2020: A – April A to Z
I’m back in 2020 for my fifth year of participating in the yearly April A to Z challenge… and as usual I racked my brain scribbling ideas on paper since the end of last April. It wasn’t until January, that the light bulb finally went off in scrolling through the 85+ of unfinished blog posts in my draft folder. Bingo… there was my A to Z topic…
Family Stories as told to me… mostly by my husband!
From the moment I married into this Italian family… I fell in love with their stories… their memories… and the family. My husband grew up in West Haven, Connecticut… where there was so much to enjoy as a young boy… especially a place known as Savin Rock… although long gone now. It somewhat resembled Coney Island… but was even larger when his parents, aunts and uncles grew up. They had stories… and I was always an eager listener whenever they told those stories… remembering, and scribbling down to preserve, just as I did with the family recipes that had once only been in their heads. 2020 has became the year I’m telling many of those stories… along with my husband’s memories to preserve for the generations to come. Many of those who told me their stories, are no longer with us… and I hope to keep their memory alive in these stories… as they are now my family also… and I love them all!
My previous years of A to Z Challenges are:
- 2016: A to Z Southern Foods and Memories… they said write what you know… and being a girl born in the South… well this was what I knew.
- 2017: A to Z Conversations with Mama… it was a somewhat easy one for me to write as I’d journaled our conversations for years… I researched favorite topics to write.
- 2018: A to Z All About Nancy Drew… this one has been my favorite topic so far, and I don’t know if I’ll ever come up with another one to equal it
- 2019: A to Z Italian Famiglia Foods and Memories… I felt it was time to finally write the favorites of my husbands family foods.
Come sit a spell and enjoy!
Aunt Catherine (Cambino/Donahue) standing in front of my father’s 1956 red and white Oldsmobile Rocket 88… the house my father built is above
All The Family Cars
“I remember making car models from probably as young as five years old… building both cars and planes, but I liked building planes the best. My work area for building models was always in our cellar… placing a piece of plywood on top of my father’s sawhorses for a table. I often built several models at a time… lining them up for show as I finished. All my spare parts went into piles… often looking more like a junkyard piled on the side. Most of my cars were bought from department stores on the Boston Post Road like Barkers or Tops… if I went to Railroad Salvage with my parents, I bought some there also. Railroad Salvage wasn’t always in West Haven – it originally was on the Boston Post Road where Comp USA once was in Orange. After I married, I built a large model of a B-52 – the type plane I was crew-chief on in the Air Force. It hung in my son’s room for a long time until we threw it out. Even today, I still get the bug to build a car or two… mostly in the winter.”
“My father bought his first ‘new” car in 1956 when we lived on Sawmill Road – it was a red and white Oldsmobile Rocket 88. It was bought on Whalley Avenue in New Haven… which at one time, was row city for car dealerships. He bought a two-door, as they were less expensive than four-door cars at that time… later on, no one even wanted two doors, everyone bought four doors. Dad never went to buy a car alone… always taking his brother -in-law Gene Cavallaro, who worked at Marshall’s garage; my father would spend weeks looking for just the right car. He paid $2,360.00 dollars for that first new car.”
“We always knew when my father was coming home in that 1956 red and white Oldsmobile Rocket 88 car… lines would begin rolling on our TV set – and the closer he got to the house, the stronger the lines were. I don’t know why that car affected our antenna signal, but it did! It even affected the neighbors TV’s as well. A friend of mine down the street always said he also knew when my father was nearby – as lines rolled on his TV set too.”
My brother and I sitting on my father’s 1956 Oldsmobile Rocket 88!
Dad kept all his receipts for cars bought!
My father in law often talked with me… telling me stories… “I bought my first car when I turned 16… it was a ’32 Chevy…. bought with the money I’d saved while working at Bogen’s Grocery Store. I was eight years old and in the third grade… and continued working there until I was around seventeen; we lived on Oak Avenue, right next to the grocery store. I stocked shelves and delivered groceries to many families in the area… often making my deliveries by foot and bicycle, and later after buying my car… I delivered with it. Most families tipped from five to fifteen cents for the delivery of their groceries. I usually made about thirty cents a day and about $3.00 a week in tips.” (Brainards Plumbing Inc. now occupies the old Bogen’s grocery store building on Oak Avenue)
When I asked about the cars he’d owned, dad said… “I bought a ‘38 Oldsmobile car before entering the service. While I was gone, it was stored on jacks in the garage at my home on Kneen St… next to my brother Tony’s 1936 Oldsmobile, also on jacks.” (Throughout dad’s life, he always had a love for Oldsmobile cars – almost every car he bought afterward, from that first ‘38, was an Oldsmobile.)
By the time he bought his next car, he couldn’t afford another Oldsmobile… they had become a more expensive car!
“On March 16, 1966 my father bought a black Chevrolet Malibu from Page Motor Co., in Milford… after many weeks of looking. He went out night after night, with brother-in-law, Gene Cavallaro, to look at new cars before finally deciding on this one. Later in 1981, he bought his last “new” car… a 1981 “jade green” Supreme Cutlass Oldsmobile from Volvo City, Milford… that new car cost $9,352.50. Other used cars along the way included a 1962 red Pontiac Tempest, which he later sold to me for one dollar; I was working at Armstrong, married, and needing another car. Later he bought a 1963 tan Chevrolet Corvair, and in 1991 he bought his last used car, a ‘91 white Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme. He never lost his love for Oldsmobile cars!”
