Friday, February 12, 2010

Stone Soup in New Orleans

Po Boy Views
Phil LaMancusa
First Generation Americans
Too Many Characters
Many depressions occurred in New York City in 1927 the big one was the beginning of what is now called The Great Depression. Another smaller but no less devastating depression effected the young life of a nine year old girl named Helen. Her mother died.
The passing of Agnes Weckworth left Helen and her four siblings in the custody of a stumble bum father who promptly and without ceremony, did his worst by them, and so it was that the Weckworth children: Grace, Paul, Helen, Charles and Dorothy were relinquished to their fates. Blown to the winds.
As we all know, fortune has a way of certainly not making the best of things and the children were scattered haphazardly. The two eldest, Grace and Paul were abandoned to the streets of lower Manhattan to fend for themselves; Helen was sent to an aunt May and uncle Michael Hendricks in Brooklyn. Charley and his father moved into a furnished room and Dottie was sent to an orphan’s home run by sadistic nuns. The kids would not lose track of each other until one after another would die in relative obscurity fifty to sixty years later, in their turn, in their time, never leaving a great mark on society; as would be the fate of their children and their children’s children.
Charley, after the death of his mother, and, by age seven, was paying his way by selling newspapers in the subway, picking them up for two cents and selling them for three. He would board a train in the foremost car and work his way to the back, hawking, until he exhausted his supply and himself, car after car, train after train. He had to tape his money to the outside brick wall of the room that he shared with his father to keep his dear papa from stealing it to finance the paternal binges. Grace became an alcoholic and whore by thirteen. Paulie lived under people’s staircases until finding his niche in petty crime at eleven, Helen was sent to Catholic schools and Dot learned the humility of scrubbing floors on her hands and knees at age six. Such was life in New York City in the 1930’s.
Meanwhile, in Altoona, Pennsylvania, Fillipo LaMancusa, in his late thirties had had a wife sent over from his village in Sicily. It didn’t matter to him that his bride to be, Carmela, was only fourteen years old. No one asked if it mattered to her. She would give birth to six children, (five before the age of nineteen) Albert, Catena, the triplets Antonio, Tinero and Giuseppe and the youngest daughter Maria; they all suffered together on a small farm. Their futures were wrapped up in truck farming, coal mining and being dirt poor. The children, except for Maria were heathens to say the least and were beaten and abused with less than positive results. Al was the first to run away and he hauled ass to New York City to seek his fortune in 1935. He rented a flat on Eighth Avenue between 20th and 21st Street. Al would die of tuberculosis right around his twenty second birthday. Coal mines… what can you say?
Also around 1935, Charlie was making enough money to afford a place of his own and as long as his father never found out where he was staying could live in relative peace; he found a flat in the same building as Al, in fact, directly across the hall from him. They didn't know eachother but that would change.
What can I tell you about lives of lesser consequence? Are they any different from that of the princes or poets? Do their lives have any less validity because they live and die in relative obscurity? As the Bard queries: “if you cut them, do they not bleed?”
A typical punishment for Katie was to be locked in a closet without clothing and fed a teaspoon of holy water three times a day. If that didn’t satisfy her parents, she would be tied to the staircase by her long black hair, again naked, and beaten with belts that had been soaked in a pail of water. It was this type of treatment that sent her running to her big brother in New York.
And now shall I tell you of that fateful night when Helen was visiting Charley and there was a commotion across the hall caught their attention and as it turned out, the commotion happened to be Katie, at Al’s, threatening to commit suicide? Shall I tell you of the meeting of Helen and Al and their future marriage? Or maybe point out that not one of the four of them at that moment had reached their twentieth birthday?
This is the mentioning in passing of the children that were my parent’s generation and I and their other children are the only ones that know their stories. They came of age without safety nets and lived by their wits and wiles through hard times that never got good.
Gathering their complete stories would be like making Stone Soup and I look forward to doing that. For now I remember what I’ve heard and what I’ve been told. I am gifted with a good memory and I’ve heard lots.
In this day and age the stories do not make much impact on the world at large; but remember, this is a blog that will go to the ethers and remain like a shard of pottery from an archeological dig. In the blog there are other stories of this cast of characters, miscreants all from whom I draw my life and breath.
Wait until I tell you about how Helen, after Al’s death, had to marry his brother Joe, my father, who was so angry at the world that he lashed out with his fists when frustrated which was fairly often and how my mother only was able to extricate us from and his physical abuse when he and his brother Tony knocked over a pawn shop and she threatened to turn him in unless he cleared out. This ain’t television, Buddy.

1 comment:

felina said...

This is really a heartbreaking story, it even brings stones to weep. Shall I answer with another songtext "In the Ghetto"?

I hope you don't blame only your parents for all the "bad things" they did. I think you have to consider the circumstances, traditions and cultures (Sicilian)they themselves grew up with. Don't forget at one time they were also children and they just didn't have any better models (examples) then their own parents and surroundings, on how to raise children. It's very difficult to change habits and traditions.

Anyway I wish you and Debbie a happy Valentine.