I’m looking forward to starting another year-long of 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks with Amy Johnson Crow. If you’ve never joined into this type of a weekly writing blog, check out her 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks site for more information. I first joined in 2014, opening my first blog and proud to say… I completed all 52 weeks on time! My 2014: 52 Week Ancestor Challenge can be found on the previous link.
L. to R. back row: Catherine, Freddie, Cecelia, Johnny, Frankie, and Nancy. Front Row: Minnie (Domenica), Antonette “Dolly” (baby) in Minnie’s lap and Joe (Giuseppe/Joseph). I’m dating this photograph in the late summer of 1946. Daughter, Nancy, was twelve when this photo was taken and says it was taken in front of her father’s grapevine arbor at the farm. It was his favorite place in the yard… a table there for summer dinners, a place where Joe enjoyed his pastime of whittling, and often where several of the siblings played cards… if their father wasn’t home!
Choosing a favorite family photograph, much less one from a biological family not my own, is hard… but it was this photograph that I was drawn to when I married Steve! It was a photograph of his large family… a family who had the “typical” sibling spat, but still remained there for each other… a family that remained close… having daily contact with each other. A family I was always jealous of… I am an only child, but now I had a family.
How did this family photograph come to be taken… well, at this point in time it’s not remembered, or known… but they were all gathered for it! Giuseppe’s (Joseph) grandson Steve (Insalaco) says, “my grandfather knew many people as a barber… he never went to any races at West Haven Speedway where his son Johnny raced every weekend… but he knew who won every week… a barber always knew the latest news!” Most of the family men and boys went there for haircuts, so whether he went or not, he was told what happened at the racetrack as well as the family news. Several of my teachers also went to his barber shop for haircuts, so I had to be on my best behavior, for the most part in school… or he’d know! It might have been one of grandpa’s customers who came to the farm to take this family photograph. Possibly it was even the photographer, Conroy Taylor, who worked for the local newspaper (New Haven Register). Conroy was friends with Johnny, photographing the Speedway races weekly and even Johnny’s wedding.” But whoever came that day to take this family photograph… Thank You! Photographs such as this preserve history… preserving family at a specific time in their lives. (Conroy Taylor was also Steve’s Boy Scout Troup No.716 Master)
I can only imagine how the photo shoot went that afternoon under Joe’s grapevine arbor… and I’m sure a few words were voiced, out loud, as son Johnny seemed to have rocked the boat! Johnny was the strong-willed son, and if you study the photograph, you’ll notice that he was the only one who didn’t comply with his father’s request to dress in their Sunday’s finest! I’m told by daughter, Nancy, that it caused quite a ruckus that afternoon when Johnny refused to dress in a tie and jacket, but as you can see in the photo… someone gave in and the picture was taken… and it’s the only family photo of them all together in one sitting… from the youngest, (Antonette), to the oldest of Catherine.
For the most part, everyone looked happy,
finally… on this day and we are very lucky to have this photograph documenting that late summer 1946 afternoon under Giuseppe’s (Joe’s) grapevine arbor!
As all the children are lined up in sibling order, from oldest to the youngest sitting on the mother’s lap… I’ll write on each one in order.
As I look into their faces, I see Catherine on the left smiling, now if you knew her, you’d know that she always ran from every camera, or held her hand near her mouth. Look at her, she was beautiful, but yet she persistently referred to herself as ugly and always ducked out of the camera view. She’s known to have tragically even scratched her face out of photographs with a pen… I’ve seen a few! This was a woman, whose wedding photo was displayed in the window of a local photography studio. Aunt Catherine was one of a kind, and I enjoyed spending time with her. Steve often visited her, as she was his godmother… in later years, they had great political conversations, especially during the past campaigns; they both saw eye-to-eye on politics! Catherine kept an immaculate house, with limited decorations as often told me when visiting… “all those things are dust collectors.” She’d often look around my house at parties and say, “don’t you mind dusting all these things?” At that time in my life, I didn’t mind… today at my age, yes I do mind… I understand how she felt, and now I’d rather write than dust! I could easily write a book of stories on all the things I learned about Aunt Catherine through the years… such as how she always packed the trial sizes of Lysol, Comet and a sponge in a plastic bag in daughter Diane’s suitcase to clean the hotel bathroom on band trips… and who can forget her delicious cookies she brought on Christmas Eve. She enjoyed when Steve visited after he retired… he always arrived with a plate of Anginettes or Pepperoni Bread. I’ll leave you a teaser… she lived next door to the Elephant woman of Savin Rock! (That story will be for another day) It seems Diane’s suitcase was the first one opened after all the girls checked into their rooms on those band trips… as they all wanted to know what her mom had packed! Diane reports that those “cleaning” supplies were never used for the purpose intended… but mom never asked… and Diane never told! But the “cleaning” aspect was instilled into Diane, as she now packs those very things for trips and hospital visits… just like mom! Aunt Catherine finally knows the truth now!
