Smoking

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Born into the mid-1960’s my parents were in many ways a modern and scientific couple. My mother evidently eschewed alcohol during her pregnancies and gave up even what was evidently a lingering, occasional cigarette – so infrequent that I knew nothing of the habit until years later, but I will get to that in a bit.

I came more or less into a world where even among my extended family there was, to my memory, little or no smoking. It wasn’t like it was an issue. Of course tons of people smoked and people came to the house and smoked. To my knowledge nothing was thought about it and never anything said. Although as I think of it, I can only remember us owning one ashtray however – it was a large blue heavy ceramic item with a swirl of color in the middle that I liked for its heft and color. Perhaps that we only had the one ashtray is telling. (I own a single one as well – a cat head with a wide open mouth. Not really surprising I realize. The awkward design is not favored by visiting smokers.)

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When I was about twelve my mother, who must have been trying to lose weight in retrospect although I don’t remember her being heavy, took both running and smoking up. I eventually learned that my mother had been a high school track champion (to my knowledge a plaque noting her accomplishments is still at the Long Branch, NJ school she attended) and the running craze of the 1970’s had renewed her interest. What took her back to the occasional cigarette I am not sure. I smelled them but never saw her smoke one. She later said she stopped again because she could taste them when she ran, even after having only a single one and a day later.

Turns out my mother had been a regular smoker in college. She tells tales of tobacco companies coming to the campus at Douglas College where they gave free cigarettes to all the students, essentially getting them hooked which of course made it a good investment. They would have had to be free because my mother, at school entirely on scholarship, often also told stories of how she had her budget calculated down to how much shampoo she and her roommate could use monthly. (In addition, mom was pre-med and eventually was offered a fellowship to do cancer research. Pregnancy prevented her accepting the position – years later she mentioned that all of the researchers she worked with developed and died of cancers.)

On the other hand, my father disliked cigarettes and I gather he had encouraged or even insisted that she stop when they got together. He was not happy when she went back to that occasional cigarette either. While he did not smoke and disliked cigarettes, after I reached a certain age he told me had had tried pot and thought it okay. This tale was tied to a wild story about the friend of a friend, an artist named Ernst Fuchs, who drove a car trunkful of pot up from Mexico. Much to my surprise at a quick internet search, Mr. Fuchs only died in 2015 at 85 – I always thought he was older than my father, but he was about the same age. I hadn’t thought of that story in years. I supply an image of one of his paintings below, one done in a style that I think my father would have liked.

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Meanwhile father drove from location to location for ABC News in a car with his crew with many of whom did smoke. I am not sure if it was that or another exposure, but it is somewhat ironic that it was COPD that ultimately killed my father last year.

I believe the pipe shown here belonged to my great-great grandmother, on my mother’s side. It was discovered by my cousin Patti who is unearthing many family treasures as she cleans out her family home which has housed at least three prior generations. (See my recent post about a photo of a turn of the century family wedding party here.) It is my understanding that this Italian ancestor of mine was a tough cookie. She was a breast cancer survivor when the only option was cutting away as much as possible of the cancer as you could and survive. She had surgery and lived a significant time beyond it.

There is something so personal about such an item and you feel that when you hold it. I am impressed by the velvet-lined case it sports and survives in. I gather from looking at it that the mouth piece must have been replaced ongoing. The maker’s tag is unfortunately faded beyond recall.

Quick research shows various attitudes toward women smoking during what I vaguely calculate to be the late Victorian period, heading toward the dawn and start of the new century. (An interesting aside, smoking jackets originated because it was considered rude for men to expose the women in their lives to the smell of tobacco on their clothing and therefore changed into jackets for this purpose. Interesting, yes?)

I know my family was not wealthy so, putting aside the feeling about female smokers of the upper class, I am left with the impression that great-great grandma would have been considered either fast or somewhat hard-bitten. From what I know I lean toward the latter. She would have come to this country as a young, married Italian woman. It doesn’t leave a lot of room for having been fast.

I knew the story about the breast cancer and our ancestor because of my sister’s research of the family proclivity when she developed it. At the time no one mentioned that our great-great grandmother had been a smoker however. Loren was not, like me she never developed a taste for cigarettes. I assume like me she tried a few, but she was an athlete and generally disliked smoking. (I never developed the habit and don’t even really understand how to smoke them since it really is different than a joint.) I doubt she smoked much pot either although we never really discussed it. Loren’s cancer was ultimately labeled as environmental rather than hereditary, although I take little comfort in that – as we shared the same environment for many years of our lives.

