2020: E – April A to Z… Family Stories
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!
Every Home has a Story…Cleaning out the Family Home
Last Visit to the Family Home
Cleaning out the family home after a parent dies is probably one of the hardest and saddest things… you’re saying that final goodbye, and often the last time you’ll walk through where you grew up. While you may not want the house to be out of the family… decisions have to be made, and it’s time to say goodbye… you can’t hold on to everything. Even though you won’t be coming to the family home any longer, you’ll never forget the memories made there… first bikes, holiday meals and Christmas pasts will never leave you. I never had to really experience this until the death of my mother-in-law. Closing the doors with my husband for the last time, knowing it wasn’t ours anymore was very hard for the both of us, and it’s taken me this long to finally complete this post.
Many memories of bringing in the mail… all the letters Steve wrote me from Thailand landed in that mailbox!
Dad planted this red maple tree from a sapling and watched it grow… it’s always been a favorite of mine!
One of my favorite pictures when Dad climbed up in the tree with Melissa and Stephen
Steve jack-hammered the old cement steps away… together he and his father built a new wooden porch and steps.
This was probably the first photo taken of me at the house after we arrived… and before Steve left for Thailand. (The original cement steps showing here)
One of the first things I began going through in cleaning out, was the piles and piles of knitting and crochet books… and there were LOTS! My mother-in-law has probably crocheted and knitted from the time she married in 1947. I’m not sure who she learned from, and don’t remember ever asking that question, or even thinking to… but maybe someone will answer it for me. I never saw her mother crochet or knit, so I’m thinking it might have been her mother-in-law, as I remember seeing crocheted afghans in Nonni’s living room in Shelton.
It wasn’t long before I found myself lost in those books… even finding some with my name written on. I kept a good sized box of them and had to part with the rest. It was just too much to try and keep… I hadn’t looked for any of those patterns in years and years… everything is online now. Dolly was looking for a specific pattern, but we never came across it… so we gave up on that also. Why do I think of these things afterward… I should have piled them all up and taken a picture, now that photograph is only in my mind. Shame on me!
I shouldn’t have the need to ever buy another crochet hook or knitting needle in my lifetime; good thing my daughter learned to knit, as now she also needs to learn how to crochet. Funny thought now… most of her needles I’ll probably never even use as I mostly knit with circular needles and the few she had were either of a hard plastic or metal cords… but I still kept them. My granddaughter, McKinley, is learning to knit now, so one day I’ll pull out all her great grandmother’s knitting needles just to show her… nice remembrance to keep.
My husband and I were on a time frame in cleaning out his parents home… working every day… and leaving exhausted!
Those drawers held lots of stuff… and lots of memories
Those cabinets held her treasured milk glass collection… my husband made the wooden scales in shop class at school that she has on the counter. I remember listening to the chimes on the clock in the living room that chimed with a push on the front doorbell. (We saved it in hopes that one day… one of the children or grandchildren might enjoy it)
I went through drawer after drawer in the kitchen, remembering many of the things I used when I cooked there. Steve took home several useful gadgets to add to our own gadget drawer, which is overwhelming in itself; we just couldn’t throw them out… but they will need homes one day!
The kitchen drawers also hid many cookbooks, recipe cards… and pages and pages of recipes ripped from magazines… recipes that she wanted to try, but we all know how that goes; some I kept, some I trashed. I did keep the written recipes in her own handwriting, and I found two notebooks where she’d written many recipes in. Some of those recipes were also in my son’s handwriting… she probably put him to work in writing them for her.
I remember her making “lots” of pizzelles over the years!
I laughed when I found this scribbled recipe for ham pie and sweet pie crust in the drawer… probably from one of the many times Celia probably called her mother for the recipe! What the funniest was… that she wrote it on the back of a horse racing form!
In looking through the recipe books, I found her favorite Spritz cookie and pizzelle recipes; she made them often… and I loved them! When she retired her hand-held cookie press, I snagged it and have used it for years… although it does hurt my hand now. She had the perfect touch in pressing them out… just right every time… sometimes now I struggle with the dough. It does have to be the correct texture or it won’t push through… and it takes a good cook to know that… and she was a great cook and baker.
