Ida by Olympia Simonetti Normandy  -12-

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My new son-in-law, Gordon Greenwood, wanted to know what an Italian family used to eat so I'll talk about that now. Every day of the week had a certain food.

So every Monday you knew you were going to have soup. Soup with pasta. In the soup you would put a cow’s knee bone, fresh tomato, parsley, celery. Some people strained it and some didn't. You had a big piece of soup meat cut up on the side. Sometimes, it would be so much that you would cut off half and make a salad out of half the meat. You would add oil and vinegar and seasonings and dip the bread in that juice. We always had bread at every meal, big round loaves.

On Tuesdays it was macaroni. We would make a big gravy with meatballs or braccioli and a piece of pork, sometimes neckbones. You brown that all up and throw in tomato paste and tomatoes. That makes a good gravy. A lot of people used to make their own hand-made macaroni years ago. Lots of times we would go to buy it at the macaroni factory. It would be so fresh. They had it hanging up everywhere, drying.

On Wednesday, it was pasta e fagioli, beans with pasta. We used white kidney beans and any macaroni you wanted. We liked pasta with holes. We use to soak dry beans overnight and the soaking water was poured over bread with parsley, olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper. Now you can make it easier with canned beans and just use the liquid in the can.

On Thursday, you are back again to the gravy. You make the gravy again and instead of using something like ziti which you had on Tuesday, you change it to a different style of pasta, like spaghetti or linguine.

Friday was fish day. The fish man used to come around and sell us fresh fish. All the wives would run outside in their half-aprons to buy their fish for supper. He would ask if you wanted whitefish, flounder, whatever, and he would scale it for you right there. You would see scales flying all over. You could cook the fish on Friday any way you wanted. He even had baccala, dried, salt-cured codfish. We used to put it in the oven and cook it with tomatoes and spices on it. You might have it with a little escarole or chickory on the side, occasionally a potato.

Saturday was more casual because the children had their activities and it was hard to get everyone to sit down together. Lunch might be a bologna sandwich. Saturday night was wonderful. We combined heart, lung, and liver and browned them just like when you make the gravy. Even tripe, the stomach, was used. We looked forward to Saturday because this was a meal that everyone loved. It was out of this world. We would go to Balucci's on Metropolitan Avenue and buy the
little frezella and put all the stuff over the loaf of bread. It was so
delicious, I could just taste it thinking about it now. It was such a treat.

Sunday you were back again to your gravy. Once in while there might be a chicken, too. The gravy was the same with the pork and so forth.

On Sunday the kids wanted to go to the movies. Before they got a nickel they had to cry their eyes out. We had The Reel on Grand Street and The Graham on Graham Avenue. I remember way back when there were silent movies and then later, of course, talkies.

Remember when I told you I used to go paint roofs with my father?  Well, we used to sit near the chimney of one high eight-family house to watch the movie next door. Margaret and I would do that. If we ever moved, we would be killed. The movie was next door to 561. There was an empty lot next door where they would show movies at night and we would watch for free from the roof.

We never were much for desserts. Sometimes rotten bananas that Katie's father couldn't sell. They would come around with truckloads of apples sometimes, eight pounds for a dime. They were just thrown on trucks. No one worried about hygiene. Once in awhile, if we had an extra penny, there was the man that came around selling penny ices. He had a big block of ice he would scrape into a cup and put syrup over it.

One of my favorite stories involves my husband, Jack. I lived on Maujer Street. It was back in the thirties. Jack came home and said, "Hey, Girlie, I bought you a prize bag." He always called me "Girlie." "Come on, look in it," he said. They had prize bags for nickels and dimes. He bought the nickel one.

I said, "What's in it?" I opened the bag and a couple of candies came out. I said, "Oh, you and your lousy candy." Lousy was always my worst bad word. I always had that kind of a mouth. He said, "Look in the bag." I shook it and out came a cameo pin.

A cameo like the one Jack bought IdaI said, "Oh, who the hell wants this thing?" I thought it was false. In a prize bag what would you expect?  He said, "You're making such an issue. Look at it. That's a good one." "Oh come on, you wouldn't buy anything for me. You wouldn't spend a nickel on me," I said. He answered, "Well, I did spend a nickel on you." Then I felt bad and wished I hadn't said it. "Oh, it looks real. Gee, look at the diamond, how it shines," I said.

