As I approach the age at which both of my parents died, I regret more and more, the wasted opportunities I had, as a child and young adult, of conversing with them about their early years. All of those hours that I spent wishing I were somewhere else, or doing something more entertaining might have been put to so much better use finding out the true story of what they felt at my age then, or any given age at the time. What were their dreams and aspirations? How did Daddy feel when he had to leave his beloved home in Sicily, at the tender age of thirteen, to come to a strange new land? Was he frightened? Or was he thrilled to be coming to the richest and most wonderful country in the world? Did his mother cry for days to be sending him, all alone, to join her husband and began working as a man. Earning money so that the rest of the family could eventually make it to America, also? If I had taken the trouble to question Daddy about these things, as well as hundreds of other questions I now have, he would probably replied, in exasperation, “Oh, good God! I can’t remember that long ago! Whadda you think I am, anyway?”
So, Daddy, I’m telling it like I think it might have happened. If I have it all wrong, then I am truly sorry. But, some parts, I know are right, because Mama told me about it when I did ask a few questions (never enough); and because George got some of the vital statistics just recently from the Internet, when he looked up data on immigrants coming into Ellis Island in the late nineteenth century. There, he found our father’s name, as coming over on the ship, “The Sempione”
She tossed and turned in her lonely bed. She was truly a lonely and miserably unhappy woman. Her husband had been away for the past three years, working in America. She was still a very attractive woman: not yet forty years old. Her skin was smooth as a girl’s, except for her hands. He hair was long and black as onyx. Indeed, it shone exactly like that substance. Her legs, which nobody saw except when she occasionally caught sight of them, herself, were long and shapely. Her eyes were extremely dark brown, often causing people she’d just met to exclaim that she had the blackest eyes they’d ever seen. She had a small, aquiline nose, and the corners of her mouth had almost always turned up into a mischievous grin, until Sam had left her to go to America. Now she seldom found anything to smile about. Her breasts were round as melons. She had desires and hopes still, but they were growing dimmer as each day passed. Her eldest child, Sam, born when she as only sixteen, was leaving in the morning on a ship that would take him to Naples, from whence he would sail to America two days from now. The only happiness left to her was in the form of her other three children: Sam was the eldest, then Grace and Josephine, with Phillip, the baby of the family. None of them had seen their father in three long years!
The two younger children had no remembrance of their father at all. There was not even a photograph of him! Grace could barely remember him.
The moon was a crescent shaped sliver of cheddar cheese. It cast its silvery light across the Mediterranean on that night that Rosa would never be able to forget. From her bedroom window, she could have looked out at the Sea. But she was far too distraught to care about such mundane things. The bed was too warm. That much was certain. But, it was only one of the many reasons that sleep would not come to her tonight; would not grant her the comfort of forgetfulness. So she prayed. Always, when she first got between the sheets of her bed, Rosa prayed. She had formed the habit early in life, when an older sister had taught her the prayers of the Rosary. That same sister, Anna, had gone on to become a nun, and had given Rosa her first set of rosary beads. She still was using them, some twenty-two years later.
She was conscious only dimly of the beads sliding between her work roughened fingers. Her lips moved rapidly, as she mouthed the words of the Pater Nosters and Ave Marias. She had lost count of the total number of the prayer cycles she had completed. The words came automatically, and without thought or emotion. She knew she was supposed to contemplate certain mysteries associated with the days of the week: the Joyful Mysteries for certain days, the Sorrowful Mysteries for others, and she had only a vague recollection of the other three categories.
Her mind was full of heaviness and sorrow. She had to send her eldest child to a country that she had never even seen. Her husband had sent her the money to send their older son to join him in America. He was to leave in the morning.
Of course, her husband did not write her long letters, telling her how things were there, nor describing any of the wonderful things he had to be seeing there. She had to rely on what other people had told her. He could barely read or write at all. Neither of them had much education. But, at least her penmanship was neat, legible, and, she had been often told, had great artistic quality. His penmanship was so bad that even she could hardly make it out after lengthy efforts at perusal. Still, the words, “You send Sam me now.” And the enclosed money order had made it very clear what his intentions were.
Last Sunday, Father Giulianni, her priest, had announced at Mass that several members of the parish would be immigrating to America the following week. Reading from a prepared list, he named about thirty people from Cefalu and nearby towns, who would all be sailing on a ship called the Sempione. There were even two people from Palermo on the list. As soon as she heard the name of Sam’s ship, Rosa gave her undivided attention to the names being read out.
Father Giulianni had read from a prepared list: Giovanni Marino, who was just fourteen; the Terracina family: Antonio Giglio, age twenty nine; the Muffolettas: the husband was named Giuseppe, and his wife was named Giuseppa, and their daughter, Rosaria, age seventeen; Rosa Culotta; and the priest’s voice droned on and on. A total of thirteen people from the town of Cefalu alone were leaving the country of their birth. Sam’s name was read last on the list. Rosa’s ears had perked up at the mention of the name Muffoletta. She had spoken a few times, after mass, on the steps of the church with this couple. She knew they had a daughter, but she had never met her. Maybe she would be able to ask them to look after Sam on the
She had enlisted the aid of the local postmaster in procuring the ticket for the boy’s passage to the United States. There had been just enough left over to buy Sam a new suit of clothes. She could not send the boy to a strange country with only the clothes he wore each day. That had left no money for the boat fare from Cefalu to Naples. She had gone to the boy’s Godfather, Lorenzo Saaia, and begged him to pay the boat fare. It did not cost much at all, so the man grudgingly agreed that he would “Lend” her the money. “But,” he said, emphatically, “I expect to be paid back—with interest, when Sam makes his fortune in America.”Father Giulianni, her priest, had announced at Mass on Sunday, that several members of the parish would be immigrating to America the following week. He had read from a prepared list: Giovanni Marino, who was just fourteen; the Terracina family: Giuseppe, his wife, Giuseppa and their nineteen year old son, Salvadore; Antonio Giglio, age twenty one; the Muffolettas: again the husband was named Giuseppe, and his wife was named Giuseppa, and their daughter, Rosaria, age seventeen; Rosa Culotta; and the priest’s voice droned on and on. A total of thirteen people from the town of Cefalu alone were leaving the country of their birth. Sam’s name was read last on the list. There were several others from near by cities going on the same boat, which was listed as the Sempione. But Rosa’s ears had perked up at the mention of the name Muffoletta. She had spoken a few times, after mass, on the steps of the church with this couple. She knew they had a daughter, but she had never met he. Maybe she would be able to ask them to look after Sam on the journey.
On their way outside, as soon as they had all taken communion, Rosa told her four children to wait, while she tried to see if she could have a word with Giuseppe Muffoletta. Just about this time, the family had emerged from the church. Rosaria, the daughter, recognized Rosa first, and nudged her mother as she pointed to the Imbraguglios. Her mother and father walked over with her, to shake Rosa’s hand.
“Well, Mrs. Imbraguglio, I had heard that your young son was to be on the same ship with us. I am so happy we cam all make 5the journey together.” Giuseppe Muffoletta was a handsome man and his wife was still a pretty woman. But Rosa could not help noticing that she was fast losing her figure and becoming the typical overweight Italian wife. She guessed the couple to be over ten years older than she and Sam.
Rosa, took the proffered hand, and gave the man one of her rare smiles. He couldn’t help noticing again how lovely she was, and how dazzling white her teeth were. “Yes,” Rosa said in reply, “I was hoping I’d get a chance to speak with you. I want to wish you and your family the very best of luck in America. And I especially wanted to ask if you could possibly-- sort of look out for my boy on the trip.”
He turned to his wife, and smiling, answered, “We had already discussed this. We said we’d have to take care of your son, and make sure he reaches his father after we land in New York.”
Rosa had been almost overwhelmed at the man’s generosity and kindness. After all, she hardly knew them. “Thank you, and God bless you all.” She grabbed the wife’s hands and pressed them, then she leaned forward and kissed pretty little Rosario on the cheek. “And you,” she said, “are just about the prettiest little thing I’ve ever seen.”
Rosaria blushed prettily. Her parents beamed. “It’s just too bad you’re three years too old. Otherwise, I’d have Sam courting you on the voyage.”
And they all laughed. But Rosa knew, somehow, that the next time she saw her son, he would have a wife and children of his own.
So, it was on this that Rosa’s mind was busy, and not her prayers. Her lips continued to form the words, endlessly, however.
When she completed the Rosary (actually, it was the fourteenth she had said during the long night), she kissed the crucifix at the end of the beads, and laid them carefully on her nightstand. She rose wearily from the bed, with its sagging cotton mattress. Taking the lamp from the stand, she fumbled around for a match with which to light it. The orange colored light dimly illuminated the big, dark room, with its wooden furniture. She pulled the dress she had worn the day before over her head, and smoothed down her braided hair with her hands.
She walked down the stairs to the ground floor. The animals blinked their eyes as the light woke them from their slumbers. Rosa walked over to the hens’ nest, and found a still warm brown egg. She took a needle from the hem of her petticoat and pricked the small end of the egg. Turning it up, she drank hungrily from the shell.
“Ah,” she sighed. It had tasted good. If only everything in life could be available at so little cost or effort.
She walked over to the shelf and took down her pail, and then nudged the goat to move over a little and allow her to pull up her milking stool.
“I gotta take a little of your milk,” she said to the Nanny, stroking her silky hair.
The tiny Nanny Goat stood patiently as Rosa kneaded her teats, drawing forth every available drop of milk for her family’s breakfast. Long years of practice had given her the ability to coax the last drop of nourishment from this faithful little animal. Rosa called her “Bella”, affectionately. She often laughed and said she considered Bella another of her children.
Her thoughts were all over the place as she milked. First and foremost, they were with Sam, and his imminent departure; she would have all of the gardening to do now, with him gone. Then, her thought turned to the husband who had been away for so long. She had become almost completely self-sufficient. She had to. The little money orders he sent from time to time were a mere pittance. She could barely make ends meet. And that was almost totally without meat to eat. If Sam had not possessed such uncanny ability to grow things from the soil, they would have gone hungry many times. But, he always grew the biggest, most wonderful tasting tomatoes. And his onions were as sweet as apples! Yes, he definitely had the gift. Or, as some would say, he possessed a green thumb.
When she had finished with her milking, she gave the hen and the goat something to eat, and walked back up the stairs to her kitchen.
It was still very warm weather, and she did not like building a fire in the stove. But she felt she owed it to Sam to cook him a hot meal since it would be the last one he would have at home.
She lifted the black iron circle from the stove-top, and taking her kindling, placed it, with some old papers, in the stove. She struck a match and watched as the paper caught fire, then spread to set the splinters ablaze.
She planned to make some fresh, hot biscuits, which they would eat with some soft, sharp goat’s cheese. This was Sam’s favorite breakfast.
In the room he shared with his younger brother, Phillip, Sam had also experienced difficulty sleeping all night long. He had never spent a night away from home. Not in all of his twelve years and eight months. He had never spent a single day away from Cefalu. Now, today, he was to travel to Naples, from which huge city he would board a boat for America.
He had no illusions of his having a good time on the journey, nor after he arrived, for that matter. His mother had made that very plain. He was going to join his father, who had left Sicily three years earlier, and now worked as a brick mason in Syracuse, New York. To young Sam, this had always caused confusion. Syracuse, he well knew, was a big city on the same island on which he now lived. How could his father have landed in another city with the same name, millions of miles away? He was glad his future home had such a familiar name, however. The biggest city in Sicily was named Syracuse, also. Indeed, the place where he was going had taken its name from its Sicilian counterpart. His mother told him that was because there were so many Sicilians already living there. That gave him hope that he would be able to converse with many people, and not just his father.
Sam, too, was to become a brick mason. The young lad was well acquainted with labor. Ever since his father had left home, Sam had to do all of the manual labor. There was the garden behind their home. He was good with growing things. Both of his parents had remarked on this ability early in his life. He loved tilling the rich soil, planting the seeds or small plants his mother grudgingly bought. They were woefully poor, but not much poorer than most of the people in Cefalu. Many of their friends, neighbors and kin-folks had already migrated to America. They never referred to it as the United States. Whenever anyone in Cefalu spoke of the U.S.A., it was simply called “America”.
He got out of bed, now, and pulled on his trousers and shirt and walked down to the kitchen. He could hear his mother shuffling about already, even though it was still almost dark. He walked in and simply stood there, observing his mother in her preparations for breakfast: his last meal at home.
Although he had not made a sound, she felt his presence. She looked up hurriedly: yes, there he was. His beautiful head of jet-black hair was tousled and a lock of it fell over his eye. He looked as if he had not slept at all.
“You didn’t need to get up this early,” she said. “Boat don’t leave until ten.”
“I couldn’t sleep.” He said it simply, without whining or complaining. He was a brave little boy. She recognized this fact, and was thankful for it. She would certainly miss him. He had been all the real help she had since her husband had gone to America. But, she was glad that she did not have to send Phillip. Her baby was her very heart. And she knew, deep down in her own heart, that sooner or later she was going to have to give up each one of their four children as they were sent for, to join their father. But, would he ever send for her? Probably not. Theirs had been the usual arranged marriage, and one of convenience only.
He looked up hopefully. Yes, there it was: the Sempione! It wasn’t just another ship. This was the ship that would carry him to America. America: that great, big, wonderful country that everybody in Sicily wanted to live in: “The Home of the Free”. There, he would join his father in the city of Syracuse, New York. He had never been as far away as Syracuse, however. It might just as well have been thousands of miles from Cefalu. Or on the moon, for that matter, because none of his family had ever been there. Money was as scarce as hen’s teeth, and for his mother to afford for him to travel to Naples had been a great sacrifice.
So, Sam had never left his home-town of Cefalu before. Beautiful, quiet and peaceful Cefalu, with its sparkling blue bay, stark white houses, and magnificent old Mount Gibilmano, rising majestically in the background. Already, he felt a lump forming in his throat at the thought that he might never see this town again.
But he wouldn’t dwell on this. It made him too sad. He tried to envision the wonders of the land he was about to become a part of. He had never been a reader, and there were no television sets to bring him program on foreign lands. Nor had he yet seen one of the moving pictures that were just beginning to make a name for themselves: mainly in America. It seems that every single new invention came from that fabulous land. Small wonder his father had wanted to go there to make his fortune.
Well, so far, the fortune had eluded the elder Sam Imbraguglio, and a few dollars a month was all he had managed to send his family back in Cefalu. And now, Sam was about to join him. He would have to learn the art of bricklaying, so that he, too, could earn money to send back to his mother. Like her, he figured it was only a matter of time before he and his father would be sending for the others to join them: one by one.
Secretly, Rosa wondered if she would ever be sent for.
Sam was not a good sailor. He had never so much as learned to swim, because his mother had a horror of one of her children drowning. This morbid phobia was the result of having had a younger brother drown when they were young. Furthermore, he never had the time to work around the docks, or even visit them very often. He did love to look at the beautiful little Bay of Cefalu, and to him, the dainty sails of the boats in the harbor were one of the prettiest things he had ever seen. He did occasionally wade in the warm, soothing and refreshing water. Until he boarded the boat that took him to Naples, he had never been aboard a boat in his life. Not even a rowboat or a raft!
So, that first night out on the open water, was a calm, balmy night, and although he had been unable to sleep, because he was so keyed up, he did not get seasick.
Similarly, the next night, on the Sempione, the waters were calm, but this time he slept through the entire night. This was no doubt due to the fact that he was utterly exhausted. But it was to be his last night of rest until he landed in New York!
The second day they were out from Naples, there was a bad squall. The ship was tossed this way and that, like a bird, flying crazily through the air. Sam had begun to feel nauseated, and for the first time he “Fed the Fishes”. He was miserable from that point until he walked down the gangplank at Ellis Island.
All the following day, after he first became seasick, Mr. Muffoletta worried about him, and kept trying to tempt him to eat a little something.
“Oh, no, sir. I couldn’t eat a thing,” the poor youngster moaned, “I’d just have to throw it up as soon as I swallowed it.”
“But, Sam, they say the only way to fight sea sickness, is by eating. Eat anything and everything.”
But Sam just shook his head, miserably, and refused to waste perfectly good food.
And so, he ate nothing from that second day of the voyage until he was safely in the harbor in America.
Human misery is a terrible thing. First of all, Sam was lonely and afraid. He was homesick for his mother and home. He was more than a little scared of the great unknown, which constituted his entire future life. And he was nauseated beyond endurance, and ached in every fiber of his being.
In later years, he was to declare that he wasn’t able to remember a single thing about the long voyage across the Atlantic. His subconscious had undoubtedly blocked the whole dreadful experience out of his memory.
Mr. Mufoletta had to come and help him to his feet when the time to debark arrived. The poor lad was so weak, he could not stand alone. This kind and generous man had brought a tin cup of coffee and a piece of bread and some good goat cheese. “See if you can’t eat this, Sam, and try to keep it down. You’re going to need your strength.”
Sam discovered that upon rising, the boat was no longer rolling from side to side. “Oh,” he exclaimed, greatly relieved, “I can stand up now,” and having said that, he almost pitched forward on his face.
“Steady, now. Just hold on. You’re got to have some nourishment in your stomach. Remember, Son, an empty sack cannot stand alone.” Sam was to remember this saying for the remainder of his life.
“I think I will have that food now,” he said, and began devouring it the minute he held it in his hands.
“Slow down!” Mrs. Mufoletta warned, “Don’t try to eat it all at once.”
“You forget---the boy’s literally starving to death.” Her husband put his arm around Sam’s shoulders. “He hasn’t eaten a bite of anything since we left Naples.”
“Oh, yes I did,” Sam said in response to this statement, “I ate that first night after we sailed----but it all came right back up!”
They were being herded into lines, which were beginning slowly to inch their way across the floor of the ship. Sam had been too sick to notice how they were herded like a bunch of cattle on the ship. Now, that he was on his own feet again, he would have resented this, had he not been so afraid of what was coming. There was not much he could do about any of it, though, so he staunchly made up his mind to take whatever the Lord had in mind for him.
As they walked down the gangplank, the little group all felt an indescribable thrill. They were about to walk of the very earth of America!
The lines moved at a snail’s pace into the big shed that was the main building on Ellis Island. All immigrants had to pass through this before they were allowed into the country.
It was hot, once they were inside. Hot and crowded. Sam felt as if her were smothering. He strained his eyes trying to see what was about to happen to them. All he could discern was the longest line of people he had ever beheld.
When he asked Mr. Mufoletto what was being done to them, the man answered that he thought this was the place where they would be asked questions about their names, ages, if they had any relatives in the USA, and so forth.
It took over two hours before Sam could finally see the wooden table, before which each immigrant was made to stand, as they were interrogated.
When it was finally his turn to approach the long wooden table where each passenger had to state his name, age, place of birth, as well as his destination in the USA, he looked back, helplessly, to Mr. Mufoletta. Sam did not speak more than two or three word of English, and he was too afraid he was mispronouncing even this limited vocabulary.
“Don’t worry, Sam,” the fatherly man comforted him, “they’ve got people who speak many languages working here. You won’t have to know English just yet.”
He felt as if he were going to be sick again, as his legs, which felt as if they were made of rubber, took him forward.
The man spoke perfect Italian.
The man wrote it without asking how to spell it.
“Thirteen,” actually, he would not be thirteen for six more months, but they had agreed that it would be better this way.
“Have you relatives here in America?”
“And where is he?”
“Syracuse, New York.”
And gradually, the boy began to relax a little.
The man stamped a paper and handed it to him. “Keep this on your person until you are with your parent,” he said to Sam.
After they had all been cleared, the Muffolettos and Sam were instructed to board a ferry, which would take them from Ellis Island to the mainland.
As they caught sight of the magnificent bronze statue known as “Miss Liberty”, or the Statue of Liberty, they all felt such a rush of emotion, that they all had tears streaming down their faces.
The mere size of Bartholdi’s gift to America, was overwhelming. This, coupled with the freedom, hopes and dreams it signified, made it especially meaningful to these immigrants, pouring into the United States at this period of history.
The closer they got to Brooklyn, the faster their hearts beat. By the time they reached the streets, Sam was so excited he could hardly stand it! There were so many people! And they all seemed to be rushing somewhere!
Sam was astonished that he was able to hear so many different people speaking in Italian! There had to be a very large number of people who had moved here from Italy and Sicily.
Mr. Mufoletto was going to remain in Brooklyn. His brother had secured a job for him as a janitor in one of the dwelling places. It would be hard work, but it paid a small salary, in addition to providing two rooms that would serve as the family’s home.
Sam wished that his arduous journey was at an end, and envied his newly discovered friends. But, true to his word, the good man saw to it that Sam got to the train station, and even accompanied him to the ticket window where he purchased his ticket to Syracuse. The journey was to take well over a full day’s travel.
When he boarded the train, it was the first time he had ever been inside a railroad coach. There was the odor of stale air, cigar smoke, cigarette smoke, and more smoke and soot from the coal burning engine. The dirty brocaded seats were so soiled and worn that it was impossible to tell what color they had originally been. And it was hot. Hotter even than the shed on Ellis Island had been. He saw only one empty space by a woman. She appeared to be middle aged, and had an immense stomach. It was the only free seat he could find. And she was sprawled over most of it, as well as her own seat.
He said, “Can I sit with you?” and she nodded. Whether or not she spoke Italian, she knew what he was saying. He had to crawl over her to reach his seat, which was by the window. He longed to open the window to let in some fresh air, but he did not know how. Also, he was afraid that it wasn’t allowed.
They sat and sat. After what seemed an eternity, there was a great metallic clatter and the train shuddered, and then the whistle screamed out, as the coach began to move. It moved so slowly, at first, that Sam was not sure whether or not it was moving at all. Then, as it gathered speed, he watched in utter fascination, as the platform seemed to be moving, and not the train.
The train pulled away from the station, and, as it began to move in one direction, another train could be seen, departing in the opposite direction. The two trains came very close to each other, and Sam was afraid they might actually collide. When he realized this was not going to happen, he sat back and watched as the people in the other train stared out their windows, just as he was doing.
His eye caught that of a young man about his own age, he thought. This fellow returned Sam’s inquisitive stare, as if the two of them would like to know where the other was going.
And then, the other trains were gone. Sam sat back in the seat and thought he might be able to sleep. He was terribly tired, and was very happy that the motion of the train, unlike the ship, did not bother him at all.
Sam jumped wearily down from the railroad car onto the platform in Syracuse. There stood his father, looking as stern as if he was not thrilled to death to see his son. It had been such a long time since they had seen each other, that Sam could almost have not recognized his own father. But the beard and the unsmiling face were hard to forget.
“Well, I see you made it,” the older man said matter-of-factly.
“Yes,” the boy said. They did not kiss, nor even embrace.
“Come on. It’s not far from here.”
They walked in silence. Sam was as tired as he had ever been in his life. The effects of the long and extremely unpleasant ocean voyage had been made only worse with the additional train ride that seemed it, too, would never end. His mood was made a lot more pleasant by the fact that the d’Amore home was so close to the depot that Sam could hardly believe his good fortune.
As they walked towards the house, a pair of startlingly dark eyes observed their approach. Rose d’Amore was more than a little curious about this young boy from Sicily. He was six, nearly seven years older than she was, and had come from the warm and beautiful land of her father’s ancestors.
Her mother came into the parlor and joined Rose at the window. “Oh, there they are!” she said in a very excited voice.
“Yes. He looks big, don’t you think?” she asked her mother.
“Oh, I don’t know. Maybe a little bit. But he is still so young,” she felt such compassion, already, for this stranger who was to be a part of their household.
The front door opened, and the sound of their footsteps were clear as they walked into the room with Lena and Rose.
“Well,” the older Sam said, “this is my boy.”
Lena walked over and embraced the youngster. There were tears in her eyes as she said, “You are most welcome, young Sam.”
The boy felt a lump in his throat at this show of affection. He sorely missed his own mother.
For her own part, Lena felt a huge lump in her own throat. This young boy, hardly more than a child, was here in a strange new land, just as she had been. Then, shortly after she and her father arrived in Syracuse, he had succumbed to pneumonia and died. Lena had been totally alone in the world at the age of thirteen. Just the same age as Sam.
Rose later described this first meeting with her future husband to the two elderly spinsters whose house was next door.
“Catherine,” the child began eagerly, “he came all the way to America from Sicily- all by himself!”
The younger of the two women made the proper clucking sound of amazement.
“What does he look like?” Anna, the elder sister, asked. She smelled a romance already, between her young friend and the new arrival.
“Well, he has the blackest hair of anybody I’ve ever seen, except Pa.”
The two women laughed. They knew that Rose idolized her “Pa.”
“Mama went over and hugged his neck, and he started crying. But he didn’t want me to see him crying, so I looked the other way.”
Catherine and Anna Galbo had loved this little neighbor child since the day she was born. They felt almost as if she were their own daughter, and tried to teach her everything they knew.
The Galbo’s parents had died fifteen or more years earlier, so Rose had never known them. But her own parents spoke with nothing but the highest praise and affection for the pair. The sisters supported themselves by taking in sewing. They were expert seamstresses, and had just begun teaching their young neighbor the fundamentals of sewing.
About six months after the arrival of young Sam Imbraguglio, Rose had come over one morning, greatly distressed.
“Why, whatever’s the matter, Rosie?” Anna had asked, using their term of endearment for the young girl.
“That old man is so mean and hateful to that boy!” Rose began vehemently.
Anna looked at Catherine and a knowing glance passed between them. They had already discussed how the girl seemed to be more and more drawn to the new lodger.
“You wanna hear what he did last night?” she continued.
“And just what did he do last night?” Anna asked. She couldn’t help smiling at the child’s indignation.
“Well, Sam came home with his pay envelope, and handed it to the old man. But the old devil asked him what that was in his pocket. Sam pulled out a few chestnuts and showed them to his father. ‘Where’d you get those?’ he asked. Sam said he had bought them from the man at the corner. You know: that old fellow who always has his little stove keeping the chestnuts nice and warm?”
The sisters nodded solemnly.
“These were still warm,” Rose continued. “Then that old devil started beating on his son, and I thought he was going to kill him!”
“You don’t mean it!” Anna said indignantly. She was truly outraged by what she had heard.
Her sister merely clucked, but they were both more than a little shocked. They had never known the man to be anything but quiet and polite the few times they had been in his presence. “Why did he do that, I wonder?” Catherine said.
“Because, he said Sam had no right to spend that money on foolishness! And it was his money at that! And guess how much of his own money he spent.” She paused dramatically: “One penny! That’s all he bought, just one cent’s worth of hot chestnuts!”
Neither sister said anything.
“He works hard for his money. And his old hateful Papa never lets him spend one red cent. He has to hand over every dime he makes, the minute he gets home with his pay envelope.” Rose’s eyes were like fire as she fumed with righteous indignation.
After a quiet moment more, Catherine said softly, “That does seem awfully unreasonable. But we shouldn’t be too quick to pass judgment. We do not know what sort of agreement the two Imbraguglios have about the money. Do you know, for instance, if the young boy is supposed to send what he makes home to his mother?”
Rose cast her eyes down. “No,” she admitted finally. “But, I still think he should be able to make up his own mind that he wants to spend one penny of his own money. And it was for something to eat, after all. It’s not like he bought beer or cigarettes, say.”
Catherine and Anna were to hear much more about young Sam Imbraguglio from Rose d’Amore. When they finally met him the first time, they had to admit that he was indeed a fine looking specimen of young manhood. Small wonder young Rose was infatuated with him.
It was Rose who had prevailed upon her parents to get a cot so that Sam would not have to sleep in that tiny single bed with his father. She could hear the older man snoring from her room. She hated to think what it must be like to have to sleep in the same bed with him!
Inside the home in which the two young people resided, there was very little actual conversation between them. She was usually busily studying her home-work, when he came in from work. He was almost always accompanied by his father, and Rose was feeling very negative about that gentleman. But, she would manage to smile, usually, and greet them both warmly. She didn’t dare greet just the younger Sam.
When the new century was about to dawn, Sam had lived with the d’Amores for over four months. There was to be a New Year’s Eve Party, to which the Galbo Sisters were invited, as well as a few of her father’s fishing cronies and two or three of her mother’s favorite people.
Rose and her mother cooked all week, the week after Christmas, preparing food for the big party. Lena taught Rose how to make the little fig tarts that were called “Gosigguini”, and the child’s turned out far better than hers had ever done. It was a Sicilian recipe, and Rose just seemed to have a natural talent for the Sicilian cuisine.
When the big night arrived, Rose was almost too tired to enjoy the unaccustomed guests, but she managed to stay awake until midnight. After all, her mother told her, it isn’t every day that one gets to see a new century arrive! It had begun to snow with a vengeance before they arose that New Year’s Eve morning.
Young Sam had quietly taken the snow shovel, without being asked, and went out into the bitter cold to begin clearing the sidewalk before their house. How he hated this weather! He longed for the warm sun and sunny skies of Cefalu. Here, in Upper New York State, they did well to see the sun every other week for a few minutes, it seemed to him.
Rose watched him from the window. He had no overcoat, and only a thin, cheap jacket, which had to keep him warm in this harsh climate. It must be below zero this morning. She had no way of knowing until somebody with a thermometer told her just how cold it was.
She could see the muscles rippling under the sleeves of his jacket. He was developing into a powerful young man in the short time since he arrived here. The hard labor had the effect of turning him and his father into healthy and muscular specimens of manhood.
He had no gloves, and probably would not wear them if she were to knit him a pair. She already knew how to knit, and had made mittens and mufflers for herself, her parents and two of her brothers, Mike and Jake. But she would be so happy if he would allow her to make him a pair. And then wear them, of course.
His face looked so red and raw- and he looked so unhappy that she just wanted to cry, looking at his misery.
Sam, meanwhile, was vowing to himself for the thousandth time since winter had first set it, back in early October, that he would get away from what these people called the “Lake Effect Cold”, and as far away as he could. Perhaps one of the Southern states, or even Mexico,
Let them keep their lakes. He would not trade the Mediterranean for all six of the Great Lakes combined!
And now it was the night of the big party. There were seventeen people in all there. They had started arriving just after dark, and by the time everyone was there, a real party atmosphere had developed. Rose loved the excitement! They had very little company, and this was the first real “Party” that she could remember.
Lena was in a festive mood, too. Somehow this brought back memories of her own wedding party. Her mother-in-law, Sarah, had seen to it that Lena and her son, Mike, had a proper wedding feast, and did most of the cooking herself.
Now, as the time approached midnight, Catherine Galbo suggested the old European custom of fortune telling. The idea was to melt lead, and have each person present pour a small dipper of the molten metal into a container of cold water. The shapes that the metal assumed as it hardened were supposed to indicate the type of fortune that would befall that person in the twentieth century.
Rose watched with keen interest as her father placed bits of lead they all saved for weeks, into the big iron kettle that was set on the stove. She was fascinated, as the metal began to melt and took on a silvery quality. It actually glittered!
Lena insisted that Catherine be the first to pour her dipper full of lead into the water. Her sister, Anna stood closely behind her as she did this.
“Ooooow, look!” Anna said, just as if she knew what the new shape meant.
“What’s it mean?” Rose asked.
“Well, you’d better ask Catherine,” Anna passed the buck.
“You silly goose,” Catherine chided her sister, “it doesn’t signify any change for me at all.”
“Now, you do yours,” Rose said eagerly.
Anna mildly protested, but everyone knew she was as eager as each of them was to see what their “fortune” should be.
