Family Photographs… and their stories
The Cambino Family
L. to R. back row: Catherine, Freddie, Cecelia, Johnny, Frankie, and Nancy. Front Row: Minnie (Domenica), Antonette “Dolly” (baby) in Minnie’s lap and Joe (Giuseppe/Joseph).
I’m dating this photograph in the late summer of 1946, as daughter Nancy was twelve here… and taken in front of her father’s grapevine arbor at the farm on Sawmill Road. It was his favorite place in the yard… a table for summer dinners, a place where Joe enjoyed his pastime of whittling, and often where several of the siblings played cards… if their father wasn’t home!
Choosing a favorite family photograph, much less one from family not your own, is hard… but it was this photograph that I was immediately drawn to! It was a photograph of a large family… a family who had the “typical” sibling spats, but still remained there for each other… a family that remained close… having daily contact with each other…. a family I was always jealous of… as I am an only child… but now I had a family!
How did this family photograph come to be taken… well, at this point in time it’s not well remembered, or known… but they were all commanded to gather! Giuseppe’s (Joseph) grandson Steve (Insalaco) says, “my grandfather knew many people as a barber… and even though he never went to any races at West Haven Speedway, where his son Johnny raced every weekend… he knew who won every week… a barber always knew the latest news!”
Most of the family men and boys went to Grandpa Joe’s for haircuts, so he was always kept up on the latest news of what happened at the racetrack… as well as the family news. Several of my teachers even went there for haircuts, so I also had to be on my best behavior in school… or he’d know! It might have even been one of grandpa’s customers who came to the farm to take this family photograph. Possibly it was the photographer, Conroy Taylor, who worked for the local newspaper (New Haven Register) as Conroy was friends with Johnny; he photographed the Speedway races weekly and even Johnny’s wedding.” But whoever came that day to take this family photograph… Thank You, Thank You, Thank You! Photographs such as this preserve history… preserving family at a specific time in their lives. (Conroy Taylor was also Steve’s Boy Scout Troop No.716 Master)
I can only imagine how the photo shoot went that afternoon under Grandpa Joe’s grapevine arbor… and I’m sure a few words were voiced, out loud, as son Johnny seemed to have rocked the boat! Johnny was the strong-willed son, and if you study the photograph, you’ll notice that he was the only one who didn’t comply with his father’s
request, demand to dress in Sunday’s finest! I’m told by daughter Nancy that it caused quite a ruckus that afternoon when Johnny refused to dress in a tie and jacket, but as you can see in the photo… someone gave in and the picture was taken… and it’s the only family photo of them all together in one sitting… from the youngest, (Antonette), to the oldest of Catherine.
We are very lucky to have this family photograph documenting that late 1946 summer afternoon under Giuseppe’s (Joe’s) grapevine arbor! With all the children lined up in sibling order… from oldest to the youngest sitting on the mother’s lap… I’ll write on each one in order.
As I look into their faces… Catherine on the left is smiling… now if you knew her, you’d know that she always ran from every camera, or held her hand near her mouth… or held up anything near her! Look at her, she was beautiful, but yet she persistently referred to herself as ugly and always ducked out of camera view. She’s known to have tragically even scratched her face out of photographs with a pen… I’ve seen a few! This was a woman, whose wedding photo was displayed in the window of Barrie Photography Studio in New Haven. Aunt Catherine was one of a kind, and I enjoyed spending time with her. Steve visited her often in later years… she was his godmother… and they enjoyed great political conversations… especially during the past campaigns; they both saw eye-to-eye on politics! Catherine kept an immaculate house, with limited decorations and would tell me… “all those things are dust collectors.” She’d often look around my house at parties and say, “don’t you mind dusting all these things?” At that time in my life, I didn’t mind… today at my age… Yes I do mind! I understand now how she felt, and would rather write than dust! I could easily write a book of stories on all the things I learned about Aunt Catherine through the years… such as how she always packed the trial sizes of Lysol, Comet, and sponge in a plastic bag… for daughter Diane’s suitcase to clean the hotel bathroom on band trips… and who can forget her delicious cookies she brought on Christmas Eve. She enjoyed when Steve visited after he retired… he often arrived with a plate of Anginettes or Pepperoni Bread. I’ll leave you a teaser… she lived next door to the Elephant woman of Savin Rock! (That story will be written on my 2020 April A to Z) It seems that Diane’s suitcase was the first one opened after all the girls checked into their rooms on those band trips… as they all wanted to know what her mom had packed! Diane reports that those “cleaning” supplies were never used for the purpose intended… but mom never asked… and Diane never told! But the “cleaning” aspect was instilled into Diane, as she now packs those very things for trips and hospital visits… just like mom! Aunt Catherine finally knows the truth now!