It had a diamond locket and a diamond on the bracelet and the head was coral. When I showed it to my mother she said it was a good one. That's what she used to work on in her home town in Italy. That's the only thing Jack ever bought me.

I never was fancy. For a couple of years I went bugs for rings and things, but I got over that stage. I gave most of them away already to my children and my grandchildren. What do I need all that jewelry for?

Ida with castle clip hairdo
Priscilla and I got out the old family album one day in December. She thought the pictures would help me remember some more old stories. It really brought back memories. I saw my picture with my hair in castle clips. I had been wondering where that picture ended up.

I saw the picture of Aunt Angelina and I remembered how she died. When we had the business on Bay 8th Street, my sister, Susie, came to help us out. We were making so much money and were so busy that we needed more help. Susie came for the weekend. She and Angelina had so much fun together. They were young and had never seen so much money. We used to keep the money in those big white aprons we wore and every time they put money in the aprons, how they would laugh.

One night, they went to sleep in the same bed and a poison bug bit Angelina. It could as easily have bitten my sister. In four days we buried her. The poison went all through her body to her heart. She was about to graduate high school. It really broke her mother's heart. Angelina was sixteen.

It was in the twenties when my mother-in-law went to Italy with her brother and sister-in-law. Sam was so wealthy, he took his Cadillac on the boat to Europe. They toured all over Europe in that Cadillac. The little Italian children would run after that big car, because they weren't used to seeing cars like that, and my mother-in-law and Jennie would throw coins to them. Money meant nothing to them because they had plenty. The Normandias were always big shots.

How I laughed when I saw the picture of me with Edward J. Reilly, one of the biggest criminal lawyers in the United States. His mind finally snapped and they put him in Kings County Hospital and he died.

What made me laugh was the outfit I was wearing in the picture. It was little Eddie Devine's christening and I was his godmother and Reilly was his godfather. I got this beautiful fur scarf for the occasion but I couldn't wait to wear it. My mother warned me not to wear it before the christening day but I didn't listen.

I wore it to go out with my friends. We got on a streetcar and as soon as we sat down, this kid on the street picked up some horse manure and threw it at us!  It stuck to the fur and it was an awful mess!

I moved to Hollywood, Florida, in 1953 with Priscilla. We lived in George and Mary Normandy's house on Fletcher Street. It was right across the street from the Hallandale Dog Track. We had beginner's luck the first time we went and won $200 on a quinella. It was beautiful in Hollywood at that time and I made so many new friends. We used to play canasta a lot back then.

Florida is another chapter in my life, but this is where we had to stop to go over to my granddaughter Priscilla's house. It's my 82nd birthday and she's giving me a party with her boyfriend, Gregg, and my other grandchildren.

Olympia "Ida" Simonetti Normandy, the author of this book, lived to be almost ninety-one years old. She made her transition on November 9, 1994, a month short of her birthday. She was my mother.

Mom enjoyed keeping a daily record of her vacations. Her "trip of a lifetime" took place in 1963 when she visited cousins in California. A transcription of her diary from that trip, as well as clips from an 8mm movie that chronicles part of it can be found on the following page.

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Now Playing: "Torna a Surriento" (Come Back to Sorrento)

Torna a Surriento

          Vide 'o mare quant'è bello!
          spira tanta sentimento
          Comme tu, a chi tiene mente
          ca, scetato, 'o faje sunná!

          Guarda guá' chisti ciardine
          siente sié' sti sciure 'arancio
          nu prufumo accussí fino
          dint''o core se ne va

          E tu dice: "Io parto, addio!"
          T'alluntane da stu core
          Da la terra de ll'ammore
          tiene 'o core 'e nun turná?

          Ma nun me lassá
          nun darme stu turmiento
          Torna a Surriento
          famme campá!

          Vide 'o mare de Surriento
          che tesore tene 'nfunno
          Chi ha girato tutt''o munno
          nun ll'ha visto comm'a ccá!

          Guarda, attuorno, sti Ssirene
          ca te guardano 'ncantate
          e te vònno tantu bene
          Te vulessero vasá!

          E tu dice: "Io parto, addio!"

                          By Ernesto DeCurtis - G. B. DeCurtis, 1904

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Copyright 1997-2013 Priscilla  Normandy Greenwood