MAY 1928 TO APRIL 1932
THE HOUSE ON LAJEUNESSE STREET
On May first of 1928 we moved to another house located at 7285 Lajeunesse street near the corner of Decastelneau. Two doors away northward was a house exactly on the corner and was occupied by Zia Agnesa and Zio Antonio Corso. There was a corner window in their house from which you could survey both streets. The house we occupied was an entirely new construction. We were the first tenants. The owner was a Mr. Di Salvo, no relation to us. We knew about this house because Zia Agnesa told dad that this house was under construction and being near to them would also be helpful because we did not know the language and their assistance would be needed from time to time. However, as we the children learned either French or English we soon realized that their knowledge of either language was very limited.
On Lajeunesse at that time the street was not paved and there was a trolley car and its number was 72. The street cars were the open rear-end type where the ticket collector was exposed to the weather at all times. As you got on board you went into this space without entrance doors deposited your ticket and then there was a door to the compartment where the passengers would sit or stand. In the first year we were there the street was paved and side walks were put in place and the street car was discontinued. The nearest street cars now were on St Denis street which was two blocks westward.
ZIO ANTONIO AND ZIA AGNESA
Again we lived on the second floor and the inside layout of four rooms was similar to previous house but everything was brand new. This second floor had two similar houses using a common front gallery and a common rear gallery with two sheds and a stairway going down to the rear lane, also not paved. The house next to us was occupied by an elderly lady who took in boarders to supplement her income. I think we called he Zia Antonietta, no relation. (People older than ourselves were commonly referred to as Zio or Zia.) The owners of the building were the Di Salvo family, as mentioned before. They were good people and we got along very well until a few incidents happened which we will talk about at the proper time. While we lived there we would often visit Zia Agnesa and Zio Antonio. Zia Agnesa was a very kind lady, (she was the sister of mother's father Pietro Delli Colli.), but she was often very sick and very demanding. I can remember her bedroom, her bed was very high. She had two mattresses, one on top of the other, in an enormous brass bed and when she was laying in it my head just came to the eighth of the mattresses and I could hardly see her. I had to get up on a chair to give her a kiss, as was expected. She was very kind to us. She liked to drink Coca-Cola. Whenever she felt a little out of the way or if she had one of her recurring headaches she would give us a nickel and told us to go the corner store (at Lajeunesse and Ferland) and get her a Coca-Cola very very cold and to say that it was for the mean lady (la Madame mechante mechante) who lives on the corner and that way they would give us a very cold Coke. Apparently this is exactly what we used to do. But there were things a little more crude than that. When she wanted a laxative she would send us to the drug store at the corner of St Denis and Decastelneau. We did not know the language and she would say to go to the drug store and ask to get 'du chocolat pour pruger" chocolate to make you crap. (Ex-Lax) Of course any one in the store including the pharmacist would have a good laugh but gave us the right medication. After a while we caught on that something was not right and we asked some of the neighbors who spoke French and they explained to us what we were actually saying and told us that in the future to simply ask for "Ex-Lax".
THE LIKEABLE AND MEAN UNCLE
Zio Antonio like most immigrants of his age and at that time worked very hard. He worked for the Montreal Tramways laying tracks as street cars came into great use in the expanding city. They would start work at seven in the morning. Most of the immigrant workers would actually get to work at six in the morning, nobody wanted to be late for fear of being fired. He was likable and yet mean in his own way. He was a good looking man and could charm the ladies especially in the years that he was alone in Montreal and his wife was still in Italy. I remember he used to come to our house and would always play certain tricks on us. He did not shave daily and he would hold us and rub his rough face on our cheeks and would almost make us cry before letting go. On another occasion mom had bought us a goldfish in a bowl, something new for all of us. It was placed in the middle of the table in the dinning room, Zio was smoking his pipe and he turned over his pipe and dumped the whole thing in the goldfish bowl. Another time he dumped his glass of Geneva gin in another goldfish bowl and in both instances the fishes died instantly. Mom got us replacement ones.
THE PRESUMED ADOPTION AND OTHER EVENTS
This uncle and aunt had no children and one day Zia Agnesa came over and said to mother you have many children and times are hard and salaries are low, so, we would like to help out in some way. She proposed to take over one of the girls to live with them, they would clothe her and feed her and sleep at their house but she could come over anytime because they lived so close. She added that they wanted Demetria, who at that time was about five years old. Demetria was present and after hearing this she said that she would go but they had to buy her an ice-cream cone for breakfast, for lunch and for dinner every day. When Zia left Demetria went with her. When the evening came Zio came in, they had their dinner and Demetria said she wanted her ice-cream. Uncle said he would go and buy her an ice-cream, but Demetria insisted that she was entitled to three cones one for this morning, one for noon and one for this evening. Uncle said to her do you think I will work only to buy you ice-cream, in a very rough tone of voice which scared her and she immediately left the table and ran home. That was the end of the adoption proposal. When dad came home that night mom told him what had happened and we all had a good laugh.