Brother Freddie (Frederick Joseph) is next, the oldest brother in the family, and named after his grandfather, Frederico Gambino. Note the name change… the family surname made an American change from “Gambino” to “Cambino.” Freddie was always said to be a good son to his mother, as any son should be. Freddie lived his own life… strong-willed but close to his siblings, especially his brothers. I’m sure he set the way, as first children usually do, and his brothers followed alongside him in many things such as hunting and boating (they lived on the water by 1957). They competed in everything they did… it was a very competitive family.
Steve: “Freddie was a tough kid, always getting in a fight, and his brothers were always there for him. He enjoyed working with wood… also a whittler like his father. I visited him often, later in life, and always found him at the kitchen table whittling wooden spoons… of which we have a few… or building one of many wishing wells; almost everyone in the family ended up with one. He was a great cook (was a cook in the Navy) and if visited his kitchen on Sunday morning… you were greeted to a pot of sauce simmering on the stove. Freddie was accomplished at many things, such as archery… always hitting the bullseye! Boating and fishing were favorites of his also, and after moving by the water, he spent much time on the water… even buying himself a new wooden speedboat. He often fished for blue crabs and eels… bringing them to his mother to cook… she made the best-stuffed eels… and I have never found anyone who could duplicate the taste of them!. He also hunted all types of animals, such as pheasant, rabbit, deer and even squirrels, which grandma cooked in sauce or made a stew. Deer hunting was an annual tradition, and he never came home without one or two tied on the front of his car.”
The next sibling in birth order is Cecelia (my mother-in-law). Celia wasn’t like any of her other siblings… and they’ve all said that… she was strong-willed, doing what she wanted… when she wanted. Isn’t there always one in the family like that? She was loved as their sister, but there was often conflict… but in the end, after many fusses and fights… conflicts were resolved… as they were siblings. Being she was my mother-in-law, it’s often hard to write on her. While she didn’t quite accept me when I first came into the family, we eventually worked that out and enjoyed many days together crafting and spending family time together, especially when the grandchildren arrived. Unfortunately, Celia had a one-track mind toward gambling, as many in the family did, but she couldn’t control hers, which caused problems, but everyone has problems in life… and it doesn’t stop you from loving your family. My mother-in-law was a great cook and taught me all I know about “Italian” cooking… knitting and crochet… and a few of her favorite games such as Scrabble and Pinochle. I never mastered the Pinochle card game, it just didn’t grab me, but I played scrabble with her, not winning often, if I ever actually did… she had many years of playing on me. The
large, huge Dictionary always sat on the side of the table and if the word was in there… either top or bottom of the page… it was played as a word!
Brother Johnny, the one who caused the ruckus wearing “no tie” is next. Of all the siblings standing there, Johnny was the most colorful one in the family! I can only imagine all the trouble that erupted throughout the family as he grew up… and don’t tell me you’re (family) not laughing… especially in thinking of all he’s done and said! When I came into this family, I quickly became close to Johnny and his wife Maggie… they were easy to talk to and Johnny was entertaining! Johnny mesmerized me with his stories… and those stories never stopped… as he enjoyed telling them! I often spent time with him and Maggie… and even went with him to the car races at Riverside, MA. He raced at Savin Rock Speedway in his early years and was still racing when I met him. I remember riding with him on the purple (school) bus to Riverside… and the race car even rode inside the bus… where he boldly thought nothing of walking to the back of the bus and cranking up the car… imagine how loud that car was… inside the bus! On one of my first times of riding with Johnny, he told me… “don’t worry, you’re as safe as a baby in a cradle, I can stop on a dime.” As a young girl of 19, far away from home… I wasn’t so sure of that as he was, but what did I know!