Again the dipper was sunk into the kettle of molten lead, and then poured into the water. The lead more slowly, this time, made a hissing sound and assumed the shape of something that could have been interpreted as being a fish.
“You see, Anna, you’re going to marry a fisherman!” Lena laughed as she observed the look of consternation on her neighbor’s face.
“Me! I’ll never marry anyone! Who’d want an old maid like me?”
Rose sought out Sam’s eyes. There he stood, very solemnly with his always-morose father. He did not see her looking at him. She was going to make certain that he played the game along with the rest of them. She could scarcely wait to see what shapes they should both create with their molten lead.
Finally, after Lena had insisted that the two Imbraguglios have a turn at the fortune telling (Catherine had become the self appointed interpreter of the shapes) the father approached the stove warily. He was suspicious of anything new. “Aw, let the boy go. I’m too old for this!”
“Nonsense! You’re younger than a lot of us are,” Lena insisted. She placed the dipper in his hand.
By the time the man had poured his dipper of lead into the water, the temperature of the water had become much warmer. The addition of the hot lead had caused this rise in the temperature. The molten metal was taking longer and longer, each time, to form any sort of shape.
“Let’s pour this water out and get fresh cold water,” Lena said to Catherine. Hearing this, Rose rushed to take the kettle and make the change.
With the addition of fresh water, the elder Imbraguglio was told once again to try his luck. He laughed darkly, “All right, but I think it’s a lot of nonsense.”
Catherine scrutinized the most unusual shape the metal had assumed at the bottom of the pot. She really did do Tarot cards and other “Readings”. After a full minute of studying the shape, she knew that every indication was of tragedy. But this was such a happy occasion. She could not tell this man, even though she had no love for him, that he would be dead in a matter of a few years: the victim of a horrible accident.
“Well?” He asked, smiling at her.
“I’m afraid the water was too cold,” she stalled, “I am getting a very mixed reading.”
“Now, it’s your turn,” Rose said, giving young Sam a slight push from behind.
Sam walked up to Catherine and took the dipper from her hand. His father was walking away, shaking his head as if he thought they were all a little touched in the head.
Sam tilted the dipper so that the lead poured more slowly than the previous ones had done. The metal spattered, forming several little separate deposits. He looked at them without much interest.
“Oh, now you see! That means you will have a great many children!” Catherine said, as seriously as she could manage.
Sam laughed aloud. It was the first time any of them had ever heard him laugh, except his father. “How am I going to do this without a wife?”
“Well, look here,” and Catherine pointed to a somewhat larger lump of lead. “This has to be your wife. Who knows? It could even be Rose here.”
Suddenly, Rose went as red as a beet. Sam did not dare to look at her, nor she at him just now.
“Well, let’s make Rose go next and just find out,” Anna said gaily.
Rose shook her head. She was not going to give them the satisfaction of seeing her make a complete fool of herself.
And she was as stubborn as an ox once she had made up her mind not to do anything.
When the clock struck midnight, there was a great deal of hugging and wishing each other a Happy New Century. Sam was relieved to be able, finally, to go to bed. Tomorrow was just another workday for him and his father. They had grudgingly been given Christmas off last week, but the next holiday would not come until Good Friday.
Sam had been so miserable, ever since coming to Syracuse. It was too big and too noisy, first of all. And once the winter had set in, he had really felt as if he were going to freeze to death. He longed more and more for the warmth of the Mediterranean sun that seemed always to be shining and smiling on Cefalu. The coldest day of winter, there, was warmer than most summer days in this God-forsaken place.
His muscles ached from the constant shoveling of snow off the walks that led from the house to the street. Sometimes Jake, Anthony, or one of the other brothers would do this, but his father always insisted that Sam volunteer to do it when the two of them were there.
“It’s not nice for them to have to shovel the snow, when you are so strong and able to do it for them.”
And so he did it. Never complaining, but inwardly seething with a heat that perhaps helped to sustain him through that first cruel winter.
Just before Christmas, Sam had come upon Rose as she did her arithmetic at the kitchen table. She always did her studying here. She looked up expectantly.
“Would you help me write a letter to my Mama?” he asked shyly. They always conversed in Italian. In reality, Rose spoke the language far better than either of the Imbraguglios.
But Rose realized that what Sam needed was to learn to carry on a conversation in English. After all, he had told her he planned to spend the rest of his life in America. “Sam, ask me what you want in English.”
He flushed red. He had never spoken any English in this house since coming there almost half a year ago.
He shook his head, and muttered, “I don’t speak it good enough yet.”
“Well, you’re never going to learn, if you keep speaking Italian the rest of your life. Go ahead. Say, ‘Will you help me---‘ “, and she paused.
He shook his head stubbornly. They were certainly a matched pair.
“I’ll do it for you, but only if you ask me in English!”
He turned and started to leave the room.
“Oh, you’re as stubborn as an old ox!”
Unexpectedly, he broke into a laugh. Still using his native tongue, he said, “Well, I’ll try. But you have to promise not to make fun of me."
She looked at him and gave him her gentlest, most reassuring smile. “Now, just why would I want to do that, Sam Imbraguglio?”
That did it. “Rose,” he began tentatively, “you help me write letter?”
“That’s not bad. But try making it a complete sentence. WOULD you help me write A LETTER TO MY MAMA?”
He repeated it exactly as she had said it. She smiled and said, “That’s right! Yes, I would be only too happy to help you. When do you want to write it?” This had been spoken completely in English.
Sam answered in Italian, “Just sometime before Christmas. I want to send her a little money and tell her a little about my life here.”
“I’m sorry. No speaka da Italiano,” Rose mocked those Italians who used the same sentence for English.
Sam sulled and started to walk away again.
“Listen, Sam, I’m only doing this for your own good. The sooner you learn to speak in English---and read and write, I might add—the better off you’ll be, and the easier your life will be, too.”
The boy realized she was doing this only because she cared what became of him, and deep down in his heart, he was grateful to her. But she was just a child! He had to keep reminding himself of this fact, because she was wise far beyond her years. And she knew so much more than he would ever be able to learn, he feared.
“You teach me read- write- English?”
It thrilled her to the tips of her toes that this was spoken in English, albeit broken, almost shattered English.
“Yes, Sam, if you will work hard, I promise to teach you everything I learn in school. I know you did not get to go to school, because your mama needed you to work after your papa left. It isn’t fair that you should be denied what little education I have.”
And so, the lessons began with the writing of that letter to Cefalu.
“Let me get some writing paper and an envelope, and I’ll be right back.” She started to leave the room.
“No. You finish what you do. Me wait.”
“No,” she could be as obstinate as he was, “This can wait. Your letter has to get in the mail tomorrow or it’s not going to get to Cefalu until after Christmas! Understand?”
“Si- I mean, yes. Me understand.”
“Lesson number one: I understand.”
Sam smiled hopelessly. “I understand,” he said humbly.
And she rushed out of the kitchen and to her parents’ bedroom.
“Ma,” she said eagerly, “Sam wants me to help him write a letter to his mother for Christmas. Have you got an envelope and some nicer paper I can use to write it on?”
“Oh, dear!” Lena said. She seldom wrote letters any more, but she seemed to remember having a box of stationery somewhere in one of those drawers. “I don’t have time to look for it right now. I have to go out and do a birthing. But you can look if you like. I think it is in one of those deep bottom drawers on the chifferobe.” This was what most people called it when speaking of their chiffonier.
And with that, she went sailing out of the room.
Rose dashed back into the kitchen, where Sam still stood, to tell him she would have to look for the paper and envelope, and that it might take some time.
“Oh, no matter,” he said. “Too much trouble You forget.”
“I’ll do no such thing!” Rose protested, delighted that he was actually trying to talk to her without using Italian. “Your mother deserves to get a letter from you for Christmas!” and that was that.
Catherine Galbo watched the developing attachment of her young friend to the family’s boarder with keen interest. She was jealous of anyone who might not treat Rose just right. Because that was the only way she could conceive of anyone treating this very special girl. Her watchful eyes missed very little of the situations and little crises as they developed.
Rose’s youngest brother, Jake, had begun teasing her about their young roomer, and she pretended to be angry each time he made such a suggestion. But deep down inside, she was pleased as punch.
Jake was only three years older than Rose, but somehow, he seemed younger. Rose was almost always dead serious. At eight, she seemed more like a girl in her late teens, at least. Jake, on the other hand, was so full of fun and merriment all the time. Nothing seemed to upset his sunny disposition.
The two were very close. The age difference between Jake and his next older sibling was eight years. Rose felt about her other brothers, more like she did about her parents.
It came as one of the most horrible incidents of her entire life, when she watched, one morning, in stunned disbelief, as she saw her beloved brother run over by a train right outside their home’s front door.
She stood there for fully a minute before she was able to move. Then she ran, screaming from the house. Her mother, who had witnessed the tragedy, also, had knelt down on the train’s roadbed, and gathered her child to her breast. She looked up as Rose approached and said, “Oh, my God! Run, Rosie, and get someone to help!”
Rose took one look at her bleeding and mangled brother and almost fainted. But, she did as she was told, and ran to the nearest store that she knew had a telephone. She begged the owner to phone for an ambulance, and within about thirty minutes, the horse-drawn conveyance was there and had taken Jake and her mother to Saint Joseph’s Hospital.
Rose knew that her brother could not live. Not in that condition. Nor would he want to be a cripple all of his life, given the chance. Not Jake.
Why couldn’t it have been she, who was taken? She felt that she would never amount to anything.
She was unable to shed a single tear for the loss of her beloved brother. Her tears just seemed shut up inside her. And they caused a terrible ache in her whole body.
In many ways, Jake’s death signaled the end of Rose’s childhood. Never one to act very much like a child, after this, she was completely adult.
Rose had never felt so sick in her entire life! She stood before the man, in her very best dress, and watched as he ducked beneath a big black hood. In his hand, he held a rod with a straight contraption attached. Next, she watched as he slipped something square and black into the box that she assumed to be a camera, and said, “Ready? Now, smile!”
She had never felt less like smiling, and made no attempt now.
There was a blinding flash of light from the attachment to the rod, and Rose was unable to see anything for several seconds after that. The sudden bright light had sent shock waves of nausea coursing through her body.
“Now, one more. And this time, try to smile,” the man said.
This was all her mother’s doing. Lena determined to have a photograph made of Rose, once she was certain that what the girl had was mumps.
That morning, when Lena came into the room after tossing and turning all night long worrying about her daughter’s illness, she insisted that Rose get up and put on her best dress. She was convinced that she was going to lose this daughter, just as she had lost Jake. Rose had developed a high fever during the night.
“Why? Where are you taking me?”
“We’re going to have your picture taken. Do you realize, I don’t have a single photograph of you!”
Rose felt that her mother must be losing her mind. She turned over and closed her eyes again.
“Come on, now. Get up. I’ll help you get washed up and dressed.”
There was no arguing with her mother once she made up her mind. They both had wills of iron.
Rose just stood there, by the side of her bed, as Lena washed her aching body, and then helped her into clean under garments. Then, Lena went to the wardrobe and brought out the new dress that had been bought for her last month, on her birthday.
“You know I do not have a single picture of you, Rose. I want to have one made today, before your face begins to swell.”
That was the way she had put it. But Rose knew Lena well enough to read between the lines of what she was saying. What she was afraid of was that Rose was going to die, just as Jake had done, and leave not a single tangible shred of evidence that she had ever existed at all.
“Who said my face’s going to swell up?” the child asked miserably.
“That’s just the way mumps affects a person. The headache was your first warning, then you developed a high fever. When you said you were seeing spots before your eyes---well, I knew then that’s what it has to be: Mumps.” Lena did not admit that it was the very fact that Rose’s thin face was already showing signs of swelling, caused her to feel the urgency of having a photograph taken immediately. Soon it might become so noticeable that even the child, who never looked at herself in a mirror, would feel that it was swollen.
After the second flash from the photographer’s camera exploded in her face, Rose was seeing not just spots, but giant black blocks before her eyes! The burst of lightning-like light had been so traumatic that she actually felt as if she would cry. But she didn’t.
They had ridden the streetcar over to the center of the city earlier that morning. Rose normally enjoyed this rare treat. But today, she had lethargically ambled alongside Lena to the stop sign, dragging her feet with every leaden step. The sight of the horse drawn conveyance somehow made her think of a hearse. Her brand new dress material was stiff and uncomfortable. Her shoes were also new and not yet broken in. She looked far older than her years, and could have passed for nineteen, or twenty. She was tall and slim as a reed.
When the trolley came clattering to a stop, Lena literally propelled Rose onto the steps that led inside. She had the coins ready for their fare, and led Rose to a seat near the front of the conveyance.
The city of Syracuse sped by at an almost unbelievable rate of speed. They must have been traveling at a rate of ten or more miles an hour! Rose dared not look directly at the buildings or the people, who seemed to be whizzing by. She was already so dizzy that she could hardly sit still on the seat.
Lena almost had to carry her off the trolley and into the house with a sign on the front entrance: “J. Galieri, Photographer”.
The funny little man made such a fuss over them, that Rose almost smiled. But she found that even this, she was unable to do.
Jake d’Amore had been dead nearly two years, when Rose had come in from school that blustery afternoon in March, with a severe headache. She was never ill, and a headache was almost as foreign to her as sleeping until noon would have been.
Her school day had begun pleasantly enough, with public school music, which she always enjoyed. As she watched the nun playing the accompaniments to the songs they were learning that morning, she wished, as she always did, that she might someday be able to play one of these amazing instruments. Her voice was still as clear and as sweet as ever, and she had no inkling of the malady that was to come.
As her class passed out of the choral room, where they had their class, she felt an almost irresistible urge just to touch those beautiful black and white keys of the upright piano. But, as usual, she was too shy and held back. “Knabe” was the name spelled out in gold leaf on the fall-board. She would remember that name as long as she lived.
It was some time after noon that the headache began. She was so unaccustomed to this sort of thing that she ignored it until it went from bad to worse and would no longer be ignored.
By the time she reached home, she was praying that her mother would be at home, for a change. Of course she was not to be so fortunate. Lena was usually checking up on her patients whose time of confinement had either begun or was imminent, at this time of day.
Rose took her key out of her dress pocket and unlocked the front door. As soon as she was inside, the cooking odors from their breakfast assailed her nostrils and made her so nauseous that she almost gagged. That was something else Rose never did: throw up.
“What is wrong with me?” she thought dismally. She was becoming a little frightened. Rose just took her good health for granted. She had never been sick a day in her life that she could remember.
But there was no need to fight it: she walked into her bedroom and took off her dress, folded it and placed it neatly on the chair by the bed. She leaned over to take off her shoes, and this movement caused her head to pound. She placed the shoes under her bed. Then she took her night gown from beneath her pillow, got quickly into it and crawled into bed.
She must have drifted off to sleep shortly after that, because the next thing she was conscious of was Lena’s voice.
`“Whatsamatter, Rosie? You sick or something?” her mother asked, feeling an icy premonition gripping her heart. This child had never been sick enough to go to bed in broad daylight that she could remember.
Rose opened her eyes groggily and shook her head slowly from side to side. Even that little bit of motion caused it to hurt; a stabbing pain. It seemed almost as if her brains were rattling.
“What hurts? Is it your stomach?”
“No, Mama, it’s my head. My head hurts. I feel awful!”
“I’ve never heard you say your head hurt before. Never! What in the world do you think caused it?”
Rose had been trying to figure out the cause of her pain ever since it became noticeable. It had started as a slight tinge and had developed into a dull ache. The dull ache advanced to the “pounding” stage. Then she had begun to feel nauseous, adding to her misery.
“Do you feel like you might throw up?” Lena asked.
“Yes. I don’t know what’s the matter with me. Even my face is sore!”
Lena heard this with alarm. She walked closer and placed her hand, which was still cold from the outside, on the girl’s forehead. She did not have fever yet. Of that she was reasonably certain. She pondered before asking cautiously, “Do you know if there have been any cases of mumps in your school?”
“A few,” Rose stated dully. “Why? You think that’s what it could be?”
“I wouldn’t be surprised one bit. Now, Rose, you’re not to worry about cooking supper. I have to go just across the street to look after Mrs. Scatoura, but I’ll be back in a few minutes. Her baby is due any day now, so I just want to check up on her. I’ll be right back. Don’t get up unless you just have to. I’ll fix something hot for us all to eat when I get back.”
“All right,” Rose said dully.
“Hey, Luigi!” the youthful tenor called out to Sam, who stopped spreading mortar on the brick he held with his left hand, to look up. It was his friend, Gunther van Slach.
“Well, if it ain’t the big Jew!” Sam teased back. The two young men had become best buddies at work, probably because of their great differences as much as their similarities.
Both had been in the United States since 1899, they were the same age, their fathers both worked on job with them, and had gotten jobs for them. But Gunther was from the Netherlands, and was used to the cold. He loved it, and felt completely at home in Syracuse’s bitter climate.
“How did so many eye-ties happen to settle here,” Gunther had asked several years ago, right after they became acquainted, “when they could have gone south and felt more at home?”
“Don’t forget, young man,” Sam’s father had remarked, “That Syracuse was founded by Italians. Probably by Sicilians, since that’s the name of one of our biggest cities in Sicily. That’s the principal reason my people feel at home here.”
“You just better be thankful your papa settled here, so you could have some place to make money,” Sam threw in for good measure.
The nicknames had grown over the years from their little jokes. Gunther pretended that he could never remember whether Sam’s name was Salvatore, or Luigi. “All you Italians have the same name anyway,” he laughed.
Sam pretended to think Gunther’s Lutheranism was the same as Judaism, and got the keenest pleasure in the world in calling him the Big Jew. Actually, they were almost exactly the same size, to add to the charade.
“Where you been?” Sam asked now.
“Oh. So you missed me?” Gunther smiled.
“Like I’d miss a tooth ache,” Sam answered.
“Funny you should say that,” Guther said. “That’s where I’ve been—at the dentist’s office. I had to get a tooth pulled out, and it sent me to bed for two whole days!”
“You’re gonna have to take better care of your teeth. You ain’t gonna get a new set, you know,” Sam was just full of good advice, but seldom practiced what he preached.
The truth is that Sam had sorely missed the companion with whom he usually ate his simple lunch and shared gripes and gossip at work.
Gunther’s father was, if possible, even more dour that the elder Imbraguglio. Sam had never seen him smile. Not even once. And although his own father was usually deadly serious, he still had his lighter side, and enjoyed a good joke as much as the next fellow.
Sam Imbraguglio, the younger, had grown more and more morose and discontented with his life and work in Syracuse. The only things that kept him going, it seemed, were some of the fellows with whom he had worked now for years. Gunther was his closest friend, but he had real friendships with several of the men, both older and younger than he. And he had keen interest and delight in seeing the results of the work they were all doing at the University of Syracuse. Their current project was the erection of a magnificent new library building on the campus, right in the heart of the city. The campus was growing into one of the most beautiful and best landscaped in the East, as the school grew in stature each year. It would become one of the top educational institutions in the nation, in a matter of a few more years.
All of Sam’s fellow workers were uneducated, and happy to be working for a minimum wage that was just above the poverty level. Sam felt, acutely, his lack of schooling. He could only speculate how much less arduous his labor would be if he had even a high school education. Not one of the men in his construction company had finished elementary school. Many of them had no formal education at all.
Sam’s close association with Rose had made him acutely aware of just what a good school and proficient teachers could inject into their more adept pupils. Rose was a shining example of the very bright student, whose parents were uneducated, who could rise above her situation and do exemplary work in any given subject. The girl’s mind was like a sponge: it absorbed everything to which it was exposed. And, like a sponge, it retained that which it had absorbed.
Even Rose’s elementary education left Sam so envious that he determined then and there that if he ever had any children of his own, they’d get the highest education he could afford to give them. He’d work his fingers to the bone, in order that they might not have to do such hard manual labor. As he toiled at his job, through ice, sleet and snow (it seemed it was never hot) he would steal glances from time to time, at the leisurely pace of the affluent college students who seemed not to have a worry in the world, except passing their next exam. Rose was quick to point out to him that this, in itself, was no mean feat.
In 1909, Sam was twenty-four years of age. By then, through scrimping and saving every penny he earned, he had accumulated quite a nice little nest egg. This was stashed away in his father’s trunk. Sam’s father had never had any dealings with a bank, and distrusted letting anyone use his money to make more money by lending it to others. He passed this suspicious and unprofitable behavior on to his son. Still, the somber older man had been a lot fairer than Rose thought he would, in that he set aside one third of each pay check that his son earned, and saved it for him. His own salary and two thirds of Sam’s went towards their living expenses and money orders sent to Rosa, back in Cefalu.
Sam’s sister, Grace, had been sent for when she was sixteen, and had traveled immediately to Laurel, Mississippi, after she arrived in New York. Their mother’s sister, Antonia, who had married a man named Giuseppe Guercio, had arranged for Grace to marry a certain Sam Cocomise. That had been three years ago.
And so when Antonia Guercio wrote to the young Sam Imbraguglio, from Laurel, telling him of a “Golden Opportunity” for some young man who was not afraid of hard work, the idea began to become an obsession with him. He had asked Rose to read the letter to him, even though it was written in Italian. He still did not trust his own reading, whatever the language. And to add to the difficulties, the sister’s handwriting was as elaborate and hard to decipher as his Mama’s fancy calligraphy. After all, they were sisters.
Rose felt her throat constrict as she read the words that proposed that he leave them and move all the way to distant Mississippi. She had never felt more distress over anything she had read in her entire life. To her young mind, Mississippi might just as well be on the moon!
Still, she managed to finish reading the rather lengthy letter without letting her emotions betray her true feelings. She looked up to find Sam’s face a study in a combination of excitement and confusion.
“Do you understand what she wants me to do?” he asked Rose. “I can’t believe what it sounds like to me.”
“Yes. I think I get it. It sounds to me like she wants to lend you the money to buy some property in Mississippi, and then go down there and open a market.”
“But, I need to know more details,” Sam said peevishly. “Where is this place? How much money does it cost? Lots of things.”
Rose could see where all of this was leading. “Would you like for me to write your aunt and ask her these specific questions?” Rose asked.
“You’d do that for me?” he asked.
Rose simply smiled as she shook her head.
“Oh, if you’d do that for me, I would appreciate it so much.”
And, once again, as when she had written to his mother for him, Rose sat and asked him the things he wished to find out, and then composed a letter that was clear, concise, and written in legible no-nonsense penmanship.
The letter brought an almost immediate response from his Aunt Antonia. There was a certain piece of property for sale in nearby Ellisville, which was actually a much bigger town at that time than Laurel. The property had a wooden store building on it, and this was right in the heart of the town. The price was shockingly low. She proposed that Sam come south and open a complete food market, selling fresh fruits and vegetables, as well as meat. There was no market there at this time, and almost no fresh produce other than that which was sold by the vendors hawking their wares from rolling carts, going door to door. She again offered to advance Sam the capital with which to purchase this property.
“And you and your sister, Grace, would be together again. She has a boy and a girl now. It’s time you found a wife and started your own family, Sam,” she had added.
It was the chance of a lifetime, everybody felt. Even Sam’s father encouraged him to take advantage of the opportunity. “You’ve got almost enough money of your own saved up to pay for the property, I’m sure.”
Sam’s chief concern was the fact that his English still was not good enough, either speech or writing. Rose had been diligent in teaching him the basic skills of reading, but so far had little success in teaching him to write. His handwriting was a mess!
“I don’t see how I could manage to do business with these people,” he said hopelessly. “They wouldn’t be able to understand me. They’d make fun of the way I talk. I get all mixed up when I get nervous. I say the wrong words, and am not sure what they are saying!”
“Yes. You have to be able to keep them from taking advantage of your ignorance,” his father said.
A long period of silence followed this statement. Then the bombshell dropped. “Son, why don’t you marry Rose, and take her with you?” the older man suggested.
Why not, indeed! The only trouble was that she probably would be unwilling to leave her family and the only world she had ever known. He expressed these doubts.
“Talk to her,” his father urged. “She may just surprise you.”
Rose and Sam had an easy relationship since the lessons had begun. Rose had completed grammar school, and was proficient in math (which would make her a natural book-keeper) and English (she could do all necessary reading and writing). In short, she was just what he needed if this venture was to succeed.
He was reluctant to suggest marriage to one so young. And besides, he felt more like an older brother to her than a suitor. He had never considered that she might be thinking of him as a possible future husband.
“Listen, young man, maybe the idea never occurred to you, but believe me, I’ve seen the way Rose watches you and hangs on your every word. Have no doubt it’s occurred to her!”
Sam turned the idea over and over in his brain. No, she was entirely too young to be taken from this comfortable nest and moved halfway round the world, as he considered Mississippi.
“Nonsense. Your mother was only fourteen when we were married,” the elder Imbraguglio said matter-of-factly.
Sam had never considered this fact. He digested it slowly. “Even if she would have me, it wouldn’t be an easy life,” he continued to voice his apprehensions.
“Who said life is ever easy, Son?”
And so, with Sam’s reluctance to broach the subject of matrimony, the older man had approached Rose’s father and laid all of his cards on the table.
“Oh, I have nothing against the match: only not just now. She’s still little more than a child,” Mike d’Amore said.
“Sam’s not going to stay up here another winter, I feel sure of that. He says the weather is killing him. And that property won’t be available long, if it’s as good as my sister-in-law says it is,” Sam’s father watched d’Amore’s face as he delivered this bit of information.
“It is bitter cold here,” Mike conceded, “but he could get accustomed to that, just as I had to. As you had to, also, I’m sure. It would be so much better for Lena and me if they could remain here in Syracuse.”
The other man nodded solemnly.
Lena walked into the room and the two men stopped talking very quickly.
“Now, what was that all about?” Lena asked sharply.
“Oh, we were just talking,” her husband said a little too hastily.
“About the fact that Syracuse is cold?” Lena and Rose hated the cold more than the rest of the family.
“Y-yes,” her husband stammered.
“It couldn’t possibly have anything to do with the climate in Mississippi, now could it?” She was never one to beat about any bush.
Silence from both of the fathers.
Lena’s sixth sense picked up on all sorts of overtones to this exchange. Something very serious was going on here. She was just certain of that.
“What has all of this got to do with us,” she asked.
“Lena,” her husband began, “Sam and I have been discussing a business matter that has been presented to young Sam. His aunt down in Mississippi, has offered to lend him the money to buy some property.”
He paused long enough for Lena to say, impatiently, “Well, how does that affect any of us?”
“It means that young Sam would be moving down there to open a business. But he is afraid his English is still not strong enough for him to operate a store. He is going to need a lot of help.”
“But, I still don’t see what we can do about that-----”. She paused. “Oh, no! You couldn’t mean what I’m thinking—“ and she began laughing.
“That’s exactly what we were talking about when you came in just now,” her husband said, and he started laughing, too.
Suddenly, as though cold water had been dashed in their faces, all three of them fell silent. “But we’d be losing our only daughter,” Lena said soberly. “And she seems so very young still—“ her voice wandered off.
“How old were you when we got married?” Michael asked her quietly.
“Well--- but that was different. I didn’t have any place to go—nobody to take care of me after Papa died.”
These words met with silence. Finally, Lena’s face took on a look of resignation combined with determination. “We have to consider what she wants more than anything else,” she said.
“You’re right, Lena,” her husband took her hand and held it as he looked into her eyes. “This concerns Rose and nobody else but her. Sam will need a wife to help him down there. That much we know. We both feel that Rose and Sam get along so well together, and she seems to like him well enough, God knows------”
“And she would be a perfect wife for my son,” Imbraguglio finalized the evaluation.
“Why don’t you go and see if Sam and Rose could come in here, so we can tell them what we have decided,” Mike d’Amore said to Lena.
She opened the door to the hallway and there they both stood. Sam was looking awfully agitated just knowing that his future was in all likelihood being decided behind that door. Rose was standing very much composed, as she usually managed to appear. When Lena asked them to come in the room where the two older men were, they walked in without a word.
Rose sat stiffly on the faded old sofa, while Sam continued standing. His father told him of the conversation with Rose’s father, and Sam found himself growing embarrassed and angry at the same time. Why hadn’t he discussed the matter with Rose’s father himself, rather than asking his father to do it for him?
Rose, for her own part, had always felt the moment would come when such a situation might arise, but she had always assumed Sam would be the one to ask her, himself. She felt a sinking inside at the thought that he was not even going to propose to her, but had left that for his father to do. She sat with her eyes cast downward to the lap of her dress. It was going to be just another of those arranged marriages--- just like in the Old Country. He’d probably even expect a dowry!
All at once, Sam felt that what he had done seemed cowardly and disgusting. He had stood stonily as he was told their conversation, almost verbatim. Now, he reached a momentous decision: He dared not look to see how Rose was reacting. Instead, he walked over to her and said, “Row, if you will have me, I’d like to make you my wife.”
A sob broke from Lena’s throat. She loved this quiet and moody young man almost as much as she loved her own sons. It was so sweet, the way he always called her child “Row”, a name he was call her the rest of his life. Somehow, she had always felt there was something preordained about the matching of her daughter with Sam. Still, it hurt too much to think that she would lose yet another child so soon after Jake’s tragic death. For she must surely lose her if she would be taken all the way to Mississippi.
Rose looked over at Lena, and then to her father. They both nodded their heads, and she said, “Then, it looks like we ought to get married.”
The wedding plans began being made that very evening, but it was not until the following October that the ceremony took place at St. Peters’ Roman Catholic Church, in Syracuse.
During the summer of 1909, the d’Amore’s had their home wired for electricity, and the old gas lights were replaced with incandescent light bulbs from the Edison Company. Michael’s efforts had yielded a bumper crop of fish that spring, which had earned for him unprecedented profits, and Lena had her usual contributions from the happy parents of the children she ushered into the world.
“Let’s do it,” Lena had said to her husband.
Rose listened with her breath held in. She had wished so many times that they could afford this new miracle lighting.
“I was hoping you’d say that,” Michael agreed.
Rose let out her breath with a great, “Whew!”
They all loved the new lights. Rose, especially loved to be able to read with greater ease. The cost was just a little more than the gas lights had been, but they had to rely, still, on gas for their cooking. Rose never liked gas. She was always deathly afraid of it. She felt it might explode in her face.
But this had been a special summer in more ways than one: Rose’s marriage to Sam was scheduled for October the twelfth, and preparations were well underway for the wedding and the young couple’s departure for Mississippi.
“Just when we finally get electric lights, I’ll have to leave home,” the young girl said pensively.
“Well, cheer up, Rose! I’ll bet they have electric lights, even down there in Ellisville, Mississippi” her mother comforted her.
“Oh, I doubt that we’ll be able to afford electricity. Not for a long time, at least.” Rose had no illusions about her future.
Lena, along with Anna and Catherine, from next door was determined to put Rose’s long, lustrous black hair into something more fashionable than the bun she had traditionally worn since her hair got too long to be worn loosely about her face. Now, Anna held a newspaper ad for a woman’s Beauty Salon, and was attempting to accomplish with Rose’s luxuriant head of hair the bouffant look of the model.
“I don’t want to look like some sort of floozy, now,” Rose complained.
”Don’t worry, honey, you could never look like one of those,” Catherine assured her.
“No, Rosie, we want to make you look like one of those Gibson Girls,” Anna threw in.
