The Dago Bombers

Dago Bombers

Believe or not there was a time when you could leave your doors open and your bicycle outside without fear of anything being stolen.

There were several reasons for this. First, the neighborhood Black Widows always kept a sharp eye out for people’s comings and goings. Second, everyone knew everyone else and trusted them. Third, well we were a poor neighborhood of immigrants so there wasn’t anything to steal. People were into sharing.

As such, we took pleasure in the simple things in life. The Calabrese Hall on 69th Street hosted many a wedding or a dance. The Gordon Arcade, a favorite neighborhood hangout, had a roller rink and a cinema.

Our preferred place to eat was Arnold’s Diner on the corner of 65th and Detroit. Sound familiar? That’s right, just like the one in Happy Days. Only we had it first.

Members of the Vets’ Club (Veterans of Foreign Wars) were busy planning fund raisers for the new school as well as donating the hard labor to build it.

In the 1950s a local group of guys created the Dago Bombers. They become known as a neighborhood gang. Back in the day, every neighborhood had its own gang.

But they weren’t like gang members like in Westside Story or even worse, like today’s gangs. They were more like the “Our Gang”. They were a band of brothers dedicated to keeping watch over the neighborhood and each other.

One of the local guys, an artist by trade, crafted a Dago Bombers badge that members wore with pride.

The Bombers were the epitome of cool with their leather jackets, cuffed blue jeans, t-shirts with packs of Lucky Strikes rolled up in their sleeves, Brylcream slick hair swept into DA’s or pompadours and sunglasses. If you didn’t know them, you’d cross the street just to avoid them.

I may joke about the Our Gang reference but make no mistake they could be tough guys when they had to be. And that’s what really made the neighborhood safe.


Amazing Grace

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When coincidence and serendipity meet good things happen. According to the dictionary, coincidence is a remarkable occurrence of events without an apparent causal connection. Serendipity one ups coincidence because it adds happiness to the equation.

I remember one such meeting when I was in my teens. I was a regular at the Rollercade Skating Rink on Dennison Avenue. It had live Wurlitzer organ music that you could skate to or if you were really good – dance to.

Every Saturday afternoon most of the kids from the neighborhood went to skate. Sometimes we were lucky enough to win some free tickets for admission. None of us owned skates so we had to rent them.

I often wondered how many people had these skates on before me. But I didn’t care. They had four wheels and a stopper and I loved them.

Skating is truly an art form; it’s like ice dancing on wheels. In this particular rink, you could skate along the outside of the center oval. If you were really good you could skate / dance inside the oval. Skaters inside the oval could waltz, foxtrot and flea hop.

Since I thought I was pretty good, I would skate inside the oval showing off a little here and there. Until one day a young woman showed up to dance with her partner. Anyone watching her skate knew that she was an angel on wheels.

From her beautifully pleated skating skirt and her blinding white skates to her elegant moves, she was everything I wanted to be in a skater. I was too intimidated to talk to her let alone skate in the oval with her. So I sat and watched her for hours.

Who was she I wondered?

Well it didn’t take long before I found out.

One day I went to visit my Aunt Mary, and as was my habit,  I burst into the kitchen with my usual enthusiasm only to find the skating angel sitting at the kitchen table writing a letter to her boyfriend.

I was dumbfounded and that confused my aunt because I am never at a loss for words. My aunt Mary introduced me to her friend Grace.

I never thought I’d meet her let alone find her in my aunt’s kitchen. I told her how much I loved to watch her skate. She was very modest and kind as I complimented her skating, her clothes, and her skates.

A few days later my aunt gave me some skating skirts that Grace sent over. They were beautiful. I just knew that if I wore these skirts to skate in, I would be able to skate almost as well as she did.

I met her again several months later as she was a bride’s maid in my aunt’s wedding. She seemed to float down the aisle of the church. For a second I wondered if she was wearing a pair skates under that floor length gown. No, I thought, it was probably just my imagination.

A few years later, I grew up and got married and moved back to the neighborhood. I often wondered whatever happened to Grace. Well I didn’t have to wonder for very long because it turned out that she was my neighbor. We became best friends and so did our husbands. We raised our children together and we taught them how to skate.

Talking Turkey

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We were talking about pets the other day. I have a rescue dog called Ernie. He’s deaf, blind and he doesn’t bark. Being deaf myself, we make quite a pair. My children tease me relentlessly as Ernie also has a fifth leg – if you know what I mean. And I’ll leave it at that since this is a family blog.


In our house, when my children were young, we had our fair share of cats, dogs, kittens, turtles, gold fish, and mice. When asked about my pets, I often think of our pet turkey, Tommy.

Tommy didn’t start out as a pet. When Tony, Carmen and I were young, we asked for a live turkey one Thanksgiving. Little did we know in the week that he lived in our cellar he would become our friend.

