Goodbye, New York ~ Hello, Florida
Butterflies are free . . .
When I was seventeen and living on Devoe Street with my mom, there was a day when I came home from my job at the New York Telephone Company in Manhattan and my mother greeted me with an edict. "Give your boss two weeks notice tomorrow and start packing up all your things in boxes. We're moving to Florida." 

 Priscilla at 17 on Devoe St.

Huh? It took a moment for her mandate to register. Finally I said, "What about Daddy, does he really want to move to Florida?" I must have been pretty naive because I was shocked when she said my father wasn't going with us because she was leaving him for good. No family meetings. No discussions. Mom ruled and we all jumped through her hoops to keep the peace. Always.

Never fear, I will not use this platform to unleash a diatribe against my mother. She wasn't a bad mother. On the contrary, we had lots of fun times together, as the staged photo taken in Coney Island shows below. Mom simply ruled the roost, like all the women on the Normandia side of the family. Later, I found that odd because she was not a Normandia until she became one when she married my dad, Sebastian Sylvester Normandia, in July of 1921. I don't think mom's sisters were like that, but I could be wrong. I was once. 

Coney Island with Simonettis, Gloria,
                      Priscilla & IdaMom

When some people learn that my ancestry is Italian, they assume I must have had a strict father. They can't wrap their brains around the fact that I was raised in a matriarchal family. Mom ruled. Grandma Normandia ruled. All the wives who married my Normandia uncles ruled. Some of them were benevolent dictators and concealed their manipulations so convincingly that their macho husbands actually thought they were in charge. Mom was too angry and unhappy and impulsive for that. She just let it all out and we obeyed to keep what was left of the peace in our home.

The only married Italian women I was around were relatives, mothers and cousins, and aunts. I now believe they all had the same goal in common: to elicit obedience in their home, which guaranteed the smooth running of busy households full of rambunctious children, while they did everything else expected of a wife in their culture. Gender roles were clearly defined. The middle-class moms in my family were either Italian immigrants themselves, like two of my mother's sisters who were born in southern Italy, or the children of immigrants who were born in New York and raised their children the same way their mothers and grandmothers did for generations in the "old country."

I can only comment about the middle-class women who surrounded me. They knew they weren't considered equal to men yet. Most older women in my family, including my mother, were born before women even had the right to vote. They were never suffragettes and accepted that that's just how things were. It's practically unbelievable to me now as I am hooked on the most contentious presidential election of my lifetime.
I'm going to stop writing about this. Even I am getting tired of it. Today, the millions of cracks in the glass ceiling of gender inequality have been shattered forever. Former Secretary of State, Hillary Rodham Clinton, is the first woman in the United States to ever be the presumptive Democratic nominee for President. Stay tuned. It's only June.

Votes for Women!

Back in the 1950s, there were a few things I knew for sure. I had been moved from Brooklyn, New York, to Hollywood, Florida, by my mother, without having anything to say about the matter although I was already out of high school, working, and engaged. That didn't seem fair. Dad's brother George had bought a brand new house in Hollywood for when he and Aunt Mary retired. No one had ever lived in it yet. Uncle George knew that we didn't have much money and offered us his house to live in so we would have a nice home for awhile. He and Aunt Mary planned to be typical New York Snowbirds and would eventually drive south on I-95 before the snow blanketed New York. When Florida got too hot for them in the summer, they would drive back home to New York where, in my humble opinion, it was almost as hot and humid. New Yorkers always say, "It's not the heat, it's the humidity," but I can remember the dog days of summer up there when your sneakers would sizzle on the pavement. So that's how we ended up living in a pretty new house on Fletcher Street across from the Hollywood Dog Track which was actually in Hallandale, right over the city line. Mom liked to gamble and the first time we went there she won $200! At that time we didn't know anything about the life of those greyhounds and would never go to a dog track again.

Something else I knew for sure was that Mom moved to Florida because it was easier to get a divorce there than in New York at that time in history. Florida was a no-fault divorce state already, which meant either party could get a divorce without proving any reason for it. They just had to say their marriage was "irretrievably broken." When Mom asked me to be her witness at her no-fault divorce hearing, I said no, even though I would only be required to vouch for her being a Florida resident for the last six months. I wanted no part of the divorce that separated me from the unconditional love of my dear father. Dad sent me a telegram before their divorce, asking me to come back to New York. I remember it said I could even bring my mother. He didn't contest the divorce and the painful day was soon over. Mom recovered nicely and created a happy new life for herself. She never dated another man for the rest of her life. She was free at last and blossomed as a single woman after thirty-two years of marriage. It was nice to finally see her happy.

