My Baby Book” was about making clay faces as a child. When Uncle Sammy and I  reviewed the guidebook before preparing this posting we learned that was one of the recommended activities. This shows that Josie was following the program that guided the child through the proper readings and activities for each stage of development.

Background of My Book House

The series was intended to follow a child from their earliest years through high school. Each volume is based around a theme such as adventure stories, stories of chivalry and knights in shining armor, fairies, heroes of the past and present. There are also poems. The footnotes in many pieces point the way for the child and parent to do further exploration. In some examples references are provided to classical composers, operas and ballets. For example, in the Rhinegold stories readers are told a little about Richard Wagner and his opera, “The Ring”. The footnotes contained enough information to make further research possible when visiting a public library.

At a blog named after her beloved set of My Book House books, a blogger named Miss Kathy shares many memories of how the series introduced her and her children to classics in literature, history and poetry that have stood the test of time.

One thing to take note is that there were two stories in the pre 1970s period that were replaced after a review found these stories no longer acceptable. These were “Little Black Sambo” and “The Tar Baby”. Later editions contained some new material but overall the focus remains on the classic legends, stories and historical figures of not only the West but other cultures such as Russia, Middle Europe, China and India.

(to be continued)

56a-Serrapede Family in America-A Depression Era Childhood-Little Treats, Part 2

Introduction

This posting is a continuation of  56a-Serrapede Family in America-A Depression Era Childhood-Little Treats, Part 1 in which we retold the family stories and memories Emily shared with us over the years.

This posting continues adds some photos of the treats and vendors mentioned in Part 1.  It concludes with Uncle Sammy and I sharing memories of our favorite childhood treats.

Memories of Sweet Times with Charlie Roose

Josie enjoyed little treats every so often. She didn’t need a reason to do indulge so long as there was extra money available. Often these little treats came when Josie and Emily were out for a walk on 13th Avenue. Emily remembers the site of a baker or vendor selling a sweet kind of sponge cake with a high tower of whipped cream. She called them “Charlie Roose”. It was something she enjoyed so much she didn’t know what part to have first. Sometimes she worked through all the whipped cream and then had the cherry before eating the little piece of cake at the bottom of the cup. Other times she just had the cherry first and then worked her way through the whipped cream to the cake. If she ate too fast Josie would tell her to be careful so as not to dirty her clothes.

——–

What Emily pronounced as “Charlie Roose” were actually called Charlotte Russe. The original recipe developed in Europe during the 18th century and was considered a very elegant dessert. The main ingredients were a light sponge cake with a layer of fruit or jam topped with a towering swirl of whipped cream. In France the recipe was named Charlotte Russe. It gained popularity in New York City during the early 20th century, especially because in its simplified form it consisted of a small piece of cake topped with whipped cream and a maraschino cherry on top. Bakeries could use fresh sponge or one that was not so fresh. The Charlotte Russe was widely available in bakeries or through vendors selling them on the street.

During the days when Emily grew up, Charlotte Rousse was a winter time treat because cold temperatures kept the whipped cream from going bad. In 1982 Mimi Sheraton, writing in the New York Times, describes her delight at locating a bakery in New York’s West Village that still made Charlotte Rousse. She remembered that they originally cost from 5 to 7 cents.

Once popular throughout Manhattan and the boroughs, today very few bakeries make them. In 2012 Leah Koenig wrote about Charlotte Rousse for “Politico”. In her search she located only one bakery that still makes them. Holterman’s Bakery in Staten Island sold about 48 Charlotte Rousse a week in 2012. At that time the owners were not sure they would continue to make them.

Memories of Cold Weather and Hot Potatoes

After picking Emily up from school, Josie would take her for a walk on 13th Avenue to buy any foods she needed for the next day’s meal. When the weather was very cold she bought Emily a hot, baked sweet potato from a street vendor. This was a hearty after school treat that quickly alleviated those after school cravings for a snack.

——–

Sweet potatoes sold on the streets were baked inside of coal fired ovens. These small ovens were on wheels which made it easy for a vendor to move around to the busiest locations. At his blog the late author Abraham Rothberg, shared many fond memories of eating hot potatoes on the street during the winter months. Abraham was born and raised in Brooklyn. His family could not afford to buy sweet potatoes, so he took some white Long Island potatoes from home and baked them over a fire he and his friends would make to keep warm. He also remembers the roasted chestnuts that many sweet potato vendors sold. The vendors wrapped the chestnuts and sweet potatoes in few sheets of newspaper so they could be handled. As they were held hands and face were also warmed.

Continue reading

56a-Serrapede Family in America-A Depression Era Childhood-Little Treats, Part 1

Introduction

Despite growing up during the Great Depression, Emily Leatrice never felt deprived. She remembered her early childhood fondly and would recount stories about the little pleasures that made her days special and life sweet.

We’ve focused on the memories and family stories Emily shared with us and round them out with additional details gathered from the readings noted in the Resources section.

