June 21, 2013

Life in Hell's Kitchen

          Living conditions/lives of immigrant families in Hell's Kitchen...is the blog topic that was suggested to me for an upcoming blog tour. I  immediately thought, that’s exactly what our book, Forty Years in a Day, is about. The story begins in 1900 and follows the incredible journey of a young mother and her four children as they escape from Italy into the streets of Hell’s Kitchen, New York. Forty Years in a Day is layered with the struggles and successes of each family member and defines the character of an era. I believe the book answers the topic quite nicely, so how much more could I share? As if it were fate, a friend sends me a link to a YouTube audio of her Aunt who is being interviewed by her daughter. This elderly woman, Margaret Carlson, who has long since passed, had grown up in Hell’s Kitchen. She shares an amazing childhood memory that I think is the quintessential example of what living in Hell’s Kitchen was like. I would not be able to describe it with any more craft or poignancy than Mrs. Carlson; therefore, these are her exact words transcribed from Margaret Carlson's Memorial Video on YouTube. http://youtu.be/V55rDRi5Dw0  

I was born 1928. I was born in New York City—36th street and 11th Avenue. It was called Hell’s Kitchen. Bad neighborhood. On 11th Avenue there were railroad tracks and the freight trains use to go along the railroad tracks with the cows, and the pigs, and the sheep, and you could hear them all mooing. They were going to the slaughterhouse which was on 28th Street.

I guess I was about 5, and it was early on a Sunday morning, and I was running the streets on the other side of Eleventh Avenue, where I wasn’t supposed to be, but of course I was. Two men were laying on the street. We called them bottle babies. It was depressing days and there was no work for the men so the men use to hang out on the corner and get drunk. You know, they couldn’t afford food, but they could get drunk. And they were our fathers, we knew them. So these two men are sleeping, and one man gets up and he picked up a big cinderblock and he dropped it on the other man’s head. He looked at me, and I just raced right home. I raced up four flights of stairs. You always lived on the top floor cause it was cheaper.

I told my mother, “Mama, Mr. So and So hit Mr. So and So over the head with a brick.”

My mother said, “What’d did you say, Margie?”

“Mr. So and So hit Mr. So and So over the head with a brick.”

What a whack my mother gave me. She never hit us. My father’s hobby was hitting us. My mother never hit us. 

            “What’d you see, Margie.”

I was crying. “Mr. So and So hit Mr. So and So over the head with a brick.”

She gave me another whack. I landed on the floor, and I’m laying there, and she said to me, “What’d you see, Margie?”

I looked, and I’m thinking to myself she’s going to hit me again. I sat up, and I said, “I didn’t see nothin, Mama.”

She said, “That’s right, now go downstairs and play.”

That’s how I learned you don’t see nothin, you don’t know nothing.

So I get downstairs and there were lots, torn down buildings. Rubble. Empty lots we call them. And the lot was full of people. I was only little so I climb the rocks and I’m standin there and I’m lookin. The police have a man, blood all down his face, saying, “Did anybody see this? Does anybody know anything?”
           The West side was nice, nobody’s there, all of a sudden people are coming out of the woodwork. Of course,  nobody saw nothin. So I turn around to climb down the rocks and there is Mr. So and So staring straight at me, right behind me. I just ran home and that was the end of that. But like I said, I knew then—you didn’t see nothin and you don’t know nothin. That’s where I come from.

Thank you, Margaret Carlson, for your story
and for reminding us to count our blessings.

June 16, 2013


Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, where writers come together to share 8 sentences of whatever they wish. This is Week 7 for me. Unfortunately, I missed last week; life got in the way.

In honor of Father's Day, I decided to take a random snippet from FORTY YEARS IN A DAY about a father and the frustration that can sometimes overwhelm a parent.  

Rarely did Lorenzo lose his temper, but when he did, it was certain that Rosa and Louisa were involved. The truth was that he found it exhausting when dealing with their skirmishes and blatant disrespect. Drained by his daughters’ belligerence, he slumped in his chair with a surrendering sigh and lit a cigar. With every inhale, he attempted to exhale his exasperation, unable to reconcile the obstinacy of two people raised in an otherwise harmonious household. It seemed what made one happy made the other miserable, and keeping peace between them now that they were teenagers was becoming almost impossible; reminding them they were sisters and should try to get along was downright futile. Lorenzo felt flustered and incapable when faced with the insurmountable challenges his youngest daughters created.


Be sure to catch our Blog Tour!

Monday, June 17 - ​​​
         Tuesday, June 18 - Texas Book Nook
​​Wednesday, June 19 -  My Reading Addiction
Thursday, June 20 - 
A Life Through Books​​
​Friday, June 21 - Must Read Faster
Saturday, June 22 - Shut of and Read Reviews
Sunday, June 23 - ​​ Reading Addiction Blog Tour Reviews

Thank you for visiting! I love reading your comments!

June 3, 2013

Tapping into wisdom...

One of the first objectives on my quest to write a book was to interview elderly family members and friends. I wish I had started when my parents, aunts, and uncles were still alive. Throughout my life, I had heard many family stories that were fascinating, sometimes even unbelievable, but now I set out in search of the truth. We all have skeletons in our closet that we are not ready to let out; however, the older the person, the more likely they will share the facts. Of course there are those that take their stories to the grave.

The first person I had interviewed was my father’s best friend of over ninety years. My Uncle, as I had called him even though we shared no blood, was living in Florida and I was living in New Jersey so I had to make the most of our time together. What a gift it was to visit this ninety-eight year old gentleman, brimming with wisdom, and listen to pieces of his lifetime. He was lucid, talkative, and he never stopped smiling for the six hours I was there. He was an amazing man, motivated by an amazing work ethic and love of life. His glass was always half full, probably with wine, but it was half full nonetheless. I know now why he and my father were best friends; they shared the same passion for life and the people around them. I guess I had always known that, but it became so much more prevalent. They looked to the future with appreciation instead of apprehension, because “every day you’re alive is a beautiful day.”
Many times I reflect back on that day and how fortunate I was to have had that opportunity. It is a memory I will always cherish. My Uncle’s stories reignited my admiration for what our ancestors had endured and accomplished, and I left there even more determined to get their stories told.

June 1, 2013

Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday

Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, where writers come together to share 8 sentences of whatever they wish. This is Week 6 for me.

The story continues from FORTY YEARS IN A DAY. Victoria and her four children arrived at her brother Dominick's tenement apartment: a three room railroad flat in Hell's Kitchen, New York. Victoria is completely exhausted and sleeps through the next day, obviously comforted by the fact that her sister-in-law, Genevieve, was caring for the children. She wakes to find everyone at the kitchen table.

Vincenzo enthusiastically greeted her, “Good morning, Mama, but it’s really night time.” He chuckled.

“You’ve slept away the day. We’re about to have dinner,” Dominick said.

“We went for a walk with Aunt Genevieve. There’re so many people here…and tall buildings!” Gennaro said.

“There’re wagons where you can get all kinds of food for a coin,” Vincenzo added. “We even saw a train pass over our heads. It was so loud, we covered our ears.”

Baffled by their strange narrative, Victoria was both surprised and relieved that her children seemed to be assimilating themselves to their new surroundings. She had prayed they would be able to forget all the grief and horror they had witnessed, and the process seemed to have miraculously begun. She glanced at Genevieve with thankful eyes only another mother could understand.
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