When I think of my parents, I never think of Ward and June Cleaver. My parents’ names were Angelo and Susie — and Susie had been shortened from Assunta. We were of Italian descent. Life was different from “Leave it to Beaver”.
Here’s a picture of the Spicy Meat-a-ball commercial from the 60s. This picture isn’t quite right either. They were modern American parents with a twist of tomatoes. For a few years they ran “Pizza Haven” as they called it. It was hard work. I don’t know how they did it as long as they did. They worked to provide for five children and sometimes life was just plain difficult.
Let me give you an idea of how a day went in our family while they owned the restaurant:
Dad got up at 5 a.m. and made coffee and eggs in his special egg pan (when there wasn’t left-over pizza). The egg pan was NEVER washed with water. It was filled with salt and heated until the salt turned brown while it was stirred. It was the shiniest pan in the house and the eggs never stuck. (It now belongs to Jimmy! — but I digress.)
I don’t remember what time Jojo and Margie got up. What I do remember is Dad had to be at his full time job at the paper box factory by 7 a.m. The factory made boxes for Kodak products and he was a supervisor. It was a good job. A few of Dad’s brothers also worked there. I remembering him talking about Uncle Sam and Uncle Mike working there, too.
Jojo and Margie were in high school and their lives were a blur to me. I remember pictures of their proms and prom dresses but the actual memories are gone. I remember Jojo and her friends singing like the McGuire Sisters — Sincerely. I remember music always at the house, whether singing or dancing, there was always something musical going on. (Part of the reason for this blog is that I have to write things down before I forget!)
By 8:30 a.m. Debbie, Jimmy and I were ready for our day. Jimmy and I were in grammar school. Grandma Immaculata was dropped off by Uncle Caspar to babysit Debbie who was too little for school. (as you can see the family was in the habit of unusual names)
Number 40 School – John Warrant Castleman
I remember standing in that doorway and crying the first year of school as I waited for my Mom to pick me up. I thought she would surely forget me there. I think Debbie cried, too. I was the biggest baby. The teacher I had first was gray haired and I think that my crying got on every one of her nerves. I cried so much that I remember her shaking me. That scared me even more and I would cry from the minute I was dropped off until Mom came to pick me up. My Mom must have heard about it because I was changed to a different classroom after that and I had the nicest teacher. I never cried again.
Mom had to be at her full time job by 9 a.m. She worked in the neighborhood drugstore at the candy and cosmetics counter. She worked a split shift — from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. and then in the evening. Uncle Caspar drove us to school and he would let Jimmy sit in the front seat and shift his car from 1st to 2nd gear. Jimmy loved it and I was jealous since I was older. He explained that I would have a turn next time but I don’t remember ever having a turn.
I didn’t get it at the time, but I think Uncle Caspar was a gearhead. He liked cool cars and I remember going to Grandma’s house and on one side of the house was Uncle Caspar’s hardware store and on the other side was Uncle Caspar’s garage where he kept his cars in various stages of repair and maintenance. There were more than one. The cool car that Jimmy shifted may have looked like this. I only remember that it was turquoise and Jimmy said he remembered it being a Ford Galaxy from the early 60s.
In those days Jimmy and I walked home from school to eat lunch and then went back for the afternoon session. Grandma always had a good, hot lunch waiting for us. I remember having pastina and egg or minestrone soup but never a sandwich like we had when mom was home. Not that we were deprived or anything. We could open up a tray of the finest cold cuts when mom gave us lunch at home. Wonderful Italian bread and magnificent sliced cheeses were always on hand.
I still love soup for lunch. It reminds me of home and love and Grandma. Juicy Fruit gum and soup and I have a perfect happy heart picture of my cute little grandma.
At 1 p.m., Mom left work and picked up Debbie and Grandma and drove Grandma home. Then she went to the Pizza Haven to make the sauce and dough for the pizza. Jojo and Margie would meet them there after school, though their part in all this is still fuzzy since I didn’t get out of school until later. I just know that everyone had a job. I remember on the weekend prepping the pizza pans and helping by staying busy drawing pictures with Jimmy and Debbie in one of the booths.
By 4 o’clock Dad had arrived home from work. He immediately took a nap on the couch while Mom got in and started dinner. Dad was a loud snorer. We all would laugh, but I can’t imagine how tired he must have been. We were completely oblivious to how hard they actually worked.
We didn’t help much with dinner. Mom was in charge of the cooking – period. You knew not to get in her way. She was doing fast food before it became popular. Dad called her the “100 mile an hour cook” because she cooked everything fast. That was the true fast food and just this side of burnt. The meal always contained meat and vegetables and a starch. There was almost always a dessert. After dinner, we took turns washing and wiping dishes and sweeping the kitchen.
But Mom left us to clean because she had to be at work by 6 o’clock. Both Dad and Mom had to be somewhere else –Dad at the restaurant and Mom at the other half of her split shift. Mom worked ’til 10 p.m. and then drove to the Pizza Haven to help Dad close. They had to clean up everything.
Jojo and Margie were in charge of us. They told us what time to be in bed and there was little negotiations about time. (The only reason I chose this picture is because it is most like the clock in our living room at the time. I had to have a little nostalgia.)
Mom worked until 10 and then went to help Dad close the restaurant. That usually included cleaning up the kitchen and if there were any unclaimed pizza, we had a special breakfast in the morning. What’s wrong with that? It’s bread, veggies, cheese and/or meats. All the food groups are covered!
They arrived home after 1 a.m. and I’m not really sure how they ever got enough sleep.
When I think about a day like this I can’t compare it to my days. I get up at 5 a.m. and go to bed by 10 p.m. There are still days when I don’t feel like getting up at all. I am in awe of my parents more now than I was when I woke up to what parents really do when I became a parent. I love them forever.