Ida by Olympia Simonetti Normandy -2-
I was visiting my daughter, Jean Lomuto, in Boca Raton, Florida, where she lives with her husband, Pete. They have been married over forty years now. My younger daughter came to see me with her new husband, Gordon Greenwood. Everyone calls her Patti, but her name is Priscilla, after my mother, Principia, may she rest in peace. Priscilla thought it was a good idea to write this book, so the next year, in November of 1984, after saying I would never fly again, I took an Eastern Airlines flight out of New York into Gainesville, Florida.
Pris and I spent many days in her little home office where she does all her writing. We had a lot of fun making cassette tapes of my life story. We had a lot of good laughs and a few tears as I tried to remember back as far as I could to my days in kindergarten.
My father, Vincenzo Simonetti, was taking my five year-old sister, Margaret, to her first day of school. She was screaming and crying that she didn't want to go. I was four, crying in his other hand that I wanted to go to school. "Let me go, let ME go and let her go home," I screamed.
My father had to give Margaret a couple of slaps to calm her down because she was crying something terrible, you know.
Finally, he got her into school and took me back home. By the time the following year came around and it was my turn to go to school, I wasn't too keen on going either because I thought if it made her cry so much, why should I go? But my father had no trouble at all taking me to P.S. 143 on Havemeyer and North Seventh Street. [See map and photo] The only thing was that the teacher found a lot of fault with Margaret when she was in kindergarten.
The teacher said, "Mr. Simonetti, I don't know what we are going to do if your little girl carries on like that. She won't be able to attend school."
So my father said, "Oh no, don't worry. I'll take her, I'll take her."
After the third or fourth day she kind of got used to it and was contented. She started playing with the other children. Then I asked the teacher if I could go to the school and stay in the school with my sister.
The teacher said, "Well, if you'll be good and sit in the back. As long as you behave, I'll let you stay until your father picks you both up."
They had nice toys and games. I remember ring-around-the-rosie. We went all around and the kids, who would fall and knock into each other. You know, there's always fresh kids. The teacher said I was a good girl and next year I would have her for my teacher.
So that's how Margaret got used to school. She had curly, curly hair like my daughter, Priscilla's. They used to call her "Curly." My mother used to call her "Margarite che ricci capelli," you know. She had kinky hair. Oh, how she hated her hair. My father got ahold of her hair one time and I thought he was going to pull it all out, when she didn't want to go to school.
I used to like the things we did. One time we made all these rings and put one inside the other. I liked it because I was a different type. Margaret was more the home type. Me, I always wanted to run away from my father.
My sister, Jennie, was the oldest. She and my brother, Sally, and my sister, Bobbie, were all born in Italy. They were born near Naples, Torre del Greco. My mother was born in a place you wouldn't know in the province of Napoli, Castellammare di Stabia. (See photo) It's near the ocean where they have all the coral, where they make cameos. My mother used to work on coral. Years later we got a lot of coral from Europe. My father was from Palma Campania.
Years ago, everybody in Italy used to say, "Let's go to America. America is rich. They throw the pots and pans out the window. They don't wash them. They are so wealthy." This thought stayed in my father's mind. America: Land of rich people.
After my sister, Jennie, and my brother, Sal, were born in Italy, my folks had a little girl they named Barbara. She burned to death in a fire, somebody pushed her. My father and mother had to run away from Torre del Greco because with something like that, they get after the parents and lock them up or whatever. It was very, very sad.
After awhile, my folks went back to Torre del Greco and had another girl they named Barbara. She also died very young. My mother got very sick after this second loss. Finally, on the 4th of July in 1897, she had my sister, Barbara, who was so beautiful and my mother recovered.
My mother said it was so beautiful where she was from. She used to tell us how they threw out the nets and brought in so many fish. It was really a fishing town. Now I remember, it was Torre del Greco where my mother lived.
After a long struggle, my father came to America alone. My father was a carpenter. He used to build cabinets and all things like that. Even when he came to America, he was a cabinetmaker. Life was hard in America. Still, he managed to save money to go back for his wife and three children. He took all kinds of jobs to feed his family.
They had a terrible life on the boat to America in 1900. It was called "The Alsatia." Do you think what they show in the movies is bad? That's nothing compared to what they went through. My mother was in third class, way down in the basement of the ship. They were all starving, you might as well say. They ate biscottis, those hard biscuits. Everyone that got on the ship made sure they had a great big bag of biscottis, because they were not fed on the ship for 31 days at sea. It was so rough, they never thought they would make it.
When they finally got here, my father found them an apartment, four rooms with no water. You had to go down in the yard to get some water. No toilets! You had to go out in the yard to go to the bathroom. Even I remember what that was like, freezing your ass when you had to go.
My mother had rheumatics and went to bed to stay at an early age. Now I remind myself of my mother when I lose my balance and see myself falling all the time. My mother never spoke English and my father could say a few words, like "yes, okay, goodbye" and things like that. He even tried to go to school.
He loved America. He used to say, "This is where I saw a dollar." In Europe they had rough times. Not that they didn't have fun, but for making a living, it wasn't like America. He always used to say, "God bless America."
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When the moon hits your eye
Like a big pizza pie,
When the world seems to shine
Like you've had too much wine
Bells will ring, ting-a-ling-a-ling
Ting-a-ling-a-ling and you'll sing
Hearts will play, tippy-tippy-tay,
Tippy-tippy-tay, like a gay
When the stars make you drool
Just like pasta fazool
When you dance down the street
With a cloud at your feet
You're in love
When you walk in a dream
But you know you're not dreaming
Scuzza me but you see
Back in old Napoli
By Warren and Brooks
Copyright 1999-2013 Priscilla Normandy Greenwood