They all laughed at this, but when all three older women were finished with Rose’s hair, she did look lovelier than she had ever looked before. The wedding dress was beautiful, too: snow white, with a modestly high neck and full skirt. There was the obligatory wedding veil, because woman’s “Crowning Glory” had to be covered in those days. Rose was a very handsome bride.
When she had walked down the aisle, on her father’s arm, she got her first view of Sam in his brand new double-breasted suit. She had never before seen him in such a magnificent suit. The clothes he wore to mass on Sunday were suits made of the cheapest material, or, more likely, pants and a mismatched jacket.
But he was just about the best looking man she had ever seen! A tiny scar just above his lip, left by an accident at work a few years earlier had caused Sam to grow a mustache. It was a neatly trimmed mustache, and made him even more handsome and dashing.
Her heart was pounding like a trip hammer as he joined her in front of the altar. Her knees were knocking. She kept telling herself it was foolish to be so nervous and self-conscious, but Rose had never liked having people stare at her. And all eyes in the church were riveted on her and Sam.
Father Cangilosi walked stiffly down from the altar, and stood before them. He was getting so old that it was increasingly difficult for him to perform his priestly duties. But Lena had insisted. It had been he who had performed hers and Michael’s wedding so many years before, and she wanted her daughter to have the same wonderful old priest.
Sam glanced nervously around the big church, trying to see if any of the men with whom he and his father worked had come to see him get “hitched”, as they had put it jokingly. His cursory glance showed that although the crowd looked woefully small in St. Peter’s, there were actually almost a hundred people present. It seemed that every one of the Italian men from their work crew was present. And there sat Gunther! Grinning like a jackass eating briars, as his father would say. Good old Gunther! But it looked as if his buddy’s father had not seen fit to come. Sam had invited Gunther and a few of the men who seemed particularly sympathetic to Sam’s cause, to come by the Parish Recreation Center, where there was to be a small reception following the ceremony. There was to be no honeymoon. That was entirely too expensive.
Rose was trying very hard to concentrate on every word the old priest was saying, a mixture of Latin and Italian. She had to nudge Sam when it was time for them to kneel down on the little kneelers, for the blessing.
When Father Canjalosi asked who was to give the bride away, Michael d’Amore proudly stepped forward.
And then, almost before she could believe it possible, she was a married woman.
Father Canjalosi, without so much as a by your leave from Lena or Michael, made an announcement of the reception that was to follow the ceremony next door, inviting everybody present to come and enjoy the refreshments. Lena held her breath. She knew they did not have nearly enough food or drink for that many people.
She need not have worried. Half of the people that Sam and his father had invited did not show up. They felt they had done their duty to Sam by merely sitting through the wedding ceremony.
Mr. Galiere, who had taken the photograph of Rose when she had mumps, was there, to make the wedding portrait of the bride and groom. He had set up his equipment in the Recreation Center in advance, and as soon as the young couple came in from the outside, he motioned for them to come and pose. His newer equipment was far more up to date than the camera of long ago.
Rose could not help remembering that first, and last, photograph she had taken on that cold miserable day. But she was none the less sober, as was Sam. No amount of coaxing from the man behind the camera, or from any of the three parents present, could elicit a smile from Sam or Rose. They looked more like they were going to their execution than anything else.
They had all encouraged her to remove the veil that had been required for the mass, and the new bride’s hair, which had never felt the touch of scissors, was truly magnificent.
The Galbo Sisters, assisted by three of the wives of some of Sam’s fellow masons, had set up the food tables, and kept the trays of sandwiches replenished. There was an enormous chocolate layer cake, which acted as the wedding cake. One of the wives did nothing but carve small slices of this and put them on the guests’ plates as they walked by the table.
There was cold beer to drink, as well as hot coffee or tea, and red wine. The men with whom Sam worked all seemed to have hearty appetites. But Sam would have been disappointed had this not been the case.
Rose reluctantly submitted to being kissed by Gunther almost as soon as the ceremony was over. She had never been kissed by a stranger before, and she was not sure she approved of it. But Lena gave her a shove, when Gunter van Slach asked if he could kiss the bride. Sam had smiled indulgently as his best friend clumsily kissed Rose on the cheek.
Now that the ordeal of the wedding itself was over, Sam was able to eat. Rose pretended to eat a ham sandwich, and she actually did drink almost a half cup of coffee. But she had no appetite.
“Don’t you even want to taste your wedding cake?” Anna Galbo asked, extending her hand with a plate containing a paper-thin piece of the cake.
“Well, maybe I will eat some of that. You know I’ve always liked anything chocolate,” the bride answered, and actually seemed to enjoy it.
“Let me get you another cup of coffee to wash that down,” her old friend said.
“No, really, there’s still enough left in the cup for that.”
The guests ate heartily of the sandwiches, which had been prepared entirely by the Sisters next door. They had sliced six whole loaves of white bakery bread, as thin as Rose had ever seen bread sliced before. The wedding cake was almost totally gone by the time the last of the guests had departed, and of the six cases of beer, only two bottles of Schlitz was left.
These two bottles of beer were treasured by Rose and Sam their entire lives together, and are still one of the treasured possessions of Helen Prince, in Newton, Mississippi.
Rose sat in the rocking chair and watched the rain falling gently behind their store in Ellisville, Mississippi. She had one of the two back windows open, so that she could enjoy the sound, as well as the wonderful aroma of the rain falling on parched earth. A fine mist was being blown through the window, but she did not mind. There was nothing it could hurt.
The weather had been mild and dry since their arrival in Ellisville, and Rose could scarcely believe that it was already the middle of November! By now, they would probably have had snow two or three times back in Syracuse, and the temperature could be expected to dip below freezing just any time now.
She was enjoying this first real rainfall that she had experienced since coming to the small town. The music of the rain on the sheet metal roof made a very pleasant sound. Rose had never even seen a tin roof before coming to Mississippi. October had been unbelievably pleasant, in spite of all the hard work she and Sam had put into the store and their living quarters.
She had just washed up the supper dishes and put everything away in the cabinets Sam had made for her from apple and orange crates. He had nailed these cabinets onto the wall of the space they had decided to make their kitchen. The one large room at the back of their building served as their home. They had put up only one wall so far, other than that which separated the store from their living quarters. That wall divided the kitchen from the rest of the space. There was a large wood burning range, and a good solid oak table that had been left by the previous owners. The rocking chair, in which she now rested after her hard day’s labor, had been given to them by Sam’s aunt. The other two chairs had been purchased from the only furniture store in town; that establishment was operated by a bachelor named Parker. Their big double bed, a mattress and springs had been bought from him also. All of this had cost a lot of money, so they had to postpone buying any other furniture for the time being.
Rose thought back over their arrival in this place over a month ago. Their train had arrived at the depot almost two hours late. It was the middle of the night when they finally arrived. There had been no trouble finding their property, because Sam’s Aunt Antonia was waiting for them in the depot when they walked in from their long train ride.
“My God in heaven! I thought your train wasn’t ever going to get here,” she complained.
“So did I!” Rose said emphatically.
“You came all the way down here to meet us?” Sam was incredulous.
“It’s only seven miles,” his aunt smiled as she hugged and kissed him. “And this must be Rose,” she said, turning to embrace the young bride.
Rose’s back stiffened automatically. She wished she were more trusting of strangers, but she was always a little suspicious. And she had always disliked being kissed.
“My goodness, you’re a tiny little thing!” Antonia remarked, as she held Rose at arm’s length and took her in from head to toe. “And those have to be the tiniest feet I have ever seen on anyone! Those look like doll shoes!” She laughed amiably.
Rose smiled weakly.
“Let’s go,” Sam said impatiently.
“Well, come on, then. It’s just over there,” the older woman had apparently not noticed the effect her kiss had on Rose. She picked up two of their boxes and began walking towards the door.
“How far is it?” Sam asked.
“Why, it’s right there—just across the street.”
Rose was glad they did not have to walk very far lugging all of their packages and suitcases. The boxes they had shipped ahead with some dishes, pots and pans, winter clothes and the likes would be waiting for them to pick up later. Right now, the first order of business was to see the store, and get some sort of sleeping arrangements set up for what remained of their first night in the deep south.
As they stepped into the balmy evening air, Rose took a deep breath. The mildness of the weather seemed like a gift straight from God to her. She knew she was going to love being a southerner!
“There’s my car,” Antonia said, pointing to one of the two cars near the depot. It was a Model T Ford: Solid black in color.
Rose and Sam were both astonished that the woman owned an automobile. She must really be rich!
“You’ll need a horse and wagon right away,” Antonia was saying as she helped them arrange their possessions in the trunk of the car and on the floor. “You’ll have to be able to haul the cattle you buy for butchering. You can get a buggy for riding too.”
“My God! I hadn’t even thought about that!” Sam said. He was suddenly panic-stricken. Where was he supposed to get all the money for such expensive necessities? It would take everything he had saved up and much more, apparently. He had grown accustomed to Syracuse, with its easily affordable transportation.
Antonia reached across and took the crank out of the tool-box on the side of the car and asked Sam to pull out the starter as she cranked the car.
“What’s that?” he asked. Neither he nor Rose had ever so much as ridden in an automobile.
“Right here,” she indicated the lever he was to pull.
“Let me crank it, and you get it started,” he said.
“That might be better, come to think of it,” she agreed.
And so, Sam Imbraguglio had his first experience turning a crank that night. He was to become very adept at this practice in the coming weeks and years.
When the engine turned over, his aunt called to him to hop in the car. As they moved slowly away from the depot, Rose thought this one of the most extraordinary things on earth: that this small woman was able to own and drive her very own automobile!
There didn’t appear to be very much to the little town of Ellisville, as they crossed the railroad tracks. It was a dark night, and there were clouds obscuring the moonlight. Suddenly, the clouds moved across the moon and Rose and Sam sat transfixed as Antonia said, “That’s it! Right there!”
Rose’s worst fears were realized at that precise moment. The big wooden structure that the woman had indicated as their future home and place of business, was just about the homeliest thing she had ever seen!
It was built entirely of wood, it was unpainted, and appeared to have no windows. Instead, it looked as if there were wooden shutters covering openings in the front of the structure. The roof sloped down on the sides, and looked as if it were painted silver!
Sam said nothing, but he was almost as disappointed as Rose was. He made up his mind that he must never let his wife know how he felt, however.
“It sure is big!” was all he said.
When they reached the store, Antonia parked the car carefully and they all stepped down in front of what was to be Sam and Rose’s home for many years to come. Antonia reached into her purse and brought forth a key, which she handed to Sam.
“Here’s the key for the padlock on the front door,” she said, and watched with pleasure at his almost child-like delight at having something of his very own to lock up or open at will.
Solemnly, he undid the lock, and pushed the door open. The inside of the store was so black that they could not see their hands in front of their faces. But Antonia seemed to know her way around in the dark. There was the sound of a match being struck, then a glimmer of light as the match was placed on the wick of an oil lamp that was standing on a wooden crate in the middle of the floor.
“I didn’t have time to get the electricity turned back on yet, but the man is supposed to come in the morning to do that,” she said.
Rose breathed a big sigh of relief to think that they would have the wonderful incandescent light bulbs she had already grown so accustomed to.
“You must be starving,” Sam’s aunt said now. “I brought some ham sandwiches from home. They’re right over here,” and she picked up a box from the top of an empty crate, and handed it to Rose.”
“No. Really. We had lots of food to eat on the train,” Rose spoke up. “We even have enough bread and cheese for breakfast.”
“Well, you can eat these now, or have them tomorrow. And listen, there’s a very good bakery here in town. They make wonderful bread. It’s at the other end of Main Street. This is Main Street we’re on now. The bakery is run by a French family name of DeBoxtel.”
“I’ll buy some fresh bread in the morning,” Sam said.
“Rose, I took the liberty of buying a bed for you and Sam, and I’m giving you a set of sheets and pillow cases. Also a pair of feather pillows.”
“Oh, that’s mighty nice of you. I brought sheets and pillow cases from home. But they’re in one of the boxes we brought. I didn’t bring any pillows, though.”
“Well, you don’t have to worry with any of that now. If you don’t like the bed, Mr. Parker said he would be more than happy to let you change it for another one. I got the cheapest mattress and set of springs he had, with that same condition. There’s a wood burning stove that went with the building, too. It doesn’t look too bad after I got through cleaning it up for you.”
“You’ve thought of everything,” Sam said.
“Well, I certainly tried to. I just hope I didn’t forget anything too crucial,” she said.
“How can we ever thank you enough?” Rose asked.
“Oh, we’ll find a way,” and Aunt Antonia laughed.
Rose found herself liking this woman more than any one she had ever met, next to her dear neighbors, the Galbo Sisters back in Syracuse.
If the truth were known, Antonia had done much more than she would ever admit to the young couple. She had not only used a large portion of her savings to buy the property for Sam, but she had also set aside additional funds in order to see that he had the proper equipment for operating a butcher shop. The truck; the meat block which he would need for cutting up the meat for his customers; the expensive knives, saws, cleavers; and whatever else the business entailed. There would have to be ice chests to keep the meat from spoiling. It would cost her a small fortune. But she had married well, and her husband had died and left her a wealthy widow. And she was childless.
Besides, after seeing how well her nephew had turned out, and meeting Rose, Antonia was not worried one bit about the money she was advancing to him.
After her departure for Laurel, the exhausted pair had literally fallen into their bed and slept the sleep of the dead. The sandwiches lay untouched in their little cardboard box on the orange crate.
Sam walked into the store section of his building and cautiously raised one of the shutters. He was rewarded with getting a splinter stuck in the palm of his left hand. He sucked the blood from the wound and tried to dislodge the piece of wood from his stinging flesh. It wouldn’t budge. He’d get Rose to take it out after while. Right now he was intent on seeing what Ellisville looked like in the daylight.
He had no idea what time it was, but as soon as he saw the first faint light of dawn, there had been more sleep for him. Besides, that mattress was almost as uncomfortable as the steel decks of the Sempione had been ten years earlier. Rose had started to get out of the bed when he rose, but he told her to stay there and get a little more sleep if she could.
Fortunately there were shelves built on either side of the store that looked as if they would serve his purpose for a while, anyway. There were structures that looked as if they would display produce under each of the shutters. These shutters fastened with a latch to the top of the board that held them, from the inside. That was all there was that he could see any use for. He’d have to have place for the meat counters, but he had no idea how large or small these would be.
Opening the front door, he walked out onto the dirt path that ran in front of his store. He’d have to build a cement sidewalk, but that would be a simple matter for him. There was nothing but space between the store and the depot, which was clearly visible from here. What few buildings there were seemed to have all been built on this side of Main Street. The bank building was the nicest looking building he could see, mainly because it was built of brick. He wished his building was better constructed, but then, if it had been, he would not have been able to afford it.
He walked down Main Street, taking note of the businesses in the small town. There was a drug store; two banks, one on each corner- facing each other across Main Street; a hardware store, and that had to be the bakery Antonia mentioned last night. As of to confirm his assumption, there was a sudden wafting of the most incredibly delicious aroma he had ever smelled! He wondered how early the place opened for business. There was another grocery store on the opposite corner across from the bakery. “Carter’s Groceries and Staples”, a large wooden sign proclaimed. THE PROGRESS ITEM, a neatly printed sign announced the local newspaper office next door. The next building had no sign out front and appeared to be deserted.
A familiar sound made him turn and look for the source. It was the distinct clatter of a horse’s hooves. It seemed to be coming from behind him. He turned the corner and went down the side of DeBoxtel’s Bakery. The sound was clearer here. And then he saw it. There was a horse drawn conveyance with the word’s “Collins Dairy” painted on the side. The driver was getting out at each house on the street, delivering milk. This was not so different from Syracuse. The only real difference was in the size of the wagon.
A huge brick building on the corner of the street behind Main Street caught Sam’s attention next. What could it be? He quickened his pace and was soon standing across from the Court House. He had no idea Elliville was the County Seat, but was gratified to see another rather grand building in a town so small.
Satisfied that he had seen enough of Ellisville in this direction, Sam walked back to his store. Now, he began walking in the opposite direction. After only a few steps he was rewarded with his first glimpse of the saw-mill. The men had not reported for work yet, and even as he stood looking at the neat stacks of lumber, the mill whistle blew its somber sounding notes, “Whoo Whoo.” Two short staccato tones, then, after a pause of about ten seconds, there was a longer blast.
“Must be six o’clock,” Sam rightly surmised.
He suddenly realized that he was very hungry. He turned and walked back to the store. Rose had gotten up and was standing just inside the front door.
“What does it look like?” She asked him now.
“Oh, it’s not much, but we’ll get along here just fine,” Sam tried to sound reassuring.
“Did you find that bakery?” she asked.
“Yeah, but it’s not open yet.” “Well, you really didn’t expect anything to be open for business this early, did you?”
“Why? What time is it? Five thirty?” he was testing her.
“I heard the mill whistle, same as you did. I’d say it’s just a minute or two after six.”
“I’m hungry now,” Sam said. “Let’s eat some of those ham sandwiches Aunt left last night.”
“You just hold your horses!” Rose said, “I’ve got biscuits in the oven!”
Sam thought she must surely be joking. “How you goana make biscuits” Where’d you get the flour?”
“That aunt of yours is like nobody I ever saw before,” Rose said. “When I got up, I found a sack of flour, a can of baking powder, salt and a package of lard in the corner. Right next to an ice box!”
“She didn’t mention an ice box,” Sam was amazed.
“I went out back and there was a stack of firewood, all cut up! She’s thought of everything. Really!”
“So, you built a fire all by yourself?” he was incredulous.
“Well, that was pretty easy to do. We had plenty of paper for me to burn to get the fire started. The hard part was to find something to mix the flour and milk in and a place to roll out the dough. But I managed to wash off the top of one of the orange crates and that worked out pretty good. Then I used a drinking glass to cut out the biscuits.”
Sam was so pleased he almost cried. This was beyond his wildest dreams! He had certainly married am extremely resourceful woman! They were going to be just fine. He and Rose would make a success of their new life together, in Mississippi! He just knew it.
One of the first customers who tried to make the young couple feel welcome in Ellisville was a man named Alec Hill. He introduced himself as a barber. That was the very first day they were open for business.
“My shop’s just down the street from here,” he explained. “You’ll be needing my services, I guess, and I want you to know that I will be glad to cut your hair any time you need it.”
Sam thanked the man, and thought how nice everybody seemed to be down here in the South.
Later that same day, a couple who introduced themselves to Sam and Rose as Will and Mary Pettis were also newlyweds, as Mary was quick to point out. She was a very fair girl with a rather sharp beak of a nose. Otherwise she was quite pretty, and it was apparent that she was well bred, educated, vivacious, and outgoing. Will was rather quiet and stodgy. Rose could not help observing that his right hand was deformed: there were only three fingers, and these were so tiny that they looked artificial.
“We’re the only Catholic family in town,” Mary seemed to do all of the talking, as Will stood by, smiling benignly. “I know you have to be Catholic, too.”
Rose nodded. She had never heard anybody talk so fast and authoritatively!
“Well, good! You can ride to Laurel to mass with us.”
Sam thanked her and let it go at that. He did not tell her that he would be too busy, when he was not actually operating the market, to go to church. He’d have so much work trying to make the old store presentable there would probably not be too many free hours. Certainly not entire mornings!
“I’ll talk with Father Scanlon---he’s our parish priest. He’ll come down and talk with you just as soon as you’re settled in a little more,” she said, then touched Will on his sleeve, inclined her head, and began walking towards the door. Her husband dutifully followed, walking slightly behind her.
Rose watched them leave with mixed feelings. She would love to go to Mass, and since the nearest Catholic Church was in Laurel, they’d have to ride with someone or forego mass altogether. Knowing Sam, she felt the latter would be the case.
Sam had not thought the very act of opening a meat market could involve so many different problems. First of all, there was the question of where to find the cows, or steers to butcher. Then, how did one go about killing the creatures; then getting it ready to be cut into the meat he was to sell? Which cows made the best beef? Perhaps the most important and staggering question of all was where was he to do all of these things?
For once, Rose was not able to offer very much help. When he voiced a few of these questions, she just sat silently, her brain racing like the wind, but nothing plausible was coming immediately to mind.
As if in answer to Sam’s prayers, a young farmer came into the store that first week and introduced himself as Charlie Buckhault. “I hear you’re a-gonna sell meat in this hyere store,” Rose thought she had never heard the English language so badly butchered.
“That’s right,” Sam said.
“You got any place t’do your butcherin’?”
“Not yet,” Sam was uncertain where this discussion was leading.
“Well, Mr. Goolio, I got a slaughter house at my place. Most evuhbody in these parts come out and do their butcherin’ at my slaughter house. I charge ten dollars a head for evuh cow you butcher at my place.”
“That sounds fair,” Sam said. “Course, I got to buy something to kill first!”
“Well, I kin also putt you onto some good livestock for sale around these hyear parts.”
And so one of the most pressing of Sam’s needs was taken care of that same week. He went to Buckhault’s farm and had a look at the slaughter house and all of the man’s cattle that were for sale. He asked prices and approximate weight of the ones the man said would make for good commercial sales. Charlie even offered to assist Sam in butchering his first steer.
And so it came to pass that Sam Imbraguglio, brick mason, began the very first meat market in the little town of Ellisville, in October of 1909. Soon he could be seen driving his horse and buggy to all the farms where beef cattle were reported to be for sale.
His business thrived, and by Christmas, hardly a soul in the town had not been by to buy some meat from “Sam’s”.
By January of the next year, the crude shelves were partially stocked with cans of vegetables, fruits, meats, and fish. The newly opened Merchants Company, in nearby Hattiesburg had sent a salesman to call on the new store-owner six weeks after Sam and Rose had opened the market. This drummer, a Mr. Reddoch, had a long list of canned goods and other products that he started to read aloud to Sam.
“Wait a minute. Just let me get my wife in here. She knows what we need better than I do,” Sam said.
Rose read the list aloud, and the two of them and selected about two dozen items to try out. They would have to do this by trial and error. Neither of them had any idea what would sell and what would not.
The young merchant was deluged with local farmers, seeking an outlet for their produce. The meat counter, with its glass that allowed the customers to see the meat that was available, was kept well packed with crushed ice. Sam had quickly become the ice plant’s number one customer. He would later buy this utility and operate it for a short time.
There was a rather grand meat block now. This was a huge section of an oak tree trunk that had been cut, and had wooden legs to support it for the cutting of the meat into roasts, steaks, stew meat or chops. So far, Sam had limited his meat to beef, but with the constant requests for pork, he was giving rather serious consideration to branching out in that direction also.
Grace’s husband, Sam Cocomise, operated a small fruit and vegetable business from their house in Laurel. He walked around with a push-cart, hawking his wares.
Sam had been so happy when he saw his sister, after all those years, that he pleaded with her and her husband, to move to Ellisville. He suggested that they combine their operations there.
“That sounds pretty good to me,” Cocomise said, guardedly. He was definitely not getting rich pushing his little cart all over town.
Sam Cocomise had been able to import lettuce and celery, plus fresh oranges and other in-season fruit from Florida. These were shipped by train from New Orleans. In New Orleans, a fellow Cefalu native, Frank d’Antoni, had begun his own pasta manufacturing plant ten years earlier, and branched out into the import business. He got olive oil from Italy, plus Cheeses, capers, canned specialty foods; then he began a lucrative imported produce business. He had become so successful, selling not only to the Italian immigrants in the South, but also to local restaurants and markets in New Orleans, that by the time Sam arrived on the scene in Ellisville, d’Antoni’s services were indispensable to the likes of Cocomise, Galatoire’s, Antoine’s and the other fine restaurants of New Orleans.
Sam Imbraguglio had been able to introduce fresh lettuce and celery to the people of Ellisville, thanks to d’Antoni’s. His customers couldn’t seem to get enough of it, and plunked down a quarter for a head of lettuce without complaint.
In time, he found a vacant lot in Ellisville, and obtained permission to build a slaughter-house on it, by paying the owner a small rental each month. There had to be some place in which the steer could be elevated and then skinned and split open. It had to be disemboweled, and was then ready to be cut into quarters, In the market, Sam would cut up the portions that the customers would buy. The slaughter- house also provided a method of disposing of all of the blood that the cow shed. The hides, once they were skinned from the carcass, were sold also. These were packed in salt, in large metal drums, behind the market until the sale.
Now, Sam felt that he had accomplished a great deal. The store was bringing in a decent amount of money each week, and everybody seemed pleased with his service.
He decided that it was time to get his hair cut. He had been in town over three months now, and his hair was getting shaggy and unkempt. Rosa had suggested that perhaps it needed trimming a little, so he thought, “Why not take that nice fellow Hill up on his invitation?”
Mr. Hill welcomed him warmly, when he walked into the shop that afternoon about two o’clock. It was the slowest part of the day for both of them, and only one other person was in the barber shop when Sam entered.
“Hi, Sam, come on in,” the barber greeted him warmly.
“Hello, Mr. Hill,” Sam never used an adult’s first name unless he had been asked to do so.
“Have a seat, right here.” The barber indicated the special barber chair in which he had been relaxing.
As Sam walked over and got into the chair, the other man, seated next to the front window, got up and started out the door. Sam, glancing at the man whom he did not recognize, felt that the man was scowling as he turned to leave.
“Come back, Luther,” Mr. Hill called after the fellow.
The man said nothing, just continued to walk quickly out of the shop.
Sam felt better after his fresh haircut, paid Mr. Hill his quarter and walked back to the market.
Rose remarked that he certainly looked a lot better.
That evening, just after dark, Mr. Hill came in the front door of the market.
“Can I help you?” Rose asked him. She knew who he was, but could not for the life of her remember what his name was.
“I need to speak with Sam,” he said, soberly.
“He’s in the back. I’ll go tell him you’re here.”
When Sam came out, he was smiling broadly.“What can I do for you, Mr. Hill?”
Rose stood there, trying to hear the conversation, but at the same time, something was sending her brain a warning that this was not a friendly visit. She watched as Sam’s expression changed from one of smiling good nature to seriousness and then obvious distress. She tried to see the other man’s face, but his back was to her. His voice was very low: almost a whisper. When he turned around to leave, he said to Rose, “I can’t tell you how much I regret all ‘a this.” And then he was gone.
Rose had never heard the term “Dago” before coming to Mississippi, and the first time she had been called that, she felt nothing but confusion. Why was it uttered with such contempt and loathing?
The situation in Syracuse, and the present one were so utterly different. There had been so few black people in her home-town in those days, that she was actually frightened when she was confronted with her first few black customers. She would get especially uneasy when a group of them would come into the market together. But she soon got used to their presence. They were certainly not threatening and seemed to have been trained to stay “in their place” and not cause trouble.
But the term “Dago” was like a foreign language to both of them at first. They soon got used to it, though. The other derogatory term that was frequently spat out at them was “Wop”, which seems to have originated from the immigration officials at Ellis Island, whose designation WOP stood for those immigrants “With Out Papers”.
So, when Sam came over, tears in his eyes, and told his wife that Mr. Hill had been bullied into coming there tonight to tell him that he was not to come for any more hair cuts during the regular business hours. The man who had left the shop upon Sam’s coming in for a haircut, had spread the word up and down Main Street, and literally dozens of men had been in to say that if that “Damned Dago” got his hair cut there, they’d stop giving Mr. Hill their business.”
“Sam, if you’ll just let me know when you need a haircut, I’ll be glad to take you after I close up. I’d even be glad to come her to cut your hair, if you like. I wouldn’t have had this happen for anything in the world.”
So they were to be relegated to more or less the same segregation rules that applied to the colored people.
Well, Sam could take it lying down, but Rose was determined to get to the bottom of this, and not accept it.
Morning sickness was something never experienced by Rose Imbraguglio. Through nine pregnancies, never once did she experience this discomfort.
She had written to Lena, after missing her second period, that she believed herself to be pregnant. Her mother had written back immediately and asked about the morning sickness. The letters went back and forth, and finally, Lena was forced to admit that in all likelihood, Rose was one of those rare creatures who would never be bothered with morning sickness. After all, her health had always been exceptionally good and her constitution was amazing for one so frail in appearance.
She was now in the sixth month of her first pregnancy. She and Sam had decided that when the baby’s time came, Rose should return to Syracuse. This decision was made after Lena’s repeated request that she be allowed to usher their firstborn into the world.
As the time grew closer and closer, Sam was sorely tempted to forbid her to leave, so dependent had he become upon her. How would he and Cocomise manage without Rose’s keen and watchful eye, her perfect book keeping and her indispensable method of dealing with the customers and their complaints.
Rose decided to write Sam’s mother and notify her of the upcoming “Blessed Event”. The woman had written in answer to Rose’s last letter, in which she told of their upcoming nuptials, expressing her good wishes. She had written that she had been very upset when she first heard rumors from her sister in Laurel that there might be a wedding between Rose and Sam. Rosa Imbraguglio had her heart set on her son’s marriage to a local girl: Carmella Saia. But she had reconciled herself to the fact that his marriage to Rose d’Amore would probably work out for the best.
Rose had then written a long letter, telling all about the wedding and the reception. She had not heard one word from her mother-in-law since sending that letter six months earlier.
“Do you think she’s sick?” she asked Sam, when they did not receive a letter.
“I doubt it. Mama’s pretty busy with trying to make ends meet for the three of them, don’t forget.”
“Well, I wish she could find a few minutes just to let you know she is all right.”
Rose felt the older woman was still disappointed that her son had not married the woman she had selected for him back in Cefalu
Now, she was determined to make the old woman like her. When she learned that they were expecting her first grandchild, then, maybe she’d come around.
Rose took her pen and paper to the counter in the market and wrote the letter. She told first, all about the town and the store. Rose had a gift for letter writing. She wrote as she talked: telling things just as they were. She purposely omitted any of the unpleasant facts, and concentrated on the many positive aspects of their new life in this brand new world.
In closing, after three full pages of closely written script, she told of the coming of their very first child. “And I pray that you will be able to see our child very soon.”
She signed the letter, addressed the envelope, and took it to the post office the following morning to send it on its way.
The newer bank building, just across the street on the corner, was a fine looking building. Sam had to admire the craft that had made it the equal, albeit smaller, of the buildings, he had seen in Syracuse. There was a second floor, which was occupied by a dentist, at the back, and the local telephone exchange at the front.
The dentist, Claude Williams was a genial young man, who liked to stand at the window of the room with the big and expensive dental chair. This contraption could turn at will, go up and down, and do everything but make fright subside when the patient was getting a tooth pulled or drilled. Claude would clamp his teeth together and spreading his face into a rather bizarre grimace, would ask, “Feel anything?” while proceeding to pedal away as the drill bored into the bicuspid, molar or wisdom tooth.
There was a sparkling white glass bowl, with a tiny pipe that poured water onto one side, with a drain leading off into the plumbing. The patient was directed to spit into this, between sessions with the drill, or after the extraction of a tooth.
Claude’s family had money, and when he expressed an interest in dentistry, he was sent off to Emory in Atlanta, where he distinguished himself in every way. His professors had high hopes for a brilliant future town which did not have a dentist. He more than compensated for this by. They all but wept when he told them he intended to return to his home developing a cure for Pyorrhea, a gum disease that was causing much widespread misery at the time. As a result of his treatments, Claude Williams began having patients from all over the state of Mississippi travel to Ellisville. They came by horse and buggy, automobile, on the train---in fact, any way they could get there. As his fame grew, people from as far away as Louisiana, Florida, Arkansas and Tennessee began flocking to Ellisville for the treatments. *
Dr. Williams employed local high school girls, for the most part, to work as his dental assistants. While the young lady was busily occupied with the mixing of the ingredients for a filling, or otherwise employed, young Claude would go over by the window and stare at the world that was Ellisville in 1910.
