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.

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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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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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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.

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Family Story: “Made with Love”

Introduction

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.

 

40-Muro Family in America-The Ethnic Mix on State Street

Introduction

As a child I thought my Grandmother and Mother grew up in neighborhoods where the entire community was Italian-American. I was very scared about going to kindergarten. Some of our neighbors told me that the children of servicemen stationed at Fort Hamilton would be amongst my classmates. These children had travelled to different countries in Europe or different states in America. Some of their mothers were from different countries. Instead of looking forward to making new friends I became unsure of myself. I told Grandma Josie and my Mom that I didn’t want to go to Public School. Instead I wanted to attend St. Bernadette where the student body consisted solely of children from Dyker Heights.

Mom and Grandma Josie shared stories of their childhood and adolescence with me in an effort to show me that they never lived in the strictly Italian-American world my 4 1/2 year old imagination created. I was told that sooner or later the bigger world would call out for me to participate in it. Going to kindergarten was the first big step I had to take.

Uncle Sammy and I decided to check out the stories Grandma Josie shared with me and compare them with the ethnic mix as recorded in the 1920 Federal Census for the Muro family in Wilmerding, PA. We then compared our own experiences of growing up in Dyker Heights and the ethnic mix we encountered throughout our school years. This exercise showed us that official records can be used to check the veracity of the family stories. In the case of the examples my Mom gave, we learned how important it is to collect as much material on a topic from each generation as possible. This personal history is sometimes never entered to published works on a community since they can be written by people who have not grown up or experienced the life of members of the community. For this reason, we believe that researchers do a great service to the genealogical community and amateur family historians when they include interviews with the people from the community they are writing about.

Relationship Notes

Josie Muro Serrapede was:

  • Emily Leatrice Serrapede’s Mother
  • Sammy Serrapede’s Mother
  • EmilyAnn’s maternal Grandmother

Emily Leatrice Serrapede was:

  • Sammy’s Sister
  • EmilyAnn’s Mother

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Coffee Break: Change in posting schedule

Greetings to all readers and subscribers of “Through the Byzantine Gate”.  After a long, hot summer it’s good that Autumn is here.  We’ve resumed our weekly research and discussion sessions.  There will be many, many more chapters to the Muro and Serrapede family history forthcoming.

To accommodate our work and travel schedules the frequency of posting will change.  We’re moving to a twice monthly posting rather than a weekly posting.  This provides more time to proofread and tweak the drafts created in the past.  My Uncle and I are roughly 6 months ahead in our progress.

As we near the 1940s, the availability of Federal Census records ends.  With the end of available census records a change in our approach is needed.  The question under consideration is how to move the narrative forward and keep our readers engaged.  We intend to continue looking at the story from the family perspective as well as the bigger picture.  It is our purpose to always provide a take-away for the reader.

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