Ida by Olympia Simonetti Normandy  -3-

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As the years went by and the children grew up and started to work, times got better. But when they came to America, my father made six dollars a week. We had four rooms and my father rented a daybed and put in a boarder. He slept in the kitchen. At night we would open up the bed for him and go in our room because we girls were ashamed and didn't want him to see us. But he gave my father four or five dollars a week to stay there and that helped a lot.

My father would get up at four o'clock in the morning, wrap his legs in potato bags, because the snow was so high, and go to work. Then my sister, Jennie, who was married and already had a little baby named Fannie, moved in with us.

Jennie worked at the Rockwood Chocolate Factory for four dollars a week. Her husband, Frank Devine, left her for awhile, so where could she go? Back home to her mother. What a life my father had to support all of us. It was terrible, the poor thing. Then my brother, Sal, got a job working in cut glass making maybe ten or twelve dollars and that helped a lot. Then Bobbie got older and went to work, finally Margaret went to work. All those few dollars got put together.

They were very careful people. Used to put pennies in a tin box to save. I remember once I stole a few pennies from that box! I can't tell you the kind of life they went through. When Jennie's husband, Frank, came back home, he became a big shot. He studied to be like a lawyer. He was so smart. He helped along, too, and Jennie moved back with him.

Times got better then. We weren't starving. We used to go buy bread that they threw from a truck onto big boards on the ground. We had to go and pick out the freshest ones. Some were three cents, some four cents, for big loaves. My father used to tell us to make sure it was fresh by sticking our fingers in it. It was a miserable, poor life, but we lived through it.

So finally my father had a few dollars and Frank Devine suggested to my father that he buy a little house with Dad's brother, Frank Simonetti. It was on Lorimer Street in Brooklyn. We always lived in Brooklyn. This was an eight-family house like the one on Maujer Street only at 538 Lorimer Street. Eight families and no bathrooms. No one had bathrooms then.

So they bought this house as partners and Uncle Frank wanted a bathroom down the cellar. So he put in a bathroom and a hot water heater that you had to light each time you needed hot water.

Now my father's brother wanted Dad to pay for half of this improvement. Dad didn't want to because it was for my Uncle Frank's convenience. He said, "Well, you want the bathroom so you have to pay for it. It's for the convenience of you and your son and your daughters." Frank said they had to go 50-50 on everything. So my father got mad and told his brother, "Either you take the house or I take the house. Do you want it? You have your family in it already so you can take it." Uncle Frank eventually had six children, David, Sal, Thomas, "Little" Jennie, Antoinette, and Helen.

So my Uncle Frank took the house at 538 Lorimer Street and my father bought two houses on Maujer Street for $25,000, eight-family houses. Then he started collecting rents, a little here and a little there. Then he bought several houses including 184 Maujer where I used to live, too. I even lived there after I had my Jean and Buddy, before Priscilla was born.

But then it's a long story and a lot of mixups came over these houses. Then my brother, Sal, got involved and said my father owed him money and this and that and there was a lot of trouble over it. Then the bad times came, the Depression. Everybody lost money.

As I grew older I was always a tomboy. In school I wanted to be chief all the time. The teachers were crazy about me. They used to call me Olympia, of course. They would say, "Olympia, why are you so bad? I like you so much, but why are you always bad?" I would say, "I'm not bad, I want what I want."

The girls used to argue, like when we went down to the gym. We'd play baseball and someone would always knock you down and you would get all bruised. I was a fighter all the time, but in school - I'm telling you, I hated school. I never was good in anything.

But when it came to dancing, gymnasium, playing baseball and stuff like that, that I loved. When I got up to the 7th grade I had Miss Schroeder and Miss Finley. It was funny, when I mentioned Miss Finley to Nancy, our Nancy, she had the same teacher. They were really old then.

I didn't get to go to High School. With my father, when you were 14, you had to quit to go to work. You had to get your working papers and go to work. I never told anybody that I left in my graduation class. The teachers were so mad. Two weeks before graduation my father took me out of school. My father said, but in Italian, "Graduation, what graduation? You have to work!"

The teachers sent for my father and said, "You know, Mr. Simonetti, it's just a few weeks until your daughter Olympia graduates. Can't you let her finish?" He answered, "Oh no, I gotta no money, I gotta take her for her working papers now."

Even all my sisters, Bobbie, Margaret and all, none of us got an education. You just had to go to work to help the family exist. They were so poor.

This Miss Cornell especially was upset. She was crazy about me. She was one of those big-busted ladies and she used to always grab me and hold me. I used to get so mad she'd squeeze me so much. I even used to walk her home, that's how much we liked each other.