There was not a lot to be seen from that vantage point, but the daily lives of the young Italian couple who had just moved down south from somewhere up north, became a source of never ending interest and variety for the naturally curious dentist.
He watched with admiration as the young bride would hang out her washing on the clothes lines the man had erected in back of their place of business. It was a meat market. The sheets, pillow cases, and the couple’s under garments were always snow white. They literally gleamed. He wondered what her secret was, and determined to ask her the next time he went to buy a roast or some steaks. He admired the fact, also, that she did her own laundry, rather than employing a colored washerwoman, as most of the business class of the town did.
Claude had become a regular customer, almost as soon as they had opened for business. They had introduced a lot of interesting food items to the people of Ellisville, early on: such things as had to be imported from New Orleans, which had brought them up from Florida.
He walked through the front door on a bright spring morning and found Rose alone behind the counter. She was busily sweeping the floor.
“Mornin’, Miss Rosa,” he sang out gaily.
Rose looked up to see the dentist’s smiling face. “Oh, good morning, Dr. Williams,” she replied, placing her broom against the wall and walking towards the counter. “What can I do for you?” She was wiping her hands on her apron.
“Where’s Sam?” he asked.
“He went out in the country to see about buying a steer from a Mr. Holifield.”
“Oh, that’s too bad. I wanted to get some steak for dinner.”
“Well, I can cut it for you,” Rose said, and walked towards the meat counter
“Oh, I couldn’t ask you to handle those great big ole chunks of beef!”
“You don’t have to ask me. I do it all the time.”
“You do?” he was amazed. As if in answer to his question, she opened the lower door and grabbing a side of beef, hauled it out and walked with it to the meat block. “What kind of steak do you want, and how much?”
He was so taken aback that at first he simply gaped, open- mouthed. Then he slowly regained his wits and said, “Oh, we both like round steak.” She had appeared so delicate when he first met her, and he was almost certain that she was now “in the family way”. But she handled the heavy meat as if it were a mere nothing!
“Most people do,” Rose said, “But I’ll never understand why. To me it’s the toughest part of the cow.”
Claude laughed. This little lady was certainly not intimidated nor was she shy about expressing her opinions! “Well, old habits die hard,” he said. “Could you cut me two thick slices? About an inch thick?”
She nodded and began slicing the beautiful red meat. Sam usually tried to dissuade anyone from getting steak sliced this thick, but Rose was not in a particularly argumentative frame of mind. The two steaks weighed in at just over three pounds.
She placed them on a strip of white market paper and walked with them over to the counter. “Do these look all right?”
“Gosh, those look wonderful! That ought to feed my little brood,” he said.
“Yes, let me have some potatoes and a few of those big ripe tomatoes.”
When he had everything he needed, he said, “Now, how much do I owe you?”
Rose took a pencil and figured on the side of the paper sack. “That comes to three dollars and eighty seven cents.”
Claude took out an old fashioned coin purse and extracted three one-dollar bills, and laboriously counted out the exact change. Rose thanked him and he started to leave.
Before he reached the front door, he turned and smiling asked, “Would you mind telling me how you get your wash so white, Miss Rosa?”
She felt a sudden surge of pride. “Why, I boil them. You see that big old black wash pot? I imagine you can see it from upstairs. That’s all I do. I boil the clothes in that- that’s all.” She was glad that somebody had noticed, because Sam certainly took it for granted.
Cefalu in April, was as balmy as it was in Mississippi. In the winter months, there could be days that were blustery and cold, but by and large, the climate was ideal.
Rosa and her youngest child, Phillip, were in the garden this beautiful morning, tilling the soil in readiness for the planting that they would do later that week. Rosa had borrowed a hand plow from a neighbor, and Phillip had enjoyed using it, at first. But now, after two hours of labor, he was beginning to grumble.
Sam had been away from home over ten years. She missed his uncomplaining help. It was her own fault, of course. She had spoiled Phillip and Joesphine, while Sam and Grace had done all of the work. Grace had been gone three years, and Rosa sorely missed her two “lost” children.
“I’m tired!” Phillip said for the tenth time.
“Well, if you could just get a little more done today----“
“Oh, Mama! It’ll still be here tomorrow,” the lad pouted.
“Yes, but Mr. Fertita needs his plow back so he can get his garden soil ready.”
He threw the plow over, and stormed into the house, slamming the door behind him.
Rosa made the sign of the cross, and heaving a deep sigh of resignation, walked into the house.
Josephine sat at the kitchen table, eating a withered apple. That child could eat anything, it seemed.
“What’s the matter with him?” Josephine asked.
“Oh, he claims he’s tired! Honest to God, you children don’t know what work is. Neither of you!”
Josephine smiled smugly. She could hardly wait until she was old enough to go to America, too, and get married. She hated it here now. Every day she tried to envision the luxuries her brother and sister in the New World were enjoying, while here in Cefalu there was never enough to eat, nothing to do except work, and nobody to have fun with.
Rosa had collapsed in a despondent heap on the old couch, cradling her head in her two hands. Her shoulders shook with tears of anger and frustration. It had not been an easy life, especially now that she was all alone with the two youngest children. She had begun to doubt that she would ever be sent for. America! America! America! It was like the monotonous drumming of a tidal wave of fantasy.
She suddenly tilted her head towards the stairs, as she thought she heard the actual beating of this drum. Something was beating.
Bang, bang, bang!
There was a knocking on her front door downstairs! She slowly rose and found that every muscle in her body ached. She had done entirely too much bending, stooping and pulling of weeds in the garden.
She managed to get down the stairs, calling out as she went, “Just a minute! I’m coming as fast as I can walk!”
She flung open the door. There stood the postman, with a letter in his hand. “Letter for Mrs. Imbraguglio, from America!” he tried to look properly impressive.
Rosa reached eagerly for the proffered envelope. The man held onto it for as long as he dared, and then relinquished it to its rightful owner.
“Gracias,” she said, and closed the door in the man’s face.
She found that she had a sudden burst of energy as she started up the stairs. This was a letter from her son!
Josephine looked up with mild curiosity as her mother reentered the room. “Who was that?” she asked.
“Just the postman. He brought me a letter from Sam.”
Even Josephine could not resist this. A letter from America!
“Well, hurry up and read it!” she demanded.
Rosa savored the moment and tried to prolong it, but she was as eager as her young daughter to see what Sam had to tell her. She carefully opened the envelope. She did not want to tear the stamps, nor mutilate the envelope.
She looked at the three pages of neatly written script.
“My Dear Mother in Law,” she felt a pang of disappointment. Was this to be just another letter from her young daughter in law? She had been disappointed that it had been she who had taken it upon herself to write the details of the wedding. She much preferred when Sam dictated and she wrote his words for him.
She passed an appraising eye over the writing, and could find no fault with it. She had been impressed from that first letter that Rose had written for Sam a number of years ago, with the girl’s spelling and knowledge of the Italian language. She wrote better Italian than most of the people Rosa knew here in Cefalu.
“I wanted to bring you up to date on our progress here in Ellisville.” The letter began thus.
“Mama!” Josephine interrupted her reading, impatiently, “Let me hear what Sam has to say!”
“What?” she came back with a jolt to reality. “Oh, yes. Well---“ and she began reading the letter aloud.
In the letter, Rose went on to give the most important facts from the arrival in the town of Ellisville, to Antonia’s wonderful help, and their first few months together.
While Rosa was reading this account to Josephine, Phillip wandered back into the room. He stood, leaning against the wall, listening attentively.
The letter closed with, “And now I wanted you to know that I am expecting our first child-----” she broke off reading aloud when she saw those first words. She had not been unaware that her young son had come back into the room, and such things were simply not mentioned in the presence of young boys. “Phillip, go back to your room.”
“I don’t want to go to my room,” he said angrily. “I want to hear what Sam has to say.”
“The letter is not from Sam, it’s from his wife. And there are things in this letter that you are too young to hear. Now, you get to your room, young man!”
“Oh, all right!” he said furiously. His lower lip protruded a good inch or two, as he stomped out of the room and up the stairs, kicking each step as he went.
When she was satisfied that he was out of hearing, the mother continued reading aloud” “I am expecting our first child in July. I am planning to travel back to Syracuse so that my Mama can deliver our baby. And I pray that you will soon be able to come to America and visit us. I want so much to meet you.” She had signed it, “Your daughter by marriage, Rose d’Amoire Imbraguglio”.
Rosa wiped a tear from her eye and folded the letter neatly, and placed it back in the envelope.
Josephine watched her mother closely. She just hoped and prayed their father would send for them all soon. “Please dear Virgin,” she prayed constantly. If they didn’t get away from here soon, it might be too late.
* Claude stubbornly refused to make the cure available to the rest of the world. Eventually, when his own son became a dentist, they kept the secret. Sadly, it died with them.
Lena looked at the tiny doll-like creature that she had just ushered into the world, and gently slapped the baby on her behind. There was an immediate wail of protest. Rose tried to sit up to see, but she was too weak. “Don’t try to move: I’ll bring her to you as soon as I clean her up,” Lena told her daughter.
“It’s a girl?” Rose asked.
Lena did not answer, but a few seconds later, the baby was lying at its mother’s breast, feeding hungrily.
“I’ve brought many a baby into the world,” Lena said, “but this is the most beautiful and perfect one I have ever seen!”
Rose smiled dreamily and happily. She wondered if her mother was just saying this to make her feel better. Heaven knows she had indeed seen hundreds of newly born babies.
“Are you comfortable, Rosie?” her mother asked. It was a very hot day for Syracuse, New York. The temperature hovered around 80 most of the day.
“Yes, Mama,” Rose replied, “you know I never feel too warm.” She had fallen in love with the climate of Mississippi. If she never saw another snow flake, it would be too soon. Her only regret was that Sam was not there to see that warm weather could actually occur here in Syracuse, though not very often.
Rose and Sam had been married last December. Now, ten months later, Rose was back in her own room and in her own old bed. The young couple had decided that nothing would do but that Lena deliver their first child. Rose Carmella Imbraguglio was born on July 16, 1908.
Lena had been pleased as punch with their decision to have Rose return in order for her to bring their firstborn into the world. She had missed Rose more than she ever dreamed she would. The girl had always filled their home with her singing. She did most of the housework, uncomplainingly. She was good at anything she set out to do, it seemed. But after Jake’s tragic death, there had been very little to laugh or sing about in this household. Lena felt a tug at her heartstrings at the memory of Jake. She could still remember his begging Rose to sing the song she had been taught that particular day in public school music. He loved to hear her clear untrained voice. How the sounds of their innocent laughter used to thrill Lena! Jake and Rose loved each other so much. And, nothing pleased Jake so much as having Rose sing to him. Lena thought back. What had the name of the song been? Something about a little red bird.
But Lena knew she must not dwell on this too much or it would lessen her appreciation of the present day. After all, it was not every day that one’s only daughter gave birth to a beautiful baby girl. And it was not every mother who is fortunate enough to be the person to deliver that first child.
“I’ll just go and tell Catherine and Anna about the baby. Do you feel up to seeing them now?” Lena asked.
“Sure!” Rose’s eyes glistened. This all seemed so right. She looked down at the little doll face, and felt a sudden rush of love unlike anything she had ever felt in her life. She was made for motherhood. “Bring them right in here!”
As she waited for her two old friends to come to have their first look at her baby, Rose once again looked around the old familiar bedroom. The spot where her Singer sewing machine had been was now given to a rocking chair. Lena had shipped the machine to Mississippi as soon as she learned of her daughter’s pregnancy. “You’ll be needing this to make the baby’s clothes,” she had scribbled hurriedly on a piece of tablet paper.
The room was warm. It would have been too warm for most people, but not for Rose. The windows were open, admitting the afternoon sunlight, which fell in a blazing golden glow on the faded wool carpet.
The bedroom door opened noiselessly, and the two sisters came in on tiptoe. They were so afraid they might disturb Rose.
“You don’t have to be quiet,” Rose said, smiling at her old friends. “I’m wide awake and I feel just wonderful!”
The two walked swiftly to the bed and embraced Rose, being careful not to squeeze the baby, too. Both sisters looked appraisingly at the newborn infant in their little neighbor’s arms. There were several clucking sounds of approval and wonder.
“Rosie, your baby is absolutely gorgeous!” Catherine exclaimed.
“How could it not be beautiful?” her sister said, “Sam is such a good looking man, and you know that Rose has always been pretty.”
Rose felt embarrassed. She never liked flattery, and anyone who called her pretty had to be flattering her, she reasoned. “Oh, all babies are beautiful,” but she knew deep down in her heart that this was untrue.
“Well, I’ve seen plenty that were not!” Anna said.
Rose had to laugh at that. She knew it was all too true.
There was a knock on the door as Anna sat down on the edge of the bed.
Lena stuck her head in and said joyfully, “Rosie, look who’s come to see you!”
And before she could even speculate who it might be, her brother Anthony strode into the room and over to the bed.
Rose had not seen him since the wedding, of course, but she had heard from Lena that he and his wife had a new baby boy. Anthony grabbed Rose up to him and almost smothered her with his embrace.
“Be careful of my baby!” she chided him.
He pulled back and took in the sight of his new niece. “Mighty pretty, Rosie,” he said warmly.
“Yes, she is, isn’t she?” Rose had decided to agree with all of those who found her child so beautiful.
“Will you all stay and look after my teo Rosie’s, while I go to Western Union to send Sam a telegram about the baby?” Lena asked, brushing her hair as she did so.
“I can do that, Mama,” Anthony volunteered at once.
“No thank you, Tony, I need to get out and get a little fresh air,” Lena admitted. “Anyway, I need to check on Anna McIntosh on the way back. You will see after my girls?”
“Of course,” Anthony said, and the two sisters nodded their heads in agreement.
“Tell Sam we’ll be back day after tomorrow,” Rose said, smiling at the distressed looks on Catherine’s and Anna’s faces.
“You’ll do nothing of the sort,” her mother said emphatically. “You’re going to stay her at least another week!”
“Nothing doing!” Rose said defiantly.
“Rose, now don’t be a stubborn fool! You know you should not travel so soon,” Anthony added his two cents’ worth. “And besides, we need time to visit with you a little bit.”
“And God knows how long it will be before we see that baby again!” Lena added.
But as always, once Rose had made up her mind, there was no dissuading her.
“Sam needs me,” was the only explanation she gave.
And that was the way it always was.
The door was left ajar this time, and those in the bedroom could hear the front door of the house being opened and then closed again.
“So, you really like Mississippi?” Anthony asked Rose.
“Oh, Anthony, it’s like heaven on earth to me!”
“I’m so happy that you are content with your new life,” her brother said fondly.
“Our little quarters are not much to look at right now, but Sam has plans to build us a house on the back half of our property as soon as he can get the town’s approval of the plans,” she said.
“Why would he need to do that?” Catherine asked.
“Because, he wants to build a two storied house, and there is an ordinance that says nothing in that area of Ellisville can be built of wood.”
“So, why doesn’t he build a brick house? After all, he is a brick mason,” Anthony said.
“But bricks are so much more expensive than wood,” Rose sighed. “So, for the next three or four years, I’m afraid we will be stuck in the back of the store.”
“That’s too bad,” Catherine clucked glumly.
“Oh, it’s not all that bad,” Rose feared she had painted too dreary a picture of their living quarters. “It’s really very comfortable---and Lord knows, it’s convenient.”
And so the visit continued. Rose looked down at her daughter, and was pleased to see that the baby was sleeping contentedly.
Sam had never been one to watch the clock. Even when he was working with construction, back in Syracuse, some of the men who had pocket watches would pull them out time after time to see how much longer they had to work before they could go home at night. Or else they would be checking to see how much longer it would be until their lunch period was called for. Sam always had an uncanny way of feeling the time. He knew instinctively when his day’s labors were finished, or when it was time to eat his simple lunch. So he had never owned a watch.
But now that the day had finally come when Rose was to return on the afternoon train, he found himself constantly looking at the big wall clock that he had bought for the market. It was hung on the back wall that separated the store from their living quarters.
Eleven seventeen. It had been eleven fourteen the last time he had looked. This was crazy! He took the telegram that Lena had sent as soon as the baby was born, and unfolded it again. It was already so worn that it was practically falling apart. A five pound and six ounce girl had been born, and he was the proud papa! Lena said that Rose wanted the child named Rose Carmella, and that was all right with him. That should please his mother, since it was the same first name as she had. He did not question the “Carmella”, although he did wonder mildly where she had come up with that name.
Sam’s day had begun before daybreak, as usual. It was already so warm in their quarters that he refused to build a fire in the stove. But he had to have his coffee, and needed warm water for shaving. There was a small pot-bellied stove they used as a heater in the colder months, so he decided to build a fire in that. He walked outside and gathered enough small pieces of wood for this purpose, and soon had a fire roaring in the little stove. Sweat glistened on his face and bare chest. He filled the coffee pot with water, and as he waited for it to boil, straightened the bedclothes. Then, remembering that his wife would be back today, he stripped off the sheets and pillow cases and prepared to wash them. He would be able to boil water without building a fire around the wash pot out back. A big pan of water should be sufficient for washing two sheets and pillow cases. Rose was always so fussy about her white wash. Everything had to be boiled.
When the water in the coffee pot boiled, he added the coffee. Did anything in the world smell better than coffee brewing? He thought about this, and decided that only one thing gave him more enjoyment: the aroma of garlic sizzling in the pan just before tomato paste was added to make the sauce for pasta!
He took out the smallest skillet they owned and fried some bacon that he had sliced very thin. As it began to sizzle, its aroma added to his pleasure. He’d certainly be glad when Rose was back to make his hot biscuits each morning. But for now, he’d have to make do with some plain bread, which he’d bought from Deboxtel’s Bakery the day before yesterday.
He sat down on an apple crate after pouring himself a cup of coffee. He added three teaspoons of sugar and a generous amount of milk. He tried to taste it, but it burned his tongue. He poured a little bit into his saucer, and blew on it. Turning the saucer up to his lips, he drank hungrily. That was good! He sliced a thick wedge of bread and folded the cooked bacon inside it. He was ravenous. After he had eaten the bread and bacon, he cut another wedge of bread and dunked it in his still hot coffee. This was the best of all.
He remembered the aromas that always took his breath away when he walked near the bakery up the street. What was the matter with him this morning. Suddenly it seemed all her was thinking about was the wonderful smell of certain foods. But he was also very cognizant of the delicious way that the rain smelled as it fell on hot dry earth, and the way the grass smelled just after it had been mown. He had fallen in love with the delicious aroma of the fragile pastel sweet peas that he had first smelled when Dr. Williams brought Rose a bouquet of them that his wife has sent this spring. He determined to plant some of the seeds this winter. The dentist had told him that the best time to plant them was in December, around Christmas. That is when he planned to make his first attempt to grow these wonderful smelling flowers.
Having finished his solitary meal, he walked over to the sink and washed the few things he had used for his breakfast, saving the bacon grease for cooking. Pouring hot water from the kettle into a basin, he washed his face, leaving it wet. Then, making lather from the cake of shaving soap, he covered his face with the sweet smelling foam. He managed to shave without knicking himself today. He hated when he did that. It seemed that he would never stop bleeding when this happened. He’d generally take a small piece of tissue paper and dampen it with his saliva, then place it over the bleeding area of his face (usually it was his chin) and then he’d forget it was there until Rose would remind him to remove it.
It was an uneventful morning in the market. Nobody came in to buy anything until almost ten o’clock. He had been able to get the floor swept, and the area around the meat black mopped and dried by that time.
The front door opened and Claude Williams walked into the market.
“Mornin’, Sam,” the dentist greeted him.
“Good mornin’, Doc Williams,” Sam smiled broadly at one of his favorite customers.
“Have you had any news about that new baby?”
“Oh yes. They’re comin’ in on Forty Four today!” That was the number by which the 12:35 train was known.
“Is it a boy----or a girl?”
“Five pound six ounce girl!” And he fairly beamed.
“Well, I know you’re one proud Papa!”
Sam nodded and continued to smile. “What can I get for you, Doc Williams?” Sam asked.
“Lemme see. How about a little ground round steak.”
“OK. How much you need?”
“Oh, better give me about two pounds. I want hamburgers, and it takes a lot of meat for my brood,” the dentist laughed.
Sam took out the quarter of beef and cut off two pounds of the leanest part. Then he walked with it over to the little hand operated meat grinder. Sam wanted to buy one of the new electric grinders, but he simply could not afford to get one just yet.
When he had ground the beef, he wrapped it in the special butcher paper he kept on hand, and laid it on the counter. “Now, what else?” he asked.
“Well, let’s see: better give me some onions. Hamburgers without onions are like a mouth without teeth!”
Sam laughed appropriately. But he was so happy and light headed today, even the dentist’s feeble attempt at a joke made him feel good.
“How are your tomatoes?” Dr. Williams asked. “Good and fresh?”
“Oh, they’re nice and ripe. Just right. A dime a pound.”
The dentist had walked over to the front windows of the market, under which the produce was kept. He selected three of the biggest tomatoes, and two huge Bermuda onions.
“Sam, you got any dill pickles?”
“Yes sir,” and he hastened to the shelves to get a bottle for his customer.
The front door opened and two black men walked into the store.
“Sam, I guess that’ll be all this time,” Dr. Williams said, pulling out his little black coin purse that he kept in his front pocket.
He counted out the exact change, and as he gathered his purchases, he remarked, “I can hardly wait to meet your little daughter, Sam.
Sam smiled and thanked him. Then he asked the men what they would have.
They wanted some cheese and a few crackers to eat for their lunch. Sam took the hoop of cheese and sliced each man a nickel’s worth. He could almost never resist slicing a sliver of this wonderful tasting cheese and eating it as he wrapped the customers’ two tiny packages. He took a small paper bag and counted out another nickel’s worth of crackers. But one nickel’s worth was more than enough for the two men. They bought two cold soda pops to go with their lunch, and walked outside to eat.
Sam resisted the urge to look at the clock again. He would not.
When the time finally arrived for Sam to go to the station, he was in the act of locking the front door of the market. All at once, it sounded as if a gun had been fired behind him. He jumped at the sudden noise, and heard laughter. Turning around, he saw the familiar Model T belonging to his Aunt Antonia, and seated beside her was his sister, Grace, holding her two small children on her ample lap. Her husband, Sam sat in the back seat.
“Don’t lock up. I’ll stay and keep the market open,” Sam Cocomise called just in time to prevent his snapping the Yale lock. Cocomise got out of the car and walked over to Sam. Reaching out his hand, he grabbed his brother-in-law by the hand and shook it. “Congratulations, Sam,” he said, “on the birth of your first child.”
“Grazia,” Sam said, reverting to his native tongue.
“Well, come on, slow poke,” Antonia called out to Sam. “We’ve got to hurry to be there when the train pulls in!”
Sam had not even realized that now he would not have to walk to the depot. Not that it was very far, Lord knows. He rushed to the car and got it. Grace instantly reached over and bussed him on the cheek.
“I can hardly wait to see Rose’s new baby,” Antonia said.
“But how did you know?” Sam asked her now.
“Oh, Rose sent me a telegram, too. You’re not the only one she cares about,” and Grace laughed at this.
They could see the train approaching the depot as they drove up and parked the car. Sam hurried out of the car and onto the platform where the passengers would get off. He was soon joined there by the two women. The train pulled into the station. Sam was as excited as he had been in a long time. He craned his neck trying to get a glimpse of Rose, but the few people standing up inside the train as it slowed to a stop, all looked alike from where they were standing.
There was a rush of steam as the train drew to a halt. The conductor opened the door to the coach and appeared to be helping someone to exit. Yes, it was Rose. And she had what looked like an extremely tiny bundle in her arms. As the conductor helped her to get down to the platform, Sam’s grin was a mile wide.
“Lemme see my little girl!” he said, taking the baby gently into his arms.
Rose smiled. This was about as much of a welcome as she could expect. Sam was simply not demonstrative. He practically never revealed his true emotions. But what he was exhibiting now was pure pride and joy in this beautiful little daughter.
“Bambina mia----Bambina mia,” he kept repeating in awe.
Meanwhile, both Antonia and Grace grabbed Rose and bestowed loud, moist kisses on her cheeks.
“Here, let me see that baby,” Antonia demanded.
Sam seemed reluctant to part with her, but finally handed her to his aunt, saying, “Now, be careful with her. She’s mighty little!”
All three women laughed at this.
Sam walked over and picked up his wife’s heavy suitcase, which the porter had deposited on the platform. He took it over to the car and they all got in and drove to the market.
Rose made a big show of greeting her young niece and nephew, when she was seated in the car. But her keen nose alerted her to a familiar odor. “Well, it seems like I smell souga!” she said.
Grace and Antonia laughed gaily.
“Oh, we figured you’d be hungry!” Grace said.
“Oh, we figured you’d be hungry!” Grace said.
“So this one made some souga with beef and pork, and we are going to cook the pasta when we get to your house.” Antonia told her.
“That sounds good!” Rose was almost never hungry, but the dry bread and cheese that he mother had packed for her lunch on the train simply had not done much towards staving off the hunger brought about, no doubt, by nursing her baby.
And then, almost before she knew it, they were at the market.
There was a colored man being waited on by Grace’s husband. The man said he wanted only a cold soda pop, and a nickel’s worth of crackers. While Cocomise got the bottled drink and opened it, Sam walked over and counted the crackers out into a small paper sack.
“Nothing’s changed,” Rose said matter-of-factly, as her eyes took in every aspect of the place.
Much as she had enjoyed being back in the house she had grown up in, after three weeks and two days, Rose was even happier to be back in her own home. This was her own new little world. She was glad nothing had changed, apparently.
The customer left. Sam had waited impatiently for him to go, so that he could show all of them the wonderful new toy he had bought for the baby.
“Come on back here and see what I got for you, Bambina mia,” he was addressing the child as if she could understand him.
“What have you bought now?” Rose demanded. Honestly, he could spend more money than anyone she had ever known.
“Just wait till you see it,” he tantalized her. Meanwhile he had pushed open the door to their living quarters.
There stood a magnificent cradle! It was made of fine wood, and had an oblong cushion that covered the entire length and width of it. Sam gently laid the baby down, and she immediately set up a howl.
“Now see what you’ve done!” Rose fussed.
“Now you just wait!” And stooping down, he began turning a crank at one end of the cradle. Immediately, the entire cradle began gently rocking.
Try as she might, Rose could not disguise her delight in this wonderful surprise Sam had arranged for them.
Angtonia and Grace both let out loud sighs of pleasure.
“Rock-a-bye, Baby, On the treetop.
When the wind blows, the cradle will rock.
If the bough breaks, the cradle will fall-
And down will come Baby-
Cradle and all!”
Rose could hardly believe that this marvelous cradle not only rocked itself, but that it played this familiar tune at the same time! He must have spent a fortune on it!
As if reading her thoughts, he said, “This will be good for all of our children!”
Rose smiled. She wondered just how many children they would have. They both wanted as many as the Lord would send them.
“Well, come on now—let’s get dinner started!” Grace was always eager to eat. Her husband looked as if he never ate anything. He was literally skin and bones.
Rose led them into the kitchen. Again, she took time to look at everything and to be grateful to be back in her own home again. Modest as it was, it was all theirs.
She took out the biggest pot she had and filled it with water. Placing it on the stove, she realized there was no fire.
“It’s been so hot. I just built a fire in the heater this morning,” Sam explained.
“Well, Sam, we gotta have a fire,” Grace teased him.
“All right,” he said pleasantly, and began making the fire.
“What kind of pasta have you got?” Grace asked Rose.
“Oh, not much variety: just spaghetti and elbow macaroni. Which do you want?”
“Why, you’re the one who is starving! Which do you want?”
“Girl, I never have been fussy about pasta. It’s all the same to me.”
“Why don’t we have spaghetti?” Antonia said, seeing that neither of the women would give a preference.
And so the spaghetti was put into the boiling water, while Grace placed the pot that she had brought the meat sauce in on the other eye of the stove.
Sam, who had eaten nothing since his early breakfast, found the odors of the spaghetti sauce almost driving him crazy. It smelled so wonderful!
“How much longer before we eat?” he asked impatiently.
“Oh, I don’t think it’s quite ready yet,” Rose told him. Then she walked over to the stove, and lifting the lid from the pot in which the spaghetti was cooking, took a few strands with a fork, and took it over to him. “Try this and see if it’s ready.”
She little realized that she was setting a procedure she would follow throughout their life together. Sam liked his pasta al dente, as she knew. But she was never able to detect just that exact moment between absolutely “to the teeth” and “overcooked.”
He blew on the pasta to keep from scalding his mouth. Then, carefully placing it on his tongue, he chewed thoughtfully.
“That’s just right,” he announced. “It could stand just a little more salt, but it’s done.”
“Well, before we add any salt to the pasta, you’d better taste ‘Sit-Tsee’s’ souga. It may be salty enough without adding any more salt.” And she took a teaspoon of the sauce over to him. “Sit-Tsee” was a nickname their mother had bestowed on Grace between the time that Sam left Sicily and the time that Grace had immigrated to America. Nobody knew where the older woman had gotten the name, nor what it meant. But she always remained “Sit-Tsee” to her immediate family.
Sam made a big production of tasting his sister’s sauce. She was watching him carefully, and he knew she would like nothing better than for him to commend her on her cooking. He slowly savored the spoonful, and then loudly smacked his lips. Grinning at her he asked, “Sit-Tsee, where’d you learn to cook like that? You’ve got Mama beat by a mile!”
Grace could hardly contain her pride with this accolade. Sam was not an effusive compliment bestower, she knew only too well, which is why the compliment was doubly meaningful to her.
They were soon seated around the big round wooden table that Sam had bought from a man in the country, and began wolfing down the food.
Baby Rose had drifted off to sleep in her elegant new cradle, and Grace and Antonia each held one of the Cocomise children on their laps.
Rose looked around the simple room, as she chewed her food, and silently gave thanks to God for her many blessings. She knew that this was one day she would never forget.
There is a new, black wrought iron fence around the cemetery in Ellisville. If you turn off the highway that leads to the junior college, the first burial plot you will see, to your right, is that of the Imbraguglio and Cocomise families. The spelling is changed on the later graves of the Imbraguglios. The family decided, sometime back in the decade of the thirties, to drop one of the G’s from their last name to facilitate pronunciation. But the older graves have the family name spelled in the original manner.
On an overcast afternoon in July of 1913, Sam stood in this very cemetery, gazing mournfully at the tiny grave of his and Rose’s first born son.
The child, Rose’s third. Was delivered by a black midwife, known far and wide as Aunt Rachel Pickens. Rose had felt strangely at home with this kindly woman, who reminded her in so many ways of Lena, her own mother.
As she handed the infant to Rose, aunt Rachel was weeping.
“What’s the matter?” Rose asked, feeling something was terribly wrong.
“Oh, Miss Rosa—he be so sickly lookin’. I doan hardly think he goan make it.”
Rose gasped and looked down at the baby in her arms. The child looked perfectly normal to her, but she felt instinctively that the older woman could not be mistaken.
“Why do you say that?” she could not stop herself from asking.
“Oh, I hates t’say this: but look at his little nose. You see th’ way th’ nostrils be goin’ in an’ out?”
