2020: M – 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 had 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!
This photograph of the Cambino family is one of my favorites; it was taken at the farm under the grapevine by L. V. Emery… of 693 Washington Ave. As Grandpa Joe’s barber shop was at 668 Washington Ave., nearby… we might assume he was a customer at Buddy’s Barber Shop… maybe the photo was even bartered for in free haircuts?
Memories of The Farm
While I never saw or experienced the “Farm”… I’ve heard many stories of their memories. While fond remembrances came from there… it didn’t seem to begin that way.
Aunt Catherine (Donahue) often talked about her first home at 294 York St… how it was a beautiful home with running water, inside heat and electricity… things we all take for granted today. She was a young ten year old girl, and it was all she knew, but life soon changed for her… abruptly it seemed. At some point, possibly just before 1933, the move took place as Nancy was the first born at the farm in 1934; I have assumed the time frame as I was told that only Nancy and Dolly were born at the farm and the 1933 city directory listed them now living at 275 Sawmill Road. The 1938 city directory listed him as “Joseph Gambino” at Sam Mill Rd…. living between Greta and Meloy. (clearly a typo on the “Sam Mill”). On the 1942 city directory, the address changed to 345 Saw Mill Rd…. which seems to be the address the family remembers; probably changed after more houses were built. The closest neighbor, R. Camputaro was listed at 353 Sawmill Rd.
1930 West Haven, CT. Census: Giuseppe “Joseph” Cambino (1894-1972), Minnie (1905-1992 – wife), Catherine (1924-2015 – daughter), Fred (1926-1986 – son), Celia (1928-2015 – daughter). Census reads that he owned a home with a value of $6000, did not live on a farm, owned a radio, worked his own barber business, was a veteran, spoke English, birthplace of Italy, immigration year of 1914 and still an alien. (I guess by 1930 he didn’t remember when he arrived in America… he immigrated here on May 27, 1913 on the S. S. Moltke)
The Great Depression began in 1929, but began taking its toll on the country more into the late 1930’s. Possibly by 1933, Joseph may have had financial difficulty… causing them to move suddenly to “The Farm” on Sawmill Road. Did he lose his house on York St. as so many did? There’s no one to ask that question to now… and being the proud man I’ve heard he was… it was never talked about. He continued to provide for his family at the farm… although Aunt Catherine often talked to me about how she felt on the move… as it affected her as a young ten year old girl… uprooted from a home she seemed to have loved. She also mentioned to me that he built the farmhouse and moved them there… that signals to me that he possibly had bought the land while still living in their house on York St. It may not have been the case of him losing the house… in as much as he wanted a farm… and making it happen. In the long run, everyone was probably happier there… although the boys probably enjoyed it more than the girls.
“Uncle Freddie shooting his bow on the farm”
“Uncle Frankie often hunted in the woods, bringing home squirrels for mama to cook… often using birds as target practice. Uncle Freddie had his own small junkyard of cars way in the back… he often spent much time out there also with his bow. As a young boy, I thought it fun to watch him shoot at the bulls-eye target he kept setup in the back field… shooting arrows high in the air… we’d watch them come down. I was too young to go into the woods when I lived there… I could only play in the open fields that Freddie kept cleared; it was a lot about 200 ft. by 200 ft.”
Steve sitting on the back steps of the farmhouse… he laughs, saying… “I never knew there was any other door to go in except for this door… maybe this was the only door?”
In asking Steve about where the “farm” was actually located… “There was only one way into the farm, as it was set back back behind our house on Sawmill Road. It wasn’t really a road… it was more of a wide access cut-out opening of packed uneven dirt with wavy ruts; it was directly across from Voss Road… on the opposite side of Sawmill Road. Today that part of Voss Road is no longer there… when they revamped the entrance and exit off I-95, they ended that part of Voss Rd. at the top of the hill; located where Edward St. met Voss Road. At one time, we could drive directly across from Voss Rd. to that wide cut-out opening… bringing us to our house and back to the farm.”
” As you drove up that rutty, wavy, “cut-out” dirt road to the top of the hill, you turned right into our yard, with the house sitting about forty feet away from where we parked. If you were going to grandpa’s farm, you continued straight on the cutout road further back… first reaching a flat open area they used for parking… it was outlined with long poles to ensure the cars didn’t roll; most all cars then were standard shift and they could have a tendency to roll unless left in gear. My grandfather’s car rolled once toward the dirt walkway toward the house. Grandpa often came home for lunch and probably had parked closer to the walkway… no one had to stop it, as it must have rolled slow and jammed itself between the rocks that lined the walkway; the walkway narrowed toward the house.”