Celia’s favorite cookie press… still in my cupboard!
Somehow I have no memory of finding her pizzelle machine when we cleaned through the kitchen… I remember her machine actually having the recipe printed on the handle… and in as many times as she used it, I’m wondering if it burnt out! The one pictured above is the one I bought for my son’s birthday gift… he was her helper through the years! Writing this makes me want pizzelle’s… think I’ll drag mine out now!
Photographs were scattered throughout all those drawers… in every nook and cranny. It slowed me down a bit, as I can’t find pictures without stopping to look at them, and remember times of long ago when there were voices in this house other than just ours today. This house was dead now – no more laughter will it see until a new family moves in and brings it back to life…. but it’ll never be the same!
Cherry Winks… first cookie I learned to make from my mother in law
Being a new bride in 1971, and unexperienced in cooking… I learned to cook in this kitchen – from her favorite cookies of… Cherry Winks, Anginettes, and Thumbprints… to learning how to make Manicotti, Ham Pie and so much more. There were fun times around the kitchen table… learning how to roll out Easter pie crusts.. to dumping fresh pasta on the table… or frosting the Anginettes; I liked that part as I could sneak one or two as I frosted, but she always kept a close eye on how many I was sneaking. To read my detailed post with photos and recipe on Cherry Winks, click Here.
Celia’s “famous” manicotti machine… all our holiday pasta was cranked through that machine.
If Celia was making Manicotti, it was “all hands” on deck. We watched while she made the dough… then we helped to run the pieces of dough through the pasta machine which stretched it out into thin strips. Once the dough was flattened, it must be dried… and that meant spreading clean sheets on the bed to lay the dough on. After drying, they were boiled and dumped on the kitchen table… where we were waiting to add the ricotta mixture to the pasta as we rolled them up. I remember how messy that table became once she dumped the macaroni on the table… water dripped everywhere… even running off the table. My kids were able to enjoy helping out in the family cooking escapades there… the messier it was, the more fun they had.
As a young bride… I learned to cook in this kitchen!
I made Dad his own “pizza” apron for Saturday night pizza making… which of course the kids always fought over who was going to wear!
Saturday night dinners often consisted of Dad making his famous pizza, which was plain with lots of parmesan cheese and pepper… it was so good! We’ve never been quite able to duplicate it either, no matter how hard we’ve tried… he just had a technique of putting it together which we will just have to remember. If we weren’t having pizza, we made calzones… and whoever was there always competed as to who made the best looking and best tasting.
I can see how my husband took after his father in cooking… everything his father cut and diced was always perfect in size. When the ham pies at Easter were made, he sat diligently at the kitchen table cutting the ham into perfect bite-size pieces… and his son does the exact same thing. When my husband makes pepperoni bread, there isn’t a piece in there that isn’t uniform in size… mine never comes the same size. Dad also helped in the ham pie crust… after my mother-in-law mixed the dough, she’d yell, “Steph roll out the crust, it’s too hard for me.” In as I make the crust now, it’s not hard to roll out… she was playing him, but he had more finesse in rolling it and laying it in the pans… she had no patience for that. Teamwork is needed in making all those Easter pies… especially when you’re older. I can easily say now, I was once “wonder woman” in the kitchen baking all day with pies all over the place by the time hubby came home… and now… it’s a chore to just get one made. What Happened?
On Saturdays there, the TV was always on… and we either were watching a cooking show, The Victory Garden or NBC’s figure skating on the Wide World of Sports. My love of figure skating came from those Saturday afternoons. Often it was Nick Stellino or Mary Ann Esposito for the cooking shows.
There was much glassware there that was not of any value, just things collected through the years. I decided to box it all up and tackle a project in the spring. I had just been to a craft fair and saw birdhouse feeders made out of assorted pieces of glassware, and thought that would be a perfect end to all those pieces… they could be enjoyed, while giving us a remembrance of the family. And all those pieces…. are still boxed… maybe one day!