Rose nodded sadly.
“That usually a shore sign ‘a th’ pneumonia.”
Rose gasped, and she felt her heart sink. She prayed that Aunt Rachel was mistaken.
When the child refused to take his mother’s milk, Sam became desperate. He had waited so very long for this son!
“Let’s take him to Dr. Beech. Maybe he can tell us what we can do,” he said. “Do you feel like going?”
Rose got out of the bed, and got dressed. They took him to the doctor’s little clinic. It did not take long for the doctor to tell them that the baby did indeed have pneumonia, and that he could not live more than a day or two at the most.
Sam broke down and cried when he heard this. Rose felt as if her heart would break, but she said calmly, “We have to get him to the church to be christened.”
By sunset the first son of Sam and Rose Imbraguglio was dead.
And now Sam felt a tremendous void in his soul that had so recently rejoiced with the knowledge that he had a son at last. He had wanted this child so desperately. Oh, his two daughters were fine. As pretty a pair of babies as he had ever seen. But a son! Someone to carry his name. He sobbed. Rose looked at him. She had stood by and watched, dry eyed, as their third child was laid to rest. Young Rose and Anna were standing between their parents. Rosie was now just over five years old, and Anna had been born thirteen months after her sister. Neither of them was old enough to comprehend fully why both parents were so miserable. They had no knowledge of death so far.
“Why is Papa crying?” Rosie looked intently at her mother as she asked this.
Rose felt as if she would suffocate, so intense was her grief.
“Not right now, honey,” she managed to get out somehow.
Anna’s huge brown eyes looked inquiringly, first at her mother and then at her sister. Then she cast her eyes in the direction of her father. How she adored him! He turned just in time to see her staring at him. He picked her up and hugged her to his body as if he were afraid that someone would come and try to steal her away from him. He was openly sobbing now.
Rose looked at the two of them and said, “We’d better be getting back home now.”
Sam nodded grimly. He took a snow-white handkerchief out of his pocket and blew his nose and wiped his eyes.
Back in their living quarters, Rose began to busy herself making preparations for their evening meal. Work would no doubt ease the pain and take her mind off their tragedy for a little while, at least.
She moved about as in a trance, automatically peeling garlic, setting a pot on the stove, and adding a spoonful of pure lard. Soon the incomparable aroma of frying garlic permeated the air. Sam’s stomach lurched with hunger pangs. He had been unable to eat a bite since his son’s birth. The fact that the infant was so sickly had caused him to lose his appetite, and the ensuing death and burial had almost killed him, he felt.
But now, smelling the familiar scents of a good hot meal, he realized that life must go on.
2. Rose had often wondered about the fact that many of the customers who came into the market would ask for a “fryer”, or “frying size chicken”. She could not conceive of actually frying chicken.
One morning when the young dentist from above the bank was in the store, he asked Rose what she cooked when she had fried chicken. “We’re having that for supper tonight.”
“Well, funny you should ask me that,” Rose said. “I have never seen nor tasted fried chicken, much less cooked it.”
“Oh, now, Miss Rosa! You mean t’tell me that you’ve never eaten fried chicken?”
“I’ll tell the world that!
“Well, I’ll just be!” he laughed.
“Would you mind telling me how you go about frying a chicken?” Rose asked impatiently, “Or must I ask somebody else?”
“Why, Miss Rosa, I’m no cook, as you probably know,” he said, “but I guess there’re several ways to fry a chicken. At our house I think they cut up the fryer, then dip the pieces in flour and then deep fry it. That’s all there is to it.”
“Is that all?” Rose asked, not believing that anything so simple could be any good.
“Well---I guess they must add some salt and pepper----“ his voice trailed off into uncertainty.
“Well, I should think they would,” Rose said. “That sounds so simple!”
“That’s why we have it so often, I reckon,” he said. “But none of my family ever gets tired of it. I just find it hard to believe that you have never tasted southern fried chicken!”
And right then and there, Rose made up her mind to spring this new dish on her husband and two little girls.
She looked at Rosie, with her coal black curls, and at Anna with her big brown eyes, and thought, “I wonder if they might like to try some fried chicken.”
When she arose the next morning, after washing and putting away the breakfast dishes, Rose went to the coop and took out a large chicken. They always kept chickens for sale, as well as for their own consumption. She deftly wrung the chicken’s neck, and watched as it thrashed about on the grass until it was dead. Anna and Rosie had followed her outside, and now they both squealed with delight as they watched the hapless chicken “dancing”, as they called it. Rose remembered how horrified she had been the first time she saw her mother brutally putting to death the unfortunate chicken. How could her mother, always so kind and gentle be so cruel”
“Well, I’d rather wring their necks than to cut their heads off the way most people do. And remember, Rose, they have to be put to death before we can cook and eat them.” This had been Lena’s sensible reply.
Back in the kitchen, Rose took a pot of boiling water she had on the stove, and walked with it to the sink. Here she doused the dead bird in the water and allowed it to stay long enough to make the feathers easy to remove.
“Lemme pluck some!” Little Rosie chirped.
“An’ me, too!” Anna echoed.
Rose let the girls feel that they were helping, because she knew the day was not far off that she would be relying on their help. They considered it a lark at this early age, just as they enjoyed “Playing House” using the emptied cardboard boxes stacked behind the market.
When the children grew tired and frustrated because they could not get the warm, wet fathers off as quickly as their mother, Rose took the chicken and deftly denuded its body.
“Hand me that newspaper,” Rose said to Anna.
“What for?” Anna was always curious. But Rose supposed this was a good thing. How else were they to learn?
“I’ll singe the pin feathers that won’t come off any other way,” she explained.
“What’s hen feathers?” Anna demanded.
Rose guffawed. :Not hen feathers, Anna, pen feathers. They’re the tiny stubs of the feathers that have just started to form on the chicken’s body.”
“Oh,” both girls said, though neither fully comprehended what she had been told.
Rose twisted the section of newspaper to form an improvised torch, then struck a match and set fire to the open end. As the flame caught, she held the chicken with her left hand and passed the flaming “torch” back and forth across the chicken until she was satisfied that she had burned off all of the unwanted pen feathers.
“Now, by cracky!” she said with satisfaction.
“What choo gonna do now?” Rosie asked.
“Well, now I have to cut the chicken into pieces so I can fry it.”
“You gonna fry it?” Anna asked. She had never heard her mother say she would fry a chicken before.
“That’s right, honey. I’m going to fry us some chicken!”
“Oh,” they said in unison.
Rose had decided that she would not flour the chicken before frying it, fearing that they would not care for the taste, She cut the chicken into two drum sticks, two breast halves, the thighs, and on down through the liver and the gizzard. She always slit the gizzard and removed the sac, then washed the remaining portion thoroughly. Then she would pour a fist full of salt into the cavity and scrub with that abrasive. Then she set the pieces aside to fry just before noon. She would fry some potatoes to go with it, and make a lettuce salad. They all liked lettuce with a little olive oil and vinegar dressing.
When Rose sat down to eat, with her two young daughters, she selected the drum sticks, which they always seemed to prefer, and began cutting them into pieces small enough for their tiny mouths.
As soon as she placed the plate down in front of Rose, the child picked up a morsel of chicken and placed it in her mouth. She howled, and spit it out very quickly, then started to cry.
“Now what’s the matter with you?” Rose said impatiently.
“Hot! It burns!”
Rose felt terrible when she realized that she had indeed failed to blow on the meat to cool it enough for the children as she usually did.
“I’m so sorry, Darling!” she said, and taking another piece with a fork, blew on it and then placed it in Rosie’s mouth.
“No! Don’t want it!” she cried as she spit it out.
Meanwhile, Anna, who was the younger, had taken her chicken with a fork and blew on it herself to cool it sufficiently. Now she looked at her sister disdainfully and said, “Mama, if she won’t eat it, I will. It’s good!”
Rose could not help laughing at her precocious daughter. She cut the rest of Anna’s drum stick into small pieces, and then took the first taste of fried chicken.
It was a revelation! She thought she had never tasted anything so delicious in her entire life! Rose had never been a big eater, and, in general, was not interested in food other than for its nourishment of the body. But it was easy to see at once why southern people raved about their fried chicken.
Rose finished her dinner and went into the market to let Sam go and eat his fried chicken. “That has to be the best stuff I think I ever tasted,” she said.
Sam grinned from ear to ear. Unlike his wife, he loved to eat and could hardly wait to try this new taste treat. He never tired of Rose’s Spaghetti and other Italian dishes, but he was also eager to experiment with dishes that were more commonplace in Mississippi. Rose had learned to cook turnip and mustard greens, and even collards on occasion. But she had managed to give even these standard southern dishes a thoroughly Italian flavor by seasoning them with olive oil, garlic and canned tomatoes. She tried seasoning with pork, but none of them really cared for the taste.
Sam walked quickly into the kitchen to find Anna and Rosie still at the table. Rosie was still sniffling.
“What’s the matter with you, Baby?” he asked her.
Her cries grew louder and shriller with the sympathy.
“Oh, she’s just cryin’ ‘cause she burned her ole mouth!” Anna informed him.
“Now, how on earth did you manage to do that?”
“Mama didn’t blow on my ch-ch-chicken, an’ made me pu-puput it in my mouth—an’ it was still hot!” And there followed another heart rending volley of sobs.
He picked her up and kissed her on the cheek. “There. Is it all better now?”
“Well-----I guess so,” she was awfully glad that she did not have to pretend to be in agony any longer.
He sat down at the table with them after soothing Rosie’s ruffled feathers and picked up a piece of white meat with his fingers. He held it close to his nose and inhaled. He got a good long smell of fried chicken. Both children were watching him closely to see his reaction. He then proceeded tp devour it, making animal noises as he chewed it, to the delight of his daughters.
Anna looked at him and smiled broadly. “Iddn’t it good!” she asked in her childish voice.
“MMmmmm, yes!” he rolled his eyes. Both sisters laughed heartily. They thought nobody in the whole world quite so funny as Papa.
Rosie had picked up her cold chicken and began eating it along with Sam.
Sam ate the remainder of the fried chicken and the potatoes, which had been fried in the same grease. They tasted wonderful too! He ate a little of the lettuce salad, but he was so stuffed, having eaten four slices of bread, that he could do little more than taste it.
When he was back in the market, he told Rose that he agreed heartily with her on the wonderful flavor of the chicken.
The result of that first fried chicken meal was so spectacularly successful that for several weeks, Rose would prepare it three or four times. Thus it was that it became such a favorite of them all that it was the meal that Rose would prepare whenever they had company coming for dinner.
Grace said she had never tasted it before, and Antonio said she had eaten some of the “Southern Fried Chicken”, with each piece being coated with flour, and had disliked it. But she, too, raved over Rose’s simply fried chicken.
Thus a tradition was born. If the Sunday dinner consisted of pasta sauce made of chicken., the supper was always fried chicken and potatoes, accompanied by lettuce salad.
November 13, 1915 was a blustery cold day. Sam got off the street car and walked hurriedly towards the hospital in Laurel. He could almost imagine that he was back in Syracuse, so cold was the wind that propelled him that morning. He had finally persuaded Rose that their fifth child should not take the risk that he felt had occurred as a result of using a midwife.
The little girl who had followed the baby boy had been pronounced a “Blue Baby”, and lived a scant twenty-two days. Just long enough for them all to fall in love with her. They had christened her Josephine, for Sam’s younger sister.
Sam entered the hospital room, relieved to see Rose looking so well, but, as always, sickened by the smell of any hospital room.
Rose was determined that nothing should happen with this child.
“How you feel?” he asked.
“Oh, I’m all right. But I still think it was foolish of you to make me come here. Just wasting all that money for nothing. Aunt Rachel is perfectly capable and reliable!”
“Well, now, I’m not so sure about that,” Sam said slowly and deliberately. “Better be safe than sorry.” He was learning all of the cliches.
He pulled a chair over to the edge of the bed and sat down.
“Your sister Grace and Antonia came by a little while ago,” she told him.
“That was nice,” he said.
“Grace is expecting again, too.”
Sam said nothing to this, but he wondered how Sam Cocomise was going to support all of them if his family got much bigger. Like he and Rose, Grace had lost a little girl two years ago. They had named her Mary. She was buried in the family plot, which was adjacent to Sam and Rose’s.
He watched as Rose began to thrash about as if in agony. “You need the doctor?” he asked.
“Yes. I think it’s time,” she said without emotion.
He rose and walked unsteadily to the doorway and had to grab the door frame to keep his knees from buckling. He felt as if he were having the baby.
Fortunately, a nurse came by about then, and seeing Sam’s color and condition, asked, “Are you all right?”
“Yes---“ he swallowed before he could continue, “I’m all right, but my wife needs the doctor,” he finally managed to get out.
The nurse glanced into the room and saw that Rose was already in the throes of labor, and hurried down the hallway to get the doctor.
Dr. Ramsey hardly got there in time to deliver Rose’s fifth child. This was another girl, and a really healthy and beautiful baby.
Rose was told she should stay in hospital for three more days., but she adamantly refused, and insisted on going home the following morning. If she had her way, she’d have gone right then!
Back home, she was ready to begin working in the store that afternoon, but Sam was firm. The doctor had told him that Rose really needed to stay in the hospital at least another day, but since she was determined to go home, he must see to it that she not exert herself needlessly for the next few days.
Rose was furious. “My God! I’m not an invalid, you know!
“I know that,” Sam said, trying to placate her. “but the doctor says---“
“Oh, all right. I know what the doctor says, but it’s just plain silly. I feel perfectly fine.”
But she made no more fuss, because she realized that Sam could have made her take the doctor’s advice and been away from her home and family another day, at least.
As Josephine grew, her beauty became more and more pronounced. People who came into the market would always comment on this.
And as a result, she became vain and self-centered.
By the time Josephine was beginning to walk, her elder siblings had developed a game they played in imitation of the telephone office, which was located just up the stairs over the bank building next door. They had been up to that mysterious and wonderful place on two different occasions: when Lela had called from Syracuse with the news that Michael had passed away, and when Rose had called her mother back to tell her which train she would be on. Usually, the family had relied on telegrams, but this time, Lela had felt an urgent need to hear her daughter’s voice.
Edna McIntosh, a very stern and matronly young woman, sat as upright as if her spine were made of steel. A buzzing sound would be followed by the flipping down of a little metal tab, which represented the telephone from which the call originated. Edna would then take a long cord from a neatly ordered arrangement, and plug it in just under the metal flap. Then she’d say, “Number, please,” very efficiently. She’d listen intently to the caller and proceed to pull another cord from the collection and plug that into the number that was being called.
Rose had explained to her young daughters that this was the way the two telephones were connected, allowing the two parties to speak to one another.
Anna was clearly fascinated with the whole procedure, and in no time at all, had turned one of the kitchen chairs on its side. The chair bottom was rattan, and arranged into a pattern made with little round holes. Anna took her box of crayons, and tied long pieces of the string they used in the market for tying up packages of meat. Then, she would pretend that someone had called. She’d say, “Number, PLIZ!” in direct imitation of Edna, the operator. Then she would pull a crayon from the row of them she had created and insert in into one of the chair bottom’s holes.
Rosie, on the other side of a sheet that they had hung across the clothes line in simulation of a wall, was supposed to be the person making the phone call.
“I don’t know what number I want,” she said helplessly.
“Number PLIZ!” Anna repeated a little louder.
“What’s the number, Anna?” her older sister asked.
“If YOU don’t know the number you want, HOW do you expect ME to know it!” Anna yelled.
Rosie was holding Josephine in her arms. “I’m coming up there and talk to you—“
She walked around the sheet, still carrying the baby. “Miz Horton, we need to call Syracuse, New York,” she said, trying to sound as important as she could.
“Well, what number do you want in Syracuse, New York?” Anna demanded.
Claude Williams stood at the open window watching the Imbragulio’s small daughters playing in back of the store. It took him a few minutes to understand what they were doing, but when he finally figured it out, he threw back his head and guffawed! They were playing at being telephone operators, he marveled.
“Mavic, come here a minute,” he called to the girl who was working as his assistant.
Mavis walked over and joined him at the window. “What is it?” she asked.
“Down there,” he pointed. “See if you can figure out what they’re playing.”
Mavis looked and smiled. They were such utterly charming little creatures, to begin with. And they were taking whatever it was that they were doing so seriously, that she could not help smiling at them.
“What do you think that chair bottom us supposed to be?” Dr. Williams asked his helper.
“I have no idea. And why do they have those strings tied to crayons?” she asked in return.
“Ah---now, my dear, that’s imagination! You see, they are pretending to be Edna Horton.” He paused to see if his meaning had been taken.
“Oh, I see!” Mavis said, “Those holes formed in the chair are the phone numbers of the switchboard!”
“Would you have ever thought about anything like that at their age?”
“I doubt that I would have ever thought of it at all. And now I see what the crayons are: they’re what the operator plugs into the holes to connect one phone with another!”
Claude Williams nodded eagerly. “Beats anything I’ve ever seen!” and he smiled happily.
Another pair of dark eyes watched the scene. This observer was looking through a window from the back of the store in which the Imbraguglios lived. Sam was chuckling, even as the dentist had done, as he observed his daughters. He has just finished eating his breakfast of bacon and hot biscuits, and washing it down with coffee. As he chewed happily, he would pour the coffee mixed with milk, into the saucer and blow on it to cool it enough that it would not burn his tongue. Having listened to the conversation just outside the open window, he rose and slowly advanced close enough to be able to see what they were up to without letting them become aware of his presence.
“Row,” he called softly, walking back into the market, “You gotta go back there and see what those girls of ours are up to!”
Rose had been tending to the produce: picking out tomatoes that were going bad, and peeling leaves off the cabbages that had begun to turn brown.
She left this task unfinished, because this had to be very good, to make Sam call her away from her work to go and watch their daughters at play.
She walked straight to the window, resisting the impulse to wash the breakfast dishes. She hated leaving anything dirty. But her eyes lit up like a Christmas tree when she saw Rosie and Anna and what they were doing. She knew immediately how their minds worked. And she could not stop herself from laughing aloud.
The baby, Josephine, was sitting on an apple crate watching the two older siblings, and wishing they would allow her to take part in the game.
“No, now, Josephine. You’re just too little,” Rosie said.
The small child’s chin began to quiver, and tears of bitter disappointment rolled down her cheeks.
Rose could not stand to see one of them cry. She walked out into the yard and picked her baby up.
“There, there, baby. Let’s go into the house and you can help Mama wash the dishes.”
“Don’t wanna wash dishes. Wanna play tel-phone!” This came out as a wail.
Rose walked with her back into the kitchen and set her down in a high chair at the table. “How about a biscuit?” she tried to tempt Josephine.
The child said nothing, but she had at least stopped crying.
Later that same morning, the first mention came to Rose and Sam’s attention of an impending tragedy that about to rock Ellisville
Rose had not been back in the market thirty minutes before a man came in and began telling them about a black man who had “gotten too friendly with a white woman”. When her brothers were made aware of what had happened, he went on, they had gathered all their friends and neighbors to form a posse to hunt the man down.
“But being friendly’s no crime,” Rose protested.
“Oh, Miss Rosie, ‘hit were much more than that!” he said.
“Oh. Well, why didn’t they get the law to hunt the man down?” she asked.
“The law’s too dang slow. No’m, in these types ‘a sitchations, the Klan takes over.”
Rose felt her blood beginning to run cold. She had only an inkling of what the Ku Klux Klan stood for, but she knew enough to be afraid of it. She knew that it targeted not only the poor blacks, but Catholics, Jews and any other nationality or religion that was not White Anglo-Saxon Protestant.
This had been on a Thursday. On Friday afternoon, another man came into the market and announced that they had “cotched ‘im!”
“Caught who?” Rose had momentarily forgotten the previous day’s conversation.
“That nigger! He’d got as fer as Hattiesburg before the bloodhounds snifted him out,” he went on.
Sam and Rose made no comment. She asked the man, “Do you want anything?”
“Why, no’m. I just come in hyear t’let you know that we got him!”
Rose turned her back to the man and walked to the back of the store. She felt sick with dread of what would happen next.
She did not have to wait long. When she walked into the market around six thirty, there was already about a dozen customers waiting to have their orders taken. She hurried to the nearest patron, who wanted some cheese and crackers.
There was an almost festive atmosphere to the huge crowds that were gathered in Ellisville that Saturday morning. Rose was extremely surprised when she walked into the market and saw the large number of customers crowding the store at six o’clock. She hurried to wait on the man closest to the counter.
"What’s all the big crowd for?" she asked him.
"Why, haven’t you heard? We’re gonna lynch that nigger!" he said and hit the counter with the palm of his hand for emphasis.
"Oh. They caught him then?" she asked.
"Yup! They oughta be bringin’ him into town any minute now."
That night, with Sam snoring loudly beside her in the bed, Rose could not get to sleep to save her neck! She kept remembering bits and pieces of this extraordinary day, and just about the time she’d think she was ready to drift off to sleep, another image would pop up in her active mind.
The crowd was composed of people from as far away as Memphis, St. Louis, Birmingham and Mobile, and they all wanted souvenirs of the gruesome occasion.
The young black man had been tied to the back of a truck, and driven all over the little town. His body bounced up and down, as the crowd cheered and jeered.
After the Klan was satisfied that everyone had gotten a look at this awful spectacle, they hauled the black man up to the bank building and beat him mercilessly. Then they took his almost lifeless body and hanged it from a tree, out of sight of the market.
Rose took her two oldest daughters and they went to see the actual lynching. There had been an enormous bonfire built just under the tree from which Hartfield was to be hanged.
She thought of the big and burly farmer, who had come into the market after the hanging and all of the terrible things that ensued, holding something wet and black in his hands. "Lemme have a sack," he commanded, without any preamble at all.
Rose glared at the piece of meat in the man’s hands, and observed with disgust that it was leaving a trail of blood from the front door over the part of the floor the man had traversed.
She briskly walked to the back of the store and grabbed a mop and a pail and walked up the man.
"What is that thing you’ve brought into this market messing up my clean floor?" she demanded.
"Why, this here is that nigger’s black heart!" he said proudly.
Rose snarled, "Well, take it out of here- right this minute.” Her eyes were flashing like lightning. “And then you march yourself right out there to that hydrant, and fill this bucket with water, and then you’re gonna come back in here and clean up every drop of that mess from my clean floor!"
" But I still need a bag to put this heart in---" he began.
"Get outa here! Get! Right this minute. Take that thing with you! But you’d better get right back in here and clean up this mess you’ve made as soon as you can!"
The man began swearing under his breath as he walked out of the store, shaking his head in disbelief. But he came back very quickly and did a fair job of cleaning up the mess he had created. Rose stood with her hands planted firmly on her hips as she waited for him to do the slightest thing that she did not like.
What Rose never knew was that he had told several people later that day, "That’s one little bitty white woman you don’t wanna mess with!"
She was little but mighty.
Rose wondered where this obnoxious stranger had come from. People were in town that day from all over the South!
In the bed that she shared with her older sister, Rosie, Anna was shivering from the memory of standing on the street as they drove an old Ford truck all around the small town, dragging the hanged man’s body after he had been cut down from the scaffold with the noose still around his neck. She had to pull her feet in. quickly. to avoid having the naked black legs from touching her own legs. She shuddered with the memory.
Rose had gotten the two little sisters dressed and ready to witness the execution of this man they had never seen nor heard of just before the hanging.
"What’s he done wrong, Mama?" Rosie had asked.
"Never you mind!" Rose had bypassed the question. "Just something colored people should not do to white people." And Rosie had to be content with this non answer.
About the only good thing that had come of this tragedy in Ellisville was that they had the most profitable Saturday they had ever had since setting up business here. But it was small compensation for the awful things that had transpired. On that day John Hartfield was hanged for the rape of a white woman, herself of highly questionable character. After being stripped and beaten almost to death, and then, having his dead body tied to the back of a pickup truck, he was paraded all over the town so that every soul present would see what came of a "Nigger who did not stay in his place". Ironically, there was not a single black person to be seen in the town that day. They were too afraid to show their faces, nor did they come within sight of the white town's people until it was necessary for them to come in to buy the necessities of life.
Rose would never forget the way the angry mob sounded as they meted out their "Justice". And though they were not clad in their white robes, she knew all too well that they were a fair sampling of the local Ku Klux Klan.
It was growing light before Rose was finally able to get to sleep that morning after the lynching.
By the decade of the 1920’s, Sam had become a naturalized United States Citizen; he and Rose had four daughters; he had ventured into the Ice Business and then into the soft drink business. He still prayed fervently, each time that Rose was with child, that this one would be a son. But so far, the good Lord had not seen fit to bless them with another male child.
Under Rose’s expert tutelage, Sam had been able to learn enough to pass the citizenship part of his oral examination to qualify for citizenship. He was an apt pupil, and Rose very much regretted that it had been necessary for him to drop out of school at such an early age. He had intelligence galore, but just lacked the schooling.
The meat market and grocery store had become very successful. When the owner of the town’s ice plant wanted to retire, he had approached Sam with the idea of selling this “lucrative enterprise” to him. He made it sound so tempting that Sam had agreed. Thus, he had ventured into the ice business. Rose referred to this time, later, as the “Ice Age”.
He was able to leave his wife to take care of the market in the mornings, while he delivered the ice to the customers around town. Rose had become almost as adept at handling and cutting the meat as her husband. The only kind of meat she had trouble with was liver. Somehow she could never seem to hold it still enough to get pretty slices. And she despised the way it made her hands feel afterwards.
She urged him not to get involved with this new business, but Sam could be as stubborn as any mule once he made up his mind to do a thing.
He purchased the old Chevrolet truck from the man who had owned the plant. He had a telephone installed in the market so the few families in town who had phones could call in their orders for ice.
Rose developed a strong aversion to certain of their ice customers; the wife of the president of the bank, Mrs. Ellsworth, in particular. This domineering woman would call each day, from about the end of April through October, demanding a five pound block of ice to be delivered to her ice box in the kitchen. The Ellsworths had a beautiful two storied home just a block from the market.
Sam always cut the blocks of ice at the plant, where the proper instruments were kept for this purpose. Mrs. Ellsworth, who considered herself Ellisville Society’s leading hostess, kept a small bathroom scale in her kitchen and would insist that Sam weigh the ice before he put it in the ice-box. “And don’t you go dripping water all over my clean floor!” she’d add in spiteful tones.
Naturally, in the heat of Mississippi summers, there would be meltage. She would refuse to pay the price of five pounds of ice if she were getting only four pounds and fifteen and a half ounces. The cost of five pounds of ice was a nickel.
Rose hit the ceiling when Sam related this to her the first time it happened. “You mean t’tell me, with all their money, she’s too stingy t’pay a nickel!”
“Well,” Sam said, as usual acquiescing, “What cha gonna do?”
“Well, I’ll tell you what I’d do: first pop out of the box, I’d tell her I am not her servant, and she could just walk down to the ice plant and get her own ice. Let her see how much she’d lose that way!”
“Aw, now, you can’t do that,” Sam said feebly.
“By cracky, I could. I feel like calling her up and telling her what I think of her right now. Let her try weighing a block of ice without getting any water on her floor! And you know good and well those lil’ ole bathroom scales aren’t right.”
But even as she said this, she knew that Sam would never allow her to do what would have been only just and fair to do.
As months dragged on and the situation worsened, Rose finally persuaded Sam to get rid of the ice plant. They were actually showing only the slimmest of profits, and Rose finally convinced him that it wasn’t worth the time and effort he was putting into it. Not to mention her own frustrations with the entire venture.
But Sam was ambitious. When the opportunity arose, he purchased the Nehi Bottling Plant. At this time, Nehi bottled fruit flavored drinks only: Grape Soda, Strawberry, Orange (the best seller), Pineapple, Peach, and Lemon. Shortly after Sam took control of the plant, Nehi introduced their Cream of Soda, which became known simply as “Cream Soda”. It was a clear drink that looked like bottled water, but it soon became Rose’s favorite soft drink. It was only mildly popular with customers, however. Coca Cola was already on its way to world dominance as the favorite soft drink. Rose shunned it, and insisted the girls not drink it. Like many others at the time, she insisted that it contained dope.
Nehi had not yet come out with Royal Crown Cola, the drink that made the man who bought the plant from Sam after two years, A. D. Anderson, a wealthy man.
Sam sold the bottling works because the overhead had been prohibitive, plus the fact that he found it too much to try to run two such divergent businesses at the same time. The ice plant had at least been easy to operate.
Sam seemed always to be in the right place at the wrong time when it came to “Striking it Rich”.
As the Imbraguglio Family grew bigger and bigger, their living quarters behind the market seemed ever smaller and more cramped.
By now, the four girls were fussing and fighting a lot of the time, and Rose told Sam that she simply had to have a bigger home.
Sam more than agreed with her. He had intended the back-of-the-store living quarters only as a stop gap solution to their housing problem. Now he, too, wanted more space to expand and breathe more freely.
In talking with Claude Williams one morning, Sam broached the subject, and asked the dentist for advice.
“Sam, I’ve often wondered how all of you have managed to live in such close quarters without getting on each others’ nerves!”
Sam smiled and nodded. “Just lemme tell ya what happened last Sunday,” Sam said.
Dr. Williams leaned forward eagerly. He loved nothing better than hearing a piece of juicy gossip.
“We got these cousins in Laurel—th’ Fertitas—an’ they drove down t’ pay us a little visit after dinner. Anna’d just gone t’ th’ bedroom t’ take a bath. We have t’use a wash tub, an’ fill it up with water. Well, she’d just got out ‘a th’ tub, when Mr. Fertita went back there and opened the door to the bedroom. There was Anna, naked as a jaybird!”
Both men laughed aloud at this.
“Poor little Anna!” Dr. Williams said, enjoying the delicious thought of her plight.
“Yeah, but Anna’s too smart t’let anybody catch her with no clothes on. She crawled nunder th’ bed when she heard ‘im comin’ t’th’ door. So when he looked for Anna, he thought nobody was there. He came back where we was sittin’ an’ said Anna must ‘a gone somewhere. Row knew good as she knew her name where Anna was.”
“But I thought you meant he saw her naked,” Claude said, disappointed that the story was not as funny as he had originally thought.
“Oh, good God no!” Sam laughed, “She would’ve had a fit if that had happened!”
“How long did she stay under the bed?” Claude asked.
“She stayed till they left. ‘Bout two hours. When they finally left, she crawled out, mad as a wet hen, an’ had t’ take another bath, cause she had that—“ Sam paused, as he often had to, trying to think of an English equivalent for a word he wanted to use. “Doc, I call ‘em ‘Moofa’. You know--- that stuff that gets nunder beds.”
Claude nodded. “We call them dust bunnies, so I know just what you mean.” And he began laughing all over again.
“Anna said right then and there that we have to have a house, with a bath room with a door she can lock. An’ that we need more bedrooms. All four ‘a those girls have t’ sleep in th’ same room. An’ it seems like they’re always fightin’! Row needs a bigger kitchen, an’ we need a dinin’ room.”
“Sam, y’oughta hire yourself a good carpenter and have him build you a house just like you want it. You’ve got a nice big lot here. Prime location. You ought to make it a show place—seeing how you’re right smack dab in th’ heart of town.”
Sam nodded wistfully. He knew that such a project could take many months, and the female population of his family wanted action now.
Dr. Williams gathered the few items he said they needed at his house, and as he was counting out his money, he said, “Sam, I just thought of something.”