“My grandfather had enough land to give acreage to all his children to build on when they married, but no one took the land except for my mother.”
“Uncle Jimmy Donahue standing next to my father’s Rocket 88… it was parked on Sawmill Road. There seems to be a road cut-out in front of the car. Area looks more like the state was already working in leveling the land and trees so area isn’t as recognizable here. This possibly could have been farm of neighbor Ralph Camputaro.”
“Once you reached the top of the hill at our house, you slowly descended down to more flat land where grandpa’s farm was. It was completely enclosed by trees… there was also a back entrance which Freddie used when towing in the old cars he cut up for parts to sell.”
“Freddie’s Hudson parked in the area they used for parking. They outlined it with large poles or planks to keep the cars from possibly rolling down the hill.”
I’ve marked the blueprints to show you the locations better. No. 1 is Saw Mill Road… No. 2 is the cut-out road going up to No. 3 where Steve & Celia Insalaco built their first home. No. 4 is off to the left, where the “farm” was… note it says Minnie Cambino on the map; so the farm area must have been in her name… another puzzle as to why? Note, that at the very top of the blueprints, it says Highland Street… which is in backof where the now apartments are at the bottom of West Spring St. and Greta St.
This walkway, slightly sloped, led from the parking area… Steve sitting on the walkway to the farmhouse.
Uncle Freddie with Aunt Dolly under the grapevine… located next to the shack… where Grandma Minnie did most of her cooking and canning.
I’ve found many photos taken in about this same area…. as I’ve seen the same houses across on Greta Street. This shows you about where their farm area was. LtoR. front: Nancy, Butchie, Mike DeTulio, Pauline. LtoR Back: Celia, Catherine and Frankie. Those houses in the background are no longer there… we believe the house with the three dormers might be in the area where the old “West Haven Motor Inn” was… now today known as the Econo Lodge.
“While we lived on Sawmill Road… we weren’t on the ground level as the road. Our house, sat up top, while the farm was more back toward West Spring St. and Greta Street. When you were at their farm, you didn’t hear or see Sawmill Road… you were isolated… surrounded by a forest of trees. Only in the fall, when the leaves were down, could you even see any neighbors; their closest neighbor was Ralph Camputaro, the oil man. (The state bought his land also for I-95) When the state bought my grandfather’s land, they didn’t even buy it all… they only bought what they needed, leaving him a small section that was inaccessible by car. You could walk into it, but there was nothing he could do with it… except pay taxes on it… which eventually he stopped paying … so I guess the city took.”
What a treasured photograph of their kitchen… giving us a glimpse into their life. It appears that Grandma Minnie is busy cooking… as she always sat at the table when preparing dishes. In looking around the table, a large bowl of grapes sit in the middle… probably picked that morning from grandpa’s grape vines. A box on the table, with wrappers nearby, may have been a treat from a local bakery… I can’t make out the bottle on the table, but I’m suspecting it might be a wine or his homemade brew inside… the table looks full of crumbs, is that a cheese grater near Grandma Minnie… and check out the wringer washer behind Nancy, it seems they now must have electricity and their own washing machine… no more lugging laundry to the barber shop. Grandpa Joe’s radio sits on a wall shelf… Nancy remembers her mother listening to the daily soaps and they all enjoyed the Sunday evening show of “The Shadow Knows.” I love the vintage porcelain kitchen table with the side drawers to hold the silverware. This is a well-worn kitchen table… lots of love around it and lots of memories… if only this photograph could tell their story! (The radio serial, “The Shadow”, ran from 1930-1954… with the famous line “Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows.”
Grandpa and Aunt Catherine on my mother in law’s wedding day… her dress as maid of honor always resembled a wedding dress to me. Steve says the small house in the background was the chicken coop… where several chickens supplied the family with eggs.
“Steve: Grandpa utilized everything on the farm… when he built his chicken coop he used the old windows from the cars that Freddie had junked. You could roll the windows up and down from the hand crank on the panel; as a young boy, I thought that was pretty neat.”
