Thursday, November 29, 2012

How I Became Me

It has occurred to me that the number of people who may remember Brooklyn in the 1950s is a shrinking population. Even if they were there, getting older is no friend of memory. I started out writing this blog mainly so my children and grandchildren might know what life was like back in the day. I have been pleasantly surprised by the comments I receive from people who are total strangers, but who want to let me know that they were there too and share some of my recollections. I have acquired a new friend, Joe, who lived around the corner from me and shared my experiences growing up before his family moved to the wilds of Long Island. He writes his own funny and sometimes poignant blogs that I read with great pleasure. DelBloggolo

A typical day for a Brooklyn kid was relatively simple and uncomplicated. We woke up, went to school, and then out to play. Weekends were pretty much the same, minus school and including a Sunday dinner with the family and whoever might be visiting. Mom always made a big pot of "gravy" with enough meatballs, sausage and braciole to feed any drop-ins. Often our upstairs tenants, my cousins, would stop down, if not for dinner, then for coffee and cake. The routine became so familiar to me that I never realized its value. That time spent with my family, the table conversations I only half-listened to, the arguments that grew loud when the battling Caruso side of the family visited, all of that exposure to people and ideas, helped make me who I am today.

My family values, politics, religion, views of people and of life all were being formed over stuffed manicotti or pork-in-the gravy. My empty head was being filled up with street smart, Italian-flavored philosophy. Unfortunately, that also included misinformation and worse, prejudice, traces of which I carry to this day. My Dad was often at the center of these discussions, never bashful about voicing his opinion, especially after a few Rheingold beers had loosened his tongue. My Uncle Joe and Aunt Mae were like Ali-Frazier; even sober they were combative, but homemade wine brought out the worst in them. Sometimes my sister and I would scurry under the table to get away from the hostilities. In the midst of this sat my mother, smiling, rarely speaking except occasionally trying  to negotiate a cease fire.

One of the reasons I value humility so much is because it is the single quality that defined my mother's life. I never heard her brag once in spite of doing one hell of a job raising the three of us. She never spoke ill of anyone, and would even go out of her way to offer a kind word on behalf of some absent soul  being castigated by the family between the fruit platter and the cannolis. I know in my heart that any goodness in me came from her. She had a hard life but rose above it. Each day she quietly went about her business of running the house, managing on a meager budget, and making it all look so easy that we foolishly took it for granted. Of course our meals would always be on the table, our clothes pressed, and our rooms cleaned up. Mom took care of that.

I realize that this blog meandered a bit, but my main point was families play a big part in shaping our outlook on life. Despite the cacophony of noise and the plethora of opinions surrounding me (double points for using cacophony and plethora in the same sentence) my Mom Frances was like a beacon of quiet goodness in my life. I wish I could be more like her.



Children's Craniofacial Association


Joseph Del Broccolo said...

Well Jim, apples never fall far from the tree, and I'm sure your mother knew it too.

Jim Pantaleno said...

Thanks Joe, I am her son, but not close to her equal.