“What’s that?” Sam, too, had continued thinking of their conversation.
“You know Dr. Sherman’s house—the one out by the Ovett road?”
“Oh, you mean that Japan lookin’ house?” Claude nodded. “Now that’s some house!” Sam said, in almost worshipful tones.
“It really is,” Claude agreed. “Well, Sherman wants to move back to New Orleans. And he wants to sell his house.”
“Oh, Lord! I couldn’t afford that place!”
“Don’t be too sure. He tells me he wants to sell it just as soon as he possibly can. Otherwise he has to have it moved all the way to New Orleans.”
“Why,” Sam said, “That’d cost him a fortune!”
“Now you’re beginning to get the picture.”
“But, I still can’t see how he would sell that place to me!”
“Sam, look at it this way: you won’t know ‘till you ask. He probably would be glad for just about any kind of offer.”
And so Sam drove out to Dr. Sherman’s home the following Sunday. Claude had been kind enough to arrange the time.
As Sam drove into the driveway, he felt as if he were in a dream. The house was completely original for South Mississippi. It looked like something out of a travel book for Japan: a magnificent pagoda. It was very large, which would make moving it such a long distance even more problematical. There was a second story, too. This meant there were probably more than enough rooms for the Imbraguglio family, with rooms to spare if there were more children.
The front door opened and a lovely lady, beautifully dressed, walked out to greet Sam.
“Mr. Sam,” she said, “won’t you come in and have a look at the house?”
Sam hoped that when he spoke, he did not make a complete fool of himself. “Thank you,” was all he said.
Inside the hallway, Dr. Will Sherman was waiting to grab Sam by the hand. He shook hands vigorously and said he would be only too happy to accompany Sam, as his wife showed each room.
Sam realized as soon as they began with the parlor, that he should have insisted that Rose come with him. He was so overwhelmed that he knew he would not remember a tenth of the wonders he saw.
There was, in addition to the spacious and elegantly furnished parlor, the kitchen (Rose would have a fit over all that room in which to cook!) and a huge dining room, plus a bathroom downstairs. There was also one large bedroom that the Shermans told him was where they slept. They called it the Master Bedroom.
When they walked up the curving carpeted staircase to the second floor, Sam kept telling himself that he would never be able to afford all of this, no matter how much Claude Williams insisted that he would be surprised.
Four more bedrooms and another full bath were housed on this level.
Sam had been very quiet, throughout the tour of the house. Now, Dr. Sherman said, “Well, Mr. Imbraguglio, what d’you think?”
“Oh, it’s mighty fine!”
“Do you think you might be interested in buying it for your fine family?”
“Yes, I do,” and he paused before adding, “But I know as well as I know my name that I don’t have th’ money t’buy a place this fine!”
The doctor smiled sadly and told Sam just what Claude Williams had said. He explained that it was now necessary that he return to New Orleans, from whence he had originally come, and that the house was too large for most of the families in Ellisville.
“And we don’t want just anybody to have it,” his wife threw in.
“I’m willing to accept almost any reasonable offer to keep from having the house moved,” the doctor said.
Sam stood silently, but his mind was working ninety miles an hour.
“You don’t have to make your offer just now,” Sherman said. “You’ll probably want to discuss it with your wife and possibly an attorney.”
Sam breathed a sigh of relief. This gave him a way to get back to Rose without committing himself.
Back with his family, later that Sunday afternoon, he told them all that had transpired.
“Oh, that house is beautiful!” Rose exclaimed. “But do you honestly think we could afford it?”
“Well, he says he’ll accept any reasonable offer---“
“Yes, but what would a reasonable offer be?”
“Oh, well---that’s just what I don’t know. What do you think of twenty five hundred dollars?”
“What do I think? That’s a whole lot of money. But I doubt that it would be even half enough if the house is as fine as you say it is.”
“It is a fine house. And we’d have more than enough room.”
“Well, why not ask Dr. Williams, and see what he thinks of your offer?”
“That’s like a good idea.” The girls had been out playing behind the market, and now they trooped into the house asking for something to drink.
“Anna,” Sam always seemed to single her out when he wanted to discuss anything with his children. “How would you girls like to live in that Japan lookin’ house we went by the other day?”
“You mean it?” She squealed.
“Now, don’t go getting’ them all excited about something that may not happen,” Rose said dourly.
“Oh, good God, woman—can’t a man have a little fun?”
“Fun is one thing. Just hope the man won’t laugh in your face at your offer!”
Sam felt thoroughly squelched. Why must she always be so negative?
But Rose feared the consequences if Sam did not get this house he wanted so desperately.
Dr. Sherman did not laugh when Sam made his offer. As a matter of fact, the man looked as if he would probably have accepted a lower sum.
Sam told him he would pay in cash, which really surprised the good doctor. “I don’t trust banks,” Sam said flatly. “Never had a bank account in my life.”
When we told Claude Williams the good news, the dentist looked as if he were going to be suddenly ill. “Oh, Sam, will you be moving way out there?” He dreaded the thought that his constant source of entertainment might be lost forever.
“No! I’m gonna have th’ house moved here- right in back of the market.”
“Well, all right then!” Claude’s mood brightened. That ought not be too hard to do. After all, Will Sherman was planning to move it all the way to New Orleans.”
“Maybe you can tell me somebody t’ contact about moving it.”
“Sam, I’d be only too happy to get you somebody to do the job for you,” Claude said.
And so the Imbraguglio family was on cloud Nine, dreaming about life in their very own mansion. Japanese style and all!
But it was not to be.
The City Fathers informed Sam, as soon as word reached them of his proposal to move the house to the vacant lot behind the market, that it was against the fire laws to have a two-storied dwelling in the downtown area. Unless it were a brick house. Since there was only a volunteer fire department, and that was woefully inadequate, the rules were very specific and strict.
Sam and Rose felt as if this was the final straw to be borne from the town of Ellisville.
“Listen, Sam,” the mayor told him when he appealed to this gentleman, “th’ city has a house that we’ll practically give you. It’s a one story house, and right big, too. It might be just what you need.”
“But my wife wants a new house,” Sam complained.
“Tell you what I’ll do: if you take this house. I’ll give it to you. All it will cost you is the price of having it moved.”
Sam said nothing. He was too disappointed to say anything.
“Course you’d have to spend quite a bit, getting it fixed up. An’ it needs a new roof--” the mayor continued.
When Sam went to look at the house, it didn’t take him any time to tell the mayor that the house was far too small. “Why, we got more room where we are than this lil’ ole’ shack. And it is a shack, too!”
The mayor scratched his head. He had hope that Sam would be so happy to get a free house, that he would be only too happy to move it and fix it up to look good enough to be an asset to the downtown area. Now, he could see that the man had a strong enough will to be a problem.
“Get back in th’ car,” Mayor Bowen said, “an’ I’ll take you t’see another house the city owns. If you like it, you can have it, too.”
“No, I don’t wanna waste time goin’ t’see it,” Sam said., “unless it’s at least twice as big as this one.”
The mayor said, “No, actually the two are just about the same size. But they’re so close to the same sort of house that I figured you maybe could join them together and make one great big house out of them.”
“That sounds crazy!” Sam was being blunt. But he thought to himself that if he seemed totally opposed to the idea, he might get even more concessions.
“Sam, just lemme show you the other house,” the mayor was pleading with him now.
“Oh, aw right. But I’m not promisin’ you nothin’.”
“Two houses!” Rose fairly yelled at him when he told her. “What’sa matter with you anyway?”
“Listen, they gonna give us these houses. We can put ‘em side by side, an’ maybe build a hallway to join ‘em together.”
“That’s the dumbest idea I’ve ever heard of,” Rose was disgusted with the whole idea.
“Now you just hold your horses. They won’t let me move th’ house we all want here, so it’s either get a new house built, or get a second hand house somewhere else an’ move it here. God knows what either one of these’d cost.”
“Well, let’s get a new house built. Then we can have it just like we want it.”
“An’ no tellin’ how long that would take, either.”
“But we wouldn’t have to take some old cull of a house. You’d have to spend a fortune getting it ready for us to live in, from what you’ve told me. No, sir! We’ll just stay right where we are!”
Sam’s lips stuck out in the familiar stance which Rose had come to call “mushrooms”. This meant he would not say another word. No, he’d wait for her to come around to his way of thinking.
And with the girls all siding with their papa, she didn’t have a chance. Rose simmered but said nothing further. She knew when she was licked.
The two old rickety houses created quite a stir, as they were moved from their former locations, down the road that ran from downtown to the Agricultural High School. People would come out of their houses and gape as the huge truck towed the houses, one at a time. They had been equipped with runners made of huge logs, so that they moved like some giant clumsy skiier. Bemused Ellisvillians quietly hoped one or the other (or both) of the houses would either turn over or fall apart. In truth, Rose was the most fervent of these evil wishers. She hated the looks of the two pathetic old shacks, and despaired of their ever being capable of gaining a respectable appearance.
When both houses had been set side by side, allowing room for a hallway to connect them, it was amazing how much alike they looked.
Sam had discussed the renovations to the house, plus the connecting hallway and bathroom (it had been decided that the end of the hallway should be utilized for this purpose) with a black carpenter who had become one of their steadiest customers in the market. His name was Frank Carmichael. But he insisted the name wasn’t pronounced in the usual way: CARmichael. He put the accent, rather, on the second syllable.
Thus, forever afterwards, Rose would tell her children that, “Ole man Frank CarMICHael,” did so and so when he converted the two old shacks into their one big new home.
The bell rang, and Helen dashed from the classroom and ran all the way home without once looking back.
She ran through the market, and when Rose saw her, she asked, “What are you doin’ home?”
“I came t’eat dinner!” Helen said. “I’m starvin’ t’death!”
“You get right back to school this instant!” Rose was exasperated with her young daughter, who was seldom foolish. “It’s not even eleven o’clock!”
Helen felt as if the world was slipping from under her feet. She was hungry, and had been just certain it was the dinner bell that had sounded back at school. Instead, it had been recess time!
She turned with bitter disappointment and began the long run back to class. Not one word further had been said by either of them.
As she got closer and closer to the grammar school, she ran harder and harder. What if she was late! She would be humiliated if she had to walk in the classroom and explain to the teacher that she had made a complete fool of herself.
She rounded the corner that allowed her to see the school-yard. Her class was moving into the building in a straight line already.
Her side was really hurting by now, she had run so hard both to and from school, but she dare not slow down.
She was just able to make it. Mildred Beech turned around and mouthed the words, “Where have you been?” as she marched into the classroom.
Helen just shook her head, as if to say, “I’ll tell you later.” She was red as a beet and her breath was coming in jagged gasps.
“Helen Frances Imbragulio, why are you so out of breath?” the teacher asked her.
“I been runnin’,” she said simply. That was certainly the truth.
“Well, go and drink some water. You look like you’re about to catch fire.”
“Oh, I’m awright,” Helen could be right stubborn, even then.
And so it came to pass that nothing more came of the incident. Helen’s two best friends, Ruth Pool and Mildred laughed so hard when she told them, when the noon bell finally rang, what she had done, that their eyes were streaming tears. Ruth confessed that she almost did the same thing last year, but she caught herself just in the nick of time.
“Yeah, but you caught yourself in time. I didn’t. I ran home like a pure idiot!” Helen said, and the girls broke out with fresh laughter.Helen walked more slowly home this time. And this time she got to eat.
Rose looked around with a feeling of satisfaction as she completed her spring cleaning. They had lived in their nice big home for two years already. Who would have thought she could ever love the old place and be proud of the way it looked?
The long hallway down the middle had been constructed so well that it was impossible to tell that there had originally been two separate houses joined together. And what a luxury to have a real bathroom at the end of that hall!
Heaven had at long last seen fit to bless them with another son. Sam was so happy and proud that he felt as if he were going to pop wide open. As in the case of Josephine, the family name of “Sam” was not going to be retired with a dead child.
There were four bedrooms now. Sam and Rose slept in the front bedroom; Anna and Helen slept in the next one; Rosie slept alone in the rather small bedroom that came next; and Josephine had the end bedroom all to herself. This last bedroom had Josephine had demanded that she be allowed to have the room for that reason. The room had a window on the side of the house, and another on the back. This afforded better ventilation in the warmer months.
Anna and Rosie were in the parlor, as they liked to call the living room, sweeping and dusting the furniture. Now, as Rose watched them through the windows she was washing, she felt a new thrill just realizing that all of this was really theirs. The new living room furniture Sam had bought looked really elegant. It was mahogany with rattan backs to the sofa and two matching chairs. There were beautifully upholstered cushions, with round puffy ones, and a long sausage shaped one for the couch. They were all proud of the long wooden table that he had been able to buy because it had a small imperfection, which none of them could see until it was pointed out to them. And since it was on the side to the wall, what did it matter? Like the suite, it was also made of mahogany. It had a long flat surface, with the corners cut off and beautifully adorned with raised flowers. There were two Grecian urns that decorated each of the two legs that had a runner holding them together. And all of it was made from the same beautiful wood. It was Rose’s pride and joy, and she had already made several elegant scarves to go on it.
Rosie was even now in the act of rubbing it with a cloth and furniture polish. But Rosie was not doing the task lovingly. She hated to do any kind of work at all. She had much rather be in her bedroom, curled up on the bed with a romance novel in her hands. This habit of hers was about to drive Sam crazy. He had scolded her so much that he felt guilty, but he simply could not accept the fact that his oldest child was so “worthless”, as he put it.
Anna, meanwhile, was occupied with sweeping the carpet and mopping the floors with an oil mop. Rose was also proud of her floors throughout the house. Old Man Frank Carmichael had talked Sam into buying lumber that was graded B and Better. He maintained this was the finest lumber in the world. And it did look magnificent! Unlike her sister, Anna took a great deal of pride and determination in making the room, and the entire house for that matter, look its very best at all times.
She longed for a piano, and Sam had promised her that if her piano lessons with Mrs. Arnold proved fruitful, she would have a real piano. Up to this point he had bought her only toy pianos: a bigger one each time he went to New Orleans.
Mrs. Arnold was a good teacher and seemed especially interested in Anna. “Why, Anna, my deah, you have what I call a ‘Pearly’ Touch!”
Thinking of this now, as she swept the carpet, Anna smiled to herself. She loved her music lessons, because they made her feel special.
The carpet was a fine woolen one, with lovely colors and patterns. Rose had taken it out in the back yard yesterday, stretched it over her clothes line and had the two older girls help her beat it with paddles to get as much of the dust and dirt out of it that they could.
As soon as Rose got the windows outside coated with Bon Ami, she began on the inside ones. She would clean both sides of the glass after they had dried, with her daughter’s help.
“Mama, can I do somethin’ t’help?” Helen asked, coming up now to Rose.
Rose looked at her youngest daughter, and smiled. She certainly never shirked her share of the work around the house. "Well—how would you like to clean the panes in the French doors?”
Sam had the carpenter install swinging glass doors between the hall and dining room, and double French doors between the living room and dining room.
“Oh, I’d love to do that! And I’ll make Josephine help me.”
So all of the children except the baby boy got into the act of spring cleaning that year. Soon the house was so clean it fairly sparkled. Only then was Rose satisfied.
But now, she had lots of good help.
Early in childhood, Josephine had developed an eye condition that left her blind. She was too proud to admit her blindness until it was impossible to conceal it. Even then, she would refuse to acknowledge that she could not do the very same things her sisters did.
Helen was placed in charge of getting her to and from school each day. Helen would become so provoked when Josephine would insist that she could see, and almost get run over by trying to cross the street by herself.
She had to wear black glasses that made her look strange and spooky.
Sam was about to go crazy worrying about his little girl. He heard about a specialist in New Orleans, and began taking her down there each week for treatments. They’d make the journey on the train. Eventually these treatments worked, and she regained her sight. She always felt the miracle had been achieved because of her faith in the stories of Saint Lucy (and the dramatic manner in which Rose told them to her) she began making devotions to St. Lucy, and miraculously her eyesight was once again restored. “There never was anything wrong with ‘em in th’ first place!” she insisted to Helen.
But, as fate would have it, the cure was only temporary. Once again she was blind. Their weekly trips to New Orleans resumed.
Sam found a picture of St. Lucy in a shop window in the French Quarter of New Orleans, and bought it as a source of inspiration and encouragement for Josephine. St. Lucy is the saint of eyesight. The picture is of a beautiful young girl, holding a plate with two eyes on it. According to legend, a young man admired her eyes, and told her they were the most beautiful eyes he had ever seen. He wanted to marry her. Lucy plucked her eyes out, and placed them on a plate. She handed them to the man, telling him she would never marry. She would become a nun. According to the picture, she still had her own two eyes. Nobody knows what the unfortunate young man did with the eyes she gave him.
Josephine was so moved ever lost it again, although each time she had an eye exam in later years, each oculist or optometrist would comment on the fact that her eyes had so much scar tissue in the back of them, they did not see how she was able to see at all. Miracles do happen, she would inform them, smiling sadly.
There was a large porch that ran from Sam and Rose’s bedroom around the front of the house, then made a turn and continued around the other side past the dining room. The master bedroom had doors leading to this porch, as well as to the hallway and one that opened into the adjoining bedroom. Windows from the living room’s two sides, and those of the two dining room windows, also opened onto the porch. There was another doorway opening onto the porch from the spacious dining room.
When Sammy was three years old, he was sitting one afternoon enjoying the sunshine, sitting with his little legs dangling off the edge of the porch. All at once he was surprised and more than a little frightened by the feel of something wet and cold being pressed against his bare legs. He quickly drew his breath, and drew his legs, as well, back to the level of the porch.
When Sammy was three years old, he was sitting one afternoon enjoying the sunshine, sitting with his little legs dangling off the edge of the porch. All at once he was surprised and more than a little frightened by the feel of something wet and cold being pressed against his bare legs. He quickly drew his breath, and drew his legs, as well, back to the level of the porch.
Then he saw what had caused his shock: a white dog with tan spots walked slowly into view. He had been asleep under the porch, and had smelled Sammy’s warm body and decided to investigate.
When he saw the dog, Sammy gave a cry of delight. “Where you come from, puppy?” he asked, though the dog was hardly a pup.
The dog, sensing that he was not going to be chased away, leaped up onto the porch and began nuzzling Sammy with his head. Sammy was delighted. He had never had a dog. There were usually a bunch of cats that hung around the door to the market. His Papa would open the back door to the store and throw a handful of meat scraps, as he sang out, “Here, Cats, Cats, Cats!” But none of the family members had ever been able to touch any of the cats. They were so wild, if you tried to pet them as they were eating, they would snarl viciously, making it evident that they would not allow any human contact whatsoever.
Sammy had often looked longingly at some of the cats. Some of them were so pretty, with their colorful markings and their lithe bodies. They looked soft and cuddly, but his Mama had warned him to leave them alone.
Once when he got close enough to reach out and pet one of them, the cat had hissed at him and before he knew what was happening, had unleashed her stiletto like claws and scratched his arm. He had looked at the blood as it began to stream from the scratch, but he did not cry. He knew that if he had minded Mama, this would not have happened.
Rose had observed the situation from the kitchen window. She walked briskly out and took the broom to the cat.
“Let that be a lessons to you, young man!” she said sternly. “Don’t you ever fool with these cats again. They’re liable to scratch your eyes out!” She said, and Sammy had shuddered at the thought.
But dogs were something he had seen only at a distance. They were generally chased from the yard, if any ventured there.
Now, here was this wonderful dog, right there by him on the side porch. He reached his hand out and tentatively touched the dog’s coat. Instantly, the dog’s tongue was licking his face. Sammy giggled with delight. He liked the odor of the mutt, too. It smelled all warm and friendly.
“What’s your name, boy?” Sammy asked, as though expecting a reply.
Sam had watched this scene as it unfolded, from one of the dining room windows. He felt this would be as good a time as any to make his presence known. “He said his name is George,” Sam said, and then laughed.
“Really!” Sammy was delighted. “Well, hello George!”
“Son, you do know the doggie’s blind, don’t you?”
“No! You mean like Jo-phine?”
“Yep. Just like your sister.”
“Then how does he know where he is, or how to get there?”
“Oh, dogs have senses that people don’t have. See, you hadn’t even noticed that he’s blind.”
And so that is how it came about that Sammy Imbraguglio had his first pet. None of the other children had ever had a pet of any kind.
Sammy rose from his sitting position and tried to walk with the dog into the house. “Oh, no you don’t!” Sam said forcefully.
“What?” the child asked.
“No animals in the house. People live in the house---animals stay outside where they belong.”
“But why can’t he come in th’ house?” Sammy persisted.
“Because I say so, that’s why.”
Young Sammy was so disappointed in the father who adored him. For the very first time in his life he had been denied something that he really wanted. And for the first time he heard that phrase that was to torture him throughout his childhood and until he lived on his own: “Because I say so.”
But, on this afternoon in the third year of his life, he slowly came to terms with the rules imposed by his father and liked nothing better than spending most of his time each day after that with his pet.
When Rose saw how happy her son was with the dog, she did not have the heart to complain about the way Sammy began to smell after hugging the old dog. She’d simply scrub his neck and face all the harder with a wash cloth. And wash his clothes with even more vigor than before.
She was expecting her eighth child in October, and just hoped it would come on Helen’s birthday, which was the thirteenth of that month. But Helen’s sixth birthday came and went without Rose’s labor pains beginning.
Rosie and Anna made a cake for Helen’s birthday, and they initiated what was to become a family tradition. Anna had read in a book about a family who would bake certain objects into the birthday cakes for the family members, and it sounded like such a good idea that she told Rosie about it.
“What sort of things do you mean?” Rosie asked.
“Well, this family always put a gold coin, for one thing.”
“Well, you know Papa iddn’ goan let us put a gold coin in there!”
“Well, we could maybe put a plain ole dime.”
“Yeah, but they’re nasty and full of germs!”
“Oh, I forgot t’tell you: we gotta boil ‘em t’sterilize ‘em.”
“OK, but how’re we gonna keep people from bitin’ down an’ breakin’ their teeth?”
“Oh, Rosie! All we gotta do is tell ‘em t’watch out for stuff.”
Rosie was beginning to warm up to the idea, even though she had not been the one to think of it.
“How can we make sure Helen gets the piece of cake with the dime in it?” she asked.
“Shhhh! She may hear what we’re tawkin’ about. Lower your voice. I’ve awready figured that out. We can stick a tooth-pick where we put the coin, an’ bake the cake with that in there. Then when we stack the layers an’ put on th’ icin’, we keep the tooth pick in place th’ whole time.”
It was a charming idea and the entire family reacted to it with pleasure. Helen got her piece of the birthday cake, but she did bite down hard on the dime, and almost broke a tooth.
“Ouch!” she cried, and opening her mouth, she extracted the dime, coated with birthday cake and saliva. “Look what I bit down on!” she said with glee.
“What is it?” Anna asked, all innocence.
“It’s a dime!”
“You don’t say!” Sam said, in mock surprise.
“Oh, Mama, can I keep it?” Helen asked.
“Why certainly, honey,” Rose smiled at her “tom-boy” daughter. “That’s why it was put in the cake in th’ first place.”
Rose had been doing some darning of socks when the older girls approached her with their idea for the cake, and Rose held up the thimble that she always wore on her middle finger whenever she used a needle. “Why not put this in there, too?”
“Why, whatever for?” Anna asked.
“Well, whoever got it could get a second prize: maybe a nickel.”
“That’s a great idea!” Anna said enthusiastically.
Now, Sammy bit into his slice of his sister’s birthday cake, and said, “Ooow!”
“What is it, darling?” Rose asked, stooping to open his mouth.
“I bit this!” he said, and held up the thimble.
“Oh, so that’s where my thimble got off to!” Rose played the part to the hilt.
“You lost your thimble?” Helen asked.
“Yes, I sure did. And I offered a nickel reward to anyone who could find it.”
“Well, I founded it!” Sammy said.
“And my baby gets the nickel, too, by George!” And she handed a nickel that she had stored in her apron pocket.
“By George?” Sammy asked. “You mean like my doggie?”
They all laughed. Rose said, “I never thought of that!”
Ten days later, Rose went into labor. Aunt Rachel, the colored midwife was contacted, and about four in the afternoon of October 23, Rose gave birth to a third son.
Sammy was thrilled to have a new brother.
“What we gonna name him?” Sammy asked. There had never been any question about his name. Family tradition dictated that the oldest son should be named for the father. But after that, it was anybody’s game.
“Can we call him ‘George’!” the child asked eagerly.
“After that old dog?” Rosie asked indignantly.
“He’s my doggie---and he’s nice!”
“Well, he’s not gonna be named George, and that’s all there is to it,” Rosie replied in a huff.
Sammy’s chin began to quiver and tears began forming in his eyes.
Rose looked at him from the bed, and said, “Now, honey, I think George would be a perfectly fine name for the baby!”
“Oh, Mama!” Rosie said, almost in tears. She was not accustomed to having her mother disagree with her. She could barely stand criticism from her father, but this was too much to bear.
“I’ve always liked the name ‘George’,” Rose added. “George he’ll be!”
And the baby was christened George. How Sam laughed when his son suggested the name. But he thought anything his son did was the cleverest and cutest thing in the world. Rose feared that he would spoil young Sammy, but she need not have worried.
Sammy stood by the cradle in which the new baby lay sleeping, just admiring and adoring the beautiful baby with its mass of jet black curls.
“What do you think of your new little brother, Sammy?” Rose asked, coming into the room.
“Oh, Mama, he’s perfect!” And she had to smile at his enthusiasm and obvious love.
“Yes, he is, isn’t he?”
From the very first day of his life, George was special to all of them, and to Rose in particular. She felt instinctively that he would be the joy of her life: particularly as she grew older.
When George was three years old, Rose dressed him up in his finest suit of clothes, and told Sammy and Helen to get bathed, wash carefully behind their ears, and get dressed in their best outfits. She was taking them to Laurel on the streetcar to have their picture taken.
“Which is my best outfit?” Helen asked sulkily. She resented the fact that most of her clothes were those that had become too small for Josephine. “All I have is hand-me-downs.”
“Well, I guess the light blue with the lace on the collar,” Rose said, absent-mindedly.
“You mean that ole tacky dress of Josephine’s that she wouldn’t wear?” Helen felt that the only reason she had received this dress when it was still brand new was because her spoiled older sister did not want it.
“Oh, Helen, that dress was made especially for you.”
“Mama, She didn’t like th’ dress, and I don’t like it either!”
“Well, wear whatever you want to, but I put a lot of work into that dress and I think it looks darling on you.”
Helen said nothing more, but she hated the dress: always had and always would. Just like she hated all of her second hand clothing.
The three children all had similar “Buster Brown” haircuts, Rose had taken them in to Mr. Hill’s barber shop yesterday, and Helen insisted he cut her hair shorter than either of her brothers’. Yet, when they were all dressed and ready to depart, Rose felt as if her heart would burst with pride. They were such good and beautiful children. And it was not as if it were something that only she and Sam felt. They were always being told how pretty and well mannered all six of their children were by everyone who saw them.
Meanwhile, the trio of unhappy Imbraguglio children was anything but pleased to be riding the trolley to Laurel that day. Ordinarily, they welcomed any opportunity for such an outing, but Rose had an overbearing manner when organizing anything that should have been fun. Somehow it
Always seemed to turn into something to be dreaded.
George was the only one smiling as Rose waited with them for the streetcar. Helen was fussing under her breath, still smarting from having to wear the dress, and Sammy was crying. Rose reached down and placed her handkerchief under Sammy’s nose. “Blow,” she said.
He honked into the handkerchief and stopped crying. But his face was still a study in unhappiness.
“What on earth is the matter with you?” Rose could not keep the exasperation out of her voice. “You act as if we were going to a funeral instead of having your picture taken.”
Helen’s lips stuck out almost as badly as Sam’s did when he was displeased. “Fungi,” Rose called it.
“I hate this ole dress!” Helen complained.
“There’s not one thing wrong with that dress, young lady,” Rose told her.
“Well, I feel like a fool in it!” Helen said.
“I don’t like these ole short pants, neither,” Sammy added his two cents’ worth. He had been petitioning for long trousers ever since the birth of George.
George looked at his siblings and sensing their unhappiness, began to cry too.
“Now look what you’ve gone and done!” Rose scolded them. “Now you’ve made th’ baby cry!”
“I’ll run back in th’ house an’ get his rattle,” Helen said, and she was off like a flash.
She was soon back with George’s favorite toy: a ball shaped rattle on a stick. She handed it to him and he immediately stopped crying.
“See?” she asked, pleased as punch with her ability to solve the problem.
“Well, you almost made us miss the streetcar: here it is now.”
The conductor opened the door and Rose lifted George and carried him on. Helen helped Sammy. They sat near the front, and Helen could not deny that she always found it exciting to ride to nearby Laurel in this vehicle. Then the realization of why they were going to Laurel reminded her that she was in a black mood.
When the streetcar reached Laurel, Rose raised her hand in preparation for pulling the cord for their stop. She did not want to have to walk any farther than necessary with her trio of upset youngsters.
The photographer’s studio was upstairs over a drugstore, Grace had told Rose when she had recommended the photographer to her. “Just go up the stairs, and it’s right there.” Rose herded the children through the narrow opening to the staircase. Sammy and George were feeling a little friskier and began to race each other up the stairs.
“Hold on!” Rose called out to them. “Be careful. I don’t want anybody falling down these stairs.”
“That’s all I need,” she added under her breath.
They entered the hallway, and unlike what her sister-in-law had told her, the photography shop was not right there. There were at least six other business offices with names on all of them. Rose read the names carefully. She had forgotten the man’s name, so she read the names carefully. “Millard Burton Photography Studio.” “That’s the ticket!” Rose said to herself with satisfaction.
“What’s th’ ticket?” Helen asked.
“Oh, I couldn’t remember what your aunt Grace said the man’s name was,” she explained as she knocked on the door.
“Come on in,” a pleasant soprano voice sang out.
As Rose guided her little group into the studio, Rose was suddenly reminded of that day, almost twenty years earlier, when her own mother took her to have her picture made. She had Mumps, and Lena had been afraid she would die and leave not a single photograph of herself. Rose did not intend to let her children grow up without having a pictorial record of their lives. And she would not wait until they were at death’s door to have them taken, either.
The appearance of the waiting room was certainly a long way from that earlier shop back in Syracuse. There was a neatly dressed receptionist who took their names, and invited them to have a seat until Mr. Burton was finished with the client whose pictures he was setting up and taking. “You’re in luck,” she said, smiling at the children, “there’s nobody waiting, so he’ll be with you in just a few minutes. Meanwhile, just make yourselves comfortable.”
There were comfortable chairs and a settee, on which the three children sat. They were ill at ease: tense and nervous. Rose sat in the chair that was closest to the settee. The surroundings, which to her seemed luxurious, made her a little apprehensive about the possible expense of having the picture made. But, Sam had not seemed in the least concerned when she told him she wanted to take the trio to Laurel to have a picture taken by a photographer. She decided that she worried too much.
There were several outdated magazines on a table nearby, but they were all new to Rose. She selected one with a very attractive and colorful cover. There was a painting of a small boy, playing with his dog. It immediately reminded her of Sammy with his old blind “George”. The magazine was called the Saturday Evening Post, and Rose found the title intriguing. Rose was an avid reader, and kept a little notebook in which she recorded the titles and authors of the library books she read. She began reading the very first article in the magazine. It was an article on the thriving economy of the nation, and Rose was really interested in it. But before she really got to the good part, she heard a voice saying, “Miz Imbra--Imbra----“
Rose’s reaction was automatic. Most people in the deep south simply could not cope with a name more complicated than Smith, Turner or Jones.