–Sam Serrapede, Jr.

–EmilyAnn Frances May

Relationship Note

Emily L. Serrapede (1931-2011)  was the daughter of Sam and Josie Serrapede. She was the older sister of Gerry and Sammy. EmilyAnn knew her as “The Mom.”

 Family Story: The Little Mouse

Emily liked to be in the kitchen on Sunday mornings whenever Sam was grating a chunk of Locatelli or Romano cheese. Josie was usually at the stove heating up the tomato sauce and cooking the pasta that were part of the main meal for the day.

 As Sam grated the cheese Emily would stare at him until he stopped and asked her “Che fa? (“What’s up?”) Emily pointed to the large chunk of cheese and said one word, “Please?” Sam laughed and cut off a small piece which she took and enjoyed eating.

 In a few minutes she’d come back and stare at him again. This time he’d ask her what she wanted and she would reach over for the chunk of cheese. He’d cut another little piece and she’d go into the living room and enjoy the sharp flavor of the cheese.

 When she came back again, Sam would tell her to get out of the kitchen quick otherwise she’d turn into a mouse. Emily was not to be deterred and she’d wait for one more little piece before calling it a day. She knew that more than three times would get her into trouble.

———

Italian cheeses and olive oils were very expensive during the Great Depression. Since food preparation linked the family to their own culture and ancestral country many Italian families went without newer clothing or shoes just to make sure the quality of the traditional dietary items was the best they could get. This might be one of the reasons why Sam carefully measured out the size of the slices of cheese he would give Emily.

Continue reading

52b-Serrapede Family in America: The Great Depression-$120 a month (Part 1b)

Introduction

This posting concludes the topic we began in 52b-Serrapede Family in America: The Great Depression-$120 a month (part 1a).  In that posting we considered the nature of the work shoe shiners did and how much they may have earned.  When the posting concluded we made note of how the young American boys who did this work faced competition from the waves of immigrants coming from Europe at the start of the 20th century.  Many members of our immediate and extended family worked as boot blacks after arriving from Italy.

We now turn our attention to some of the ways bootblacks worked throughout Manhattan.  Then Uncle Sammy and I share our family stories and discussion at the conclusion of this posting.

Relationship Notes

Sam Serrapede was born in Agropoli, Campania, Salerno Italy.  He immigrated to the U.S. in the late 1920s.  In 1930 he married Josie Muro.  The newlyweds made their home in Dyker Heights, Brooklyn, N.Y.  Sam worked as a shoe shiner during the 1930s through the late 1940s.

Sam was the Father of:
*Emily Leatrice Serrapede
*Gerald (“Gerry”, Gennaro) Serrapede
*Sabbatino (Sammy) Serrapede

Sam was the maternal Grandfather of:  EmilyAnn Frances May

Bootblacks around New York City during the Great Depression

52b-shoeshiner bank 1

This shoe shiner waits for a customer on the corner of 14th Street and 8th Avenue in New York City.  He’s set up his station outside of the New York Savings Bank.  The sign above him contains a quote from Disraeli which says, “The secret of success in life is for a man to be ready for his opportunity when it comes.”

52b-shoeshiner bank 2

The shoe shiner outside the New York Savings bank got a customer.  He is located in a good spot next to the entrance of a subway station.  The set-up is very simple and would not cost much to keep up.  However, the customer getting his shoes shined would not be very comfortable since the chair is very small.  To have an edge over other shoe shiners in the area this man would have to have better supplies or a better technique.

52b-shoe shiner union square

This shoe shiner was working near Union Square, another busy area.  Judging by the background he may have been near the park.  Union Square is also in the vicinity of 14th Street and is close to a subway station making it an ideal place to attract customers.  This shoe shine station is more elaborate.  It might have attracted more customers than the one of the shoe shiner on 8th Avenue because the bench has a higher back and the awning provides some shade during a bright day.

A study of the photographs makes you realize that if these shoe shiners were working on their own their ability to earn a steady income was impacted by weather conditions.  Another down side to working outdoors was the vulnerability to pickpockets and thieves.  The shoe shine operation needed a steady location in order to cultivate relationships with clients.  How the matter of where the shoe shiner worked outdoors was not described in any of our readings.  It’s possible that the shoe shiner had to get permission to work outside of a business like New York Savings Bank.  There were most likely licensing requirements and fees to be paid.

An independent shoe shiner would also have operating costs for the upkeep of his stand and supplies.  The shoe shiners in these photos may have been working for a service that provided the station and the supplies.  Even so, working outdoors had its drawbacks.  Better locations would be indoors at such locations as Grand Central Station, the Staten Island Ferry Terminal or a local barber shop.

Continue reading

52a-Serrapede Family in America: The Great Depression, Part 2

(This posting is a continuation of 52a-Serrapede Family in America: The Great Depression, Part 1)

Discussion with Uncle Sammy on Sunday, January 24, 2016

Topic:  What do you associate with the 1930s?

