Ida by Olympia Simonetti Normandy -4-
Priscilla asked me to tell the story about the charlotte russe, but it wasn't a charlotte russe. You know when you buy these pastries like a Danish? This one had a ring of chocolate all around, and in the center it had a nice lump of cream. I was eating all around the center. A friend of mine came over to me and said, "Can I have a bite?" I told her, "Oh, Katie, I'm just getting to the best part." She was my best friend, Katie Fagella, so I said, "All right, then you eat the rest." I felt guilty that I was eating the whole thing and wouldn't share with her. She answered, "Okay, if you don't want to share with me, then when my father brings the bananas, I ain't going to give you any bananas."
Her father was a banana man. We used to sell bananas, in fact. We used to buy the pastries at Theodore's. We lived at 554 and the delicatessen was at 561 Metropolitan Avenue where they sold the pastries. The Fagella family was the richest family in Brooklyn then. Who ever knew butter? Her mother used to give Katie a slice of bread and butter and she would always ask her mother to make an extra piece for me. That's how I got to taste butter.
I've lost track of Katie. I'd love to know if she is still alive. She was my very, very best friend. She became a widow very early in life. She had the first colored tile bathroom we had ever seen.
Katie's father was a banana man with a horse and wagon. When he came back from the market, he gave us all the overripe bananas he couldn't sell. We made a stand and sold the bananas, two for a cent. All the kids would come. We would end up making a nickel each, Katie and me.
Katie was crazy about my father because my father used to do a lot of work for her father. When we were about 14, I was such a tomboy that my father taught me how to do a lot of men's jobs. We learned to fix windows, fix broken chains on toilets, everything. Many times Katie used to come along with us. My father would get a nickel to fix a window, ten cents for this, a quarter for that.
To paint a roof Margaret and I would have to go up a straight ladder to help my father. He would get a couple of dollars for a roof. I didn't like that part much but we had to help our father.
Katie and I got to be such good friends, that when I was confirmed, Katie's mother became my godmother. ( Ida's confirmation picture above.)
Now next door to us on Metropolitan Avenue, we had a family that was very, very bad. One son was even a "cokie" who used to sniff. The mother had ten children who were not allowed to go outside their door. You couldn't even walk on their sidewalk without one of them saying, "Get the hell out of here." Everyone was afraid of them.
They had one girl, Agnes, who wasn't even allowed to talk to anybody. These were those big tenement houses on Metropolitan Avenue. Agnes came to the gate one day and said, "Ida, my brothers went out and I want to ask you something."
She had the most beautiful doll that looked just like a baby. It was a regular doll, not one with a cloth body, but porcelain that breaks. Agnes said, "I want to baptize my baby (the doll) and I want you to be the comare (godmother), okay?"
She was about 13 or 14 and she couldn't get out of the house. When she did manage to get out, she had a boyfriend around the corner on Union Avenue. His name was Herbie Bender. His family had the Bender Stables and were very rich for the times. Herbie had a buggy, a pony cart. One day she got out and went for a ride with Herbie and her brother caught her. I thought her family was going to kill her. So did she, so she put all the blame on me. She told them, "That aint my boyfriend, it's Ida's boyfriend!"
Well, the party for the doll was something else. You never saw a party like that. She had the most beautiful clothes for that doll. I don't know where she got the money to buy them. Her father was a rag picker, Mr. Giafone.
When I was smaller, I used to run errands for everybody and one day this real Jewish woman who wore a wig called me. You could tell it was a fakey wig. She said something in Jewish I couldn't understand, so another lady, Rose, next door, translated. The lady wanted me to light her stove. She wasn't allowed to strike a match for religious reasons. They were very strict orthodox. I said, "How much will you give me?" "Two cents," she answered, so I went up to do it.
She asked my name and when I told her Olympia, she couldn't say it and called me "Idala." That name stuck for a long time and that's were I got the nickname, Ida. That lady always would give me a great big chunk of cake. Then she started sending me to pay her gas bills and I'd get two cents for this and two cents for that and soon I had a dime.
I wanted to buy my own roller skates because until then I had to borrow skates for all these errands. So I earned money for my skates but I had to hide my skates on the back of the cellar door before my father came home because he said he'd break my head if he caught me on skates.
One day I was skating up and down the street and who should come down the street but my father. He cursed at me and said, "Get inside, wait till I get you upstairs, I'm going to kill you!" He was mean. I thought I was really in for it that time. Now this particular time was when I still had borrowed skates and the girl they belonged to was afraid my father would break her skates. In fact, my father said, "I'm going to break these skates so you'll never skate again." Years ago, you really couldn't do anything, hardly move from your own front door.
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Now Playing: "That Old Gang of Mine"
I've got a longin' way down in my heartThat Old Gang of Mine
for that old gang that has drifted apart
They were the best pals that I ever had
I never thought that I'd want them so bad
Last night I strolled to that old neighborhood
There on that corner I silently stood
I felt so blue as the crowds hurried by
Nobody knew how I wanted to cry
Gee, but I'd give the world to see
That old gang of mine
I can't forget that old quartet
That sang "Sweet Adeline"
Goodbye forever, old fellows and gals
Goodbye forever, old sweethearts and pals
God bless them
Gee, but I'd give the world to see
That old gang of mine
Music by Ray Henderson.
Words by Billy Rose and Mort Dixon, 1923
Copyright 1997-2013 Priscilla Normandy Greenwood