Grandma Gloria

Childhood Memories


The North End

I was born right in the heart of the North End, where all the action took place. I was born right in the middle of everything – at North Square.

An assortment of people in 19th century clothes assembling in North Square in Little Italy, in Boston.
A dozen cars parked on Salem Street in Boston.
Salem Street, North End, Boston 1948

If you did something at 9:00 in the morning, I would tell you, by 12 noon, everybody knew it! And that’s what the North End was.

I couldn’t skip school because my Mama would find out. How? I don’t know. But I couldn’t even skip school. When you’re followed all the time, you get rebellious. I skipped school to go see Frank Sinatra.

Frank Sinatra… had come to the Metropolitan or one of those… And a whole bunch of photographers were there with the newspaper. And I was telling my friends, “Don’t go near the newspapers.”… I skipped school… So naturally, Andrew, she went near the newspapers, and we were all in the paper… the next day… [Andrew: And then your mom found out?] Not only my mother, I had a whole bunch of nuns from my high school that I have never forgotten.

In December 1943, girls stood in line before 8 am to hear 28-year-old “Frankie Swoonatra” at the RKO Boston Theatre. He would receive “Beatlesque” responses from “bobby-soxers.”

We had nothing to worry about. We were protected… By other families, and especially by the men. Supposedly, the gangsters that they were called… the gangsters. But they were there and they protected us… We had no fear at all. From anything. From drugs… One day, I was having lunch, and my friend and I were… sitting at the counter, and this person named Danny came out with something in his hands, and he went up to the person sitting next to me, and I heard him say, “If you come in with these…” and I won’t tell you what he said, “again, you’re going to be carried out.”

Two profile photos side by size of serious Caucasian men staring at the camera.
Filippo Buccola and his underboss Giussepe Lombardo were top underworld figures in Boston’s North End during Prohibition. They were rivals of the Irish Gustin Gang led by notorious mob boss Frank Wallace. In 1932, Frank Morelli, who headed a ruthless and powerful gang that controlled bootlegging and gambling in Providence, Rhode Island, Maine and Connecticut, merged with Buccola’s group to create the New England mob faction.

Family

My mother never spoke English. She knew how to speak English, but spitefully she wouldn’t. I got to tell you, she was very spiteful. It was her will or no will. Growing up, where my mother had a lot to say and a lot to do with us. And we obeyed her. No saying no to Nana. She didn’t know that word. Her word or no word. She lived to be a hundred. Her name was Assunta, which means “risen”. When Nana was born, everyone had a religious name. All my siblings too.

My two aunties – Little Aunt, and big Aunt, one was Matilda and one was Clementina. Even though they had different names, we would always distinguish them as Little Aunt and Big Aunt. Big Aunt didn’t have too much to say. Little Aunt had a lot to say. They would talk about something and Little Aunt would say, “Well, this is this!” – and that would be the end of the sentence… But, remember, my mother was boss! My mom, the last word. My mother was the oldest. Then Clementina, then Matilda, and then Uncle Joe.

We would see them at family events. The family would come over to the apartment. We had a very small apartment, we didn’t have a lot of money. That was definite, we didn’t. And the playground was the street. That’s where we learned how to ride a bike. And oh my God, it was loaded with Italians.

What we had, an awful a lot of, and I don’t mean to preach, but I think what is missing today – is family. Family together, and everything was family.

Three boys play marbles in a chalk circle in the street while a boy on a bike watches.
Children playing marbles game in the street, 1947
4 story corner building showing apartments in Boston's North End.
Little Italy apartments, North End, Boston

On the Farm

I was fourteen years younger than my closest sibling. My sister’s sister-in-law, Aunt Theresa, had a farm when I was a child. I grew up in the city, but I spent a lot of time on the farm in the summers. I would go to the farm almost every weekend.

I learned how to drive on a truck! And on Saturdays, we would candle the eggs. Now they’re done automatically, but in the early years, candling the eggs meant putting the whole egg up toward the light like a candle to find out if it was okay, if the egg is okay to use.

The farm was in Medway. If you drive by it now you will see half a million, more than half a million dollar houses!

A row of white farmhouses in Medway, Massachusetts in front of a dirt road and picket fence.
Middle Post Road, Medway, MA. Early 1900’s
Modern, two-story white house in Medway, Massachusetts.
Medway, MA today

The Angel

Religion was a great part of my life. I kid a lot around how Nana was very religious. Always had rosaries in our hands and everything. But she meant her religion, and so did I. It meant a lot to me. I went to Catholic school, and it was not just Catholic school going, it wasn’t just being Catholic – it meant something to me.