Before that, when I was around 12, I got so wild. I went skating and did all those mischief things. I still have a scar from ice skating. You know, when you don't listen to your mother, that's what happens. I wanted to go to my cousin Louise's house in Bay Ridge one day. She had nine or ten kids and I had to babysit while she went some place. She wanted me to stay for a week to help her out.

My parents never believed that girls should be allowed out of the house to sleep in other people's homes even if it's your own aunt. My father finally convinced my mother to let me go and I got a scar on my leg to prove it.

Sunset Park. North of Bay Ridge, next to Borough Park. I'll never forget it. Bang! A girl behind me hit me with her ice skate. I got a big cut on my leg and was stuck in a chair for six months with my leg elevated. From then on my mother said, "See, you didn't want to listen. I told you not to go to your Aunt Louise's house." Louise was really my cousin, my father's sister's daughter who lived in Bay Ridge. She was such a wonderful woman.

By ten or eleven I thought I knew it all. I started doing little jobs like lighting stoves. One day I came home from school for lunch. My mother had made potatoes and eggs. No, I guess we didn't have eggs then. It was just potatoes for lunch. So what happened was when all the girls came home they went across the street to Bruno's for candy. He had a big thing outside with penny candies. He would give you a bag and you would get ten of this and ten of that all for a penny. So all the girls would show off walking down the street eating candy. I cried to my mother, "Momma, everybody has candy, I don't have nothing. Give me a penny." She said, "No, I can't give you a penny. Those pennies have to be for the gas because we have no lights."

If you put a quarter in the meter, you would get gas, otherwise you had no lights. But we had no quarters so my mother saved pennies and when she had 25 she would find someone who had a quarter for the meter. We had gaslight that we had to light with a torch.

So my mother said to me, "Don't worry, here's a little bag. I'll fill it with potatoes. I'll cut them up in little pieces and when you are walking you take one out at a time and eat them like candy. They won't know. They'll figure you have ten-for-a-penny candies from Bruno's."

Another day, I remember coming home and begging for a penny from my mother. I started fighting with my mom back and forth. They were doing something at school that I wanted to do, too, but I needed a penny. My mother said, "I don't have any penny for you." I said, "Yes, I know you got it but you don't want to give it to me. You got pennies in that little tin box." I was fighting back and forth with her. She kept saying, in Italian, of course, "Andare alla scuola, andare alla scuola!" Better go to school, better go to school. "No," I said, "I want that penny. I won't go to school unless you give me that penny. I'm gonna take that penny out of the box." "You touch that box," she said, "and I'm gonna kill you."

Well, I started to go into the bedroom and my mother got ahold of the broom and threw it at me. Well, I still have the hole in my head to this day. Boy, did it bleed. Then she got scared and said, "Madonna mia," and called the lady next store and said, "Get some rags, get some rags, my daughter's bleeding." Then she told the neighbor the story.
 

Simonetti Sisters minus BobbieBarbara Simonetti DeGenovaMany years later, when all my sisters and I got together in our "Sister Club" this story came up. I said to Mom, "Remember when you threw the stick at me and broke my head?" She said, "Oh no, not me." She just wouldn't admit it. I said, "Give me your hand, I'll let you feel the hole." She said, "Oh no, I didn't do that." She was so embarrassed in front of all her daughters. She said she didn't remember ever doing it. She felt so bad. I didn't care any more and just hugged her and kissed her. We were all having so much fun that night. [The small picture is my older sister, Bobbie. In the black and white picture on the top row are my baby sister, Susie and me, Ida. On the bottom row are my older sisters, Jennie and Margaret. We never seemed to get a picture of us five of us together.]

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Now Playing: "Side By Side"
 

Side By Side
Well, we ain't got a barrel of money
We may look ragged and funny
But we're travelin' on
Singing our song
Side by side
Don't know what's comin' tomorrow
Maybe it's trouble and sorrow
But we'll travel the road
Sharin' our load
Side by side
Through all kinds of weather
What if the sky should fall
As long as we're together
It doesn't matter at all
So we ain't got a barrel of money
We may look ragged and funny
But we're travelin' on
Singing our song
Side by side
Don't know what's comin' tomorrow
Maybe it's trouble and sorrow
But we'll travel the road
Sharin' our load
Side by side
Through all kinds of weather
Drought, flood, and rain and snow
We will always be together
It doesn't matter at all
When they've all had their quarrels and parted
We'll be the same as we started
Just travelin' along singin' our song
Side by side
Just travelin' on singin' a song
Side by side

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