Brother Freddie (Frederick Joseph), is next, the oldest brother in the family; named after his grandfather, Frederico Gambino. Freddie was a good son to his mother, as any son should be. Freddie lived his own life… strong-willed but close to his siblings, especially his brothers. I’m sure he set the way, as first children usually do, and they followed alongside him in many things such as hunting and boating (they lived on the water by 1957). They competed in everything they did… it was a very competitive family.
Steve: “Freddie was a tough kid, always getting in a fight, and his brothers were always there for him. He enjoyed working with wood… also a whittler like his father. I visited him often, later in life, and always found him at the kitchen table whittling wooden spoons… of which we have a few… or building one of the many wishing wells he built; almost everyone in the family ended up with one; he was also a great cook (he was a cook in the Navy) and you’d usually walk in to find a pot of sauce simmering on the stove on Sunday mornings. Freddie was accomplished at many things, such as archery… always hitting the bullseye! Boating and fishing were favorites of his also, and after moving by the water, he spent much time on the water; buying himself a new wooden speedboat. He often fished for blue crabs and eels… bringing them to his mother to cook; she made the best-stuffed eels… I have never found anyone who could duplicate the taste of them!. He also hunted all types of animals, such as pheasants, rabbits, deer and even squirrels, which grandma would cook in sauce or make a stew. Deer hunting was an annual tradition, and he never came home with one or two tied on the front of his car.”
The next sibling in birth order is Cecelia (my mother-in-law). Celia wasn’t like any of her other siblings… they’ve all said that… she was strong-willed, doing what she wanted… when she wanted. She was loved as their sister, but there was often conflict… but in the end, after many fusses and fights… conflicts were resolved, as they were siblings. Being she was my mother-in-law, it’s often hard to write on her. While she didn’t quite accept me when I came into the family, we eventually worked that out and spent many days together crafting and spending family time together, especially when the grandchildren came. Unfortunately, Celia had a one-track mind toward gambling, as many in the family did, but she couldn’t control hers and it caused problems, but everyone has problems in life… and it doesn’t stop you from loving your family. My mother-in-law was a great cook and taught me all I know about “Italian” cooking… knitting and crochet… and a few of her favorites such as Scrabble and Pinochle. I never mastered the Pinochle card game, it just didn’t grab me, but I played scrabble with her, not winning often… she had many years of playing on me. The
large, huge Dictionary always sat on the side of the table and if the word was in there… either top or bottom of the page… it was a word!
Brother Johnny, the one who caused the ruckus wearing no tie is next. Of all the siblings standing there, Johnny was the most colorful one in the family! I can only imagine all the trouble that erupted throughout the family as he grew up… and don’t tell me you’re (family) not laughing… in thinking of all he’s done and said! When I came into this family, I became close to Johnny and his wife Maggie… they were easy to talk to and Johnny was entertaining! I could listen to Johnny tell stories all day… and those stories never stopped… he enjoyed telling them! I often spent time with him and Maggie and even went with him to the car races at Riverside, MA. He raced at Savin Rock Speedway in his early years and was still racing when I met him. I remember riding with him on the purple (school) bus to Riverside, with the race car riding inside the bus; he’d boldly think nothing of walking to the back of the bus and cranking up the car… imagine how loud that car was… inside the bus! On one of my first times of riding with Johnny, he told me… “don’t worry, you’re as safe as a baby in a cradle, I can stop on a dime.” As a young girl of 19, far away from home… I wasn’t so sure of that as he was, but what I did know… I enjoyed being around him!