Many things were overwhelming like all her VCR tapes… which seemed to never end. It wasn’t just bought ones, my mother-in-law had taped many shows through the years… what do you do with them all? No one wants the VCR tapes anymore and I couldn’t think of a craft with them, but let me throw them out and something will come to mind
We stacked up many of the VCR tapes in the window… but believe me there were many, many, more!
Clothes were in every closet, along with drawers of duplicates of everything. It’s funny how you can tell the years by looking at the clothes, they just call out the years to you. And who doesn’t have clothes hanging in their closet… still with price tags!
Drawer after drawer… sifting through pencils, tape, address books, tiny pieces of return labels torn off envelopes; it made me think of what is all in my own drawers at home. My house is becoming a stocked store with so many items we’ve brought home. If I’d only been into crafting “junk journals” when I went through all those drawers… well, even more junk would have come home.
One of the drawers held her collection of family “obituaries” and funeral “wake” cards. She loved to pull them out once in awhile and we’d all look through and remember stories. They were one thing she seemed to treasure more than the family photographs she misplaced one time. It took us years to finally find them… buried in the cellar in a trashcan… almost succumbing to water. They quickly came home with us before lost for good. I saved her obituries and wake cards, along with all the wedding announcements sh’ed also saved. Sometimes they’re fun to look back through and being the family researcher… they can be a wealth of information. I later scanned all of the wedding announcements to share in our family group on Facebook.
Sad to see their bedroom bare… only the sun shining in and the same light globe in the ceiling that had been there for years. I only wish I had asked Steve to take it down… love the vintage look!
Then there are the things you aren’t going to use, but can’t bring yourself to throw away or sell… like the clock on the living room wall that chimed with the doorbell. (That clock can be seen in the photo of Celia standing by the kitchen cabinets up above… only wish I had thought to take a photo before it was taken down) It’s safely stored away, hoping someone will eventually like to have it… so far I have no takers! Hubby remembers it must have been bought while he was in the Air Force… he always discovered new changes to the house whenever he came home.
What a beautiful staircase this was that led upstairs… Steve used to do pushups on those stairs as a boy! (I’m told the new owners painted this beautiful wood staircase! Why would you do that?)
One of their earlier television sets…. next to that same staircase!
Many of the puzzles Celia put together through the years ended up on the attic floor… along with Elvis… she was a big Elvis fan!
In the attic we found puzzles, old paint by numbers that Celia painted of the Spanish bull fighters and a family of deer. I have photographs showing the bullfighters in pictures on the wall behind my husband with his parents… making them more sentimental to me; more things I can’t part with hastily! So what else ends up in the attic, all the various kitchen ceiling lights that came and went through the years. What hubby didn’t find was the baseball he lost many-many years ago in the attic… it rolled away to never-never land… and believe me he looked many times… with flashlight in hand looking down the attic edges of the walls. While he eventually gave up… he’ll never forget… and wonder where it really went!
The matador and bull paint-by-numbers Celia painted!
Steve with his parents… and there are the matador and bull fighting paint-by-numbers… I see a ceramic matador and bull on the table… but guess they didn’t survive through the years… as I never found saw them.
The attic door was in Steve’s room. On this last day, he looked down all the rafter walls one more time… still looking for that missing baseball of his youth! It’s now lost forever!
The second bedroom upstairs seemed to have become her craft catch-all in the past decade or two; and also seemed to be where she stashed her bear collection. Who knew she had that many bears! She also stashed her empty box collection from QVC there years ago… behind the wall in the closet in that bedroom… not wanting everyone to know all she had bought. I remember many when I’d be sitting out in the den and UPS would deliver a box… she’d stick it behind the couch without a word and go right back to cooking… like I didn’t even see it!
Steve’s childhood bedroom was hard to clean out and say goodbye to… lots of memories. My father in law built all the bureaus in the wall… a special touch to his room. This room was our first bedroom also when we lived there… it was where I stayed alone when Steve was in Thailand.
The dormer window that looked out from Steve’s bedroom… a place he looked out everyday… his boyish bedroom window.