EmilyAnn:  First, I think of what happened on the day the Stock Market Crashed in 1929.  Mom told me that some investors were so shocked or ruined that they soon committed suicide.  Dad always said that as bad as things were that should never have happened.  People live through tough times by drawing closer to each other. Mom and Dad repeatedly emphasized this. With this in mind I wondered how people coped.

My parents and grandparents often told me that the movies offered a great escape.  I think of the Endicott Theatre that was located on 13th Avenue and 70th Street.  Mom and Dad shared many of their memories with me about their happy times at the Saturday afternoon matinees.  One of Mom’s favorite series of films came out towards the end of the 1930s.  She was a fan of Mickey Rooney and the “Andy Hardy” films he made.  Mom thought he was cute.  I couldn’t understand the appeal because as a child I knew Mickey Rooney as an older actor.  When I saw the photos of him as a teenage star I quickly understood how Mom, as a 6 or 7 year old girl, could develop a crush on him.

52a-Mickey Rooney
Opening credit for Mickey Rooney from 1939 film, “Babes in Arms.”

Continue reading

51-Serrapede Family in America April 18, 1931: It’s a girl! (Part 2)

(This posting is a continuation of 51-Serrapede Family in America April 18, 1931: It’s a girl! in which we considered the day Emily L. Serrapede was born and some of the issues she faced growing up as an Italian-American.  In this posting the discussion expands to experiences Uncle Sammy and I had.)

The Detail in the Birth Certificate that might point to an answer

51-Mom's Birth Certificate 2

Close-up of the birth certificate.

I think I found a clue to Emily’s sensitivity regarding her ethnicity. Looking at her birth certificate I found the following: Color or Race-It. The It. means Italian.

Southern Italians were considered a race unto themselves. This was not in a good way. They were seen as incapable of joining the mainstream. An article from a 1914 edition of “The World’s Work” expresses sentiments held at that time about why this was so. It came down to this: Southern Italians were non-Caucasians. Therefore, the thinking went, they’ll never make it into the mainstream. In the 1910s the sentiment against Southern Italians was very negative. Their admission to this country was thought to have a detrimental effect on society. Census records list Italians as members of the Caucasian race but outside of their immigrant community the treatment was not always considerate or kind. When I was a child I was told by outsiders that we were “Wops” because our Grandparents were all here illegally. “Wop” meant “without passport.” Recently I’ve read it also could mean “White on paper.” Meaning for things like the census records Southern Italians were entered as Caucasian or White but in reality they were treated as “others”.

To what degree Emily experienced negative treatment I do not know. She never told me of any events in her life that would be a contributing factor to the strong show of emotions I witnessed when I did things like ask to get my ears pierced or why she wouldn’t teach me how to speak Italian as good as she did.

Continue reading

51-Serrapede Family in America April 18, 1931: It’s a girl! (Part 1)

Introduction: Events around Brooklyn on April 18, 1931

51-The_Brooklyn_Daily_Eagle_Sat__Apr_18__1931_snap shot headline pg 1

Close-up of page 1 of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle edition for April 18, 1931.

51-The_Brooklyn_Daily_Eagle_Sat__Apr_18__1931_page 24 snip weather

Weather forecast for April 18th-19th, 1931 in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle.

On Friday, April 18th, 1931 the Brooklyn Daily Eagle’s weather report stated that “at 8 a.m. the temperature in New York City was 52 degrees.” A milder day was ahead on Sunday, April 19th.

51-The_Brooklyn_Daily_Eagle_Sat__Apr_18__1931_snapshot headlines page 1

Short news items from page 1 of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle.

Page one combined headline stories such as a crisis in Nicaragua and a movement by Catalonia to separate from Spain with many short news items that were not the stuff of headline news. They provided bits of information readers could discuss with their neighbors or co-workers. In Florida, Conkey P. Whitehead was being sued by a woman claiming breach of promise. Jack Guzik, a business manager for Chicago gangster Al Capone, pleaded guilty in Federal Court to income tax evasion. And in Brooklyn, New York restaurant owner Patrick White was taken to Greenpoint Hospital after a former employee punched him in the jaw.

51-The_Brooklyn_Daily_Eagle_Sat__Apr_18__1931_page 2 snap shot

Mrs. John Krall of Queens is pictured with her three sets of twins on the day her youngest ones were baptized.

Page 2 featured a photo of Mrs. John Krall and her three sets of twins. Her latest pair was baptized on April 18th. Mrs. Krall had three other children not included in the photo. She lived in Middle Village, Queens. We know a family in Bath Beach, Brooklyn who were also celebrating a happy day on April 18, 1931. Sam and Josie Serrapede welcomed their first child, a girl, into the world. This baby girl’s birth never made it to the newspapers but in our family history it was big news.

The baby Josie and Sam named Emily Leatrice grew up to be Sammy’s big sister and my Mom. Her birth certificate provides many details that enable us to create a snap shot of what life was like at the time she was born.

Continue reading