We stayed in that house for four years and before I go on to tell more anecdotes about ourselves I want to add a few more things about Zio Antonio and his wife. As they lived on the corner of the street and the Italian church often had feasts and processions on Sundays during he summer and fires works at Jarry park. Afterwards the people would walk home and pass by Decastelnau and in doing so they would pass under their windows and they would complain that the people were so noisy and they could not accept it. They were people who get to bed about eight in the evening because he would get up at about four in morning. To them this was bad behavior on the part of the population in America and people in Italy would not do that. Zia Agnesa had a gramophone that we would crank up and play records. That was a rare acquisition in those days. We would go to their house play the records and sing along with the Italian songs that they had. This was strictly within the two families and the evenings were quite enjoyable.
I would do little chores for Uncle Antonio. I started quite young doing work and being useful around the house. One of the things I did yearly was to paint his kitchen chairs. They were painted black and maybe he retouched them after my initial painting. He bought the paint himself, and one year after painting the chairs we found that the paint would not dry up as it was supposed to do. After observing this for a few days he went back to the store and told the man "...what did you give me, this paint does not dry even after three days." The storekeeper said that is not paint it is stain , you apply it and then wipe it off to get the shade you want and then varnish over it. Maybe there were a few final rough words as uncle was not happy as now he had to wipe all the chairs until completely dry. A messy job taking a lot of rags and when dry I repainted the chairs again.
THE GOLD WATCH AND WORK LAY-OFF
It must have been around 1930 that because he worked for the tramways and you had to be on time for work, that uncle bought a railway watch. It was an event to own a railway watch. They were highly accurate and very expensive for those days. In fact the people working for the railways, those working on trains, had to have a reliable watch and had to go and get it calibrated at regular intervals at the time keepers office. The watch at that time must have cost about sixty dollars and that was a lot of money when the salary was about ten to fifteen dollars a week for a forty-eight hour week. On Sundays it was worn in a vest pocket with a heavy gold plated brass chain spanning from the right side pocket to the left side pocket and was considered a mark of distinction showing you could afford it and inferring that you were working in a steady job for the railways or street cars companies. (I have the watch now as it was passed on to dad when uncle died. I think its the only heirloom we have in the family, except for a few pieces of jewelry that mother had and are still in the family.) But, these good jobs also brought about some heavy disappointments. This was the era of the big market crash. Uncle worked at the Montreal Tramway Company and his direct boss was Mr. Di Salvo the owner of the house we lived in. So there was a big lay-off of employees in many industries. It so happened that uncle was also laid-off along with many others, but the rumors were that the foreigners, including the Italians were the first laid-off. In loosing their jobs they also lost their pension benefits. This was a great shock for the people who lost their jobs. They did not realize that there was a global reduction in the work force, but each one had to face his own misery and wonder how to survive. Somehow he must have found work elsewhere and some years later as the economy improved he returned to work for the tramways and eventually he did receive a pension and his rights acquired prior to the lay-off were restored.
Now we will get back to our family members.
MY FIRST FRIEND
Before the winter set in at this house I became a friend of a young boy of about the same age. His family name was Ciccone and I can not remember his first name. Going down the back stairs of our house and to the left we would be directly in front of his house on the north side of Decastelnau street. We played a lot together running around in the street, there was't any traffic then, we somehow got into a fight and he ran into his back yard and I was directly behind him in pursuit. His father was there preparing his barrels to make wine. He had a long knife in his hand and seeing us running around where he was working must have disturbed him very much. He turned around to us with this big knife in his lifted hand and started chasing us out. This scared me so much that I ran home and I was sick or a couple of days. Mr. Cicone did not mean any harm but he certainly succeeded in scaring me. We still remained good friends and later that year his sister Maria took us to school for the first time.