One of the things my husband and I laugh over now is a story that Johnny first told us of ice skating at Voss Pond one day when one of the boys fell through the ice, and in Johnny’s words… “miraculously I stuck my hand through the hole and the boy reached up to grab my hand and I pulled him out.” Now if you know Johnny, you can hear him telling this story in his descriptive way and voice. Years later, brother Frankie told us this very same story, but it was “he” who saved that boy… in the same way! Could there possibly have been two boys, and they each actually saved the same boy? We’ve always laughed over this story, at the fabrication of how each one of them was the same hero! It never mattered to us, whether it was real or not… they each told a great story and I’d give anything to go back in time… to once again hear that story!
Brother Frankie, the youngest of the three, stands next to big brother Johnny. They were very close and very competitive with each other in “everything” they did; the Cambino family was a very competitive family and remained close through the years. He was the first of my husband’s uncles I met when I came to CT., and he often took me for rides on his motorcycle to show me all around the area. I was a little nervous when he first drove me up to the top of West Rock to see Long Island Sound and all of New Haven; it was an awesome site, but the fast ride up was pretty scary. Frankie’s exceptional qualities were as a carpenter… he could build anything. He often told me stories of when he was in the Army… he was even the main carpenter in his unit, even building a table and chairs for the commander. If anyone remembers Bob Rossi, the painter on TV… then you know that’s how Frankie began painting. He’d set up his easel (he built) and paint along with Bob… and became quite proficient in painting. (I’ll add photos later). Frankie was also an accomplished musician, as well as brother Johnny; both played by ear, there was never any lessons. Frankie also played the organ, piano, guitar, and harmonica. Frankie always livened up Christmas Eve when he began playing the organ.
Sister, Nancy, is on the end of the back row of siblings in this family, age twelve, and the only one who remembers this day. I’ve always seen Nancy as the strongest of the family, taking charge of caring for her parents, making decisions and always being the one, other than their mother, to be called at holidays for a recipe. Everyone cared for their parents in different ways, but there is always one, in every family, who takes the lead. I can still hear my mother-in-law calling Nancy to ask… what amounts of this and that were needed for the Easter pies. That was what encouraged me to create the family cookbook, “Italian Famiglio Recipes.” Even today, Nancy is still a strong woman, working in her flower gardens, maintaining a vegetable garden and cooking the Sunday family dinner. Nancy and husband Gene hosted an annual Fourth of July picnic for many years… lots of work! Those picnics were so much fun… all the siblings came with their families and as the families grew, even more, were added. The Bocci games there intrigued me when I first went, and I wanted to play… but was quickly told… “it’s only for the men.” That didn’t sit well with me. LOL! Eventually, the men relented and the women began playing, but having their own game, not with them. Most of the women brought their crafts or crocheting that day, so we were content usually, to not play Bocci unless we wanted to; we enjoyed showing off what they were working on… those were fun days!
Baby, Antonette (Dolly), completes this family photograph along with her parents Domenica (Minnie) DeTulio and Giuseppe (Joseph) Cambino. When I questioned her nickname, I was told, “I didn’t play with dolls, so my brothers called me Dolly.” She is close in age to my husband and they grew up more like brother and sister through the years… and when I came into this family… we spent much time together. Summers were spent sitting by the pool at my mother-in-laws, crocheting, crafting, and sunbathing! I can’t even remember all the crafts we’ve done through the years… there were so many! I never had anyone to play board games when I grew up, but I have fond memories of playing Clue and Careers for hours on end with Dolly… even our husbands played. What fun we had on Saturday afternoons… trying to outwit each other either in solving the mystery of whether it was Colonel Mustard, Professor Plum, Miss Scarlet, Mrs. White, Mr. Green or Mrs. Peacock.. as to who killed Mr. Boddy! Just thinking of the Clue characters is so making me want to play again… I might need to find an online game… Dolly, are you ready for a rematch? Careers was another favorite… each of us trying to trick the other as to our formula strategy… it was a strategic game, gathering points to win. When OTB (Off Track Betting) came to West Haven… our Saturday mornings changed to discussing the horse races and who’d win that afternoon… often arguing our different views! It was fun later watching the race to see who picked out the winners!
Grandma Minnie celebrating her 85th birthday party… and there is that family photo given to her by her children.
