54b-Serrapede Family in America, 1930s-In the news and on the radio (Part 2)

Introduction

Our visit to the Serrapede family at home continues where 54b-Serrapede Family in America, 1930s-In the news and on the radio (Part 1)  left off.  In this posting we continue our visit to the family at their apartment on a weeknight.  Sam has returned from work, ready for dinner and some conversation about current events, radio programs for the evening and happenings in the neighborhood with Josie.

At the conclusion of our visit Uncle Sammy and I share some fun-filled memories of our favorite comics and magazines from our childhood.

All resources used for Part 1 and Part 2 are listed at the end of this posting.

Josie’s Advice to Sam: “Talk to me about what you read in the news.”

54b-Letters to Editor-Bklyn Daily Eagle June 10 1935 rugged

 

Letter to the editor written June 2nd and published on June 10, 1935.

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53c-Serrapede Family in America: Emily Leatrice’s first studio portrait, 1932 Part 1

Introduction

Josie left an extensive photo collection to her daughter when she passed away in 1995. There are almost 300 photos of all sizes and types. Josie had a box camera which she used extensively throughout the 1930s and 1940s. In the photos she took we have many scenes of the neighborhood around 66th Street where the family lived. There are also many studio photos taken as part of special occasions such as weddings and Holy Communion.   Studio portraits of family members are also part of the collection.  This posting is about the earliest photo we have of Emily Leatrice. She always said that she was born with blonde hair. Judging from this studio portratir her hair may have been a golden brown, perhaps a shade darker than popular 1930s child star Shirley Temple’s.

53c-ELS Della Monica Photo INTERNET

Emily Leatrice Serrapede, June 1932.
Close-up of the photo taken at the Studio of A. Della Monica, Gravesend, Brooklyn, NY.

Josie treasured her photo collection. We do not know how she did it but the photos have remained in good condition despite being stored in nothing but brown paper bags and then carefully stacked in brown cardboard boxes. Many of the original cardboard frames complete with the studio labels are still intact as well.  Because of this we know the name of the photographer and the location of the studio for Emily Leatrice’s 1932 photo.

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53b-Serrapede Family in America-Emily Leatrice’s Baptism, December 1931

Relationship Notes

Emily Serrapede is featured in this posting. She was the daughter of Sam and Josie (nee Muro) Serrapede, older sister of Gerald and Sammy, and EmilyAnn’s Mother.

Introduction

In 1930 Sam and Josie were married at the Church of St. Rosalia. The church was built on 14th Avenue and 65th Street. When their daughter Emily Leatrice was born in 1931 they were living in the Bath Beach section of Brooklyn. Six months later she was baptized at St. Rosalia’s Church where the family moved before  Emily was Baptized. As young parents, Sam and Josie needed the help and companionship of their relatives and paesanos, most who lived in Dyker Heights. This was a good move. Their daughter grew up in the company of her cousins, many who became her best friends.

The Baptismal Certificate

53b-Mom Baptism Cert 5

Baptismal Certificate for Emily Serrapede.

Although her birth certificate had her official name as Emily, the Baptismal Certificate bears her name in Italian. Emilia Pappalardo Serrapede was her paternal Grandmother. This might have been a custom observed in the immigrant community. The official record has the English version of the name and the baptismal name is in Italian. Josie and Sam followed this practice with their son Jerry.

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52c-Serrapede Family in America-1930s: $120 a month (Part 2b)

Introduction

This posting is a continuation of 52c-Serrapede Family in America-1930s: $120 a month (Part 2a)

The attempts to understand the 1930s life style given here are not a recreation of the way Josie managed Sam’s salary.  Uncle Sammy and I could not find exact information on what a housewife spent on food each week.  So I tried creating a scenario where we selected the fresh foods Sam liked best.  Then in Part 2 of this posting I created a menu plan for two to three days.  This exercise was very challenging.  I learned that growing up and coming of age during the Post-WWII economic boom did not prepare me to think as people did during the Great Depression.  It is one thing to have an intellectual understanding that life was difficult and quite another to try to take on the mindset of an era and approach a problem with the restrictions  that were in place at that time.  Josie and Sam never  provided great detail about the hardships of the Great Depression.  Most of the family stories they passed on emphasized working together during times of hardship.

I thank Amy of Brotmanblog: A Family Journey for asking the right questions that led me to create this needed clarification for the posting.

$10 a week for food: Trying to recreate a 1931 Menu Plan for one evening and the next day

Here is my attempt to recreate a 1931 shopping list Josie might have made. It consists of items she did not have on hand. The fixings for the eggplant parmigiana such as the tomato sauce and the mozzarella, would be left over from the weekend meal. I have not added in what baby food cost because that information was not available. I will explain why I included bananas in the section for our family stories.

Monday night dinner

  • Eggplant Parmigiana
  • Italian Bread
  • Side serving of macaroni cooked fresh

Tuesday

Breakfast

  • 2 scrambled eggs (1 each)
  • buttered toast
  • coffee
  • 1/2 grapefruit each

Lunch

  • Leftover eggplant parmigiana made into sandwiches on Italian bread.
  • Grapes for dessert

Dinner

  • Veal Chops
  • Spinach or broccoli
  • Cantaloupe for dessert

Shopping List for Items Needed

2 eggplants at 10 cents each……..$ .20
loaf of bread ……………….. …………..$ .10
1 dozen eggs (Grade B) …………….$ .34
1 lb. veal chops …………………………$ .34
1 lb. spinach………………………………$ .07
1 lb. grapes ………………………………$ .12
1 grapefruits ……………………………$ .08
1 small cantaloupe………………….$ .12
6 bananas ……………………………….$ .20

Total                                           $3.14

Although the total is $3.14 the makings of other meals are here. Josie often made frittatas (Italian style omelettes). Any left over veal chops would be made within a day or two. Still, staying within a total budget of $40 a month for food would be a challenge. One way to achieve that would be to eliminate the fresh fruits and reduce the amount of meat bought. An increase in carbs and fats would provide the energy needed to get to work and throughout the day. The long term effects of such a diet would show in old age and in the poor health of the children.

