Is there anyone out there who has not heard I am moving? Yes, I am moving, which without much prodding, will give rise to my incurable ADHD flurry of neurosis, and cause a full-blown panic attack.
However, one of the benefits of my hyper active nature is my love of making copious “to-do” lists:
- Remember to change address on driver’s license.
- Switch all utilities.
- Forward mail.
- Write at least two blog posts so I am not insane each Tuesday evening or Wednesday morning for the next two weeks.
- Empty storage unit of boxes I have not opened for over eighteen years.
- Yikes !!
Like many writers I keep my first novel hidden in a dark file drawer. Parts taken from old journals, I began this book in 2007, captured her on a floppy disc, converted her to a flash drive, burned her innards onto a CD … and saved all versions, copies and note files.
I use them often … those notes I save like rare treasures.
At this stage of her undress, I dare not call her a novel. She is more a collection of short stories under the umbrella of the place where it all began … Sunset Park, Brooklyn.
I have shared snippets of her in other posts, including part of a story I wrote to my older brother, called The Harmonica Man. My dad was a dandy candy man, my mother, a dreamer.
Being of a mind that the truth may be more fun than fiction, I might take Shelley Freydont’s suggestion and tell their real story one day. Today, however, I would like to share with you two parts of my first fledgling book … Sunset Park.
Imagine if you will that these snippets are like writing exercises, prompts, short characterizations that I often clip from her saved files and use in whatever manner I so desire.
I might have the impulse to talk about a character I call Benny “The Bag Man” Longo. A man who ran numbers and did weekly collections for the local family near the Brooklyn docks.
I could tell you that in our vast configuration of fifty-seven varieties of Italians, I have found dozens of characters to use in dozens of stories.
I could tell you all of that and more, because it is my true belief that like most writers, I use every minute of my life, and all the people and places I have known as fodder for my tall tales.
Or that somehow, regardless of those dastardly genre categories, we all find ways to put “what we know” into the imaginings of “what might have been.”
The thirteen short stories (my Baker’s Dozen) in my first never-to-be-read novel were written in honor of my Italian-American heritage, my family and friends, and for Brooklyn, the fourth largest city in the United States.
The original introduction of Sunset Park …
Sunset Park is where the kids grew up. Had they grown up in small towns or villages with funny sounding names like their parents, the kids might have known they came from the wrong side of the tracks. The families in the surrounding neighborhoods knew.
These kids lived on the wrong side, below the park and heading down to the Brooklyn docks, destined to find out later in life they were underprivileged.
The park at the turn of the century
What dreams do you keep?
In her forty years, Carmela survived two world wars, the Great Depression and working in a cigar factory at the tender age of nine.
Her parents, who did not understand or speak a word of English, brought over two children and a bun in the oven from a small village outside Naples, Italy. They survived the cramped, filthy quarters of steerage to arrive at the most terrifying moment of their young Italian lives, Ellis Island.
The bun in the oven was Carmela Louisa Gambone. She grew up dirt-poor, the youngest of a sharecropper, who managed to kill himself with drink before he reached fifty. She worked on conveyor belts in a cigar factory and a machine shop to help her older brother and sister support their widowed mother.
After her marriage to Frank Gallucci she worked in the white factory buildings of Bush Terminal as a seamstress. And after the birth of her youngest and only girl, Antoinette, cooked all the hot foods for their breakfast and lunch restaurant off Second Avenue, near the Brooklyn docks.
Her work ethic was unyielding. She and her husband, a man who labored since childhood on Italian merchant ships and as a longshoremen, worked side by side to build a better life for their children.
And she would not allow her children to forget or ignore the sacrifices and hard work it takes to become successful in this great and beautiful land.
It was the winter of 1952. By midday, nothing was moving on the streets, not even the red trolley. Though major snowstorms did not always hit downstate in the five boroughs, when they did, they hit the unprepared citizens of New York City with a vengeance.
Carmela found it impossible to admit she might have to lose a week of work, have children underfoot, and spend countless hours drying the unending pile of wet clothing brought in off the streets by her two younger children.
She believed with great fervor that her duty to God and country was to mold decent, solid, law-abiding children and was not above a good “what-for” to produce the desired results. Patience could not be counted as one of her virtues.
Her patience lasted as long as it took to tell her children what to do and a half a minute for them to get their little bottoms moving.
The snow was still coming down in heavy white sheets. She stood for a moment, looking out of the third floor window of their apartment. Running down the middle of the street without a care in the world, Antoinette laughed as she slid on her bottom.
Carmela shook her head and threw open the window. “I want you up here right now, young lady.” She wore her favorite pink throw around her shoulders, her dark brown hair salted with white flakes as she leaned on the windowsill.
Play was for idle, shiftless children who didn’t know their proper duties to their parents. No child of Carmela’s wasted time playing when they could be doing chores, errands or out into the real world of work as soon as the law would allow.
Although Carmela was known to bend that particular law, farming her two boys out to work behind the counter of the grocery store, washing dishes in the local diner or in the back of the family business. Each birthday of each of her three children brought greater responsibilities, and no one escaped Carmela’s wrath if their responsibilities were neglected.
It irritated Carmela to be a captive of the snow her daughter loved. Winter was not her favorite season. She had never made a snowman, thrown a snowball or had much to do with snow, lest it be shoveled off the front steps and airy-way into the gutter. It was a luxury to play with and Carmela was not one for luxuries.
While Antoinette made her way to their third floor apartment, Carmela went to the back bedroom to finish folding her laundry.
She became distracted, looking at the snow falling in the backyard of their house and whispered, “Playing in the snow.” … (More in Part Two)
What part of you and those you have loved
find their way into your stories?
Any volunteers to help me move?