For all of this, there is a bit of allure as I look at the pipe in it’s case – looking at the case from the outside, it is almost as if a tiny musical instrument was going to be found within. Another tiny piece of family history today, waiting patiently all these years to be taken out, examined and considered. Even our own limited family history surprisingly tied up and full of contradictions about this particular habit.

Wedding Photo

Pam’s Pictorama (Family) Photo Post: For those of you who tuned in yesterday for my post All in the Family (which can be found here) this is a companion post. I apologize for the length, but rambling family history is a hard tale to tell in a brief and cogent way.

This fragment is the wedding photo of my great aunt Rose (née Cittadino) to a man named Al Mazza, whose wedding feast held in the backyard I decades later knew as my grandmother’s, which was shown yesterday. (I am a bit stunned by the poor condition of both of these photos, but this is clearly a case of taking what you can get. Like yesterday, this is a photograph of the photo I took with my phone.)

I never knew Mr. Mazza, who I am told was from the French provinces of Canada, but of Italian lineage, as were the Cittadinos. As it stands now I know nothing of their courtship and can only say after they were married he went to work in my family’s bar and ultimately had one child, Frankie. My great-grandfather, Nikolas, came to this country to marry Mary and I was surprised to find out that his was a fairly affluent, professional family in Italy. I had always assumed the family had immigrated impoverished. (When visiting the south of Italy a number of years ago I remember thinking it was so very beautiful it must have been hard to leave, even for the pretty coastal New Jersey town they settled in. I visited Russia a few years later and thought instead of the other side of my family, this was a tough place to live and no wonder they worked so hard to leave!)

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My great-parents Nickolas and Mary in their wedding photo, undated

 

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Nik and Mary in later years. Mom says Nik, her grandfather, used to say, “She had her hand in my pocket even then!”

 

Rose, the bride, was the oldest, my grandmother Ann was a middle-ish child, the third of five and she appears to be in her late teens in this wedding photo. (She is on the end of the right side of the photo, holding a large bouquet of flowers, the youngest sibling, my great-aunt Margaret, or Mickey, is standing below her.) There are two brothers and they have not been identified for me, but I would guess that the older one, Phil, is in the white gloves and seated next to that absolute babe holding a bouquet and wearing a tiara, who I am lead to believe was the maid of honor. Ben, the younger brother, is probably standing next to my aunt Mickey. Phil dies young, at 36. I’m not sure Ben fared much better – this is the heart disease curse for that part of the family at work.

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The women however all live large in my memory. I remember Rose (Ro Ro to my tiny tot self) as a sort of parallel universe version of my grandmother in my childish mind. By the time I arrived conscious on the scene, my grandmother and her older sister were of a similar short and round build. Both were known for producing the most amazing and prodigious amounts of Italian delicacies. (Although my grandmother, having married a mid-westerner whose family hailed originally from the South, also mastered some distinctly American delicacies and her fried chicken, bread and meatloaf were unmatched.) In my memory, Ro was a bit sterner and more no nonsense than my grandmother, although she always had some excellent homemade cookies for me and my sister – this was before my brother was born. (Mickey, was the youngest sibling and remained wiry with red hair – she was cut from a slightly different cloth. She died over a year ago, well into her 90’s.)

As I have mentioned, aside from my grandfather, Frank Wheeling, who worked at Bendex and repaired outboard motors for a living (he was an epic tinkerer and could fix or build anything), all the men in the family, including those who married in and ultimately their sons, worked in the family bar. The women were tasked with cooking of course. My great-grandmother would have lead that effort (see my post about the blue plate special here) and in addition to the Monday-Saturday buffet, I learned recently that on Sunday, when the bar was closed, she cooked an additional midday meal that the regulars at the bar could subscribe to. Her daughters obviously helped with the endless cooking and learned at her knee. My grandmother was good with numbers and grew up to keep the books for the bar, but learned her cooking lessons well too. The bar still exists as a restaurant/bar on the site today, as far as I know. I have never been inside, but walked by one afternoon several years ago with my father.

However, Rose was the real cook to emerge from the family and she later owned her own restaurant located on the Long Branch pier, before taking a series of jobs cooking,  those included being private cook to wealthy families, and running the kitchen at Monmouth Park race track. (Where despite Rose’s eagle eye my college-age mother met my camera toting father one summer, but that is a story for another time.)