Memories from Aunt Catherine: “I am the oldest one in our family now, and I remember the house we lived in at 294 York Street in West Haven. It was a nice house with indoor heating, bathrooms and lots of closets… we didn’t live there very long. (Even though Catherine told me they didn’t live there very long, she must have been born on York St., as Joe and Minnie only lived in a small room at the barber shop for a short time.) We later moved to a house our father built on Saw Mill Road, which we called “the farm.” Nancy and Dolly were born there. One day Daddy just up and moved us to this farmhouse… it was nothing like our house on York St. We had no heating, except for the stove in the kitchen, no closets, and no indoor plumbing! It was like going backwards, compared to the house we had been living in. Maybe he lost the house on York St., although I don’t remember ever hearing anyone say anything about it, but we made do there… and eventually he added an indoor bathroom. Everyone loved to come and stay at the “farm” – as it was always called. From listening to people talk now about the ‘farm’, it seemed to be a fun place to visit. He owned a large area of land surrounding the house and offered his children a piece to build on as they married, but I chose not to. The only one of my siblings that took a piece of land was my sister Cecelia.”
“I’ll never forget when my sister, Nancy, almost got run over by Ralph Camputaro’s ice trunk. Nancy had gone to the back of his ice truck to get ice chips while he delivered ice inside. Our driveway was on a slight hill, and while she was standing behind the truck, it began rolling. As I looked out the window and saw the truck rolling backward… with Nancy holding onto the back bumper… I started yelling! Ralph ran out and caught the truck just in time, but it still didn’t stop me from getting a beating from my father when he heard… he said I should have been watching her.”
“My sister Nancy did most of the work around the farm like milking the cows and hanging the many loads of wash. I wouldn’t milk the cows at all, or hang the wash over the big rocks, although I did do my share of hanging clothes elsewhere. I was not an outdoor person like my brothers and sisters were. I didn’t even swing on the Tarzan tree like my sister Nancy did; she was more of a tomboy, playing lots of sports in school. Today she’s like “Martha Stewart” – she knows how to do everything. My sister, Celia, liked to play cards with our brothers.”
“My sister Celia and I worked on a farm off Meloy Road… the truck arrived early mornings to pick us up. I picked green beans there, with my pay depending upon how much I picked. They weighed the bushel baskets you picked… sometimes I added a few stones to make mine weigh more as I was paid by the pound. The one thing I didn’t like about picking was all the “granddaddy long legs” that hung around the plants. At first I was scared of them, but quickly learned to just pinch them and move on. My sister, Celia, was terribly afraid of them and once she saw one… she stopped picking for the day. I also worked at the stone house on Meloy Road… they had a small farm… I hoed around the plants in their garden.”
Memories from JoJo (DeTulio) Viscuso: “I loved going to my sister Minnie’s house in West Haven when I was young. My sister, Mary, and I often spent the weekend… it was fun staying there. We would all pile up and sleep in one room… sometimes even putting the mattresses on the floor. Their house was known as “The Farm”… good times was had there. I remember the “Tarzan” tree out behind the house where the boys hung a heavy rope on the tree and tied a tire to it. We’d climb up, wait for them to swing the rope to us, and swing out. It was a lot of fun being at “The Farm.”
Memories from Aunt Nancy (Cambino) Cavallaro: “One of my many jobs was milking the cows when we lived on the farm; my father even sold some of the fresh milk to friends, and I had the job of delivering and collecting the ten-cents to bring back to my mother. I remember delivering to Eddie Voss and someone who lived on York Street. He probably sold it in quarts, as I wouldn’t have been able to carry it in larger quantities.”
When I asked Aunt Nancy about the chickens on the farm… “I don’t remember why, but sometimes my brothers threw me in the chicken coup when they felt like picking on me; I hated that because the rooster pecked hard!”
“My mother made cheese… putting them in a basket to dry outdoors in the screen cage above… when it hardened, we used it for grating. She also made ricotta cheese with the water from making cheese. We had a cow at the farm too… and I had to milk the cow when mama didn’t; I also took care of the chickens and collected the eggs.“
“We called our farm “The Calamari Ranch” on Wednesday’s… it was a ritual on Wednesday having “stuffed calamari” – nothing different – everyone always knew what was for supper on Wednesday; close friends and family often dropped by to eat with us. Mama always cooked a big pot of spaghetti, making sure there was plenty for everyone. When the fish man came she usually bought 3 pounds of fresh squid… cleaned and stuffed them… sewing the belly with needle and thread; never would she use toothpicks. It had to be done the old fashioned way, and I was the one who had to keep her supplied with thread as she sewed. Mama started her sauce pot while she cleaned the calamari… throwing the legs she cut off from the squid into the sauce for flavor. I remember the fish man coming every Wednesday to the farm. You’d hear his call of “pesce, pesce” and know his truck of fresh fish was outside.”
