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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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55-Serrapede Family in America-Tap Dancing at Football Weddings in the 1930 and 1940s (Part 1)

Relationship Note

Emily L. Serrapede was the daughter of Josie and Sam Serrapede. She was the sister of Gerald and Sammy. Emily was EmilyAnn’s Mom.

Introduction

There are several photos of Emily in our collection of family photos that show how much loving attention Sam and Josie put into her childhood. This week’s photo shows her all dressed up in an outfit that includes gloves with ruffled cuffs and a little pocketbook, too. Based on a family story she shared with me we think she was on her way to a special occasion, perhaps a wedding.

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54c-Serrapede Family in America-Emily Leatrice’s Studio Portrait 1935 (Part 2)

Introduction

This posting is a continuation of 54c-Serrapede Family in America-Emily Leatrice’s Studio Portrait 1935 (Part 1) where we shared a studio portrait of Emily taken in 1935.  The name of the studio on the picture frame prompted us to learn more about the photographer, Joseph Weise.  We followed the growth of his business from 1930 to 1940.  We now continue with our review of the findings which showed that Mr. Weise had studios in two different neighbhorhoods where the mix of immigrants and American citizens created the opportunities for expanding his client base.

Joseph Weise Photography Studios in Bensonhurst and Borough Park

The Weise Studio located at 4723 13th Avenue was situated in the part of Brooklyn formerly known as Blythebourne in the late 19th century.  In the early 20th centuries Jewish immigrants settled in the area becoming the majority population.  Italian and Irish immigrants also lived in this neighborhood.  By the 1930s a shift began to take place as Hasidic Jews moved in.  Today, the Hasidim dominate the community outnumbering the Orthodox Jews who were the dominant Jewish group at the time Joseph Weise opened his studio on 13th Avenue sometime after 1933 and before 1935.

The studios at 6408 18th Avenue (in 1933) and 6411 18th Avenue (in 1935) were situated in Bensonhurst.  Up until the end of WWII, Bensonhurst had almost equal percentages of Jewish and Italian immigrants living in the community.  With the development of middle class housing in the suburbs after WWII many of the Jewish residents moved out leaving the Italian-American community as the dominant ethnic group in the area.  Today Bensonhurst is home to a much smaller Italian-American population.  The up-and-coming immigrant groups are Chinese and Russian.

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54c-Serrapede Family in America-Emily Leatrice’s Studio Portrait 1935 (Part 1)

Introduction

The first studio portrait of Emily Leatrice was taken when she was 14 months old in 1932. We shared that photo and the research results about studio where the photo was taken in these previous postings:

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

53c-Serrapede Family in America: Emily Leatrice’s first studio portrait, 1932 Part 2

When Emily was 4 years old in 1935, Sam and Josie had another photo taken of Emily at a different studio. This photo comes with a pretty cardboard frame that is attractive enough to use as is. In the back is a stand so that the photo may displayed on a table. There is also a tab with a hole in it that makes it possible to hang the photo on a wall. Despite being stored in nothing other than a brown paper bag that was placed into a sturdy, cardboard carton with other photos, the frame is still in good condition. This may have been due to the fact that the attic where Josie stored her photo collection was usually warm and dry in all seasons.

54c-Emily L Serrapede 1935 portrait watermarked

Emily Leatrice Serrapede.  Photo take in June 1935 at Wiese Photo Studio, Brooklyn, NY.

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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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