He was a clever bird. He could always sense when we were about to sneak down the stairs. He’d hide underneath the stairs to lie in wait – ready to chase us.

We’d creep down oh so quietly, first Tony and then Carmen. I would bring up the rear.
We’d get to the bottom of the stairs and there was no sign of Tommy. And then we would call him.

“Gobble, gobble, gobble!”

He’d poke his head out and chase us to the stairs, where we would fall over each other trying to escape his sharp beak. Tony and Carmen would run right over me in their effort to get away. Thanks guys.

Naturally we were quite concerned that Tommy was going to be our guest of honor at dinner. And so we made my mother promise that we wouldn’t eat him.

She agreed and said he would be sent to a farm where he could live outside and enjoy fresh air.

(And here I have to confess, I may have used a similar explanation when the gold fish died and we had to “free” them in the toilet so they could get to the ocean.)

And so when Thanksgiving Day arrived we were relieved that the bird on the table wasn’t Tommy.

As we sat at the table, my brothers, my parents, and my grandmother and I said a quick prayer of thanks. And just as my father was about to carve the turkey, Tony unbeknownst to us started to shake the table with his knee.

Carmen and I saw the turkey start to move, our eyes grew round, and we knew that Tommy wasn’t on the farm. That he had come back to chase us, and chase us he did. We ran out of the house screaming, “It’s alive, it’s alive.”

And that was the last time we had a pet.

You’ve Got Mail….

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In this fast-paced world of texts, Instagram’s, and emails, getting a hand written note is a rarity these days. With the exception of special events (graduations, weddings, communions etc ) most good wishes and greetings have gone digital.

And that would be very convenient especially for someone like me who’s usually late when it comes to sending out birthday cards to my children and grandchildren – except I haven’t a hot clue how to do any of these digital things. (This blog is the extent of my technological abilities.)

Birthday wishes are always preceded by a phone call and my signature closing – “Happy Birthday, I love you and the card is in the mail.” Generally I’m never late by more than a week. Late birthday greetings have become my signature and an inside joke among my children.

My children and grandchildren however prefer to deliver their cards in person if they can. They like to see my reaction to the cards they’ve selected especially the funny ones. Those make me laugh while the sentimental ones make me cry.

Just the other day, a week before Valentine’s Day, I had a very special and mysterious delivery of a series of cards during a visit with my youngest granddaughter Cameron. She stopped by for her weekly visit.

I swear she’s seven going on 27. I’ve never met anyone like her. The things she says are very wise and mature her age. Her sense of humor is that of an observational comedian commenting on the obvious in a way that always gives me pause and a chuckle. I wish I could give you a good example – and I should start writing these things down because they really are special. And yes I am a proud grandmother.

During our conversation she held up her hand and claimed to hear a knock on the door. She jumped up and went to the door and retrieved a card with my name, “Louise” on it.

She handed it to me. I opened it and it said, “Happy Valentine’s Day from your secret admirer.”

Cameron was excited and teased me about having a secret admirer. And I told her I never had a secret admirer except for my husband, her papa. And there was nothing secretive about him. He always wore his heart on his sleeve.

Two Valentine’s Days have come and gone since my not so secretive admirer passed away – two years since I last received a box of chocolate covered cherries and a Valentine signed – Love JB.

So I was surprised by the card and the effort. But I wrote it off as a gesture from one of my sons.

Cameron was also very close to her grandfather “papa”, who always left a big impression on people that extends beyond his life.

And since he’s no longer here and in an effort to keep him close, she likes to ask questions about him.

“Nonna, what did you used to call papa? She asked as we sat on the couch.

“Well, sometimes I called him Seamus if he was being funny, and sometimes I called him Goofy Jimmy if he was being silly. But my favorite name for him was always J.B.”

Soon there was a second “knock” on the door. Did I mention that my granddaughter’s super power is infra-sound hearing or the ability to hear sounds below the normal hearing range?

She was back in a flash with a second card from my secret admirer in hand. She was quite impressed with the fact that I now had two cards. And she speculated on whether or not it was one or possibly two secret admirers. There was no way she could tell.

Shortly thereafter excused herself so she could cross the complex to go and visit her great aunt, Ann, my sister in law. She hadn’t been gone long before she returned to have some pasta and meatballs. She paused in between bites to announce yet a third knock on the door.

She promptly returned with a third card that read: Dear Louise, Happy Valentine’s Day from your secret admirer. Love JB

I had to wonder. Was Cameron the author or the just the messenger? Did her super power enable her to hear someone whispering to her and telling her what to do?

I’d like to think so. And JB if you’re listening – PS I love you.

And She’ll Have Fun, Fun, Fun…

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Several weeks ago, I wrote a post about Baby’s First Christmas. Well that baby quickly grew up and wanted to learn how to drive. And so she took lessons after school, got her learner’s permit, and tried to practice as much as possible before taking her driving test.