In the North End, we used to have a feast every year in the summer. It was called the Saint Anthony Feast. That was the big one, and that was known as, “You don’t leave town on that one.” The streets would be full of Italians. With bands, and food, and stuff like that. Some people from New York, some stars, they’d come in and perform. It was a three-day feast, it was huge.

When your mother was a little girl I took her every year, it was in August. I didn’t like going, but I didn’t want her to miss out on!

Do you remember the angel?…

Statue of St. Anthony and baby Jesus on parade in Boston in 1945 surrounded by a throng of people.
Saint Andrew’s Feast 1945, North End, Boston.

Saint Anthony’s Feast has become the largest Italian Religious Festival in New England since 1919. It is celebrated annually on the weekend of the last Sunday of August. 2019 marks the 100th anniversary of the feast.

Judy: The Feast was at the end of August, and when Nana was pregnant with Auntie Lisa, she had to leave the feast because she was in labor with Auntie Lisa. Grandma Gloria: Gotta go have a baby now!


The Eggplant Festival

When I was a child, we used to have big family dinners. In the summertime, we had the cookouts, and we used to have the cousins from Portland, Maine. Well, everybody knew we loved eggplant.

Grandma Gloria: And we’d have an eggplant festival with the cousins coming down from Maine…Judy: And my Auntie Mary would make trays and trays of stuffed eggplant, and all the cousins would come down. They had a big backyard. Auntie Mary had a big backyard. It was really fun. It was really fun. Grandma Gloria: Yeah, we did have a lot of fun.


Young Adulthood


The Bugs in Prince Macaroni

 After I finished high school but before I got married, I worked at Prince Macaroni in Lowell, in the Greater Boston area. This was around 1953 or 1954. They had a big pasta factory here where all the cardboard was made.

Smiling young woman dressed in a warm, formal coat and shoes standing on the steps.
Gloria Sama, aged 20.
Man works on top of an early 20th century pasta machine
A man works at a short goods pasta extruder in Brooklyn, New York c.1937. This was one of the first pasta machines to combine mixing, kneading and pressing dough, allowing for the continuous production of pasta. Source: Consolidated Macaroni Machine Corporation

This is where they packed the pasta, and this is where the trucks went out. They had blue boxes at the store, but it’s more of a local pasta. I don’t think you’d find them in California or anything. Each floor had its own manufacturing, packing, and all, but I worked in their advertisings.

We would get letters complaining about how customers opened the package of pasta and they found bugs in the package. Well, actually, where the bugs came from was from the pasta being stored in a place that it wasn’t supposed to be. And the semolina itself would cause the bugs

We would get the letters. I would go out to the place where the letter came from with one of our prize packages of pasta, the magic fork, and a little cheese grater… Here’s a prize!… Actually, that’s what it came down to. And you’re laughing to yourself, because … I mean, they’re not going to get anything, because this is something that does come from this product. So, I had a lot of fun with that. Many of the people were very nice. Many of the people threw me out, but it was a lot of fun.

Winning the Volvo

I drove to my job at Prince Macaroni in my own car – a small Volvo that I actually won in a contest in the late 1950s.

My friends and I went to the theater and found out that there was a contest. In the first round, you had to guess “Who do you think would win the Academy Awards?” And you’d have to pick, I forgot how many. I won the first prize! I answered 14 out of 15 questions correctly. The first prize was a diamond ring.

A crowd gatherings in front of a theater advertising the 30th Annual Academy Awards.
A crowd gathers in front of the Hollywood Pantages Theatre in Los Angeles for the 30th Annual Academy Awards on March 26th, 1958.  “The Bridge on the River Kwai” starring William Holden, Jack Hawkins, and Alex Guinness won Best Picture. Source: Wikimedia Commons

And then you had to go onto the next round where you had to write a statement too – 25 words or less on why I go to the movies.

I still remember what I wrote: “The only place where you could get a million dollars worth of entertainment for the price of a ticket.

The prize in the second round was a Volvo automobile. I didn’t know what a Volvo was. I thought it was a motorcycle but came to find out it was a car, which was right up my alley.

Model of the 1958 Volvo Pv544 Sedan. Volvo was the first car manufacturer in the world to equip all of its cars with the three-point safety belt. Source: Pixabay

Gene Brown, the dealer of Volvo and I were the only two in Massachusetts that owned a Volvo. I won the first Volvo that was registered in Massachusetts.