THE LADY OF THE PIG
The English have the Lady Godiva, dressed or undressed, the Scots have The Lady of the Lake, the Italians have the Mona Lisa, our family we had our own lady, the Lady of the Pig. The story goes like this; the region around Papineau, both east and west and north of Beaubien was just open fields probably belong to the City of Montreal. So a lot of the Italians living nearby did not appreciate such good land going to waste and not producing any thing, while the sterile soil of Italy was intensively cultivated, to produce any of the necessities of life, be it the smallest piece of land available. There was one elderly couple, about as old as our parents, who tended some of these lots. The produce they grew they would sell to those who had no gardens. This particular lady would come regularly to our house to sell lettuce, cucumbers, radishes and other vegetables especially the Italian type vegetables that were not found in the grocery stores. This couple also had a pig that they had nursed and now had reached the time that it could be slaughtered and they were looking for someone to buy it or share it with them. They had no children and a whole pig was too much for them. Dad offered them to buy the pig and we were going to share it with Zio Antonio. The price was agreed on, I think it was $75. but a date for the transaction had not been set, a verbal commitment between two men was considered enough in those days of trust and mutual honor. As in the past weeks one day this lady came to the door with her vegetables and Litio answered the door and yelled to mother "Mom it's the lady of the pig." He did not know her name and that's the only way he could identify her. She came in the house and complained of the way Litio announced her and his explanation that he did not know her name was not quite satisfactory. But, to us whenever we referred to her that was the name we used "the lady of the pig."
The disposal of the pig did not end there. Dad and uncle planned to kill it in the shed so they worked many evenings to clean up the place and have the proper equipment to hang up the pig to bleed it and slaughter it. For them it was much fun as they reminisced of the times they did that in Italy. Mom and Zia were planning how they would preserve the meat for the winter, some in olive oil, other to make sausage, the hind parts to make prosciuto, the blood and liver to make sausage, the feet store in vinegar, all in all it would be a good provision for the coming winter. But, sometimes your best dreams are easily shattered by the greed of other people. This person who would sell us the pig also worked for the Montreal Tramways and his immediate boss was Mr. Di Salvo the proprietor of the house we lived in. He lived on the first floor. At some point he learned that this fellow was selling us the pig. He went to this man on the job and said to him "You are selling your pig to Verdone" and the man said "Yes, he is the only one who was interested" and in reply he received a reprimand "You sell to Verdone, does he give you a job? I am the one who gives you a job and you are going to sell the pig to me" This man was put in a very embarrassing position and he was unable to refuse for fear of loosing his job and said that the pig would be sold to him. Following that encounter the man came to our house and explained to dad what had happened and he could not honor his word as his job was at stake. Dad called uncle and both of them accepted the change in plans and told the pig owner that they understood the situation and not to feel bad about it and that we still wanted to buy the vegetables from them. And so the pig went downstairs and they killed in the backyard. The Di Salvo children were all around during the butchering and were saying that this is the pig that the Verdones were to buy and now it was theirs. It caused some friction between the families but like many other things it just became a fact of life that was soon accepted and forgotten for most of the people concerned. (Sometimes I wonder why I have to remember certain things that would be better forgotten.) These people had their own misfortunes. Before we moved from this house in 1932 Mr. Di Salvo died from a heart attack. In those days that the dead were exposed in the house before the funeral, he was laid in state in the house and the boys came to sleep with us upstairs.
ELSIE'S BIRTH AND THE WASHING MACHINE
We had a very happy event while in this house. Elsie was born on July 26, 1928. Dad said that her name must be more Canadian and not Italian and so she was baptized E L S I E. The birth took place at home and the Doctor's name was Otto Marcuse and he was to be the family doctor for many years to come. With the birth of Elsie many of the house chores fell on Anna who was the eldest and this lead dad to buy our first washing machine. Dad told the doctor to examine Anna because her arms were hurting and generally she did not seem to be well. After examination the doctor asked who was doing all the work in the house because mother was still in bed for some time after the birth. Dad replied that he did what he could when he came from work but the greatest part was left for Anna to do, to wash the diapers and the clothing for all the family. The doctor's reply was that Anna was overworked and the first thing to do was to get an electric washing machine for the clothes and diapers. So, a washing machine was purchased. It was a Connor with an automatic wringer. When it was received all the neighbors came to see how it worked.
SCHOOL FOR THE CHILDREN AND OTHER EVENTS
In September 1928 the school year resumed. Anna went to the Holy Family School which had just been built and the corner diagonally across. Litio and I went to the Madonna de la Difesa parish school. The boys' school was officially named The St Philip Benizi School. The girls' school was known as Santa Juliana Falconieri and this name is still visible in front of the school located on the east side of Drolet street. The boys were occupying the old wooden church which was subdivided into classrooms. North of this church-school was a large open space that was used as a school yard and also used for a tombola by the parish and also for other festivities. The present school between Drolet and Henri Julien was to be built some years later, and before building it was necessary to pull-down the wooden church-school. While this was being done the boys classes were moved to the basement halls of the boys' and girls' school of the St Jean de la Croix parish at the corner of St Lawrence and St Zotique streets. When the construction of the new school started the men in the area hoped to get some work because most were unemployed and they gathered every day around the construction site. Their hopes were in vain. One day a steam shovel was moved near the site and placed on a vacant lot at the northwest corner of Dante and Henri-Julien streets. One weekend before the shovel started to dig someone placed dynamite under the shovel and an explosion occurred during one night. But the damage to the shovel was small requiring the change-out of few broken gears. The men did not get additional work. The school was completed and occupied by the girls and the boys moved into the girl's older school.
