Our recommended read is...THE BOSTON ITALIANS!
Authored by Stephen Puleo!
A Story of Pride, Perseverance, and Paesani, from the Years of the Great Immigration to the Present Day!
On January 26, 1931, nearly a full quarter-century after he passed through the gates of Ellis Island, my paternal grandfather, Calogero Puleo, became a United States citizen. The 48-year-old fruit dealer, married and the father of ten children, was listed as five-feet, five-inches tall and weighing 145 pounds. His “race” was identified as Southern Italian. A court officer had written “lacks education in English” in purple ink across the Certificate of Citizenship. Two North End paesani, Nicola Cesso, a street cleaner, and John Raso, another fruit peddler, served as my grandfather’s witnesses, each swearing that they had known him since 1920. This concluded the citizenship process that he had begun with the filing of his Declaration of Intention in July of 1925, two months after his tenth child, my father, was born.
In the spring of that year, to mark the pride of the occasion, all twelve members of the Puleo family posed for a photo in a studio on Little Prince Street; my father, then six, clutched a small American flag and huddled close to my grandfather, the new citizen.
Also that spring, on May 19, my maternal grandparents, David and Rose Minichiello, celebrated the birth of their second child, another daughter. My mother, Rosina, or Rose, was born six weeks premature in the home her parents rented in Everett, a small city near Boston. But my grandparents’ joy was short-lived and quickly turned to heart-wrenching loss. My mother was a twin, born first; her sister, named Christine after my grandmother’s mother, followed shortly after, struggled for each breath once she arrived in the world, and died less than twenty-four hours after her birth. My mother’s older sister, Mary, then not yet three-years-old, remembered years later Christine’s small white coffin that sat atop my grandmother’s sewing machine table in the brief, but sorrowful, home wake that followed. Neither of my grandparents spoke much of their daughter’s death in the years that followed. It was yet another of life’s hardships to overcome and move beyond.
Angela and Calogero Puleo and David Minichiello had cleared many other hurdles to make America their home: leaving their beloved small towns in Italy, enduring the misery of a transatlantic passage in steerage, suffering the pain of stereotyping and discrimination, engaging in backbreaking labor, carving out a life in an unfamiliar and crowded urban setting. Yet, they and thousands of other Boston Italians also experienced the contentment of sharing their new life with paesani, the warmth of the neighborhood enclave, the pride in saving money, starting a business, or buying a home.
America was hard, but she offered something Italy never could – the hope, perhaps even the promise, of a better future.
As 1931 drew to a close, the Puleos, the Minichiellos, and all Boston Italians would find their faith in that promise severely tested. If they believed they had survived all the hardships and cleared every hurdle America had placed in their path, they were mistaken.
With little warning or time for preparation, Boston Italians and Americans of all nationalities and geographic regions were about to come face to face with the Great Depression.
Cousin Frankie's Pasta & Gravy
For the meatballs: Combine all ingredients except the olive oil in a large bowl. Mix well. Form about 16 meatballs and place on a platter. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet and fry meatballs over medium heat until browned. Repeat until all meatballs are browned. Place meatballs on new clean platter. Do not discard the oil.
For the Gravy: In the skillet, heat the reserved oil, add the onion and garlic and saute for approximately 2 minutes. Add the tomato paste and cook on medium heat for 3 minutes, stirring constantly. Fill the empty tomato paste can full of water, add to the skillet, and cook for 1 minute, stirring. Remove from heat and set aside.
In an 8-quart saucepan, add the ground tomatoes and cook on medium heat for 5 minutes. Fill the empty ground tomato can 3/4 full of water and add to the saucepan, along with the tomato paste mixture from the skillet and the reserved browned meatballs. Mix thoroughly but carefully with a wooden spoon so as to not break the meatballs. Add the salt, ground pepper, and parsley and cook on medium heat for 15 minutes, then cover and cook on low heat for 2 1/2 hours, stirring every 15 minutes to prevent sticking and burning on bottom of pan. Serve over al dente pasta and sprinkle with some grated Pecorino Romano cheese, along with crusty Italian bread and a good bottle of red wine.