What a craftsman my father-in-law was in building all these drawers in the wall. Steve kept his rolled coins behind the peg sliding doors as a young boy, and the long plexiglass shelf held his model cars. They all held memories! Hubby pulled all the drawers out… looking behind…. still looking for that baseball!
Celia standing in Steve’s bedroom!
Celia kept her Tarzan books on these shelves… they were originally her brother Freddie’s. The set of encyclopedias were used by Steve as a boy in school… I brought them home… why, I don’t know, but nostalgic feeling I guess. I do see them now in antique stores at somewhat higher prices than I imagined!
I did enjoy picking through all the crafts and remembering when we stitched embroidery crewel pictures. Now all our pictures that once hung on the walls… well, no one even wants anymore. After I’ve taken pictures of them all for remembrance, I’ll have to decide what I’m going to do with them; I do see them in antique stores now, but I can’t keep everything, or I’ll become smothered in stuff, but we will keep the memories. (I’ve planned a separate post on the crewel embroidery pictures)
A last look at Dad’s tool bench…
The tools in the cellar didn’t do too much for me, but my husband felt differently – so now he has more tools than he can ever use, but they were his dad’s. And who doesn’t have projects you never got to, well so did his dad; the old Singer pedal sewing machine he picked up off the road many… many years ago… well now guess who’s project it is – hubby’s! Hopefully it will get restored and find a home.
I remember the day Dad brought this home… proudly in his trunk… sadly he never found the time to refinish it… but it always sat under the stairs waiting for him!
It was in this cellar where my husband built model cars, lifted weights, ran his American Flyer trains, and learned many of his carpentering skills. His father often called him downstairs, not really needing the help… but to teach him without him really knowing it! All his skills today, can be attributed to those teaching lessons… learning without really knowing you were being schooled!
The basement didn’t look the same after we cleaned… taking many things that held memories. I should have taken more photos from the very beginning… but too many things were on my mind!
Dad’s workbench has never been so clean… it was once filled with motors, coffee cans holding nuts and bolts, and a few mechanical books. The cabinet on the wall held lots of plumbing supplies. Some came home with Steve and some had to be trashed. Dad saved every motor… always saying… “one day I’ll repair it.”
The only pieces of furniture that we took were two bureaus in the bedroom… which actually had belonged to my husband’s grandmother and were very vintage modern… built with real wood, not like the “knock down” type sold in the stores today; my daughter decided she wanted them for her first bedroom set.
Steve would have liked to have taken the older armoire … that had once been in his room… notice the baseball stickers pasted… that are still there; it originally came from the Insalaco family in Shelton. Once it was no longer needed in his room, it landed in the cellar… and the many water fiascos damaged the bottom.
The kitchen glass cabinets that held my mother-in-laws collection of milk glass pieces over the years; she gave the grandchildren several pieces years ago, so now they added a few more to their collection. It’s nice to see them being used in their homes today… keeps the memories alive when you see them.
Good thing my father-in-law wasn’t really a collector… other than the tools, screws, nails, plumbing parts, and old motors – he could never throw a motor away… always saying how he might be able to repair it one day. There were enough tools scattered throughout the house… enough for everyone in the family. Like I said, he wasn’t a collector!
The funniest thing we found in the cellar… buried way down in a wooden nail keg… was one of my mother-in-laws saucepans. Why didn’t I take a photo? Someone must have left it unattended on the stove… and it must have been left for quite a while, as the stainless steel bottom was quite scorched… as well as warped and destroyed… beyond repair! We both laughed over that as she often talked about that saucepan, and couldn’t understand what happened to it…. and dad never offered any suggestions as to what really happened either! Good thing she never found it… as he would never have lived it down! But we all have our little secrets! What goes in the cellar… remains in the cellar!
While the saucepan was thrown away, and I’m so wishing I’d taken a picture… Steve brought home that “famous” nail keg of memories… and refinished it as it was literally falling apart.
The kitchen window was Dad’s favorite place early in the morning, especially as he was always the first to rise… it was where he had his morning cigarette and coffee… surmising what the day would bring as he stood leaning on the counter… looking out. A daily habit that he never changed!
