2019: 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks – Week 31 (July 29 – Aug 4): Brother
I “first” joined Amy Johnson Crow’s 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks on its “first” year in 2014… and what a whirlwind year that was… writing, editing and researching daily for 365 days! As much as I wanted to continue the following year, I found that I didn’t have the time to continue another year with that type of research… although I did continue blogging and writing stories at my own pace, which allowed me to write on other topics as well as family stories when ideas came my way… but I’ve often missed it. The first year were no specific weekly prompts like today… but I’m taking a different spin on them. There will be some posts on a specific ancestor, but most will be memories that spring from those prompts. Head over to 2014 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks to read about my ancestors in the first years challenge.
If you’re new to genealogy, make your “first” stop to Amy’s website for genealogy ideas or even join in on this 52 Week challenge… you learn by doing… not procrastinating! There is no right or wrong… anything you do is a start!
As I have no brother’s on which to write… I’ve chosen to write on the brother’s of my mother-in-law, Cecelia C. Insalaco… she was fortunate to have had three brothers! This post is written from the memories of my husband and myself… all the younger memories of his uncles… “the brothers”… would be from him. In knowing all three… each one was very distinctive in their own way… very competitive… each sharing a closeness in growing up… and each always there for the other.
The Cambino Brothers
Brother No. 1: Frederick “Freddie” Cambino was born on January 26, 1926, and the first to leave home in joining the Navy; another future post will cover his Navy years. My husband has many memories of his uncles and how he enjoyed following each of them as he grew up… and each having different interests. Freddie’s interest lay in building large model planes, archery, cars and the water, where he had boats… spending many early mornings… fishing, or digging for clams and eels… always keeping his mother supplied with fresh seafood to cook. Fried eels were a favorite on Christmas Eve… hubby remembers them well.
Freddie belonged to a local archery club, where often my husband tagged along; he enjoyed retrieving the arrows, while watching in awe as Freddie shot bullseye after bullseye… often splitting the arrows! As my husband had no older brothers…. his uncles were those older brothers to him… and he followed behind them in every step… always wanting to be just like them! Freddie had cars and motorcycles before any of the other brothers… hubby remembers how Freddie took him for many rides on his motorcycle… him riding on the gas tank… and they both always keeping it a secret!
A friend gave Freddie a speedboat after they moved to 1st Avenue in West Haven… and after spending a couple of years on repairs… it was finally seaworthy. Freddie never left the motor sitting on his boats in the water – salt water deteriorates the metal quickly – he’d always carry the motor up the cement beach steps and sit in a wheelbarrow when not in use. It was never a two-man job in carrying any motor either, my uncles always carried them by themselves – they all were very strong!
One summer Uncle Freddie bet a friend that he could swim out to the breakers off the beach in West Haven; Freddie was a strong swimmer. My father and Uncle Johnny, his brother, followed him out in the rowboat. Both men made the swim, but it was said that the other guy had a rope tied to himself and was pulled by the spotter in his boat.
My uncles were all musically talented… never having had a music lesson… it was all learned by ear. Freddie played the harmonica and guitar… Johnny played the accordion, piano, guitar and harmonica… Frankie played the piano, organ, guitar, accordion and harmonica. And if anyone ever asked who played the best – Johnny would pipe up quickly to say that he played the best!
As a young boy, I was in awe of everything Freddie did… he was always finding ways to make money. He brought home old cars to the farm to strip down… selling the parts to local junk yards or whomever; my grandpa even utilized many of the old car parts. When grandpa built his chicken coop he used the entire door panel with the window… from the cars Freddie had. I remember watching him roll the windows up and down with the hand crank on the door panel… and thinking how that was pretty neat.
My husband, Steve, and I often visited Uncle Freddie (Cambino) and his wife Helen when they were older. Most times we’d arrive to find Freddie in the kitchen, either making a pot of sauce, or sitting at the kitchen table carving a wooden spoon or building something. I have a small basket he carved out of a peach pit… Freddie was very talented. He had been a cook in the Navy…. once a cook, always a cook!