She looked up from her reading, and saw the receptionist smiling at her. “Mr. Burton will see you now.”
Rose got out of the chair and led her children into the studio. Mr. Burton was a middle-aged man, so thin that he made even Rose feel overweight. She had never seen a man so emaciated looking in her life!
“Good morning, Mrs. Imbraguglio,” he pronounced the name as well as she could. “I’m Millard Burton.” He held out his hand.
“Glad t’meet you,” Rose said, shaking his hand. She pushed George forward. “I brought three of my children to have their picture taken.”
“And what a handsome family you have, too,” he said.
“Oh, I’ve got three more back home in Ellisville. All girls,” Rose would never lose an opportunity to tell folks about her family.
“You don’t look old enough to have that many children,” he said. Then he added, “You really look like a mere girl yourself.”
Rose said nothing to this. She invariably felt embarrassed whenever the talk turned to her own looks.
“Now, would you be wanting separate photographs of each child, or a group picture of the three?”
“Oh, I believe the group picture is more what we had in mind.”
He looked at George and the smile became warmer and more sincere. “My goodness, you are a beautiful little boy!” He exclaimed.
“Why, thank you,” Rose said.
George hung his head down in embarrassment.
Then, realizing that his remark might have made the other two children feel left out, he added, “As a matter of fact, they are all really beautiful children!”
Helen was not mollified one bit. She bit her lip and tightened her grip on George’s free hand. His right hand was holding his rattle with all the strength he had in his little body. Helen always felt that she did not look like any of the other members of her family, and used to wail, “I know somebody must’a left me on th’ doorstep!”
“Well, now, let’s just try some poses, and you can tell me if any of them are anything like you have in mind,” Millard Burton once again was all business.
Rose nodded. She had no earthly idea what kind of different poses the man had in mind. To her, a photograph meant standing or sitting as straight as possible and staring at the camera until the bulb had flashed. But Mr. Burton was a real photographer, trained in the art of taking pictures at weddings, funerals, and all kinds of social functions. He had filled many a family album with his work. He considered himself an artist.
He arranged the trio into a group, all standing. Helen was by far the tallest of the three, so as he stood back to survey the effect, he realized she threw everything out of balance. Helen, in the middle, fairly towered over her brothers.
“No,” he said, shaking his head, “that won’t do at all!”
Rose could not see anything wrong with the arrangement.
“Let’s try this.” And he moved over a bench from the other side of the studio. “You boys sit here,” Helen started to sit down. “No, let’s have you stand behind the boys.”
Helen, the only one standing, felt ill at ease. She thought that she looked horrible, and this would only draw attention to how she looked. Oh, why did Mama insist on making her be in the picture with her two young brothers? She was painfully aware that her own hair was much the shortest of the three Buster Brown bobs. She had insisted that Mr. Hill cut it as short as possible yesterday.
“Now, I feel if the young lady would place a hand on the shoulder of each brother, that would add a certain touch,” Mr. Burton said.
Helen made no move to comply. Rose watched her, then said, rather sharply, “He’s talkin’ to you, Helen!”
“Well, I didn’t know it!” she felt as if he had made a fool of her. She wanted to cry and run down the stairs.
“Yes, that’s perfect,” Mr. Burton said, and pressing a rubber ball, the flash went off.
They all three blinked. Sammy found that he was temporarily blinded. But when he blinked his eyes a few times, he could see again. Even if everything did appear to be filled with big black blobs.
“Is that all?” Rose asked.
“No. Let me get one or two more shots. Then you can pick the one you like the best.”
Rose walked over to the bench and stooping down, attempted to tie a more presentable bow to the little ribbon that topped the baby’s socks. The initial bow she had tied at home had come undone, and looked droopy. She also took her handkerchief and took a swipe at Sammy’s shoes. Nobody would see Helen’s shoes, so she wasn’t concerned with those.
Mr. Burton took two more shots, trying different arrangement of the children, but when all was said and done, he told Rose, “I’ll send the proofs of all three pictures tomorrow, but my instinct tells me that the first one is the best.”
“Oh, I thought we’d be able to get the picture today,” Rose said, disappointment in her voice.
“Oh, I thought we’d be able to get the picture today,” Rose said, disappointment in her voice.
“No. I have another appointment in five minutes, and will not even be able to develop the negatives until after five o’clock this afternoon.”
“I see,” Rose said, opening her purse.
“Oh, there’s no charge until you come to pick up your pictures. You should get the proofs---well, tell you what I can do: I can put them in tonight’s mail. Yes, that’s just what I will do. You should have them in tomorrow’s mail.”
“That’s good,” Rose said, smiling. “Then we can just phone and tell you which picture we want?”
“That’s right,” the children were already moving toward the door.
“Come on,” Rose said to Helen. She scooped George up into her arms, and Sammy grabbed her hand.
“Looks like you’ve got a pretty good little helper,” the photographer observed.
“Oh, yes. She’s always been my best little helper.” Helen at last grinned self-consciously.
“Now, why couldn’t you give us that pretty smile when we asked for it?” Burton asked teasingly.
The smile vanished immediately, to be replaced by a scowl. But Helen, as well as the two boys, was just thankful that the ordeal was at long last ended.
“We could stop by to visit your Aunt Tina and Uncle Phillip,” Rose said.
“Aw, Mama, can’t we just go on home?” Helen said.
“Or maybe Thitsee,” she used the familiar nickname Sam and the rest of the family applied to Sam’s sister, Grace.
“No!” Sammy roared.
“All right, then. But don’t blame me when your two aunts call us too snooty to pay them a visit.”
Helen did not really care what her Aunt Tina had to say about them, or Aunt Grace, either; though she certainly cared more for this aunt than Aunt Tina! She was ready to get home and out of this old tacky dress!
The streetcar was just approaching as they rounded the corner and they were soon on their way home.
Anna awoke with the first pale light of dawn. Sometime during the night, after Mama and George had left for Syracuse, she had made up her mind to get up and make biscuits for Papa and the rest of the family bright and early the next morning. She had often watched Rose making her wonderful biscuits, and hoped she remembered enough to do a creditable job.
She slid out of bed and slipped into her dress, socks and shoes. Then she crept into the kitchen. She took some pine splinters out of the wood box, opened the stove eye and inserted them, along with some wadded up newspapers, and struck a match to them. The fire began slowly, then burst into a brilliant flame. She went back to the wood box and took out three sticks of stove wood and slowly placed these in a sort of pyramid over the blazing splinters.
“What do you call yourself doin’?” Sam asked, coming up behind her.
“Lord, Papa, you nyear ‘bout scared me t’death!” She had not heard him at all, so intent was she on getting her fire started. “I thought I’d try making some biscuits.”
Sam beamed at her. She was his pride and joy; always had been. He was so happy that she was trying to fill the void he felt whenever Rose had to be away. And now, he would not even have to do without the biscuits to which they had all become so accustomed.
“Anna, did you use kindlin’?” he asked.
“Of course,” she answered, matter-of-factly. She was ready to sift and measure her flour for the biscuits. Sam sat down at the table and watched with a mixture of curiosity and extreme paternal pride. She did just as her mother always did, spreading newspapers over the table’s surface and sifting the flour into a measuring cup which she had set up in a big crockery mixing bowl. When she had the proper amount of flour (always plain, and never self-rising) she measured her teaspoons of Calumet baking powder and added a dash of salt. From underneath the table she now took the lard bucket and measured out the pure lard that Rose always used.
“Papa, would you get me th’ milk out’a th’ ice box?” she asked.
Without a word, Sam rose and walked over to the wooden ice box and took the bottle of milk out. He handed it to Anna. She poured just enough milk to make the texture of the biscuits smooth and moist. Then she gently kneaded the dough, making certain that her hands were well coated with flour to prevent it from sticking to them. Putting her hands on her hips, she had to stop and think what to do next. She certainly did not want “Papa” to think she was the least bit uncertain of herself. “Get the dough board,” she reminded herself, chewing on the inside of her cheek.
Stooping down, she pulled open the cabinet and saw the board and rolling pen right where she had put it yesterday morning after she and Rosie had washed and dried the breakfast dishes. She laid the board down on the newspapers, and taking the sifter, coated the surface with a fine layer of flour. Then she scooped the ball of kneaded dough out of the mixing bowl and laid it gently onto the floured surface.
Sam was enjoying “the show” as much as he would enjoy movies in a few years. He continued to smile and nod his approval as Anna completed each step in the process of making the breakfast biscuits.
Anna began kneading the ball of dough gently back and forth, trying to stretch it into a shape which would be more easily rolled into a sheet from which she would cut her biscuits. “Oh, better get the glass to cut the biscuits,” she reminded herself.
There it was. Jelly had come in it, but when it was washed and the label had been removed, Rose had found it to be just the right size for cutting her daily biscuits. Anna pulled it from the cabinet and started rolling out her dough.
Just as she finished cutting the first two biscuits, Sammy came into the kitchen, sobbing as if his heart would break.
“What’s ‘a matter with my little man?” Sam asked his son.
“Where’s Mama? And where is George?” the child demanded. His voice had risen steadily until by the end of his questions, he was almost screaming.
“Why, don’t you remember? Mama and George had to go to Syracuse,” he explained. “They’ll be back before you can even miss ‘em!”
“Miss ‘em awready!” he said peevishly.
“Look what Nanny’s doin’!” Anna tried to divert his attention to the fact that she was making biscuits.
He stopped crying and looked intently at her.
“Nanny’s making us all some good ole biscuits!” she crooned.
“How’d you find out how t’make ‘em?” he asked.
“By watching Mama,” she said. “And when they’re done, I’ll cook you anything you want to go with them for your breakfast.”
He pondered this answer. “Even fried chicken?” he asked.
Sam looked at Anna and winked.
“Well, Papa’d have to kill a chicken and by the time we got it all plucked and cooked, you’d be starvin’ t’death. How’d you like some bacon, or ham, and maybe an egg?”
Sammy shook his head, no.
“How’d you like for Papa to cut you and me some steak?” Sam asked, nodding his head yes all the while.
Sammy brightened considerably. “OK!” he said, and ran and jumped into his Papa’s lap. Sam hugged him so hard that he almost cried. But he didn’t.
Rosie, Helen and Josephine wandered into the kitchen and began discussing what each of them wanted cooked to go with their biscuits. Rosie asked Anna why she hadn’t put the coffeepot on.
“Girl, I been too busy tryin’ t’get these biscuits in th’ oven,” Anna’s jaw popped as she said this.
“Let me put the coffee pot on,” Helen said eagerly.
She fished the pot out of the cabinet and took it to the sink to fill it with water.
“Now, don’t fill it too full. If you do it’ll boil all over th’ stove,” Rosie warned her.
“Rosie, I know how t’do this a lot better’n you do!” Helen said, glancing at Joephine, who nodded in approval.
Sam had quietly disappeared into the market, where he stood cutting thin slices of beef for his and Sammy’s breakfast. There was plenty of sliced bacon in the ice box in the kitchen, and enough eggs for all of them who wanted one or two.
Helen paused with the can of Maxwell House coffee in her hands. She tried to remember how many spoons full their Mama used each morning. Of course, Rose had been doing all of these things for so long that she no longer had to rely on measuring anything. When you do something each morning, it becomes so ordinary that it becomes almost automatic.
“Jo, come ‘ere,” Helen hissed to her sister.
“What you want?” Josephine had “gotten up on the wrong side of the bed” again, as their mother would have put it. She was frequently out of sorts and ill tempered because of the blindness, which was getting much better. She could not see most things well enough, but still had trouble reading. She had crossed the kitchen and was standing at Helen’s side.
“D’ya know how many spoonfulls of coffee Mama uses?”
“Lord, I have no idea! “
“You’re supposed to put one teaspoon of coffee for every cup you make,” Rosie said, full of self-importance, and slightly miffed because they seemed to be taking care of everything without asking her to do any of it.
“An’ don’t forget—“ Anna piped up, “One for the pot.”
Helen set the coffee pots on the stove, and glanced over at the pan of biscuits Anna had sitting on the table. “Girl, those look wonderful!” she said.
“D’ya really think so?” Anna asked. She was so afraid her first biscuits would be inedible.
“They look just fine,” Sam had come back into the kitchen with a piece of white market paper holding the steak. “Anna, you can do anything you make up your mind to,” he said.
“Well,” Anna was so thrilled that she could hardly contain her happiness, “I don’t know about that. But we’ll soon see if they are fit to eat.”
The area around the stove was becoming more and more crowded as Sam put on a skillet to fry his and Sammy’s steak, Helen was trying to see if the coffee water was boiling, Anna was standing in front of the oven door like a mother hen watching over he flock, and Rosie was edging over to be part of the crowd. Only Sammy and Josephine seemed unconcerned about the cooking. Josephine took Sammy into her lap, and began combing his hair.
“I’ll fry the bacon,” Rosie announced to nobody in particular.
“Don’t fry mine,” Anna said. “I’d rather cook mine the way I like it/”
“Oh, Anna, you’re such a pill!” Rosie said in disgust.
“Now, you two just cut that out,” Sam said. He knew that Anna could not stand to have Rosie do anything for her.
“Well, Josephine, would you like me to fry you an egg?” Rosie would not give up.
“No, thank you.”
“I thought you liked eggs,” Rosie was getting very frustrated as her offers to help with the breakfast were being refused.
“Rosie, your fried eggs always look like they have lace doilies around the edges. You cook them so long that the yolks are too hard to sop my biscuits in it.”
“Well, just fry your own egg, then,” Rosie said, in a snit.
“No, on second thought, I don’t really want an egg. Just some good ole bacon with one of Anna’s biscuits.” Josephine put a definite period at the end of this statement.
Breakfast with the Imbraguglios had evolved by this time, into a certain unspecified ritual each morning. Rose would get up and build a fire in the stove (unless Sam did this first); then she made her biscuits and let them sit for a few minutes before she put them in the oven. When asked why she did this, she said she didn’t know the reason, but they always seemed to do better for having “rested” a while. As she gave the biscuits time for the glutton in the flour to relax, she put on the coffeepot. As her children got up and wandered, one by one, into the kitchen, the older girls would decide exactly what they wanted to cook to go with their biscuits and coffee. Often Anna wanted only two “outer biscuits” (those in the inner circle of the baking pan lacked the crustiness of the “outer biscuits”) which she put only butter into while they were piping hot, allowing the butter to melt. She sometimes cooked grits for herself and anyone else that might happen to want some, and she would usually fry an egg and mix it with the grits and more butter. Almost everyone else in the family liked bacon with the hot biscuits. Of course, since this was still forbidden by the Catholic Church at this time on Fridays, there were a lot more eggs consumed on that day of the week. But even there, Anna was different. She like her eggs soft boiled more likely than not. The older sisters, or their Mama would cook for the boys as well as herself. Sam usually had to fend for himself, but he was no stranger to the art of cooking.
Helen and Anna were amazed when they first visited their cousins, the Cocomises, in Laurel, and stayed overnight. Helen came home and told Rose, “Mama, Aunt Grace wakes up everybody at the same time, and makes them come t' th' table an' sit down t'eat!”
Rose smiled, as she thought how her own brood would object to being rooted out of their beds before they were ready to get up, and how much harder it would be to serve all six of her children, and Sam, breakfast at the same time. “Well, Helen, your Aunt Grace has her way of raising her family and we have ours.”
“Well, I certainly like our way better’n theirs!” Helen said emphatically.
George remembered very little about his grandfather’s funeral. His most vivid impression was of the beautiful big church where the Requeim Mass had been conducted. It was so big! He had never seen a church this large! And that strange aroma that his Mama told him was incense, haunted his dreams.
They had left the morning after the funeral, and just as she had promised, Rose bought him the little glass telephone with the brightly colored candy, and had bought Sammy a little glass pistol, with the same kind of candy pellets. She wanted to get all of the girls something, but just did not want to take the time to go shopping in Syracuse. From the moment she had given birth to Rosie, Rose could not stand to be away from her nest for long at a time.
“What’s your hurry to get back to Ellisville?” Mike had asked her, and she was offended by the way he had asked that.
“Well, I’ll have you know Ellisville just happens to be my home now, and I can’t wait to get back to my family.”
“Rose, I didn’t mean any to hurt your feelings,” he realized that his attitude may have been offensive.
“Oh, that’s all right. I’m not mad. It’s just that I have another small boy at home, and four daughters having to do my work while I am away.”
And now, as she sat, looking moodily out the window of the train, she was relieved to be away from Syracuse and on her way back to the family that she adored.
It was a gray day, with rain falling heavily and incessantly on the windows of the train.
“Mama, when will we be home?” George asked her.
“Why, we’ll be back before you can say ‘Jack Robinson,’” She answered perkily.
“Really?” his eyes sparkled. “Jack Robinson!” He said loudly, then looked around to see if anybody had heard him except his Mama.
She hugged him tightly.
“Oh, my little angel! Mama didn’t mean that if you said ‘Jack
Robinson’ we’d be back home. I just meant that we’ll be home soon.”
His face fell. “I miss Sammy,” he said plaintively.
“I do, too,” Rose said. “I miss all of my children.”
“And Papa, too?” he asked.
She laughed. “Yes----and Papa, too.”
If young George Imbraguglio had found the journey to Syracuse long and tiring, the return trip was infinitely worse. Now, he had nothing to dread. He was always hesitant about meeting strangers, and everyone in Syracuse, although most of them were his relatives, were nonetheless perfect strangers. On the return trip he could hardly endure being separated from the rest of his beloved family another minute. His eagerness to be safely back home was almost unbearable.
Rose could sense his boredom and frustration, because she, too, was just as eager as he to get back to Ellisville. She smoothed her dress down with her hands, and said, “Honey, why don’t you lay down and try to sleep. It’ll make the time go a lot faster.”
“OK,” he said, and as he moved into his accustomed position on his mother’s lap, he was suddenly very aware of the fact that he was, indeed, very sleepy.
Yet, try as he would, there was no sleep for George. His mind was far too active, this time. He would try to sleep, and images of his home, or first one sister or another would pop into his memory. But most of all, he felt as if he would smother he wanted to be with Sammy so badly.
After about thirty minutes, he sat up and looked directly into Rose’s eyes. “Mama----“
“I can’t get to sleep.”
She did not say anything. She just began crooning a melody under her breath. The child watched her in fascination. Before he knew what was happening, his eyes began to be unfocused, and his head began to nod. And then he was fast asleep.
When the train pulled into the station at Ellisville the following after-noon, the whole family was there to greet Rose and George. Only Anna had stayed behind to watch the market. At that time of the day, shortly after noon, there was hardly ever any business at all. Still, Sam did not like to close the store in case one of their customers needed anything suddenly.
George stood at Rose’s side, near the door of the coach, as the train slowed down and finally stopped. There was a whooshing sound as the steam escaped with a loud and violent hiss. He clutched his little glass telephone in his tiny hand. He could hardly wait to hand the little glass pistol to Sammy. Rose had told him he could be the one to give this souvenir of their journey to his older brother. He felt as if it had been a month since they had left home.
As Sam drove them from the depot back to their house, both mother and son felt that they had indeed returned to paradise.
“It’s a boy!” Aunt Rachel told Rose proudly, as she ushered me into the world that lovely spring day in 1929.
Then as she looked more closely at me, her heart sank. I had been born with a large sac of water where my skull should have been. “Pore Miss Rosa,” the old midwife thought. “She done lost one boy---and a little girl, too, and now it sure look like she gwinna lose dis one, too.”
Rose saw the look of sorrow on the woman’s face, and was instantly alerted to the fact that something was dreadfully amiss. “What’s the matter, Aunt Rachel? Is something the matter with my baby?”
Without answering, Aunt Rachel continued washing the baby’s tiny body carefully, being especially careful as she washed all but the top of his head. Then she walked slowly over and handed me to my mother.
“Oh, my God!” Mama said. She felt as if the room had just collapsed around her head. “Go and get Rosie in here right now!”
`I have heard many times how none of my siblings wanted me. They felt disgraced that Mama was having yet another baby: a seventh one! Only Sammy, I was told, was truly ecstatic when he learned that he had another brother. With four sisters and only one brother, he felt he had been cheated. I suppose George was unaware that Mama was going to have me until I appeared on the scene.
As soon as they could, I was rushed to Dr. Beech’s clinic, where he was to examine me to see if I had a skull or not. By the time I was taken in the car to the clinic, all four of my sisters were weeping and praying that I would not die.
Dr. Beech took me into the operating room immediately and X-rayed my head.
“There it is!” he said happily, waving the picture in his hand. “As pretty a skull as I’ve ever seen!”
Then he drew the fluid out of the sac on my head, with syringes, and I was pronounced a perfectly normal baby.
I know not why my sister Rosie was allowed the dubious honor of naming me: I have never quite forgiven her for suggesting the name Francis! As soon as I was aware of the stigma of a boy being named Francis in a small town in Mississippi in the 1930’s, my life began being made miserable by this appellation.
But until I began going to school with other children, I was blissfully unaware of the ridicule me name would evoke.
My earliest memories are few and far between. My actual first recollection is of being carried in the car, again to Dr. Beech’s Clinic, after I had somehow managed to get a tack out of a chair bottom, and swallowed it. This led, naturally, to mass hysteria on the part of Mama, who got Anna to drive us to the doctor as soon as possible. My only slim memory of this earth shattering experience is of being in our car, and Anna having to stop for a freight train that was blocking the road from our house to the other side of town. I can still hear Mama’s voice, saying dramatically, “O, my God in heaven!” Even then, I knew that expression meant that something was terribly wrong. End of memory.
My siblings have filled in the missing spaces in this woeful tale, and it turned out like Shakespeare’s “All’s Well that Ends Well”. Dr. Beech could not retrieve the tack (I believe it was called a carpet tack) but told Mama not to worry, but to give me some mashed potatoes and that I would probably pass it very easily. Now, let’s cut to the next day. I am with Helen, who takes me to Ward’s Drug Store for an ice cream cone as a reward for the feat I had just accomplished. According to Helen, Dr. Beech came into the drug store just as she handed me my vanilla ice cream, when I spotted the good doctor. I ran to him and tugged at his trousers to get his attention. “Dr. Beech,” I said as loudly as possible, “I passed that ole tack!” Helen said she could have gone through the floor right then and there.
But that was rather typical of me, as a youngster: I seemed always to be embarrassing my sisters somehow. But the fact that they all adored me was so evident. I was treated like some sort of Maharajah!
Anna learned to drive early in life, and until we had moved to Richton and Sammy began driving the truck, was the only one in the family, other than Daddy, who could drive. Anna had just returned home after a two-week stay in what was called the “Practice Home” at the local junior college. It was her sophomore year, and she was very proud of the good marks she had received for her work there. Her neatly written notebook of recipes were used by our family for over twenty years afterward.
We had a blue Chevrolet four door sedan, circa 1927 model. It was usually parked, during business hours, in front of the market. One of my favorite things to do as a toddler was sitting in “Nanny’s” lap (that was out pet name for Anna) and she’d let me pretend to be driving the car. I definitely remember one day when I could not have been much more than two years old, eating crackers with hoop cheese, which Daddy had cut for all three of us, and then running out and getting in the car. Nanny came and took me in her lap and I was allowed to manipulate the steering wheel. Did I feel important! I’d sing out, “Oooga---ooga!” pretending to blow the horn.
Rosie had wanted to go to Woman’s College, in Hattiesburg, Daddy wanted her to attend JCJC, but he saw Woman’s College as a good way to get her away from a certain Jake Rayburn, who had worked for Daddy. Jake had been showing too much interest in Rosie to suit Daddy.
Woman’s College seemed to work out very well. The Fortes, whose father came from Cefalu, just as our father had, more or less treated Rosie like one of their own huge family, and she always had a place where she could go for home cooked meals and to have someone to go with her to Mass on Sundays.
Of course I was unaware of the fact that the Great Depression had begun in October of the year of my birth. Banks everywhere were closing, and millions of people were unemployed. Mama always liked to boast that Ellisville’s Merchants and Manufacturers Bank was one of the few in the state of Mississippi that remained solvent.
The family income, of course was drastically reduced, as more and more people who bought their food on credit were unable to pay what they owed us. I have heard many a time, how day after day we would do well to sell a loaf of bread.
I had no idea we were in a depression, of course, and I very much doubt that my two brothers did either. Money matters were the farthest things from my little mind, and as long as I had Mama, Daddy and a roof over my head, I was perfectly contented. We certainly never seemed to lack for plenty of food! This, of course, included meat. With Daddy as a butcher, there was always some form of meat on the table at all meals, except on Fridays.
But the Great depression was staring our parents baldly in the face and they spent many a sleepless night worrying how they were going to continue to provide for seven children. The cattles were still being butchered, but far less frequently than before, and seemingly very few people other than the Imbraguglios were eating any of the meat.
Richton’s Fishel family had two daughters: Hertha and Dorothy. The two were as pretty as any pictures that the folks of Richton had ever seen. Mr. Fishel had made his money in saw mills, just as Tim Bentley (who was Richton’s wealthiest man) had done. The sisters would never appear in public unless they were dressed to the teeth. They looked just like two of the girls that appeared on the Gibson Girls calendars of that era: big picture hats, dresses always of silks and satins in summer, and gorgeous woolens and flannels in the colder months of Richton’s mild winters.
Dorothy had married a man named Andersen. His parents were Danish. He had a home built near the school-house, and he and Dorothy lived there for only three years when she persuaded him that she needed more room to entertain their many friends. He then had a second house constructed, a block closer to the small business section of Richton. It was in many ways very much like the original house, only a little larger, with a large room in the center of the house for entertaining. Both houses had impressive wrought iron fences surrounding them.
When Hertha married, she became Mrs. Samuel McCormack. Her husband became the first automobile dealer in the town when he opened the McCormack Motor Car Company. He had a lovely red brick building built on the corner of the main street downtown where he sold Fords. Large plate glass windows on the front made displaying the new models each fall very attractive. There was a second floor where, as he told Hertha, she and her sister could entertain to their hearts’ content. They had many dances there, not to mention numerous bridge parties. Bridge was just beginning to replace Whist, and the society ladies of the town loved nothing better than their weekly bridge gatherings.
Tragically, Dorothy and her young husband were killed in a car crash shortly after they had moved into their second house. By then, the Fishels were both dead, and only Hertha mourned for her lost sister. She never fully recovered from the awful tragedy.
When I was three years old, in 1932, Daddy closed the market and moved us all to Richton. This smaller town was a little more than twenty-five miles away. Another family from Ellisville moved about the same time. Daddy and Sam Billy Carey had heard that Richton had been chosen as the site of two government sponsored plans: one was called the Southern Garden Project. Farmers from northern states who were literally starving to death were moved to Richton and allowed to live in small wooden houses. They had to grow their own crops, and they were given the seeds to boot. The program had produced good results by 1932, and the Yankee farmers needed a meat market, since Richton at this time, did not have one. The second government program was far less advantageous to Richton merchants, but nevertheless did give them a modicum of profit. This was the Civilian Conservation Corps, better known as the CCC’s. The camp was located a few miles from Richton, and of course that is where most of their food was bought. We were expected to give the government a discount on the food, which was already priced too low to allow for any profit.
My first memory of Richton is of spending the first night in the back of the building Daddy had set up his market in before moving us down there. It was a rented building, but he had not yet been able to find a house suitable for his large family.
Our big beds had been set up in the bleak and dark back section of the brick building, and George remembers there were huge “File Tail” rats that ran all over the place up in the open rafters under the roof. I remember only that I was safely ensconced between my parents, as usual.
I have no idea how many nights we had to exist in this primitive and uncomfortable domicile before we were moved into the old Fishel House: so named for its former owner.
My next memory is of this big house. It was very close to the school building, and this was a good thing for all of the children who were in school at this time. Anna had dropped out of junior college in the middle of her sophomore year because of poor health. She had an appendectomy, after almost dying before the doctor decided that was her trouble. And then it was only after the appendiz ruptured that she was operated on. The result was that she never seemed to regain her strength after that incident.
Rosie had dropped out of college in the middle of her second year. She used the excuse that it took a lot of extra money that Daddy could ill afford to spend, but he was determined to give his children an education if it killed him and them. He would have done anything in the world to keep her and Anna in college.
Josephine was still in Ellisville, staying in the dormitory at Jones County Junior College when we moved to Richton. She was absolutely miserable up there. She told us that all of the girls on her floor had to use the same bath tub, and that, if it wasn’t being used when she wanted to bathe, the other girls had left it so filthy that she had to spend too much time getting it clean enough for her bath. She was also very unhappy with dormitory food. Among the horrors she related to us on her weekends at home, was the fact that she had twice found some of the black cooks’ nappy hairs in her grits! So she was finally able to persuade Daddy to allow her to move into the Alice Hotel, in downtown Ellisville. She would come to Richton as often as she could on weekends. How I used to look forward to these visits. She always had some nice surprise for me. It never failed. Small wonder that I adored her.
I remember being in the lobby of the Alice Hotel, as we waited for Josephine to come down with her suitcase so that we could take her home to Richton. Mama had me sitting on her lap, and was trying to get a gigantic carbuncle to burst on my forehead. She called it a Risin, and apparently I had suffered with the thing for a long time. This particular day she decided the time was ripe, as was my carbuncle. I have no memory of the paid as she pressed on it and caused it to erupt, but it has to have been considerable. My memory is of her saying, almost triumphantly, “Look-a there! It has two cores in it!”
Later, back in Richton, I was to hear her tell over and over how she had never seen such a Risin! “It had two cores, and I mean both of them were as big as lima beans!”
Everyone would gasp in amazement, and I began to feel like a celebrity! I had given birth to the world’s largest and most ferocious Risin!
Shortly after this monumental occurrence, I was given my very first birthday party. We were still in the Fischel House at this time, and I remember standing on the front porch with Helen at my side. One of my guests came up and asked me how old I was today, and I answered, “Three.”
“Honey, you’re four!” Helen prompted me.
Even at that tender age I felt like a complete idiot. “But I thought I wouldn’t be four till tomorrow,” I whined. Of course I knew it was my fourth birthday, but somehow I had the notion that my age did not change until the next day. And that was only the beginning of my lifelong ability to misconstrue ordinary human events.
Later, when the children were leaving our yard, Anna overheard Estelle Hinton remarking to another young girl, “That ice cream sure was good, but I never heard of servin’ ice cream with light bread!”
My family had dared to serve Angel Food Cake to my young guests. Apparently some of them had never eaten this before.
Back in those days, it seems as if Mama and Daddy were constantly attending funerals in Laurel. Funerals of relatives or simply old friends of Daddy’s “From the Old Country”. The little town of Cefalu, Sicily, seemingly had sent an endless flow of immigrants to Southern Mississippi. And, being the baby of the family, I was always required to go to these dreadful things with my parents. We must have made an interesting picture, to say the least: Me with my Shirley Temple curls, especially. This was the only times I ever saw the inside of the Catholic Church in Laurel. Our family was completely Catholics, except for going to Mass. We were denied meat on Fridays and it seems like we could not eat meat all through the Lenten season. I can still see those church calendars with their little fish outlined on each date that was declared “Meatless”. Lent is supposed to last forty days: from Mardi Gras to Easter Sunday. But each year it seemed longer to me as I was growing up. Daddy always kept the market open on Sunday mornings, allowing his customers the convenience of getting their Sunday meats fresh. Very few people had the new electric refrigerators yet. That was the reason we gave for not attending mass. I thought it strange that all of the people would rise and kneel, sit and stand at certain times. But of course I was far too young to comprehend all of this, especially since we went so seldom.
