Back in the day before there were suburbs and exburbs people grew up in neighboorhoods. Small villages really –bound by a shared culture, a common relgion and similar economic circumtstances. I grew up in one such neighborhood, an Italian neighborhood and raised my family there until the 1980s.
My grandchildren cannot imagine this life. A life of being able to walk to a local butcher, baker or dry goods store. Nor do they roam the streets freely under the watchful eyes of neighbors and all of the “bella mamas” that supervised dozens of children, most of them not their own.
“Be home when the street lights come on,” was a common cry as kids pushed open screen doors after supper bounding into warm, lightnening bug-filled evenings.
But my stories start way before the birth of my seven children. They start long before I was born in this Italian neighborhood in any city-USA. They started in the early 1900s with the immigration of the Italians – boatloads from Southern Italy, stopping by way of Ellis Island and continuing on to states like New York, Connecticut, and Pennsylvania before finally stopping in Cleveland, Ohio. I’d like to share some of these stories with you.
We weren’t alone in this migration, at least in our little neighborhood, we had a intrepid families who mixed and mingled with us. There were a few Germans, Romanians and lots of Irish. And they were all Catholic.
Mixed marriages had more to do with marrying outside of your culture than your relgion. Back in 1959 mine was one of the few mixed marriages at the time. My husband was Irish. And my mother, always a practical woman, noted with approval that the combination made the most beautiful babies. But then she was slightly biased. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
I had a difficult time naming this blog because there’s so much to tell. I used to tell my kids that there are 8 million stories in this neighborhood – I think that line comes from a TV show.
At first I thought maybe, Tall Tales From An Italian Neighborhood. But then I thought, whodda believed them? You would have had to live there to know for sure.
Instead I decided to focus on, and pay tribute to what I call the Bella Mamas, all of those long suffering Italian mothers who – no matter what always stood behind their children. No matter what.
And so these are the stories of my Bella Mama, let’s call her Vincenza, and her three children, me (Louisa) and my older brothers Carmen and Tony and a small army of other neighborhood kids.