My memory of Ro was being at her house late in her life. She lived in the upstairs of a small house with her daughter in-law and granddaughter in residence downstairs, retired from the last of her positions, but commandeering her younger sisters to execute in tandem the most extraordinary holiday meals. Quite literally, the card tables set up in a line in the living room of the apartment groaned, and I believe I remember the long strands of fresh pasta drying on racks all over the apartment prior to the cooking.

When I entered my own nascent professional cooking career after college, I wondered if those shared genes were at work. I had done stints waitressing and as a short order cook, but even with that wasn’t entirely prepared for the overwhelming physical grind of that work. I came away with an even greater respect for Ro, and the other Cittadino women, who for several generations churned out those meals in addition to feeding their families – and the occasional festivity like the wedding feast shown yesterday.

The same cousin who unearthed these photos (Patti, granddaughter of Rose) has discovered a cache of her recipes. I look forward to going through them and hope in particular to find the recipe for certain Christmas cookies and bread. I am told the original recipe for Poor Man’s cake is also there – I am anxious to compare it to my recent recreation project. (The recent post devoted to that can be found here, called Having Your Cake.) Many of the recipes will sadly be of less interest to me – we are largely vegetarian here at Deitch Studio and Pictorama, and our consumption of pastry is modest. Yet I will be pleased to see them, in her handwriting, and indulge in a few.

 

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Rose seated, the era I remember her from, shown with her daughter in-law Grace.

All in the Family

Pam (Family) Photo Post: As I sit down to write today I am unsure really what I want to say about this photo. I was fascinated by it when I saw it for the first time over Thanksgiving. I have no memory of seeing it before. It is a photo of a photograph which is in very bad condition and over-exposed in part (I took it on my phone and Kim has darkened it slightly for us here), but it manages to be fascinating nonetheless.

This photo was taken in the yard I grew up as knowing to be my grandmother’s, but it was a home (and yard) that at one time housed several families and generations of my family. My mother grew up in the two story house attached to it, with her brother and parents on the ground floor and an aunt, uncle and cousin on the second. One of the grandmothers lived with them there at one time too. I wrote about the house aways back when some photos of it came my way. (That post can be found at My Grandmother’s House here and I also wrote about my maternal grandmother, and her kitchen in Ann’s Glass which is here.) However, here is the familiar yard, several generations before my childhood, recorded on the advent of the wedding of my great-aunt Rose (Ro’ or Ro’ Ro’ to me as a kid) and a glimpse of this opulent, if homespun, backyard celebration.

My mother tells me that this table, impossibly long and which literally disappears into the photo horizon, is set up under a grape arbor decorated here with festive bunting, which supplied this (very Italian) family with the grapes to make wine. The arbor was long gone by my childhood, my mother says it was the victim of a jolly rodent population attracted by its bounty and the nuisance convinced the later generation of denizens to dismantle it. Every inch of the yard, less than an acre by my reckoning, was devoted to producing food for the family – fruit and nut trees, a vegetable garden, chickens. This yard, hunting and fishing, extraordinary cooking and preserving skills, kept this family fed through thin times, including my mother’s childhood which includes the far end of the Depression.

The family owned a bar which the women of the Cittadino family (at a minimum my great-grandmother and her daughters) cooked for, in addition of course to feeding and taking care of the family. When I look at this photo my mind reels with thoughts of the days (weeks really) of work that must have gone into this celebration. I would imagine that many hands helped in a variety of ways, but there’s no way to imagine it wasn’t an enormous job for those at the heart of it. As I look at it I am fascinated by how the men are grouped at the end of the table closest to us. No one has identified any of them specifically. Frankly, it looks like a tough group!

In general the men on this side of the family are dim in my memory and mind. They seem to have largely died on the young side (a variety of reasons, inherited heart issues among them) and therefore my childhood self never met them or at least didn’t know them long enough for there to be much of an impression. On the other hand, the women, an undeniably strong group of women, loom large and Ro was the oldest of that clan. I have vivid memories of them. As I unpack more of these images in future posts I will likely write more about these strong willed sisters and what I know of them.

These photos come to me via a cousin (second cousin to me) who has unearthed them as she starts cleaning out her own version of an ancestral home. She has lost her mother and significant other over the past year (the latter quite unexpectedly), and she has drifted to staying with my mother, who since my father’s death over the summer is largely alone in her house – although so many friends come and go I often think it is her own version of Grand Central Station. Nonetheless, family is different and it is a poignant reminder that it is an interesting thing, which can at times expand and contract as needed. It unfurls further than the eye can see, back into the past, and indefinitely into the future.