Josie and Sam did not eat like that. Sam was very fussy about what he ate and Josie had to make everything from scratch. Good, fresh food was always emphasized in the Serrapede family. The only thing I can think of is Josie met her food budget by reducing what she spent on things like clothes for herself and Sam. Since she was a skilled seamstress the $12 a month allocated for clothing, clothing maintenance and laundry could be reduced. The extra money would be applied to the food budget.

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

Relationship Notes

Uncle Sammy and I have decided to simplify how we address our immediate family members in this and forthcoming blog postings.  To avoid confusing readers we will be using their first names.  Since the both of us are working on this blog it can become confusing if I say “My Mom Emily Leatrice told me…” and then Uncle Sammy’s contributions are phrased, “My Sister (Emily) did….”

At the start of each posting we’ll put a key describing our relationships to the people named in the posting.  This will help the narrative be easier to read.

In this posting is featured:

*Sam Serrapede:  Husband of Josie and father of Emily Leatrice, Gerald and Sammy.  EmilyAnn’s maternal Grandfather.

Our Family Stories, A New Feature in Our Family History Postings

This section will follow the research and any documentation presented in a posting and precedes the section where Uncle Sammy and I discuss and compare the results of our research with the stories and memories passed down in our family.

At the end of each family story will be given the source of the story and which one of us is now retelling it.

You may wonder how we can have so many stories and anecdotes to share.  Everything that happened in the lives of the Serrapede and Muro families became an opportunity to learn something.  During family gatherings or phone calls or casual visits, lessons learned were always shared from the experiences had in everyday life.  Since these lessons were often repeated to us they became part of our inner library to reference when it was time to think something through.

My Mom started this process with me when I was 4 or 5 years old.  She was not one to bring up the stories on her own.  I learned to seek her out.  By being patient and asking questions Mom began to assume the role of an expert story teller as she taught me lessons in life by this means.  In telling the stories of her family she’d leave off and pick-up on telling them at different times.  Mom would question me if I remembered what she told me previously before continuing the story.  In time I knew them as well, and sometimes better, than my schoolwork.  I was able to relate to her entire family without any difficulty because I knew all the intricacies of the relationships.

Uncle Sammy did not experience the telling of family stories in the manner I did.  He heard them during the times everyone gathered together for a special event.  Mostly his stories which we’ll share here are based on his own experiences.

Introduction

Josie Muro Serrapede left us a collection of over 250 photos of the family which span the years from the late 1920s through the 1960s.  The rest of the photos from the 1970s onward consist of Josie’s photos and ones given to her by relatives, my parents or me.  The photos that make up the Josie Muro Serrapede Collection are rich in detail.  As we study them we learn:

• The photographs of the family taken outside the apartments they live in help us identify the economic level of the community.  It was the section of Dyker Heights between 11th, 12th and 13th Avenues in the 60 Streets.  Here many hard working Italian immigrants lived.  The community was a combination of working class and modestly middle class residents.
• The family never looked hungry or gaunt.
• Their clothing was well cared for.
• Emily had many toys.
• There were many studio portraits of Emily and her baby brother Gerald.
• The Serrapede family shared happy times with their neighbors.
• There were many photos exchanged between Sam and his sister Philomena.

We will make use of these photos in future postings.

The photos show us that the basic needs were being met for housing, clothing and socialization.  Josie was very resourceful and a good cook so the family could be assured of something to eat at each meal.  For the reader the question arises as to how much money Sam made as a bootblack and if his salary alone supported the family.  There was not much information available about the average salary of a bootblack during the Great Depression.  We did learn a little about the history and have thought about some of the reasons why our immigrant ancestors might have found the work appealing.

For a married couple starting out $120 a month was considered a bare minimum to live on with a little left over for savings.  We’ll detail the sources of that info along with the budget in the next posting.  For this one we came away with the impression that if a bootblack worked hard enough and was resourceful he could get by.  Sam and Josie knew the Carnicelli family on 65th Street in Dyker Heights.  Joseph Carnicelli worked as a bootblack according to the 1930 and 1940 Federal Census records.  He was able to save enough money to become co-owner in a multi-family dwelling.  We still are amazed how the first generation managed to achieve so much even on a small salary.

The Shoe Shine Boy

In Western countries the profession of a shoe shiner or bootblack has been looked down upon.  In developing countries it is still the main source of income in some families.  Young boys get started in this line of work as a way to supplement or provide income in the family when the father is too ill to work.  In the U.K. a positive attitude is growing towards the shoe shiner.  Those who work in London’s financial district are knowledgeable about local events and willing to provide advice.  The clients look forward to the conversation as much as the shoe shine!

 52b-ragged dick
Front piece from a “Ragged Dick” story.

The role of the shoe shine boy was the subject of a popular novel “Ragged Dick” by Horatio Alger.  The story depicted the rise of a young shoe shiner into the ranks of the middle class through honesty, hard work and sincerity.  The story was set in the late 19th century in New York City.  The front plate of one Ragged Dick book shows a luggage boy, two shoe shiners and a newsboy.  The book was published in 1895.  In a few years, Italian immigrant men would be among the adults competing with the boys for these jobs.

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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.”

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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.

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