2020: U – 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’ve 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 once resembled Coney Island… and 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!
“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 have even been a brother… whatever they did or wherever they went – I wanted to follow!”
“My uncles were all musically talented… Johnny played the accordion, piano, guitar and harmonica. Freddie played the harmonica and Frankie played the piano, organ, guitar and harmonica. Neither of them ever had music lessons – it was all by ear! And if anyone ever asked who played the best – Johnny piped up quickly to say… he played the best!”
Steve has told me many stories through the years of time spent with his uncles… and those memories must be saved!
“Spending time at my grandparent’s house on Sawmill Road and later First Avenue was the best. There was always plenty of family around to be entertained by. My three uncle’s, Freddie, Frankie and Johnny were usually into something – and I always wanted to be right there – 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.”
“When we lived next door to my grandparents on Sawmill Road, I was there every day. I idolized my uncles – Johnny, Frankie and Freddie. Johnny and Frankie were more like brothers to me being closer in age than Freddie. I remember watching my favorite TV show “Superman” with Frankie in the evenings. They had a TV set way before we did, so I went there often. 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, see the strings pulling Howdy Doody, you’re not suppose to see them.” Freddie liked to mostly watch movies; I watched all the old classic’s with him.”
“One summer Uncle Freddie (Cambino) 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 (Cambino) followed him out in the rowboat. They both made the swim, but it was later said that the other guy had a rope tied to him and was being pulled by his boat.”
Uncle Freddy often said how he should start saving all those old cars that he cut up and junked. He would tell me how they’re gonna be worth money one day… well he was sure right! If I could go back in time, I’d tell Freddy to stop cutting up all the old cars because they are going to be worth a lot of money in the future. He towed cars weekly to the farm – it was like a junkyard way in back of the farm. He stripped them… selling the parts to local junkyards or whomever. He was always involved in something to make money.”
“Uncle Freddie had several cats on the farm, but none in the house like today… they were all outside pets. He had one cat that disappeared for days and when it returned it had several rubber bands wrapped around its tail. There were so many wrapped around that they almost came all the way up to the base of the tail. One day Grandpa was cutting the hedges and with the clippers he just cut the dead part of the cat’s tail off – leaving only a stub of a tail. He put black salve on it that he used at the barber shop for cuts – that cat lived a long time.”
Uncle Freddie Cambino
“Freddie was an excellent shot with a bow and arrow – best I’ve ever seen. I sometimes went with him to the archery range to watch him shoot. I’ll never forget the shot he made one day… first hitting inside the bullseye area… but then the second arrow split the back of the first arrow. What precision he had with the bow. I even have one of his bow and arrow sets his wife gave me after he died. I remember seeing him hit a chipmunk once from a long distance… I could hardly believe the shot, as it was so far away that I could hardly even see it… hitting it with a rubber tip arrow.”
“Freddie was fun to be around – I was in awe of everything he did.”
In talking about saving things for future… “Freddie was very smart seeing into the future. I remember one trip when I was with him, Johnny, and Frankie… at the archery range. He told his brothers that they should buy a couple of brand new cars, put in a warehouse up on blocks and save because they’ll be worth a lot of money in the future. They laughed at him! I never turned down an opportunity in going anywhere with them… as I heard stories. Freddie was very smart… he wanted to save things for the future… not like kids today, as they want to throw things away. It’s probably going to be their kids who wish they had those family items, but it’ll be too late.”
While watching a movie this morning… and one kid fighting another… brought back memories. “I thought I was Superman when I was sixteen… I can still see the day that I picked up the oak china closet my mother took from Shelton and carried it over my head and threw it across the street. (she just had to have it and pestered them until they gave it to her, but like everything else in our house – she tired of it) I was strong! Look who my uncles were – Johnny was strong like an ox – Freddie was very strong – and Frankie was no pushover either.”
Freddy was a reader… the Tarzan books that my mother kept in the bookcase, in my room, were his. As far as I know Frankie only read Popular Mechanics… that was his favorite reading choice… and where he found all those great ideas, like the robot, diving helmet and the many other things he built through the years. I still remember him telling me at the farm… “one day we will be able to call and see people through a screen… he looked to the future and what was coming.”
“When Freddie came home from the Navy he was different, and changed… he had returned after serving on the USS Hinsdale. I later found out that his ship had been hit by a Kamikaze plane… almost sinking off the coast of Okinawa. He earned three medals in the Navy… The American Theater, Victory Medal and the Asiatic Pacific medal with five stars.” (To read more on Freddy in the Navy and how he almost died when his boat was hit, click HERE.)
Uncle Frankie Cambino
“Uncle Frankie only hit a deer once with a bow, but it was a small one. That was when I first married; now you have to have a license to even shoot a bow. I don’t even think Freddie ever shot a deer with a bow, and he was a great shot with a bow. I enjoyed watching when he shot arrows straight up in the air… my job was to watch and help find them after they fell.”
“One of Uncle Frankie’s favorite magazines was Popular Mechanics… and from one of them, he devised a diving helmet… using a bucket that went over your head as a helmet allowing you to go under the water… like a diver with a tank. There was a tube attached, which pumped air into the bucket. Whoever was in the boat pumped the air into the tube. I think Frankie tested it with my father and I in the boat once, but I don’t remember much more about it other then that.”
“I also worked with Uncle Frankie doing carpentry when I was young – before I 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 both very strong!”