Well, my husband worked on Saturdays. He was actually the only one that was able to bring tulips in from Holland. He went to work one Saturday morning, and he totaled it. The car was totaled. Someone ran a light and ran right through the car.


Love & Marriage


Meeting & Marrying Gerald

Nonno Gerald in army uniform
Gerald as a young man in his Army Uniform.

I didn’t know Gerald when he was in the war, but later, around 1958, both Gerald and I were in an Italian-American club at the International Institute in Boston. I had gone out to a picnic with my girlfriends the night before and I was tired, so I fell asleep in the car… And it happened to be his car! I went and took a nap in someone’s car, and it happened to be his.

Young woman sleeps in the driver's seat of an old convertible.
A young woman sleeps in a car while at the park. c. 1942. Source: Library of Congress

We all knew each other, though we weren’t dating. But we were dating after that.

On our first date, we were at his house, and they were talking about someone named Gedo. They called him Gedo or Gerry. I thought it was another brother that I never met! Gerald’s family weren’t as religious as mine were, but that was never an issue between our families. That was good, too. They were religious up to doing what they had to do, but not as religious as we were brought up.

I was living with my mother at the time I met Gerald. We’d lost my father a long time ago, and my siblings were married (I was the youngest). My mother liked him.

Because Nono was very diplomatic… he’d talk to anyone, and my mother liked him…There were previous ones that… Well, she never said she didn’t like, but she’d make these motions that I knew that she didn’t like.

We got engaged pretty quickly after we met – about 6 months. And I was 28 when we got married in 1960, which was considered older, then, to be getting married. Gerald was much older. He was 37 we got married.

Husband and wife post next to 2-tier wedding cake.
Gerald and Gloria pose next to their wedding cake in 1960.

We lived in Brighton for one year – exactly one year. And then, in 1961, we found the house in Watertown on Highland Avenue. It was only supposed to be a starter house. We wanted to start a family in that house. We moved in July, and my daughter Lisa was born in August.

At that time, Gerald was working, and I was at home taking care of Lisa. When Lisa wasn’t quite three, Judy popped up, and my life was full.

Gloria giving Judy a bath in January, 1965.
Two little girls sit almost on top of one another on a coffee table in from of the fireplace
Lisa and Judy sitting together in front of the fireplace in the late 1960s.

Gerald’s family also lived in Watertown. Just about a mile away was Gerald’s father and Mary, Gerald’s sister. She never got married, so she was kind of the matriarch of that family. Every single holiday was spent at that Highland Avenue house or at Gerald’s father’s house (Mary’s house) at 20 French Street in Watertown.

Gerald and Lisa
Older man holding a bottle standing next to woman in glasses.
Gloria and her father-in-law. 

Rosary Academy

Catholic school classroom. In 1970, more than 5.3 million US schoolchildren attended a Catholic school compared to 2.3 million in 2007.

In Watertown, I was very involved in the kids’ elementary school, Rosary Academy. It was a private Catholic school right down the street from the house. There was another Catholic school in the area, but I just looked around, looked at the curriculum and all, and it was so close. It seemed like a good fit.

I did a lot of volunteering there. I washed dishes every Monday, and I ran the fashion show and the Christmas Bazaar. It closed when my second daughter was a junior. She had to graduate from somewhere else.

Gloria in her 40s

Many of my friends came from Rosary, and we volunteered together. It was hard, hard work, but we did have a lot of fun while we were doing it. My other friends were a group from church and my neighbors, of course.


A Life Well Lived


Gerald and I were married 45 years.  He was such an easy-going person, and it took that type of person to get along with me. We had opposite qualities that made for a very good match. He was a very good father to the girls, and that also helped. Where I was strict, he was not. That meant a lot. That’s why I think we were together for 45 years.

Family photo of 6 people arranged on a couch for the camera
Top Row: Gloria’s sister Mille, Gloria’s mother Assunta, Gloria. Middle Row: Mille’s husband George. Bottom Row: Lisa and Judy
Gloria and Gerald with their grandson, Andrew.
Nana holding toddler Andrew's hands as he walks
Gloria helping her toddler grandson Andrew walk.

Grandma: I’ve had a very good life… A few glitches here and there… But I’ve had a very good life. I’ve been very lucky with my children and my grandchildren. So, what more could I ask for? Andrew: Well, I hope to have something similar to say when I am in my 80s. Grandma: Let’s put it this way. I hope you do.