Litio went to the boys' school maybe in second or third grade. Anna went to Holy Family I don't know in what grade. Anna met a school girl also of Italian descent and has she lived somewhat far from the school her mother asked mom if she would take her at noontime for lunch. Mom agreed and this girl became a good friend of Anna and they are still in touch to day. As stated previously Maria Ciccone took me and her kid brother to enroll us in the school and we were placed in preparatory class which was located in the girls' school, because of lack of space with the boys. Maria C. looked after us daily for the first few weeks until we were able to manage by ourselves. The teachers for our first grade were religious order nuns who taught us in Italian, in English and French. At the end of that year I was changed class and placed in grade one. Maybe I was older than most since my birthday was in march I was now six years and nine months or because (as I like to brag) I was smarter than the others and completed two grades in one year. Because I had been moved to first grade I made my first communion in the spring of 1929. I remember being all dressed up for the occasion (we have photos). Dad bought me all the clothes for the occasion which had to include certain ribbons for the arm and others for the chest, but he could not buy me a pair of shoes. On the photo you can see that everything is brand new but my feet are covered by a pair of wrinkled boots highly shined for the occasion. My godfather was Augustino Carbone who worked with dad and to this day we are still in touch with their children. On the day I received first communion and was also confirmed many relatives and friends were invited to visit. Every man gave me ten cents and that was the first time I had seen so many dimes in my pockets.
Demetria went to school in September 1930, also at the Italian parish and received first communion and was confirmed in the spring of 1931 and her godmother was a Miss Aspri who lived on Berry Street. I don't know how many dimes she got but I am sure she was more beautiful than me in her special white gown and white shoes.
While still living at that house , Zio Fabrizio Gentile died on August first l929. The Gentile family also had moved away from Delaroche Street but I don't know were they went but it was still within visiting distance from us. His death was a very hard blow for the family as the children were all young. Dad was always ready to help as much as he could with the very limited means he had at his disposal. Irena and Neophito went to work as soon as work could be found and Maria Michela herself had to go to work to sustain the family.
THE GREAT DEPRESSION
The years l929, 1930, l931, were the years of the great depression and dad would work some days per week never a full week. The work he was doing, unloading coal from ocean going boats, produced very irregular hours and days, the income was very low yet our parents still managed to clothe us and give us the necessities that were needed to survive and raise his family of five children. Another serious event during this time was that mother again became pregnant after Elsie's birth. One day she walked out the rear balcony from which there was a straight stairway to the ground, I recall that I was at the bottom of the stairway she called to me to go up but I said that I wanted to stay out a little longer. Before I was aware of what was happening she had tumbled down almost to the bottom and the ladies that lived nearby on the first floor and the second floor were rushing to her assistance and managed to get her in the house and a doctor was called. The baby was still born at home. Mother became very sick and went into a deep depression that lasted for many years. Following the fall she was bedridden for a long time and many neighbors and relatives came to visit her. To me all those visitors made me fear that mother would die and it scared me terribly. At some point mother also went to the hospital for two weeks. I did not understand what was going on and felt that things were going from bad to worse and put more fear into me. (To this day I still wonder if my being at the bottom of the stairs somehow contributed to her fall. Why do I remember such things that would best be forgotten.) With all this happening most of the house work was done by Anna thereby a lot of responsibility to a young girl not yet fifteen years of age.
The family doctor was still Dr. Marcuse who came regularly every week. I don't know if he was paid every time. At that time a house visit was two dollars. The doctor's visits helped mother immensely and she always felt better after his visits. To her he was the only hope to her recovery. These were the really tough times for our parents to manage to provide for the whole family. As young children we did not know the hardships they encountered.
(There is some inconsistency here. I remember a first doctor a tall Italian who always referred to his manual before doing any thing. I believe his name was Dr. Segatore. He and dad disagreed on some things. The doctor gave a prescription to have it filled immediately because he wanted to give an injection to mother. At the drugstore the pharmacist told dad that it was morphine and not to inject more than seven milligrams and the doctor insisted that she needed fourteen milligrams. Dad told him not inject more than seven and if he was not going to do so he could leave. Mom received the seven mg. and this was probably the last time he came. Dr. Marcuse was a very good man and doctor and he was our family physician for many years.)
While at this house Anna made some very good friends. Next door and on the bottom floor there lived a young girl of her own age named Emilia Lepore and on the second floor of this same house there was Antonietta Di Cesare. They always visited each other and on Anna's eightieth birthday, just last month, (August 1996) they were all present at the family party.