One of the things my husband and I often laugh over now is a story that Johnny first told about ice skating at Voss Pond. The story goes of how one of the boys fell through the ice, and in Johnny’s words… “miraculously I stuck my hand through the hole and the boy reached up to grab my hand… and I pulled him out.” Now if you know Johnny, you can hear him telling this story in his descriptive way and voice. Years later, brother Frankie told us this very… almost same story, but it was “he” who saved that boy… in the same way! Could there possibly have been two boys… if not… who saved that boy? We’ve always laughed over this story, at the fabrication of how each one of them was the same hero! It never really mattered to us, whether it was real or not… they each told a great story and I’d give anything to go back in time… to once again hear that story!
Brother Frankie, the youngest of the three, stands next to big brother Johnny. They were very close and very competitive with each other in “everything” they did; the Cambino family was a very competitive family and remained close through the years. He was the first of my husband’s uncle’s I met when I came to CT., and he often took me for rides on his motorcycle to show me all around the area. I was a little nervous when he drove me up to the top of West Rock to see Long Island Sound and all of New Haven; it was an awesome site, but the fast ride up was pretty scary. Frankie’s exceptional qualities were as a carpenter… he could build anything. He often told stories of when he was in the Army… he was the main carpenter in his unit, and even built a table and chairs for the commander. If anyone remembers Bob Rossi, the painter on TV… then you know that’s how Frankie began painting. He’d set up his easel (he built) and paint along with Bob… and became quite proficient in painting. (I’ll add photos later). Frankie was also an accomplished musician, as well as brother Johnny; both played by ear, there was never any lessons; Frankie played the organ, piano, guitar, and harmonica, and always livened up Christmas Eve when he began playing the organ.
Sister, Nancy, is on the end of the back row of siblings in this family… age twelve, and the only one who remembers this day. I’ve always seen Nancy as the strongest of the family, taking charge of caring for her parents, making decisions and the only other one, other than their mother, to be called at holidays for a recipe. Everyone cares for their parents in different ways, but there is always one, in every family, who takes the lead. I can still hear my mother-in-law calling Nancy to ask… what amounts of this and that were needed for the Easter pies. That was what encouraged me to create the family cookbook, “Italian Famiglio Recipes.” Even today, Nancy is still a strong woman, working in her flower gardens, maintaining a vegetable garden and cooking the Sunday family dinner. Nancy and husband Gene hosted an annual Fourth of July picnic for many years… lots of work! Those picnics were so much fun… all the siblings came with their families and as the families grew, even more, were added. The Bocci games intrigued me when I first went, and I wanted to play… but was quickly told… “it’s only for the men.” That didn’t sit well with me… LOL! Eventually, the men relented and the women began playing, but having their own game, not with them. Most of the women brought their crafts or crocheting that day… so we were content usually to not play Bocci unless they wanted to; we enjoyed showing off what we were currently working on… those were fun days!
Baby, Antonette (Dolly), completes this family photograph along with her parents Domenica (Minnie) DeTulio and Giuseppe (Joseph) Cambino. When I questioned her nickname, I was told, “I didn’t play with dolls, so my brothers called me Dolly.” Being close in age to my husband… they grew up more like brother and sister through the years… and when I came into this family… we spent much time together. Summers were spent by the pool at my mother-in-laws, crocheting, crafting, and sunbathing! I can’t even remember all the crafts we’ve done through the years… there were so many! I never had anyone to play board games with when I grew up, but I have fond memories of playing Clue and Careers for hours on end with Dolly… even our husbands played. What fun we had on Saturday afternoons… trying to outwit each other either in solving the mystery of whether it was Colonel Mustard, Professor Plum, Miss Scarlet, Mrs. White, Mr. Green or Mrs. Peacock.. as to who killed Mr. Boddy! Just thinking of the Clue characters is so making me want to play again… I might need to find an online game… Dolly, are you ready for a rematch? Careers was another favorite… each of us trying to trick the other as to our formula strategy… it was a strategic game, gathering points to win. When OTB (Off Track Betting) came to West Haven… our Saturday mornings changed to discussing the horse races and who would take 1st place that afternoon… often arguing our different views! It was fun later watching the race together to see who best picked out the winners!
Grandma Minnie celebrating her 85th birthday party… and there is that famous… family photo re-framed.