“When I was small I remember my mother baking Easter sweet breads out in the shack on the farm. She used a huge metal pan and 36 eggs, all at once… if you can imagine. How she judged the temperature and timed them amazes me today. I can still smell the aroma! When we were small mother made each of us a small loaf of Easter bread with the egg in the center; I remember it being a very hard bread. She’d have them sitting all lined up on the bureau in our room. I had the measles one Easter when I was about 6 and I took my Easter bread into bed with me… we called them ‘casa dill.”
“I remember my mother having a kerosene stove inside the house at the farm. A glass jug held the kerosene, which was attached to the side of the stove; I often had to walk to get it filled. She had a wood burning stove in the outside building we called ‘the shack’… which she used for most of her frying… she didn’t like to fry inside the house.”
Memories of Celia Cambino Insalaco: When I was small I remember having only kerosene lamps for light at nighttime on the farm – there was no electricity when we were young. Mama took our clothes to wash at Daddy’s barber shop on Washington Avenue because he had electricity. I have many memories of listening to the radio with my mother and sisters – we all listened to the 15-minute soap serial “As The World Turns.”
“My sisters and brothers all worked at a local farm to help my father with money. I hated working on the farm – I didn’t like bugs and snakes. I don’t remember working there for long because I was afraid whenever I saw a snake in the fields; we picked vegetables there in baskets.”
Dolly (Cambino-Burgarella) Alfonso: “My father built a large grape arbor on the farm… and there was a hammock that hung underneath. My nephew, Steve (Insalaco), and I often played there; we are only a few years apart in age. I remember, Squeaks, a spider monkey my brother Johnny had, and Squeaks loved to sit on the grape arbor, eating grapes and spitting the skins out all over the ground. It used to make my father so mad.”
Dolly with her father… behind looks like the house where Grandma Minnie cooked… often referred to as the shack. (Grandpa Joe’s car)
Memories from Johnny Cambino: “I remember everything that happened to me when I was young! When I was about four or five, I fell into the spring near the farm. I don’t remember what I was trying to get, but I remember leaning over… and that’s when I fell in. I was half under the water with just the ‘tips’ of my hands hanging on the edge when Mama found me. How she knew where I was, I’ll never know, except just chalking it up to a mother’s instinct. But suddenly she had missed me around the house, and ran all the way down to the spring to see my fingers hanging over the edge. They told me that she jumped in to rescue me, and then they had to help pull her out. After she got me back to the house, my grandmother held me upside down so all the water I swallowed would drain out. Mama told me later that she thought about the spring when I was missing because I always went with her to fill the pails with water.”
“We had a tree at the farm that we called “The Tarzan Tree.” We named it that after going to the circus and from watching too many Tarzan movies. Frankie and I hung a thick rope on that tree, right under the big rocks. We’d climb up, swing the rope out, and when it came back, we’d grab it and try to swing to the next tree – just like we’d seen them do on TV and in the circus. One day I swung out and the rope broke, and down I went on the rocks. Boy did that hurt! When I went home Mama and my grandmother used one of their home remedies on me – no one ran to the Dr.’s back then… and they didn’t tell my father what I did either. Mama took plenty of eggs and cracked them to separate the whites. Then she took a white bed-sheet, tore it in strips and dipped them in the beaten egg whites. She wrapped the strips all around my wrists; after they dried, they were hard as a rock – an old remedy for a cast. When my father came home, he was told that the cow had kicked me. They never told him what really happened. If he knew I had fallen from the Tarzan Tree, I would have gotten a beating, broken wrists or not. That’s just how it was!”
“Frankie and I had two pet black crows on the farm. We took them out of a nest when they were young and raised them. When they were older they lived outside – I’d open the pantry window and yell ‘caw, caw’ – and those two birds would come flying right inside. I fed them raw chopped meat – they could eat a pound of meat in no time… gobbling it right up. My bird’s name was ‘Nigal’ (Nick). I don’t remember what Frank’s was called. One day his didn’t come home, then later mine disappeared. Maybe they went off to start their own family.”