One Sunday my husband, who I should add isn’t the most patient man, offered to take her driving in Sears’s parking lot. Back in those days, the stores were closed on Sundays so there was no danger of her hitting anyone or anything.

My daughter,  is a lot like her father in lots of ways including her lack of patience and Irish temper. But who could blame her as she’s a redhead, the oldest of seven and just likes to get things “done.”

I wasn’t sure how this combustible mix of personalities was going to work out especially without me there to referee. But you have to let them go sometime  and trust they will do the right thing – I mean my husband and not my daughter.

Now mind you, I wasn’t there so no one really knows the truth,  but from what I gather my husband didn’t like the way my daughter was driving. Or my daughter didn’t like the way my husband was supervising. In any case, my husband wanted to take over the wheel.

So he got out of the car and walked around the back of it, expecting my daughter to slide over so he could show her how it was “done.”

Unfortunately, he never got the chance. Just as soon as he closed the passenger door and walked to the rear of the car, my daughter took off leaving her father stranded in Sears’s parking lot. The Sears store was several miles away and there were no cell phones back in those days.

Naturally when she pulled into the driveway without him I could only guess what happened.  And so I went into rescue mode and told her to go and stay at her grandmother’s and not to  come home until I called her.

I then went and picked up my husband who had managed to cool down enough to even laugh about it on the ride back. It will be a long time be for she sees these again, and he jingled  his set of car keys. She had fun, fun, fun till her daddy took the T-bird away. 

Red, Red Wine

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Sometimes, there is a certain myth-like quality surrounding some of the well-known stories in my family.

Take my great grandfather Antonio for example – he was my grandmother Margharite’s father.  Tonino they called him or “Little Tony.”  And what he lacked in height he made up for in longevity – or so they say.

My grandmother used to love telling us this story. And if she told us once, she told us a thousand times.  Each time she’d start with the same beginning. As she poured herself a glass of red wine we knew what was coming.

It was hard for us not to roll our eyes, or elbow each other in the ribs.  We knew the story so well; we’d often finish her sentences for her.

She’d say…”You know, your great grandfather lived to be…
“One hundred and six!” Tony would interject.

She would stare daggers at him for stealing her thunder.  I gave Tony a dirty look.

And then she’d continue to extol his virtues about how smart he was, and how good he was at fixing things, and his skill at morra.

“And you know what he would drink every day since he was a little boy?”

Carmen was about to open his mouth when I shook my head and mouthed the word “don’t”.

Because to steal her thunder a second time would have meant a schiafe to the head.

“Red wine,” she said with an air of satisfaction.

And from here she moved on to the climax of her story – which we all knew was coming.

But it gave her so much pleasure to come to the incredible conclusion of her story – we didn’t dare interrupt her.

“And do you know how he died?” She asked.

Of course we all knew how he died but that wasn’t the point. The point was to be a good listener and ask.

“No, Nonna,” I’d said as I made a face behind her back at Tony and Carmen.

“How did he die?”  I asked.

“He fell of off a roof he was fixing!” she concluded with pride.

A salut!

I Just Called to Say…

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Several years ago my favorite uncle Roberto was in a bit of a jackpot. Not the kind where you win money, that’s the dictionary definition. Rather it was the opposite. The slang definition that means you’re in a bad spot.

Apparently, he had miscalculated on a few horse races and found himself short of cash and he didn’t have to heart to tell his wife, my Aunt Rita. He thought it best to keep it quiet and not upset her. He opted for a payday loan from Etna instead.

It was a good solution except that in order to get the loan he needed a cosigner. And so he asked my mother Vicenza to co-sign. Mom had no problem co-signing but she swore Roberto to secrecy. No sense having Rita mad at them both.

My mother knew that Roberto would bear the brunt of Rita’s anger for asking her to co-sign. Better to keep it between them.

Now everything would have been just fine, if Roberto didn’t have a hot streak at the racetrack. He hit the jackpot (the good kind).

With money in his pocket, he wanted  to maximize his investment. So he only made regular steady payments to Etna while using the extra money to fund more trips to the track. He was sandbagging.

Things were going just fine. In fact, Etna was so pleased with him as a customer, they wanted to grant him additional credit. Well back in those days, they didn’t send you an email they called your house.

And guess who answered the phone on the day Etna called the house. That’s right, my Aunt Rita.

My uncle was once again in a jackpot but not the kind he wanted.

When he walked into the kitchen after work that day, my aunt mentioned he had a phone call.

“Oh, who was it?” He asked.

“You’re Aunt Etna,” she said.

“What did she want,” he gulped.

“She said you ‘finished in the money‘.” Then she held out her hand, and my uncle filled it with all of his winnings.