The mother, Domenica “Minnie” (DeTulio) Cambino… a caring mother holding baby Antonette (Dolly). I always loved her given name… which means Sunday. I first assumed she was possibly born on that day, but later learned she was most likely named after her paternal grandmother, Domenica DeCuore. Her nickname “Minnie” became the more Americanized version; I never heard anyone call her by any name, other than Minnie! Her children called her Mama… I called her Grandma along with her many grandchildren, and spent many hours at her house… and enjoyed going there. She taught me many cooking skills and dishes. I first learned about the famous zucchini yellow flowers from the summer squash plants. She’d take me into the garden with a paper bag in hand… to gather the flowers. When I questioned the bag, grandma said, “always put the flowers in a bag before bringing them into the house… listen closely for the buzzing. You don’t want to open the bag in the kitchen and have a bee fly out.” I never forgot that! And those fried yellow blossoms were always the best at Grandma’s! She was a great cook, and never thought twice about just cooking a small amount of any dish for you. When I was pregnant with Stephen, she’d prod me into tasting a little bit of everything, telling me, “you must taste everything so the baby will like it.” Well, I guess that worked, as Stephen loves Broccoli Rabe, and she pushed that on me saying it tasted like my southern turnip greens. Personally, I never saw the comparison to the two, other than they both were green! I never argued the taste tests, I ate whatever she gave me. When I began my cookbook, my first stop was at her kitchen table to watch, measure and write her recipes. She had no recipes written, as most cooks didn’t back then… like my own mother and grandmother… they knew how to cook by the feel and taste. On that one Easter week, as she sat at the table making her pies, I measured her ingredients to create a recipe; and it worked, as my pies come out good every time. If only I’d thought to have brought a camera!
My first experience of eating pizza there was interesting… I was in awe as she tore off the top of the box, tearing it in four pieces… and soon we all had paper plates. Often today I’ll tell hubby, “just use grandma Minnie’s paper plates.” I’ll close with one funny story after her passing… we all learned that Grandma actually smoked! We laughed about it, as almost none of us knew, except for maybe Dolly and Frankie, who lived there at the time. Frankie told us how he’d purposely leave his pack of cigarettes on the kitchen table… and as she always kept a kitchen cloth on the table, she’d pull a few out to hide under that cloth until she could hide them later. Dolly remembers, “I’d come home at lunch sometimes, and see smoke coming out the bathroom window… no one was home but Mama, so I assumed it was her.” It’s a funny remembrance! Even today… I can still picture her sitting in her “spot” at the kitchen table, with that cloth laying right there.
The father, Giuseppe (Joseph) Cambino (Gambino) sits alongside Minnie… looking the part of the prestigious proud father of 7 children on this day. While I did get to meet him in 1971 when I married Steve, he wasn’t the strong fiery man he once was… of whom I heard many stories on. He was now a sweet quiet man, and on our first meeting, he took me for a walk to see the roses he enjoyed growing. Once he gave up growing a garden, he turned to flowers. His early photos, like the tin photo of him at age 18, always showed him as a strong confident man, and quite handsome. This family photo has him sitting there, still very confident, with movie star quality… love the pocket watch tucked in his vest pocket. He reminds me of George Burns in this photograph… probably because of the cigar in hand… he seemed to hold it just as George did. Joseph always provided for his family with clothing, food, and shelter. It might not have been the best, but he provided, as what a good father does for his family… they provide the best to their ability. Times were tough, money was hard to come by, and he worked long hours at the barber shop… but he provided for all 7 children and ensured that they all received an education. My husband has many memories of going to Grandpa Joe’s barber shop for haircuts… I’ll tell those later along with the Bocci stories.
Italian naming patterns:
- The first male is named after his paternal grandfather.
- The second male is named after his maternal grandfather.
- The first female is named after her paternal grandmother.
- The second female is named after her maternal grandmother.
I can see the patterns in many of my husband’s lines, but it was not always followed as the families Americanized more.
One of the stories I’d hoped to find but never did is a photograph of when Giuseppe was young and courting Minnie. He often picked her up from work at Strouse Adler on his motorcycle with the sidecar! As New Haven had a large Indian Motorcycle dealership, I often wondered if that bike might have possibly been an Indian. (Strouse Adler was famous for their “Smoothie” foundation garments.)
So the next time you look through your family photographs… remember… there is much more to the photograph of the people you’re looking at… they all have a story! I hope you have enjoyed mine as much as I’ve enjoyed telling them.
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