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

Introduction

This posting completes the series on our review of the average monthly salary of a worker and how families in this income group lived.  The previous postings were:

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

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

The discussion Uncle Sammy and I had about this topic follows in the next section.  All resources used for this series are also included.

Discussion with Uncle Sammy, Sunday, January 31, 2016 11-11:50 a.m.

Mom never spoke about her parents buying health or life insurance. Uncle Sammy confirmed this. So as far as the 1931 budget for $120-130 a month went, the $7 in Barbara Jane’s budget for insurance would go elsewhere in the Serrapede household. Josie became a member of the ILGWU in the late 1940s-early 1950s. Sam entered the local Building Worker’s Union sometime in the 1950s after he got a job as a doorman at a luxury high-rise in Manhattan. Uncle Sammy remembers that any insurance policies Josie and Sam had were all provided through their union jobs. This includes health insurance and life insurance. They did not buy insurance on the individual market.

Josie and Sam had only one credit account and that was at Sam’s Grocery Store on 11th Avenue at the corner of 66th Street. Sam of the grocery store was not related to our Sam. Josie paid Sam the grocer $10 a week towards her purchases. Anything exceeding that amount was posted to her house account. If she spent less a credit was posted. At the end of the year, the remaining amount owed was paid out of the tips Sam collected at Christmas from the tenants of the building where he worked. Uncle Sammy said the tenants were generous since they liked Sam very much. Paying off the balance owed Sam the grocer was never difficult.

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

Special Note and Update 11-26-2017

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.

Introduction

Uncle Sammy and I never heard stories about the Great Depression that focused on extremes of poverty and hunger. Josie, Sam and members of the extended family spoke about how hard everyone had to work to keep their jobs. Family stories emphasized how relatives and paesanos helped each other with everything from providing a few slices of bread, to getting a job and even an introduction to a suitable marriage partner. We learned that the times were worrisome. We also learned what actions people took to remedy their situations. The emphasis was on solving the problem and working with the opportunity that came one’s way. There wasn’t any prolonged analysis of a job offer. The outlook was bluntly put, “No work, no food, no rent.”

Money was never explicitly spoken of so we do not have a point of reference in terms of what Sam’s yearly salary in the 1930s was. Once we locate a 1930 Federal Census entry for Josie and Sam that will change but so far we have not retrieved one at Ancestry. We have the memories Josie and Sam’s daughter Emily shared about the apartments where they lived when she was growing up. These provided a starting point.

I sat down and listed the characteristics of those apartments before preparing this posting. I also thought about the kinds of meals Josie would have made each day. I then went to the 1931 issues of The Brooklyn Daily Eagle to check out the costs of food and rent. The classified ads for rental apartments and the column with food prices gave me some idea of how much things cost. Living on $120 a month was very difficult. We do not know what the monthly budget for the Serrapede family really was but we can say for sure they worked very hard and were very resourceful during the Great Depression. Their daughter Emily grew up feeling loved. She never realized how difficult the times were until she was about 8 or 9 years old. 

Relationship Notes

In this posting we focus on Josie Muro Serrapede. She was the wife of Sam Serrapede, mother of Emily Leatrice, Gerald and Sammy. Josie was EmilyAnn’s maternal Grandmother.

The Family Stories are not dated because they were not recorded during a planned session. These come from conversations throughout the years that recurred many times

$120 a month: a budget for a very thrifty household

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Budget for $130 a month submitted by a reader to The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, March 2, 1931.

In the Spring of 1931 advice columnist Helen Worth of The Brooklyn Eagle asked her readers how they would allocate money for necessities a budget of $120 a month. The request was made on behalf of a reader named Elsa who was about to get married.

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Interlude: Jake’s First Halloween

Katy and Michael Lingle enjoyed dressing their son Jake as an astronaut for his first Halloween.  Michael is my Aunt Kathie’s son.  He and Katy Knipp were married in June 2016.  In a few days, Jake will be 9 months old.  The time is going quickly!

jake katy and mike 10-30-17

Jake Lingle as a NASA astronaut.

Aunt Kathie, Uncle Sammy and I look forward to more photos and family stories about Jake as Holiday Season 2017 progresses.  Baby’s first Thanksgiving and Christmas are always special.  Then each year the milestones Jake achieves will be gifts to us as well.

Previous postings about Michael, Katy and Jake:

Michael and Katy’s Wedding, Baltimore, MD, June 11, 2016

46e-Mike and Katy Lingle Update: Welcome to the world, Jake!

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-ragged20dick_zpsultjsjiz
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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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

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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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51a-Serrapede and Muro Families in America: How a baby book started the family history project

Introduction

Greetings to all. It is good to be back after Summer Break. Thanks to Michael Muro, Giuseppe and Vincenzo Carnicelli, the family of Antonio Eugenio and Aldisa Aiello, and the Dell’Amore family for the enjoyable entries they contributed to during June through August.

With this posting, Uncle Sammy and I begin a shift in the presentation of the Muro and Serrapede family history. While we still have official documentation to draw on, we realize that after the 1940 Federal Census there needs to be other sources of information that will add to or verify the narrative.

We are taking a creative approach by combining family stories, local history, news coverage, pop culture, and personal history. With all the resources available through the internet the possibilities are dazzling. To start, we won’t aim for dazzling or sparkling but hope you will enjoy this story about how the family history project got its start. If it touches the heart and warms the spirit that will be more than enough feedback for us.

EmilyAnn’s story: The Our Baby Book

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Cover of Our Baby, A book of Records and Memories.

I didn’t know what to make of Mom’s idea to use the “Our Baby, A book of Records and Memories” as a starting point for writing down her childhood memories. She bought this book while working at Brooklyn Union Gas during a long term temp assignment in the early 1990s. She said it put her into a cheerful frame of mind and provided the prompts she needed to recall specific times in her childhood. There were other journals and memory books on her bookshelf that she used to record other periods in her life. The end goal was to collect all these brief entries into a collection of vignettes and anecdotes about her life from childhood to young adulthood.

In the early 1990s through 1996 the internet was not part of our lives yet. I had taken creative writing courses in college but it was for the most part tedious and heavy handed. We read selected samples of different styles of writing. Then based on the sample we had to create something like it. There was no free writing, no prompts, nothing that got the creative juices going to take us on a journey into the flights of fancy creative writers can experience today. Thanks to the internet there is a wealth of techniques and exercises available. And then there are wonderful writing tools like 750words.com that keep one disciplined in their daily output. I’ve no idea where Mom got her unique approach to writing but it was working out well for her. As I watched the small collection of memories take written form, I thought there was something to the free form process she took using only illustrations to get started.

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