“Every summer Frankie built something to use on the water. One year it was a floating raft for us to swim out and sit on; usually the rowboat was tied nearby. When my grandparents first moved to First Avenue we used the beach below the house all the time. There isn’t much of a beach now, but there once was a beach, and we swam in the water… although some of it was pretty murky, but you learned to walk out a little ways and pick up your feet to miss that part… finally swimming out to the waiting wooden raft, or the rowboat.”
“I’ve never forgotten how Frankie told the funniest sayings, like… “If all the Chinese farted at once, the world would explode.” Another one was – “If all the Chinese jumped up and down at once, our planet would be thrown off-kilter… I hope I never really believed him! I have a few more he said… that can’t be written here, but if you were lucky enough to have spent time around Uncle Frankie, you’ve probably just remembered them!”
“Uncle Frank always stands out in a crowd – he’s one of a kind. He livens up the party with a funny song, or a joke, and always has a new trick up his sleeve to show you. The one song I remember is, “Smoke, Smoke, Smoke that Cigarette.” I had never heard that song before. He never forgets a verse and will amaze and entertain you every time he sings it.”
“I always enjoyed crabbing more when I went with Frankie after I married. He’d say… “Crabbing is a slow process… what do you think, they’re gonna jump in your net? You have to catch them.” It was funny when he said that!”
“Uncle Frankie loved to tell how the Cambino boys ruled the neighborhood when they were young – they were the best in everything, he’d say!”
“When Uncle Frankie lived upstairs on First Avenue, he had an upright piano. I’ll never forget the time he wanted to get rid of it and they couldn’t get it out through the door. My father told them the only way they were going to get it out was to take it apart… and take it out in pieces through the window. They laughed at him, but how did they finally get it out – through the window… just like my father said; that piano was heavy to move, even in pieces. Good thing Johnny was around as he carried the heavy pieces down like they were nothing, he was the strongest person I’ve ever known. There was nothing he couldn’t pick up.”
Uncle Frankie making “pickled eggplant” can be read over… Here.
Uncle Frankie remembering: “I built a lot of things from the Popular Mechanic Magazine when I was young. Once I made a deep-sea diving helmet… it was a helmet attached to a hot water bottle which held the air… a snorkel mask was worn under the helmet. My brother, Johnny, and I even went out in the row boat to test it. Johnny put on the helmet and tied heavy chains around his body to weigh him down. I had a pump in the boat that I pumped up and down really fast to supply him with air. Johnny went down about 20 feet – stayed awhile… and then came shooting up fast because he was running out of air. I later went out with a friend to try it again; he also tied the heavy chains around himself. He weighed himself down so much that he almost drowned trying to get back to the surface. Another project I 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 his hand, his eyes lit up. I also built a wooden donkey that held a pack of cigarettes – when you lifted the tail, a cigarette came out the back end.”
Uncle Johnny Cambino
“Johnny won nine races in one year – and that was when he was older and not driving at Savin Rock. The younger drivers thought he was senile when he began driving again at age 60. They thought they’d drive circles around him, but he showed them quickly who could drive. And they didn’t like it! They tried anything and everything to always get his car disqualified. It seemed like every time he won, his car was pulled into the inner-field and torn apart – trying to find something to have him disqualified. They just hated it when he won.”
“Johnny often said about the other car drivers… “if they can’t beat me, then they don’t deserve to be on the track”… and that was when he was driving 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. Getting beat by him was an insult to their driving ability – Johnny laughed about his beating them. He had more skill and knowledge about driving then they had just being alive at that point.”
“Johnny told me when I was small that I better enjoy Savin Rock every day as you never know when it’s gonna end. He said he’d heard they were getting rid of it even when he was young.
“Uncle Johnny was the strongest person I’ve ever known. His arms were like the cartoon character Popeye; he told me he was very strong from 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, to have been honestly!”
“Going to the movies always gave the brothers ideas… and after seeing Johnny Weissmuller as “Tarzan” it gave my uncle’s this idea. The story goes that they came home and decided to swing from the big tree out back like Tarzan did in the movie. They hung a rope on the old oak tree, and used it to swing “like Tarzan”. The tree was always known afterward as The Tarzan Tree. A lot 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 – my uncles were grown then.”
The famous “Tarzan Tree” at the farm!
“I remember my uncles bringing home Xmas trees from their yearly hunting trips. They always pulled in with the largest tree strapped to the roof of their car and a deer tied on the hood… they never came home without a deer. Freddie always hung the deer skins in the yard… he read books to learn new things to make with the dried skins.”
In seeing a deer shot on TV… “I remember watching many deer butchered after my uncles came back from their hunting trips. One year Johnny brought home a really big one – a friend, who was a butcher, came over and hung it in the garage on 1st Avenue. That garage had a drain in the middle and the floor was slightly tilted downward so all the blood drained down and out. I watched everything from the skinning to the end… it was very interesting to a young boy.”
Riding by the beach today,and seeing the many kites flying… “I remember Freddie making a couple of huge kites. He made one in the shape of a typical regular kite shape… it was about six feet high. After making the wood frame, he covered it with heavy plastic from Armstrong. It was glued and he melted the plastic over to secure it. He hooked it to a deep sea fishing reel… and it ended up out so far over the water that it looked like it was almost to the other side – then the string broke! He had used 8 rolls of string – each roll was 200 feet. I liked to fly kites down at Grandma Minnie’s… as once you got it up, running down the driveway toward the water, then the wind usually would take it right out over the water. To read more on Johnny Cambino, The Legend…. click HERE.
“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’ll always be remembered.”
© 2020, copyright Jeanne Bryan Insalaco; all rights reserved