Another thing I thought I knew for sure when I got engaged on my eighteenth birthday
to my wonderful first boyfriend, Johnny Martin, was that I was going to be happily married to him for the rest of my life. We fell in love when I was fourteen.

Johnny Martin
                          and Priscilla Normandy

Johnny was half-German, half-Italian and very handsome. He looked like John Travolta to me. We planned to marry when he got back from Korea. Mom had informed us that she would live with us after the wedding in New York. Johnny agreed. Our life was planned. We would have four children, two boys and two girls. My decision.

Then, as life would have it, during the last week of 1953, I met the man who would one day be my first husband. Hal Wilson was on leave from the Army. He was gorgeous and looked so handsome in his uniform. With his blonde hair and blue eyes, he looked totally different from the cute Italian boys I grew up with, with their dark hair and dark brown eyes. Hal was only home for a few days to visit his mother, Emily. She was the indispensable bookkeeper at Hopkins Appliance Store where I also worked. I had just moved to Hollywood in October and needed a job right away to help with expenses. I went to an employment agency that took my entire first week's pay for their fee - $35!  I became the appliance repair dispatcher. That's where I first got my nickname Patti, because the head bench repairman couldn't remember the name Priscilla.

I only saw Hal a few times during those few days he was home, but I could tell I had a little  crush on him. Truthfully, he kind of took my breath away. I found myself daydreaming about what my life might be like if I was his girlfriend and didn't have to go back to New York. We promised to keep in touch when Hal left on the Greyhound to head back to Camp Atterbury, which was near Edinburgh, Indiana. My intuition said to take some photos, and I was glad I did. It was January 1, 1954. The first picture is of me and Hal. The next is Hal with his mother, Emily, and brother, Bruce.

                          Normandy & Hal Wilson ~1954 Hwd                 1954-Hal-MomEmily-BruceWilson

That's when I knew for sure that I shouldn't be marrying Johnny if I was having such strong feelings toward someone else, like Hal, whether or not anything materialized or not when Hal got his Honorable Discharge. That was a good life decision.

I wrote Johnny a "Dear John" letter while he was in Korea. That was not a good decision. I wish I had waited to break up with him when he came home. The war was over, but he was still far away from home, and I really didn't discuss it properly in a letter. Well, I was eighteen and I did what felt right at the time. Maybe that line in "our song" was right. "They tried to tell us we're too young . . . ." I know now that the fork in the road I chose that day led me away from my New York roots and ushered me into a totally different world than I could ever have imagined. Even if I could, I would have thought it was not an option for me, the girl who obeyed. The fact that my mother had the courage to get divorced even though she was Catholic, gave me the first inkling that maybe I could start thinking for myself and making my own decisions. I didn't tell her that.

Hal finished his Army time and we started dating in earnest. When we reached the stage where we started talking about a possible future together, one of the important areas we discussed was about how many children we wanted, if we decided to get married. 

For some reason I didn't understand at the time, I absolutely knew I wanted to have four children. Two girls and two boys. It was not negotiable. Seems a little silly now to be so specific about their gender, but I was. To my relief, Hal felt the same way and wanted to have a large family. That clinched the deal and we set the date for February 1956, at the Church of the Little Flower in Hollywood. I was twenty. He was twenty-two.

Hal Wilson

Thanks to my new friend, Vladimir Nabokov, I looked back to my early years to trace my unwavering insistence on having four children some day. It was always a given that I would marry, yet so illogical to me that my marriage would produce exactly four children when there were so many variables to take into consideration. What if I couldn't have children? What if he couldn't? What early event could have foretold this obsession for four children and not three, or two? It was as though I had written a script for my future life - or maybe, since all time is simultaneous, I peeked into another life where I already had four children, two girls and two boys. I wouldn't read books about creating my own reality for forty years or so, but some things we just know. This required a stronger magnifying glass to look into my early childhood to find the answers I sought.

Although I was not an only child, I felt like one. My older sister was thirteen years older than me.
I was only seven when she married Pete Lomuto and they moved across the street to their first apartment with the first TV on the block. My brother was nine years older and joined the Army when he was seventeen and that left me alone with my unhappy parents. One day it hit me that that's what it must feel like to be an only child.