Brother No. 2: Johnny Cambino was born on February 22, 1931… he and brother Frankie were only a year apart in age… very close, and very competitive through the years. I’ve heard several stories told by both… same story, but they each painted themself as the hero of the story. Hubby and I both laugh today when we remember those stories, and how they each remembered them differently!
Going to the movies on Saturday afternoons always gave Johnny and Frankie ideas… and after seeing Johnny Weissmuller as “Tarzan” it gave them this idea. The story goes… they came home and decided to swing from the big tree out back just like Tarzan did in the movie. They hung a rope on the old oak tree, and pretended to be “just like Tarzan”. One day Johnny swung out and the rope broke… down he went on the rocks underneath. His mother and grandmother quickly patched him up before his father came home. No one ran to the doctor back then, they often relied on home remedies. His grandmother cracked several eggs to seperate the whites, which she soaked strips of fabric in and wrapped around his wrists; after they dried, they were hard as a rock… an old remedy for a cast. When his father came home, he was told that the cow had kicked him. While they never told him what really happened, his father cut down the rope on the Tarzan Tree.
The tree was always known afterward as the Tarzan Tree. Many of the things I heard about when I was older… was gone by the time I heard the stories… but the Tarzan Tree was still there by the pump house – no swinging rope though – grandpa had long cut it down.
The one story, that both Johnny and Frankie always told, was… “I pulled a kid from under the ice at Eddie Voss’s pond once. He’d fallen through the ice, and I just reached in and grabbed him, pulling him up to the surface. If I hadn’t caught onto him the first time, I would never have found him. I don’t remember how I even happened to be there that day.” Both my husband and I always laughed when we’d hear them each tell this same story… each being the hero! But that was ok… they’d always played the game of beating each other through the years… but they will always be heroes in our eyes! The one thing uncle Frankie mentioned about this story, that was different… was that he wished he’d been recognized for saving the boys life… like maybe being presented with a medal or a certificate for saving his life.
Uncle Freddie, Johnny and Frankie were who I looked up to as a young boy – they were my idols! They were also close enough in age to even have been a brother. Whatever they did or wherever they went – I wanted to be and do the same!
Johnny always liked the water and loved to swim at Lake Phipps. One afternoon he climbed a tree, probably up about 50-75 ft. and dived off into the water. He wasn’t afraid of anything! One day the limb bounced him too close back to the edge and he landed more on the bank than in the water. He went home hurting that day, but never said anything as he knew he’d be scolded for even doing it.
Johnny bought the first TV set while still living at home – a black and white console television. Even though they were older than me, both Frankie and Johnny enjoyed watching cartoons with me on that set; they would close the blinds and curtains, making the living room all dark… and we’d sit there and watch cartoons all afternoon, Bugs Bunny was their favorite… probably why he was always mine too!
At Christmas Freddie and Johnny always brought home the biggest tree they could find. One Christmas the tree was so tall that it couldn’t even stand upright in the living room. And what did Johnny do – he just cut off the top of the tree – making it fit!
Every Xmas Eve Johnny would go to Chancey Brothers (A large store at Savin Rock) to buy Xmas gifts…and always on Xmas Eve, never any earlier. He’d go in and tell them to fill up a box with toys… never paying any attention to what they put in either… they just filled it up for him. I can still see Johnny walking in with that big box of toys. One Xmas Eve he handed his sister Dolly a paint by number set, and it turned out to be of a naked girl. I guess Dolly didn’t get a gift that year – and Uncle Frankie took possession of that gift. One Xmas he came with a huge Santa head that he hung on the front of the house – it was just a Santa face, but it was huge. You never knew what Johnny would come in with – this was before he married. He always bought the biggest of everything!
When I was around fourteen, I began working with Johnny doing carpentry. He usually brought a radio on the job, and always played the country stations. Even today, when I hear certain songs like, “From a Jack to a King,” I think of Johnny – it was one of his favorites.