The mother, Domenica “Minnie” (DeTulio) Cambino… a caring mother holding baby Antonette (Dolly). I always loved her given name… which means Sunday. I first assumed she was possibly born on that very day, but later learned she was most likely named after her paternal grandmother, Domenica DeCuore. Her nickname “Minnie” became the more Americanized version; I never heard anyone call her by any name, other than Minnie! Her children called her Mama… I called her Grandma along with her many grandchildren, and spent many hours in her house… and really enjoyed going there. She taught me many cooking skills and dishes…. and taught me all about the famous zucchini yellow flowers from the summer squash plants. I remember when she took me out into the garden with a paper bag in hand… to gather squash flowers. When I questioned the bag, grandma said, “always put the flowers in a bag before bringing them in the house… and listen closely for the buzzing… as you don’t want to open the bag in the kitchen and have a bee fly out.” I never forgot that… and the taste of her fried yellow blossoms… they were the best at Grandma’s! She was a great cook… never thinking twice about just cooking a small amount of any dish for you. When I was pregnant with Stephen, she’d prod me into tasting a little bit of everything, saying, “you must taste everything so the baby will like it.” Well, I guess that worked, as Stephen loves Broccoli Rabe, and she pushed that on me saying it tasted like my southern turnip greens. Personally, I never saw the comparison of the two, other than they both were green! I never argued the taste tests… I ate whatever she gave me. When I began writing my cookbook, my first stop was at her kitchen table to watch, measure and write her recipes. She had no recipes written, as most cooks didn’t back then… like my own mother and grandmother… they knew how to cook by the feel and taste. On that one Easter week, as she sat at the table making her pies, I measured her ingredients to create a recipe… and it worked, as my pies come out good every time. If only I’d thought to have brought a camera!
My first experience of eating pizza at Grandma Minnie’s was quite interesting… I was in awe as she tore off the top of the box, tearing it in four pieces… and soon we all had paper plates. Often today I’ll tell hubby, “just use grandma Minnie’s paper plates.” I’ll close with one funny story… after her passing, we all learned that Grandma actually smoked! We laughed about it, as almost none of us knew, except for maybe Dolly and Frankie, who lived there at the time. Frankie told us later how he’d purposely leave his pack of cigarettes on the kitchen table… and as she always kept a kitchen cloth on the table, she’d pull a few out to hide under that cloth… until she could hide them later in the cabinet behind the table. Dolly remembers, “I’d come home at lunch sometimes, and see smoke coming out the bathroom window… no one was home but Mama, so I assumed it was her.” Even today… I can still picture her sitting in her “spot” at the kitchen table, with that cloth laying right there.
Another of Grandma Minnie’s favorite spots… by the stove watching the coffee perk… and by the phone behind the sliding cabinet doors… was her hiding spot!
The father, Giuseppe (Joseph) Cambino (Gambino) sits alongside Minnie… looking the part of the prestigious proud father of 7 children on this day. While I did get to meet him in 1971 when I married Steve, he wasn’t the strong fiery man he once was… of whom I heard many stories on. He was now a sweet quiet man, and on our first meeting, he took me for a walk to see the roses he enjoyed growing. Once he gave up growing a garden, he turned to flowers. His early photos, like the tin photo of him at age 18, always showed him as a strong confident man… and quite handsome. This family photo has him sitting there, still very confident, with movie star quality… love the pocket watch tucked in his vest pocket. He reminds me of George Burns in this photograph… probably because of the cigar in hand… he seemed to hold it just as George did. Joseph always provided for his family with clothing, food, and shelter… and while it might not have been the best, he provided, as what a good father does for his family… providing the best to their ability. Times were tough, money was hard to come by, and he worked long hours at the barber shop… but he provided for all 7 children and ensured that they all received an education. My husband has many memories of going to Grandpa Joe’s barber shop for haircuts… I’ll tell those later along with the Bocci stories in my 2020 April A to Z.
One of the photos I’d hoped to find, but never did, is a photograph of when Giuseppe was young and courting Minnie… can you picture that? I’m told how he often picked her up from work at Strouse Adler on his motorcycle with the sidecar! As New Haven had a large Indian Motorcycle dealership, I often wondered if that bike might have possibly been an Indian. (Strouse Adler was famous for their “Smoothie” foundation garments.)
So the next time you look through your family photographs… remember… there is much more to the photograph of the people you’re looking at… they all have a story! I hope you have enjoyed mine as much as I’ve enjoyed telling them.
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© 2020, copyright Jeanne Bryan Insalaco; all rights reserved