What I collected over the years in my husbands family home was lots of memories and stories… and those can’t be sold or forgotten. My kids grew up in this family home and spent countless hours there, especially in the summer. A pool was there from the time they were babies… they graduated from “swimmies” to dog paddling, and finally swimming… and finally tall enough to even touch bottom. In the summer… we spent every day in that pool… and cooking dinner on the grill!
Steve spent every evening cleaning the pool! He was the pool man!
Melissa, Stephen and Steve… spent countless hours in the pool!
My father-in-law’s passion in the summer was his garden… planting the usual Italian foods of squash, eggplant, peppers, tomatoes and green beans. He babied that garden, watering it every evening like clockwork. We always laughed about his garden, that inasmuch as he cared for it, it never really produced much! I always looked forward to the first squash though, as my mother-in-law made squash quiche… and she made the best; although my husband makes it the best now – he’s perfected her recipe!
Dad’s squash and tomato plants
Dad attempted to grow a lemon tree once… but it never produced not one single lemon… no matter how he fussed with it all summer. He’d grown it from seeds given him… babying it every winter… bringing it in the house, and carrying it back out in the summer. But no lemons!
What was so hard in closing up this house is that we’ll never be able to return again. My father-in-law built this house… building it pretty much all by himself at night after work, and every weekend… and built with no mortgage… that is amazing! The house even withstood a move… as when I-95 came through, it was projected to run through his property; the state bought him property nearby and moved the house. My husband remembers watching the house being prepared for the move as they jacked up the house and secured it with huge girders underneath.
Dad building their house… first on Sawmill Road… and later moved to 30 Edward St. after I-95 came through.
I lived in this house after marrying Steve while he went to Thailand. I’ll never forget the afternoon when I put too much soap in the washer and it bubbled soap bubbles like a Lucy episode! Of course I didn’t want my mother-in-law to see that I didn’t know what I was doing… as I clearly didn’t… so I kept scooping up and dumping them out the cellar door! It’s been so long that I don’t even remember if I was ever caught, but I’m sure my father-in-law probably figured it out… but never said anything. The biggest basement fiasco, which wasn’t really my fault… was when the water hose on the washer broke while I was home alone with my son. Water was shooting up super hard and fast from the washer… up toward the ceiling. I was clueless as to what happened… and had no idea how to close the water valve or even knew about it! I ended up calling the fire dept, but before they arrived, I accidentally found the valve… and met the fireman at the door dripping wet… head to toe! They chastised me for going in the cellar barefoot with water all over the floor… who knew I could have been electrocuted!
There’s a few things my husband won’t miss there – the millions of leaves in the fall that he raked and bagged for almost forever… the grass he mowed from the time he was old enough to push the mower, until well, like forever… the snow shoveled on those cold windy days… gutter cleaning every spring… and the many nights he spent pumping the water out of the cellar, when the sump pump became stuck… he definitely won’t miss those things!
Leaves were abundant there… just as many in the front as on the side and the back. In the years that he bagged them, it was easily way over a hundred plus bags by the time he was through.
Granddaughter, McKinley, was the last one to romp in the leaves!
Granddaughters, Ella, Ana and Nina enjoying a ride on the hand truck!
Steve will miss the memories of living there with his parents… growing up on Edward Street. It’s a home he watched his father build… a home he watched being moved from Sawmill Road to Edward St…. memories of learning how to build and repair things from his father… memories of the many holiday meals his mother cooked and family around the table… memories of us living there with his parents as our first home, when we married… and memories of watching television with his mother mostly… they shared many of the same type of movies. Her kitchen was where I learned to cook… mostly all the family favorite Italian foods I’ve written about in my cookbooks. Even though the house was becoming hard to keep up us as his mother aged… it was still home when we walked in. And that last day when we both closed and locked the door for the last time… both knowing we could never just walk right in again… it felt strange and unreal… and we both left very quiet… each having our own thoughts of sadness.
The last photo taken with the family tree… I’m sure dad was sitting on that same branch above… smiling!
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