Johnny let me drive all his cars when I turned fourteen and working with him. He said I wouldn’t get into any trouble if we were pulled over because he knew all the West Haven cops and most of the New Haven ones. He always told me “don’t worry about it, I’ll take care of everything.”
Uncle Johnny loved cars, but never bought a new car – I remember his black Pontiac Bonneville… he often let me drive it. That was the best car ever! I felt cool when I was with Johnny – it was like being with a celebrity. Whenever he entered a room, he was immediately acknowledged – he was well-known wherever he went.
Johnny was a carpenter by trade, often working with his brother Frankie. I worked with them both a few summers and learned a lot. Johnny didn’t strictly work all day though – he took his share of breaks… and always knew exactly what time his favorite meals were served around town at various restaurants. Everyday we’d stop at a certain diner to have his favorite – milkshakes. Wherever we went – Johnny knew everyone… it was like spending time with a celebrity… he was very well-known. Johnny always had a story to tell – and he could tell stories that kept you in stitches, long after they were finished.
Riding with my uncle was an experience. He’d say, “you’re safe in my hands, I can stop on a dime” – and I never doubted him! I’ve seen Johnny accomplish many things in his life – winning car races, tearing phone books in half with his bare hands – even running across the steeple of a roof like he was walking on air – he was very impressive. Johnny had arms like “Popeye” and he was just as strong.
I learned many things from Uncle Johnny! He lived life to the fullest, living his dream and passion of racing for many years. He began racing at Savin Rock Speedway as a young man of around eighteen… giving it up only when The Rock closed… but later making a come-back at the age of 62 – driving just as fierce as he did in his youth… beating many of the younger racers! One thing I admired about his racing was… he never threw the towel in… no matter what pole he started from, or where he was in the pack, even if at the end. He never gave up trying to win until the checkered flag was thrown. He always told me that he was never a quitter – he’d fight till the end.
It was a thrill for me as a young boy, telling my friends that Johnny was my uncle. He was well-known at Savin Rock and well liked. Even when he lost… he lost graciously with a smile. I always wanted to be there on Saturday nights when he raced. It was exciting as I stood at the fence rooting for him. He was known as “King Cams” driving the “Flying 5.” He was a Legend!
Johnny often said of the other car drivers, “if they can’t beat me, then they don’t deserve to be on the track.” And that came from him when he drove at an older age, against the young twenty-or-something ones. They hated having him on the track, calling him an old man, but he showed them; being beat by him was an insult to their driving ability. Johnny often laughed about his beating them… he had more skill and knowledge about driving then they had of just being alive at that point.
Uncle Johnny was the strongest person I’ve ever known. His arms were really like the cartoon character Popeye; he told me he was very strong from the many years of pulling on the racing car steering wheel. I remember Uncle Johnny and Freddie arm wrestling all the time… they were both strong… no one could beat them. Johnny was my idol – I always wanted to do whatever he did. He’d arm wrestle me, giving me a head start, and then take me right down in a quick second. He never let me win… If I had won… it would have been honestly!
I was a strong arm wrestler in school… beating everyone there and in my neighborhood, but I never beat Uncle Johnny – even with the head start he’d give me – which was a tease… him knowing all along that he’d take me down quicker than I could imagine.
I’ll never forget the site of watching Johnny tear a large phonebook in half – ripping it with his bare hands… like it was nothing! But what really impressed me about his strength, was the day he picked up my 120 lb weight bar – lifting it over his head with one hand – like it was nothing! I was young, and I couldn’t even do that with two hands on the bar, but he just picked it up one-handed – and the bar never wavered. I couldn’t believe it!
When I enlisted in the Air Force… and right before I left, Johnny said, “when they give you a gun, never hit your target – always miss. If you can’t hit the target, they’ll never put a gun in your hand and send you to Vietnam. Never let them know exactly how much you do know.” And he was right, I never let them know what I really did know. I even flunked my truck driving test on purpose because I didn’t want to drive trucks and work on the flight line, but that didn’t stop them from giving me a truck license and putting me on the flight line. They do what they want with you – whether you like it or not. YOU belong to them!