`To me, the cross and the stained glass windows always looked like a giant steering wheel on an automobile. I’d gaze hypnotically at it, mainly to distract myself from the hysterical sobbing and screaming around me. The next of kin of the deceased were always most vocal in showing the world their extreme grief and bereavement.
But by far the, worst aspect of these funerals were the trips to the cemetery. The priest would stand there, by the coffin, chanting in a language I could not understand (Mama told me it was Latin) and then we’d all kneel down, right there on the ground. And then he’s chant some more, and we’d have to stand up.
It never failed: as soon as they began to lower the coffin into the ground, some woman or other would scream and throw herself of the casket. I felt as if this was the most horrible thing I could imagine. And after I stopped being forced to attend funerals, I refused to allow myself to be present at one of these functions until common decency made me go to Uncle Phillip’s funeral (but I still would not go to the grave for the actual burial). I was then in my early thirties.
Interestingly enough, when we moved to our final home in Richton, our barn was right next to the Colored Cemetery, as it was then known. George and I would position ourselves so that we would have an unobstructed view of the grave site. It was here that I saw what was to me an exact reproduction of the Italian Catholics’ behavior. The very first funeral we witnessed was for a man named Deloach. They had the casket open at the grave, and each of the assemble went by to pay their final respects face to face, as it were. When the widow came up to the coffin, she threw herself on the corpse, screaming and sobbing, “DeLOACH! O, DeLOACH!” George and I very much enjoyed this display and gave our own versions for the next several days.
Part 13 - The Andersen House
The second house we rented in Richton was much the finest of the lot. But Mama never really liked it. It was here that I saw my first snow; saw and heard my first radio; had the thrill of our being able to make ice cubes in a kerosene refrigerator; saw Mama kill Trixie, our dog, when she caught her eating the hens’ eggs; had a sister go away single, and return home with a husband; saw my first “Picture Show” and had some mighty funny experiences which I shall attempt to share with you.
Rosie had a job at Dr. Clayton’s store, which was at the opposite end of Richton’s one street of business establishments. It was three blocks down from our market. I imagine now that the only reason she had the job was that the Claytons were also from Ellisville originally, and Dr. Clayton thought that Rosie, being a real beauty, might attract customers. His was a sort of novelty store: they sold things other than food. To my delight, I discovered that they sold a limited selection of “Victrola” records. I had never heard of a phonograph. If it played disks, it was a Victrola to me.
I remember one day when Rosie came home from work, bringing me some samples that she said they did not want at the store. It was some cosmetics in a glass-covered box. I was absolutely enchanted with her gift.
Shortly after this, Rosie went on a train trip to Oswego. She was going to visit Mama’s brother, Mike’s family.
I hardly missed her. Rosie had never been around that much, somehow. Josephine was around even less, but when she was there, she made herself so important to me that I adored her. As long as I had “Donden”, I was happy.
After Rosie had been gone for a couple of weeks, Mama received a letter from her that seemed to upset her. When I asked what was the matter, she passed it off with, “Oh, nothing. I guess I just miss Rosie.”
“Me too,” I lied.
Then one night while we were eating supper, someone knocked at the front door, telling Mama that there was a long distance phone call for her. This necessitated a trip to Mrs. Caldwell’s house, because we never had a phone until we moved back to Ellisville in 1941.
I went with Mama. We walked. There was nobody to drive us, and the car sat uselessly at the side of the house. Anna and Daddy were still at the market. It was not quite dark yet.
When we entered the old house, which served as Richton’s Central Telephone Office, we were led to the room used for the telephone equipment. This was the very first time I saw a switchboard, Later I was to get very familiar with the one in Ellisville. One of Sam Billy Carey’s old maid sisters was working then as the operator. She directed Mama to the phone booth, and closed the glass paneled door so that Mama would have privacy. Then she went back and sat down at the board, and I know now that she must have listened to the entire conversation. I sat on a hard straight chair, filled with wonder. I was. Not the chair.
Mama had said, as we walked to Mrs. Caldwell’s, that it was probably Rosie, just wanting to talk. When she came out of the booth and asked the woman how much she owed, the woman had to call in to find out the charges. “That will be seventy-five cents,” she said.
Mama counted out three quarters and handed them to her. We walked out without another word.
“Was that Rosie?” I could stand it no longer.
“Yes, honey, it was.”
“Is she having a good time?”
“She seems to be.” Mama had answered, after several seconds, in a preoccupied manner that made me feel something was wrong.
I couldn’t think of any further questions, so we walked the rest of the way home in silence. Although I was dying to know if she was worried about something, I did not ask.
By the time we got back to the house, Daddy and Anna were there, having closed the store. Mama looked as if she hated to tell them what the call had been about.
“Well,” Daddy said, “What did she want this time?”
I had been unaware that there was some sort of barrier between Rosie and Daddy. This was to continue, for the rest of their lives, off and on.
“She’s getting’ married,” Mama said flatly.
“Well, good riddance.”
“Oh, we’re not to be rid of her. She wants to know if she can bring him here.”
“Oh, good God, NO!”
“Francis, you go on back there with George and Sammy,” Mama told me.
“But I want----“
“Never you mind. Just go see if they won’t give you a Co-Cola or maybe a root beer.”
I wanted to know if Rosie was going to come back home or not, but not badly enough to turn down a Coke.
The next morning, when I went into the kitchen for breakfast, the conversation between Helen and Josephine ceased abruptly.
“Well, here comes Baby Dumpling,” Josephine greeted me with a warm smile.
Helen said in a quiet voice, “Well, I’m just sick about it, thass all!”
Josephine gave her an old “Don’t say another word” type facial expression.
“Sick about what?” inquiring little minds just wanted to know.
“Oh, nothing, Si,” Helen said.
Mama gave a thunder cloud look at her two daughters and then said to me, “They’re just upset about Rosie getting’ married, thass all.”
“I’m not upset that she got married. I don’t even care that the only man she could find that would have her is our cousin. But what I do mind is that she’s bringing him here to sponge off Papa,” Josephine said hotly.
“Let’s tawk about this later,” Mama suggested.
And so the subject was dropped for my benefit.
Later, that same morning, Mama took me aside and told me that Jimmy had been just a small child, “about your age” the last time she saw him. For some strange reason, I got it into my head then and there that Rosie had married a boy with whom I could play games. George and Sammy almost never had any time for me, it seemed at the time. Mama went on to tell me what a fine boy he was, and that he was her brother’s child.
So, when I walked into the kitchen another morning, about a week later, there sat Rosie and this big, strange looking man.
“Francis,” Rosie’s voice was even shriller than usual, “this is Jimmy. He’s my husband.”
What could I say? What did I say? I do not remember. I know only that I felt I had been lied to. He was no boy about my age: he was as old as Daddy, I thought at the time.
That was my first impression of our first in-law. Time was to prove to me that Jimmy was, in effect, the little companion I had always longed for. He was always willing to sit down and play games with me. He taught me a card game called “Casino”, and gave me my very own first deck of playing cards. He would hide the Easter eggs the day after Easter, just to make me happy. I became the almost constant companion of him and Rosie as they would spend Sundays doing such things as renting a row boat for a ride on the water at Henderson’s creek and grist mill. When they got their first automobile (a used Chevrolet coupe with a rumble seat) they would take me for long rides with them.
Jimmy was well loved by all of us, and certainly returned that love as if we were his own brothers and sisters.
George and I were lining up every straight chair in the house. We were going to play “Choo Choo Train”. He, of course, had ridden to Syracuse with Mama when she went up for her father’s funeral, and I had ridden with her to Laurel on the “Doodle Bug” for a day with our cousins who lived there. The chairs would simply be the seats on the train, rather than simulating the different coaches.
My brother got Mama to let him have two small remnants of cloth, with which he made us each a “purse”. We had to have those, he said. We would pretend to be our sisters. I watched with amazement as he sewed three sides of the material, forming a rectangle, and left the “Top” open. Mama allowed him to use her machine. I stood right over him as he pedaled and the machine made those neat little stitches. He was making his first, of course. I remember that my “Purse” was solid white, but I do not remember what color his was. He then took two large flat buttons that Mama said he could use, from her workbasket. This fascinating receptacle contained all of the buttons she had cut off our sisters’ and her own dresses when they were relegated to the rag box. Nothing was ever thrown away if it could be used again in our house. Mama was one of the first “Recyclers” I ever knew. George stitched these buttons by hand onto the “Fronts” of our “Purses”; more or less for decoration. When he was finished with these, he handed me the one he had made for me, and told me it was time “to board the train”. I began to feel almost as if I were actually going to ride on a train.
I sat behind him, because he had insisted we line the chairs up in a straight row. He began the action by telling me the conductor was coming and we would have to take our tickets out of our purses to give to him.
“But I don’t have any ole ticket,” I whined.
“Of course you do, Silly. Look in your ‘Booza’,” that was the Sicilian name Mama used a lot of times for “Purse”. Or at least that’s what it sounded like to me.
Then he rose and became the conductor. “Tickets, please. Have your tickets ready, please,” as he lowered his voice.
I opened my ”purse”, and “Lo and Behold!” he had made a little railroad ticket that looked just like the ones I remembered Mama having bought for us to ride the train to Laurel. When had he done this? And more importantly, how had he done it? I was just beginning to get the sense of awe I have always had for his many talents.
“Thank you. Your train will arrive in Syracuse at five forty-five.”
“And where is your ticket, M’am?” he had stopped at the “seat” he had formerly occupied.
“Why, I had it here just a minute ago. Oh, here it is,” he ducked down into the seat and held the ticket out in his hand.
I waited to see what was in store for us next. It was ever thus. His vivid imagination created games for us as far back as I can remember. I always went along “for the ride”. When he would tire of the games, I would attempt to teach them to my little friends. They usually would miss the point, or fail to find fun in the games that occupied our lives. So, I’d try to interest him in playing a certain game again by adding what I considered a good idea to the original format.
“Did you know,” he began conversationally, “that China and Japan have been at war for years, and that war has never been declared?” Not only did I not know or care, but I hadn’t the foggiest notion about what he was talking. Apparently he had just learned this pithy fact at school. But I was about five years old at this time, and he would have been only eleven or ten, depending on the month of the year we were in. This was his way of sharing his education with me. It often worked to my advantage, and it probably helped him to reinforce his own lessons. Thus it was that I was introduced to the parts of speech, Shakespeare’s plays, Edgar Allen Poe’s short stories, and any number of musical compositions at least five or six years before I was due to come in contact with them.
He always grew tired of any game he had invented long before I was ready to give it up, and this day was no exception.
“But how come we can’t play comin’ back t’Richton?” I asked when he announced that he was tired of playing “Train” and was quitting. Inquiring minds just wanted to know.
“Cause I’m sick of this silly ole game, thass why!” And he went into the living room and began to play the piano.
I followed him into the living room, and stood by Anna’s old Cable Nelson upright and fiddled with the beads which dangled from the ornate lamp that stood there. “But why can’t we play s’more?” I pleaded.
No answer. This was typical. When George made up his mind about anything, even then, heaven nor earth could make him do it or even get a word out of him concerning it. This drove all of us crazy!
For want of anything else to do, I sat and listened as he played a medley of tunes that were popular at that time. “They Can’t Take that Away from Me”, which we had all loved in the latest Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers musical. The he went into “The Continental” or was it “The Carioca”? I always seemed to confuse these two dance tunes.
There were some buildings behind the main house that went with the Andersen House: these were known as the “Servants’ Quarters”. But since we had no servants, the biggest of these was relegated to serving as a “Play House”, and I claimed sole possession of this. Mama made a smaller building with no windows into a sort of brooder for her setting hens. Sammy seemed always to be doing something to upset the hens, they would desert their nest of eggs, and Mama would throw a fit.
Sammy came home one afternoon with a slide projector. Of course he didn’t call it that, and none of us had ever heard of such a thing. But we had seen slides projected on the screen of Hertha McCormack’s Richton Theater: everything from ads (“Bring Your Ford Home to Your Ford Dealer”; and of course she owned that dealership after her husband’s demise) to things like, “Attend the church of your choice on Sunday”. But we just assumed it was all a part of the machines that projected the moving pictures.
This projector had with it a large box of beautifully colored Biblical scenes. None of us ever found out where or how Sammy had come to the ownership of such an object, and if anybody asked, I’m sure Sammy had his usual cock and bull story. If the truth were known, I strongly suspect that he won it in either a crap game or playing Poker. At any rate, I was fascinated with it.
Sammy built a tiny balcony in “My” playhouse for the sole purpose of housing the projector. After building this, Sammy began looking around for a substitute for the silver screen at Hertha’s establishment. That’s when he breezed into the “Brooder” where Mama had some sheets hanging out to dry (it was a rainy day) and Mama accused him of disturbing her hens. But he had what he wanted and he even talked her into letting him tack up one of the oldest and most patched up sheets, which had been made from bleached flour sacks to begin with.
George and I sat in total fascination as Sammy, up in his makeshift projection booth, slid one gorgeous slide after another into the machine. It was powered with kerosene, so there was a bit of an aroma. But we didn’t mind that one iota.
On a particular afternoon, Sammy had been projecting his “ill gotten” Biblical Scenes for us, and he and George tired of it long before I was ready to throw in the towel.
“Let me get up there and look at ‘em some more,” I pleaded in my most wheedling voice.
“Ok, Si,” Sammy said, and lifted me up to the little mini balcony.
I felt so important! I was going to run the picture show all by myself! I was pleasantly surprised at how easy it was. Of course, I did get the occasional upside down picture of Samson bringing down the house, or Joseph and his Technicolor Dream Coat, but by and large, I was quite proud of myself.
When I had gone through that whole big stack of slides twice, I was ready to get down and go into the house. I looked down. It was a long way from where I was safely sitting to the floor of my “Play House”. Could I risk letting myself down and having to fall two or three feet (at the most)? I have never liked heights. I was always scared to death of the Ferris Wheel, and the one time I was tricked into riding the ride at the fair that stands you on your head, I swore I’d never get on that voluntarily in this lifetime. So, even that tiny drop filled my cowardly little heart with seas of yellow.
“Mama!” I screamed. I knew good and well that neither of my brothers would be any where within the sound of my voice; even though my coloratura soprano could project like mad back then. Only silence answered my cry. “MAMA!” I increased the volume and went up another octave. There was still no response.
I heard a faint “Meow” and looked downward to the floor. There stood Griselda, my current Kitty Cat. At this period of my life, cats had two names, both feminine. Thanks to Jimmy’s influence (he was the first person I ever heard say “Kitty Kahsy”) I had named all my cats either Katrinka or Griselda. Now that I think back on all of this cat lore I inherited from my brother-in-law, it has a distinct German sound.
All of my cats at this time looked just alike and were named either Griselda or Katrinka.
“Come up here and keep me company, baby,” I tried to coax the car up to my aerie.
Griselda turned her dainty little brindled nose straight up in the air and sauntered slowly, but regally back out into the sunshine of the back yard.
Now, I really began crying in earnest, and in utter frustration. This did nothing either, and so in desperation, I was sobbing and punctuating this with screams for, “MAMA!” over and over.
Just when I thought my heart would surely break, Mama’s shadow appeared at the front door. She came in, looking all over for me. “Where’s my baby?” she called.
“I’m---(sob) up----(more sustained sobs) here!”
“Well, my Baby, how in th’ world did you get up there?”
“That old mean Sammy put me up here, and then him ‘n George went off an’ left me up here!”
“Well, I’ll have to tawk to him about that,” Mama said, reaching up and letting me slip into her arms. I felt as if I had been saved from a fate worse than death. “How long have you been up there, anyway?” she asked, after many kisses.
“Hours!” I exaggerated, as usual.
“I’m gonna make him understand that he is not to ever do that to you again, you hear me?”
I nuzzled my head against her dress and smiled happily. God was in His Heaven and All was right with my world again.
Those years we spent in the Andersen House were a time of immense wonder for me. Things I had never even dreamed of became realities; Movies, Radio and a Refrigerator, just to mention the three most wondrous things that I beheld for the first time. These along with that most marvelous of nature’s wonders: Snow.
How vividly I remember coming into the kitchen, made warm by the fire burning stove as Mama made her biscuits and coffee for our breakfast. Sammy was already up, as was George, and Sammy was full of even more excitement than usual. “Yeah, George, they say it’s gonna be in that old empty building right next t’th’ market!”
“What is?” I asked, wide awake suddenly. I always had to know what the family members were talking about.
“A picture show, Si,” he beamed at me.
“A what?” I had never heard of anything so ridiculous.
“That’s what I said. A moving picture show!”
I was no better off than I had been. I tried vainly to envision an exhibit of pictures with somebody moving them from one place to another.
Mama, sensing my confusion said, “Yes, my baby, Sammy says that we’re gonna have a picture show here in Richton.”
“But, I still don’t see-----“
George, acting as though he knew what he was talking about, said,
“You see, they have these pictures that move and tawk.”
“You see, they have these pictures that move and tawk.”
My brain was trying desperately to grasp what they were describing. Sammy went on to elaborate how it was just like watching a play, only the same play could be seen a dozen times and it would always be the same. I was getting more and more frustrated.
“Who’s gonna run it?” Mama asked Sammy. Sammy seemed always to know more gossip than any old woman.
“Old lady McCormack.”
“Well,” Mama said, “they do tell me the McCormacks used to have a theater here back when the movies were silent.”
“Yeah, and see: all she’s gotta do now is add th’ sound t’th’ picture!”
It was all totally incomprehensible to me. I sat at the table and waited for my biscuits and bacon. Food interested me far more than anything else at this moment.
During the following weeks, the rest of the family was talking, off and on, about the new Picture Show”, but I put it out of my mind. It must be one of those things like some of the books we had, and which Mama was always saying we should not read: “Chickie, a Sequel” and “The Good Earth”. Not that I could read yet. These were declared “off limits”, for George and Sammy. But somehow I’ll bet that both “Little Angels” had peeked into these tomes.
And then, before I knew what was happening, Mama got me all bathed and dressed up and told me we were all going to the “Theater” to see something called “Steamboat Round the Bend”.
“What’s that?” I asked.
“Honey, it’s the first show at Hertha McCormack’s picture show,” Helen said. “It’s got Will Rogers and Anne Shirley in it.”
She might as well have told me it had Moses and the Whale. The only difference was that I had heard of them.
I remember feeling a good bit of excitement, and also the fact that I was just the least bit afraid at the same time. We sat in a row of uncomfortable seats, in the ice-cold old barn of a theater and waited breathlessly for the thing to begin.
Mama had told us of seeing the greatest movie ever made when it played in Ellisville and she had taken all of the family to see it. She called it something like “Been Her” and I thought the title made no sense at all. The older members of the family remembered this, but we three sons had either not seen it or did not remember it.
There was a huge crowd for Richton’s first “Talkie”. I had no idea of the popularity of the two movie stars we were about to see. Everyone around us was talking among themselves, and to us, too.
After what seemed an eternity, the lights on the walls (which had something that looked like carpet on them) went out, and there was a gasp as we sat in the pitch black darkness until the sound of the projection machines could be heard starting.
The first thing I saw was a black and white cartoon called “Krazy Kat”. I sat there, staring at the screen (which seemed immense to me) absolutely spellbound. How in the world did they do this? It was a lot like the “Funnies” in the Sunday Times Picayune, except for the lack of color. But these “Funnies” not only moved; they also talked. And there was music, too! I felt as if I had died and gone to Heaven!
Then there were what Helen told me were previews of the movies that would play the rest of the week and next Monday and Tuesday. I was frustrated because I could not read the writing with which all of these seemed to be filled.
And then, finally, the show started! I was captivated by the story of the old river captain who operates a floating wax museum (I really did not remember this, but had to look it up Leonard Maltin’s reference book. He dates the movie as 1935, so I presume that is the right date. We would have been in Richton three years by then). What I do vividly remember was the climax of the film, when Rogers has made a bet with a man who called Rogers’ ship a “Chicken Coop”, that he can beat him in a race. By the time Will Rogers wins that race everybody in the theater was screaming, “Come on, Chicken Coop!” I believe they burned everything but the ship itself feeding the boilers wood.
I was hooked for life on cinema!
A couple of weeks later, Daddy told me he was going to take me to the picture show again. This time, it was to be my first “Western”, whatever that was. Sammy (who had not missed a picture since the theater opened) had tried to forewarn me of the noise, but I was unconcerned. Ignorance is truly bliss.
There was another cartoon. This time it was a character called Koko, and he sprang to life on the screen as the man who drew him (Max Fleischer?), dipped his pen into an inkwell. I thought this even more wonderful than Krazy Kat! Then came more previews. I had seen some of them the first time we went, but there were two or three new ones. I wanted to see them all.
Then the Monogram logo appeared on the screen. It was nothing more than a rather elaborate letter “M”, very fancy. Of course, I could not read at this time, but I had been told by Sammy that we would be seeing Ken Maynard. Apparently this actor was legendary! Along with a whole bunch of “Cowboys” he was to affect my next few years greatly. Buck Jones, Bob Steele, the Three Mesquiteers, Hopalong Cassidy all became character we three brothers tried to imitate. Sammy or George (certainly not I) had the rather fetching idea to change the names around when we were impersonating them. Thus, in Spoonerisms, I might become Stob Beele; while my brothers would become Juck Bones and Men Kaynard.
A few days after seeing my third of fourth western, we were playing cowboys again, and Sammy had our old one-eyed mule “Ada” on which we were all riding. Jayfus Brown, a small colored boy with a bullet-shaped-head was there. He was a couple of years younger than Sammy. He had been doing some work for Daddy in the yard. As it happened, we had seen a movie in which a posse strings up a horse thief. Now, Sammy came up with the brilliant plan that we should reenact this drama, with hapless Jayfus as the horse thief.
The noose was duly placed about the shivering darkie’s neck by Sammy, as George and I looked on complacently. “Now, Jayfus, you’ll have t’git up on Ada, an’ I’ll put the rope around that big ole limb yonder,” he pointed out the limb of the hanging tree.
Jayfus’s eyes were wide open now. I had never seen him so awake. “Wuffo you wanna hang me, Mistah Sammy?”
“Aw, Jayfus, somebody has to get hung! An’ you bein’----well, you know.” He left the obvious unspoken.
Stupidly, George and I just stood there, as the rope was thrown over the limb, then pulled back into Sammy’s hands. Jayfus was astride old half blind Ada, and not especially happy about that: much less what was about to be his fate. I felt the same sort of hypnotic horror I had felt when Mama caught old Trixie, raiding her hen house nests of eggs. I was completely powerless to stop that, even when Mama has asked me, “Must I kill her?” and I had silently shook my head, “Yes”.
Sins of Omission!
We were just before witnessing a real lynching when Mama chanced to come out the front door. Luckily Sammy had not decided to hang Jayfus in the back yard.
“Here! What d’you think yer doin’?” Mama demanded.
It was like the voice of God. We all blanched. I began to shiver, even though the day was hot and humid.
At first there was no response from any of us. Then poor little Jayfus began sobbing with relief. I suppose. Sammy said, “Aw, Mama, we was just playin’!”
“Playin’ my hind leg!” she marched over and helped the little negro down from Ada’s back. “The very idea!”
George seemed suddenly to come awake. “He waddn’ really gonna hang him, Mama.”
“Whaddaya mean: he?” Sammy asked hotly. “I sure didn’ see you or Francis tryin’ t’ stop me.”
“That’s enough, now,” Mama said, and shoved Jayfus away. “I’ve half a mind to tell your Papa about this!”
That was the most dreaded thing she could have uttered, short of saying, “I’m going to have to turn you over to the sheriff!”
“You better get goin’, Jayfus,” Mama said. “Go on home, boy!”
Jayfus looked dazed and half dead with fright, as he staggered away and then began to run like a scalded dog once he was on the street.
They were bringing something mighty odd looking through the front door. Mama had hinted earlier that I was going to be very surprised at something that would take place today.
Daddy was helping two other men to bring the thing into our living room, where they set it down near the wall.
“You gotta make sure there’s an electrical outlet nearby,” one of the men said.
Daddy looked doubtfully at him and shook his head.
“You know, where you can plug the radio in to the juice---“
“Oh!” Daddy said. “We gotta use an extension cord, cause this house don’t have no wall sockets.”
“Well, you oughta have us put you in a couple. They can come in handy mighty quick.”
“I’ll think about it.” Daddy said. Then he called out, “Row, where’s that extension cord we used for the Christmas tree?”
Mama came into the living room, wiping her hands on her apron. “Lord, I’ll have to go find it. There’s no tellin’ where that thing is, though.”
“Never mind,” Daddy said. Turning back to the man he asked, “What’ll it cost to get one put in and how long will it take?”
“That all depends,” the workman said, “I’ll have to go up into your attic and check the wiring. Then I have to run a line down through the wall t’ where you want your outlet.”
“What’ll that cost me?”
“Oh, I guess about two-three dollars,” he said.
“Good God!” Daddy sounded dumbfounded. “You must think I’m made out of money!”
I just stood there, wondering what on earth they were talking about.
Eventually Daddy agreed to have the men do the work, and it seemed it took an eternity before the little box with the wires in it was ready to receive the plug of our brand new Philco radio. The workman punched out two little metal slots that looked enough like nickels that I asked if I could have them. “Yeah, they’re not good fer nothin’,” he said. I scooped them up and put them in my pocket.
When the radio was finally ready to be turned on for the very first time, we were all huddled around it like hungry vultures, waiting to be fed. One of the men said, “First, you turn this here knob,” and indicating it, he gave it a turn. Nothing happened at first, but then there was the strangest sounds I had ever heard: a man was talking, and it seemed to me that his voice was coming from the box! I was convinced someone was hiding inside our radio! This was soon interrupted by popping and hissing sounds. Mama looked at the Workman questioningly.
“Thass static,” he stated flatly. “You won’t hear it so bad once you get yo’ antennae put up.”
Had he said, “Aunt Tina?” I wondered.
“What’s that?” Mama asked.
“Oh, it’s just a war you belong to run fum th’ radio t’th’ outside,” the man explained.
“Can you do that for us?” Mama asked.
“Sure!” and he seemed only too happy to oblige.
Meanwhile, some pretty music had begun coming from the box. I started getting scared. How was this thing capable of so many sounds?
Mama looked at me and laughed. “Don’t be scared, Honey. That’s just our new radio.”
Our new radio!
Those wonderful words were not to be superceded by anything so magical until we got out first television set over twenty-five years later.
Over the next few days, as I got more and more accustomed to the daily radio programs, we all developed our favorites. Laurel nor Hattiesburg had radio stations at this time, so we listened to WWL in New Orleans, and the Krazy Water Krystal station out in Del Rio, Texas. We were also able to get a station as far away as Cincinnati, Ohio!
But we all liked the programs from WWL best of all. On Sunday, while we ate our pasta and whatever the meat of the week was, we’d have on the Josef Schram Noontime program, broadcast from the Studios in the Roosevelt Hotel.
There were two sisters (I believe they were the Jacob twins) who sang.
Early morning shows included one with the theme song, “The World Goes Round”. This was either called “Dawn Busters” or evolved into that program.
Our life was certainly never the same after that classic Philco cabinet model radio entered our lives!
Gene Austin-Lux Radio Theater-Fibber McGee and Molly-The Firestone Hour-The Bell Telephone Hour-Phil Spitalny and his All Girl Orchestra (Evelyn and her Magic Violin)-Guy Lombardo and his Royal Canadians (Carmen with his mile-wide vibrato)-First Nighter-Lights Out
These were just a few of the hundreds of programs that I remember most vividly.
Of all my cousins, the one I liked best was Rosemary. She was Uncle Phillip’s older daughter, and only a year older than I was. We always had fun when I would go to Laurel. She and I would go to the picture show together.
Her two older brothers, Salvadore (or “Salvy”) and J. V. (for James Vincent, but everybody called him “Jay Vee” were kind of obnoxious to me. What I hated the most about them was the way they always kissed us on the lips! Ugh!
Uncle Phillip had a café in Laurel, called the California Sandwich Shop, and apparently made a lot more money than Daddy did. But Sammy hinted at the likelihood that our uncle (whose resemblance to Daddy was remarkable, except that he had even less hair than Daddy) was really making his money on bootlegged whiskey. I think Sammy was correct. None of us would have trusted him for anything.
Rosemary would often visit us in Richton. It was always a time of excitement for me, but also one that usually caused me much frustration. She and George would conspire against me, and suddenly I would begin to wish they were both some place else.
She had just arrived and as we went with her to get her suitcase out of the trunk of Uncle Phillip’s car, a bolt of lightning flashed, looking as if it had struck something very near where we were standing. Quick as the flash itself, Rosemary stabbed out the sign of the cross. George and I both laughed. She looked surprised, then said, “Io soni Babootsa!” (“I am an idiot!) Well, then we really laughed!
Shortly after Uncle Phillip departed, George and our cousin went into the living room together, locking the door, and leaving me pounding on the door, demanding to be let in. All I heard was snickering from the other side of the door. And then I heard my victrola playing my records from the other room! I was furious. She had arrived less than an hour earlier, and I was already more than ready for her Daddy to come back and take her with him!
The next morning, George decided that we should put on one of our “Radio Shows”, and this time, he was going to play, “The Lady in Red”, and he wanted Rosemary to play the part of Mae West, singing it. We were both very much enamored of this curvacious actress, and waited avidly for her latest film to come to town. We had seen her last week as “Klondike Annie” and just did not see how anything could ever top that one.
“Francis, take these meal sacks to Cash Supply an’ git is some red crepe paper,” George gave me my latest assignment. He would rather have died or done without than to go in a store alone and purchase anything.
“What for?” I asked, as always.
“To make Rosemary’s dress out of, silly.”
I was still smarting from the fact that he thought she would make a better Mae West than I would. After all, Mae was blonde and I had the blonde curls: much better casting, I reasoned. But George was always the boss, so I waited none-too-patiently as he filled my outstretched arms with the aromatic sacks that Daddy bought cotton-seed meal in for our milk cows. Since we received only a penny per returned sack, I had to carry ten of them to get one dime package of crepe paper.
“I’ll go with you,” Rosemary offered, since George sure as heck wasn’t about to walk to the Cash Supply.
“Bye, Mama,” I sang out, as usual whenever I went anywhere.
“Bye, Aunt Rose,” Rosemary called out, too.
“Where y’all goin’?” Mama asked, coming out into the hallway.
“We’ve gotta go t’th’ Cash Supply t’get some crepe paper,” I announced solemnly.
“Yeah,” Rosemary added, “George wants t’make me uh costume so I can be Mae West!”
Mama gave a hearty laugh. “What won’t that boy think of next?”
“What indeed!” I thought bitterly.
And then we were off.
The Cash Supply was a really short walk from our house. Actually, any place downtown was a short walk, because Richton’s business district consisted of a few stores, stretching across three blocks on one side of the highway that ran to Laurel at one end, and Beaumont at the other. The only other buildings on the opposite side of the street were the depot, Ben Stevens’ warehouse, Carey’s Chevrolet Dealership and garage, and the Cash Supply.