It was a long walk from 37 Conselyea Street to 181 Maujer Street and Mom made it almost every day to see her bedridden mother, Principia, and her sisters, Margaret and Susie, and her brother Sal who owned the candy store on the first floor. For awhile Aunt Jennie lived in one of the apartments too. When I was young, Mom took me in my baby carriage. When I outgrew it, I had to walk many long blocks to see my other grandparents.

It seemed like an adventure to leave the familiarity of Conselyea Street, and then turn right onto Lorimer Street where people could walk down a flight of stairs and be in an underground world where you could get on a subway train to Coney Island. Grandma Normandia would take me to Coney if I could be ready by 5:30 am to avoid the crowds on the beach. We never went before Memorial Day, to be sure it would be warm enough. We also didn't wear white before Memorial Day but I don't think that's related. Once I drifted out into the deep water of the Atlantic Ocean and almost drowned. I still remember how my little grandma towed me to shore and saved my life. I didn't grow up with a love of the water. I like to look at it, but not go in it, not even pools. I am an Earth child.

I can still recall the excitement of turning after the subway onto Metropolitan Avenue. If I was good and didn't complain, we could stop to buy two-cent paper cups of homemade Italian ices from the man with one leg. He sat on a bentwood chair outside his tenement house selling ices to people passing by. If I was lucky, we would hit the day when he had chocolate ices, my personal favorite. If he wasn't outside, there was always the promise of stopping at the Italian deli on the way home, where pickles soaked in wooden barrels and huge Genoa salamis swung from the ceiling and filled the air with an aroma I will never forget.

As I got older, I was allowed to walk upstairs at 181 Maujer Street to Aunt Susie's spotless apartment and hang out with my first cousins, Josephine, Priscilla, and Gloria. Their youngest sister, Delores, would be born years later and would make the family proud by being the first in my extended family to get a PhD. In my fantasy, the addition of me brought us to four girls. I pretended we stepped right out of the pages of Louisa May Alcott's 1868 book, Little Women. I don't recall ever mentioning it to them, but in my fantasy we were
Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy March. I felt so happy when I was there and wished I didn't have to leave. I didn't feel like an only child anymore. Aunt Susie helped with that without knowing it (or did she) and treated me like one of her daughters. I  loved to spend the night, sometimes on the fire escape on a wooden board cut to size so little girls couldn't fall through the spaces to the ground below When I woke up the next morning, I was given my share of the chores to do. 

Saturday in Aunt Sue's apartment was cleaning day. Everything in the pantry cabinet had to be removed, the shelves and canned goods wiped down, and then put back.  Aunt Susie seemed serious, strict and overworked, but I liked her a lot. She was the youngest of Mom's sisters, but I never heard her sing out loud around the house, like Mom did. I thought everyone sang out loud at home until I got married and realized we were the exception to the rule.

It must have been hard for Mom and all her sisters to be painstakingly fastidious about their homes. Aunt Susie even took down the cotton kitchen curtains every week to wash and iron them before putting them back up. I had never seen anyone do that before and I made a mental note that I would not work that hard when I grew up. How I longed to have sisters my age to live with every day. That's when I made my irrevocable decision that I would have four children of my very own when I grew up, and so I did. Somewhere along the line, I added my request to the Blessed Virgin Mary that if it wasn't too much to ask, I'd like to have two girls and two boys, and my childhood prayers were answered.

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Down to Florida
Welcome you to the Sunshine State
They're kicking back and soaking up the rays
Every day in Florida

I'm in Florida
The sun is setting over Tampa Bay
It's like a Caribbean holiday
Every day in Florida

We got Shaq down on South Beach
The Dolphins, too
Spring time for the Yankees
And the Dodgers blue
Golf courses, Beaches
Tis easy to spot ‘em
You like the Gators
Man we got them

Down in Florida
Welcome you to the Sunshine State
A category five hurricane
You couldn’t spoil the day In Florida

We got rockets on the East Coast
Go up all the time
Ain't place no like it
That you'll never find
Bingo, Shuffleboard
Fishing too
You see that Cat man
His hair was blue 

Down in Florida
We welcome you to the Sunshine State
We're kicking back and soaking up the rays
Every day in Florida 
It's like a Caribbean holiday
Every day in Florida