Even though my uncles and my father are no longer around, I’ll never forget the things they taught me and the stories they told. I still hear their reminders in my mind everyday as I live my life – they will always be remembered!
Brother No. 3: Frank Cambino was born October 16, 1932; he and Johnny were more closer to my age than Freddie. I remember watching my favorite TV show “Superman” with Frankie in the evenings. They had a TV set before we did so I often went over to my grandparents house… they lived just next door. Frankie was funny to watch TV with – he’d tell you all about how things worked as you watched the show, or make fun of how they did tricks and stunts on the program – telling you it was a “crock” and it wasn’t really done like that. He’d say, “look there are the strings pulling Howdy Doody, you’re not suppose to see them.” Freddie liked to mostly watch movies, so I watched mostly the old classic’s with him, while it was more cartoons and TV series with Frankie.
Spending time at my grandparent’s farm on Sawmill Road and later First Avenue was the best of times; there was always plenty of family around to be entertained by. My three Uncle’s, Freddie, Johnny, and Frankie were usually into something – and I wanted to be right there – right alongside them. To a young boy, these ‘older,’ young men, were the ones to hang out with. You knew you would hear language, stories and jokes you wouldn’t hear in your own house. They were considered ‘cool’ by everyone!
Uncle Frankie enjoyed reading Popular Mechanics Magazine, and from one of the magazines he built a “diving tank helmet”…. actually it was a bucket used as a helmet so you could go under the water… like a diver with a tank; a tube was attached to a hot water bottle, which held the air. Whoever was in the boat was the one who pumped air into the tube. Frankie tested it out with my father and I in the boat once, but I don’t remember much more about it other then that.
Uncle Frankie said that he and his brother, Johnny, had first tested it. Johnny put on the helmet and tied heavy chains around his body to weigh himself down; a pump in the boat pumped air down to him. It was told that Johnny went down about 20 feet before shooting back up fast as he had run out of air. They tried it another time with a friend, and weighed him down so much that he almost drowned trying to get back to the surface. They could each tell that story… and have you in stitches as they told it!
Another project Frankie built was a robot ashtray; it stood about three feet high and had two light bulbs for eyes. When you put your cigarette out in its hand, his eyes lit up. He also built a wooden donkey that held a pack of cigarettes – when you lifted the tail, a cigarette came out the back end. Frankie loved Popular Mechanic magazines… I only wish I had thought to take pictures of all those projects he built… but who thought of things like that back then.
I also worked with Uncle Frankie doing carpentry when I was young – before I even had my license. I remember being amazed as I watched him and his friend, Frank Belbusti, bang nails. They’d set the nail, and with one swift pound of the hammer, the nail was completely in the wood. What power that took – they were all very strong!
Every summer Frankie built something for us to use on the water. I remember a floating raft he built one summer… we’d swim out and sit and dive off; usually the rowboat was tied up nearby. When my grandparents first moved to First Ave., we swam off the beach, even though some of it was pretty murky on the bottom… we’d walk out a little ways and then pick up our feet to miss that part… and swim out to the wooden raft or the rowboat.
Frankie, along with his brothers, was very musical… you’d often arrive on Christmas Eve to him either playing Christmas songs on the organ or guitar. One of the most funniest songs I ever heard him sing was “Smoke, Smoke, Smoke that Cigarette” by Tex Ritter… and if I happen to hear it today, Uncle Frankie immediately comes to mind. (You know you want to go look that up now on You Tube)
I’ve never tired of Uncle Frankie’s funny stories… and he always had a story to tell! If he didn’t have a story… you could count on him amazing you with one of his many card tricks. He especially enjoyed pulling out the card tricks whenever the kids were around…. teasing them so they would beg him to teach them!
My husband and I have both had many long conversations with Uncle Frankie through the years, and he always had a smile on his face… always enjoying to make everyone laugh… He is truly missed by all!
Stay tuned for Week 32: Sister
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