“Immediately after turning sixteen, I got my license, and began working… and soon bought my first car – a 1961 blue Plymouth Valiant. It didn’t have much in it… it was three shifts and a radio – not what I wanted, but all I could afford at the time. My father found it for me at The Annex in East Haven for $250.00 – not much money by today’s standards, but that was a lot of money for me back then. My dream car was always a powder blue ‘66 Chevelle Super-Sport… and still is my dream car. Annex Used Cars remained in business selling cars until 2006.” (Upon going through my father in law’s paperwork after his death (2000), I found this original bill of sale for Steve’s Valiant – Dad didn’t throw anything out!)
Steve’s blue Valiant parked behind his brother
“After buying a car, I often picked up my best friend, Louie Albarella, for school every morning – mainly because his mother cooked me anything I wanted for breakfast. Even though I had eaten cereal at home… I never turned down a second breakfast of eggs, pancakes, waffles – whatever she was cooking. It was like going to a diner – just put your order in… and she’d cook it.”
One of many of Freddie’s so-loved Hudson cars.
“At times, the backyard at my grandfather’s farm looked more like a junk yard with all the cars Freddie kept for parts. That was another favorite playing area of mine – crawling in and out of the old cars or just taking a sledge hammer and pounding on them. Freddie seemed to have bought a car every year, not new but used; I remember him telling his brother Johnny “we should keep those cars, they’re going to be worth money one day”… Johnny laughed, saying “ah they’re junk, get rid of them.” I sure wish we kept some of Freddie’s prized cars – especially his Hudson Hornets. I’ll never forget his prized ‘59 black Chevy Impala… he smashed both front fenders one night going through a roadblock. I don’t think it was a Police blockade… but the stories I heard were all second hand. The Chevy wasn’t on the road for awhile, until he repaired the fenders… he kept it hidden inside the garage. Freddie did all the body work himself on his cars, and was a regular fixture at the local junk yards,,, scrounging for parts needed; the only thing he didn’t do was paint them. “
My grandfather built his chicken house using the old roll-up windows from the junked cars Freddie brought to the farm. When I think back now – how ingenious it was of him in using the roll-up windows from the junked cars as an actual window in the coop.
“I was about 11 years old when Johnny came home from the Army, and the first thing he did was buy a Lincoln – he always loved Lincolns! I also remember when someone stole that car and posted a “For Sale” sign on it. Johnny always left the keys in his cars… he did get the car back though; he found it on the Post Road when he went looking for it.”
“I cracked my head on the dash of Johnny’s Lincoln… my mother was driving. I was about four or five years old… standing on the front seat… as all kids did back then. My car seat was her arm… coming out when needed to hold me back. She was driving on Spring St., headed toward the Boulevard when someone cut in front of her. I’m told I cracked his window! That seemed to be the second time I hit my head and did damage… I also was told I chipped grandma’s porcelain stove at the farm when I was about three years old… how did a three year old do that?”
Uncle Johnny’s favorite car!
“Johnny let me drive all his cars when I turned fourteen and began working with him on the weekend. He’d say, “you want get into any trouble if you’re pulled over because I know all the West Haven cops and most of the New Haven ones too… don’t worry about it, I’ll take care of everything”… and he always did.”
“Johnny loved cars… and often let me drive his black Pontiac Bonneville... that was the best car ever! I felt cool whenever I was with him – it was like being with a celebrity! Whenever he entered a room, he was immediately acknowledged… being well-known wherever he went.”
Aunt Nancy (Cavallaro) remembers: “We did a lot of crazy things as kids growing up. My brother, Johnny, had a big black Lincoln car. I remember riding in it during a snowstorm… going up and down big hills, sliding back and forth – and that was all on a quarters worth of gas – money was short!”
“Frankie bought a brand new 1956 Ford Fairlane Skyliner – the first “new” car he ever bought. It was black on the outside and yellow inside… and it was a beauty! Someone hit him head-on in a snowstorm one day, while Dolly and I were in the backseat… we hit our heads on the back of the front seat. He later sold this car while building his house in Branford.”
Uncle Frankie’s first new car… a 1956 Ford Fairlane Skyliner… a yellow and black convertible. What a beauty of a car! Grandpa Joe looks like he was giving it the once-over!
Classic double exposure of Uncle Frankie with his Cadillac!
“I remember Uncle Jimmy (Donahue) mostly buying Pontiac’s, but he did buy an Oldsmobile once… because he liked my father’s Oldsmobile Rocket 88; the following year after daddy bought the Rocket, Uncle Jimmy bought a new one just like it.”
Aunt Catherine with daughter Diane… Uncle Jimmy’s (Donahue) Oldsmobile he bought like my father’s Rocket 88.
Celia: “I remember my father having an older car with a rumble seat and I loved riding in it when he took us to Savin Rock; he often took us on Sunday afternoons for ice cream. Mama enjoyed sitting in the car while listening to the laugh of the “laughing lady” at the Death Valley attraction. I remember crying whenever my father tried to make me ride the “flying horses” on the carousel. Why I was afraid, I don’t know, but I’d cry whenever they tried to make me climb up on those painted horses that went up and down. I wonder where they all are today, probably worth a lot of money now.”
We believe the car on the left belonged to Joe Cambino… my husband’s grandfather… possibly the 1936 Buick.
Aunt Nancy: “The earliest car I remember of my father’s was a 1936 green Buick… he took us to Savin Rock in that car. Mama loved to go to Savin Rock to hear the “laughing lady.” She would laugh along as she listened to her laugh continuously; Daddy would buy us an ice cream cone while she waited in the car.
Even Aunt Dolly (Cambino-Alphonso) was caught up in racing cars… entering a demolition derby at West Haven Speedway.
© 2020, copyright Jeanne Bryan Insalaco; all rights reserved