‘I can still see mama making us Root Beer at the farm… I remember how it foamed up very quickly after she added the yeast cake. When it was ready to bottle, my brother Frankie and I quickly helped to pour it into the bottles while mama got the bottle capper out. We worked together filling the bottles one by one and then capped them… just like an assembly line. We put the capped bottles in the dirt cellar daddy had dug out. Of course the longer they stayed, the more potent they were, but we could never let them stay that long. Frankie and I would steal and drink them – hot or cold – it didn’t matter. Sometimes we’d hear a big ‘pop’ from downstairs – another bottle was lost – it had exploded! The one good thing was that since we had a dirt cellar there wasn’t much mess to clean when they popped open.”
Memories from Frank Cambino: “We had many chickens on the farm. One time the old man cut their beaks straight across, making them flat because they were pecking the eggs with their pointed beaks and breaking them… he solved that. The ‘old man’ was tough!”
“We had to help my father with the plowing so he could plant; it was usually Freddie who dragged the shovel to plow. I liked walking through the soft dirt afterward… until Freddie threw rocks at me to get out. Freddie did most of the bull-work in the fields helping the old man.”
Memories from Steve: “My grandparent’s (Cambino) house on Sawmill Road was always referred to as “The Farm.” At that time, the surrounding area was mostly woods, with very few houses. Grandpa Cambino had a large garden behind his house, all enclosed by a fence… he even had a grape arbor. Grandpa’s grape vines enclosed the large grape arbor which gave us much shade… there was an old kitchen table underneath where we often ate in the summer. Sometimes my uncle’s even played cards out there on Saturday if Grandpa wasn’t home. In the winter they played cards in the small shed, called the shack… that was where Grandma Minnie mostly did her cooking; there was a wood burning, porcelain stove inside. I was always told that I chipped that stove when I fell and hit my head on it; I was supposedly younger than five when I did that. Even though I have no recollection of it… I still find it hard to believe that my head could have been that hard at a young age to chip a stove, but I do remember seeing the chip.”
“Grandpa dug out a dirt cellar after moving into the farmhouse… it’s where he kept his wine barrels. I remember the sides in the cellar having stones, but I think the floor was only dirt packed; I had only heard that he dug it out slowly after the house was built. It was lined with shelves on the wall for grandma’s many canning jars; she canned everything they harvested out of the garden. It stayed cool down there, so it made the perfect storing area for the canned goods and his wine.”
Grandpa Joe enjoyed being outside… it seems he often got babysitting duty. Behind him is the shack where Grandmama Minnie cooked.
Grandpa Joe, often to be found babysitting and entertaining the farm dogs with one of his flutes that he carved… Dolly remember having one.
Steve and I took a ride to photograph the area so I could better identify on photos and map where the farm was located.
The “new” Saw Mill North-bound exit… about halfway up where red circle is would have been about where the Insalaco home on Saw Mill Rd. was. The cut-out road to go up to the Insalaco home and to the “farm” was about the same area as this ramp. After going past his house you would have continued on and then slightly down and to the left toward the farm; it was set back off Saw Mill Rd… not seen from the road as the area was filled with trees.
In the early 1950’s there was a large rock here where Steve sat on as a young boy counting cars… today you can just about see the tip of the rock before grass grows in the spring.
Photo taken from the parking lot of West Haven Discount Liquor (379 Saw Mill Rd.), with entrance on Meloy Rd. In looking through the trees, you would be looking toward the area of Joe Cambino’s farm.
The stone house at the corner of Meloy and West Spring St. was where Joe Cambino played bocce every Sunday afternoon. I’m told it was “Gouma’s” (sp) house, which meaning godmother; she was Dolly’s godmother. They walked up a hill from the back of their farm to reach it. (In researching I found “Comare” as a slang dialect version of Godmother; I am spelling it as I understood it said.)
In driving down West Spring St., off Meloy, we turned right on Kenneth St, which seemed to end… unless you turned into more apartment areas. Looking straight ahead into the woods, would be the farm area owned by Joseph Cambino. Their farm was situated in the center area of land enclosed by Saw Mill Rd., Greta St., West Spring St., and Meloy Rd. I can safely assume that this was part of the Cambino farm… possibly the part that the state did not buy; this section of forest still remains undeveloped.
© 2020, copyright Jeanne Bryan Insalaco; all rights reserved