When I started researching my family tree, I would ask Uncle Robbie questions. He always said, “What do you want to know that for? It’s in the past.” Well, now at 93 years old, he’s ready to tell me.
He remembers that in 1939 that Gone With the Wind was in the movie theater. Aunt Mary (his oldest sister) took him to the 1939 World’s Fair and he remembers an exhibit about diphtheria. (At the 1939 New York World’s Fair, the Health Department displayed exhibits about this disease in addition to information about tuberculosis, pneumonia, child health, and other issues.) There was a man handing out prizes and the man saw that Uncle Robbie hadn’t won a prize, so he gave him one. Aunt Mary used to take him and Uncle Paul with her wherever she went. He said he was her “chaperone”.
He said my father was playing football and got knocked out and had to go to the hospital. My mother was with him (this was before they were married). He came home from the hospital the same day.
My mother lived in “the projects” in Red Hook, Brooklyn. Her actual address was 101 Centre Mall. At the projects there was a park with a pool and a spray fountain. Uncle Robbie loved going there. I believe he said the park was called Coffee Park and that there was a statue there of someone from the Civil War.
Sometimes he would go with either Aunt Mary or with his mother to Bear Mountain on a ferry. It was for “Home Relief”. There would be food on the ferry. He got his first pair of glasses when he was 7 years old from Home Relief.
In the house that they lived in at 11 24 56th Street, Brooklyn, there was no bathtub so they had to walk five blocks to the bathhouse to take a bath. Sometimes he had to wash his feet in the kitchen sink. He verified a story my father used to tell me about how the boys (all six) shared a bed. He said the bed(s) rolled away and rolled back out at night. My grandfather would come home from work and check to see if the boys’ feet were clean. If they weren’t, he would smack them with a cane on the soles of their feet.
When Uncle Robbie was younger he worked for a bicycle store along with his mother and Uncle Tato (Sal).
I told him stories my father had told me. Like the one about when he was a boy and his sisters, Anna and Rosie were with him when they crossed the road. They were hit by a car. My father woke up in the middle of the street. Bystanders had moved his sisters to the side of the road but had left him there. Another story my father told me was that he had tried out for an amateur hour singing contest at a radio station and that he had won $50 for voice lessons. But it was during the depression so he gave the money to his mother. He never had voice lessons. Uncle Robbie said he remembered that my father would go to the Fox Theatre for amateur hour every Friday night and he would sing there.
I told him a story my mother told me once that my father invited her on a date to see “the glass ship” but there wasn’t any glass ship, it was lover’s lane. I remember when she told me that my father said, “You told her that?” Haha.
A joke story that my father used to tell me was that he met my mother on a blind date and didn’t put his glasses on until after he was married. Ba-bump.
Uncle Robbie said he was the “moving truck” for all his older siblings. Whenever someone moved away from Brooklyn, he would move them with his car.
As the conversation ended, he laughed and thanked me for putting him in a good mood. That filled my heart.
There was one sad story that we talked about too. I told him I had been watching the news about the war in Ukraine and that there had been a story about a mother who found her young son’s body buried at the bottom of a well. I had been so upset by the story that I had to call my son to hear his voice and know he was alright. Uncle Robbie said that when he was in the Korean War, they had found a well and that the soldiers’ bodies had been thrown down it. He said, “That’s war. The stories I could tell.”