Ambassador of Books ~ Book Club Madam ~ Blogger Gal

Friday, March 12, 2010

Mini Challenge: New York Woman

To help us all get excited for BEA/BBC in New York in May (like we need any help with that, right?!) Softdrink is hosting several NY-themed challenges between now and then.

Last month she had us write ten things we love about New York. My list included my mom's Brooklyn accent. There were 16 people who participated in that challenge and guess what? Softdrink randomly choose ME to receive this super-cool tote bag from The Strand. YAY ME! The bag also came with a mint tin that says "I Love NY" and a pen from The Strand. Thanks Softdrink - you are super cool!

This month's mini challenge is to write a post that features "women, New York, and history" - sounds simple enough, right? For me, at least, it IS very simple. Who else could I write about except my mom?!

This is my younger sister, my mom, and I last summer. No, mom is not really that much shorter than us - we both had on heels and she had on flats. At 5'1" she IS the shortest though, since I'm 5'3" and my sister is 5'5".

Here are some things about Mom that you might like to know.
  • She was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York.
  • She is 1/2 Italian (on her father's side) and 1/4 English, 1/4 Irish (on her mother's side).
  • After 40+ years living out of the city, she still sounds like a New Yorker most of the time.
  • There were 8 siblings in her father's family. Each sibling had 3-5 children. And most of those families lived within a few blocks of my mom's rowhouse in Flatbush. Family dinners were at her grandparents house on Sundays and took place in the basement, the only spot where all the aunts, uncles, and cousins could fit in one room.
My mom is the reason that I know so much about my family history and I'm very, VERY grateful for that. She always encouraged us to ask questions of my grandparents and other family members, and she always tried to record their answers if possible. In addition, she is a wonderful storyteller. My sister and I would ask for the same family stories again and again - we never tired of hearing them. Here are tidbits from some stories mom told me over the years.
  • Mom had three younger brothers who were bad-to-the-bone. She would tattle on them whenever possible and they would try to get back at her however they could. One time, when she was a teenager, her parents were out of the house and her brothers rolled her up in a rug, wrapped chains around it, hooked the chains to the top of the stairs, then pushed the rug so that she was dangling down the staircase. They only let her out when they realized her hair was caught in the chains and being yanked out. Ouch!
  • Those same brothers were just as rotten when they were small. Mom had a beautiful baby carriage that she just loved to death. One day she went outside and noticed that the carriage was MUCH heavier than usual. She burst into tears when she saw that her brothers had filled the inside of it with cement.
  • Mom's grandparents - my great-grandparents - moved from Italy to New York via (we believe) Massachusetts. For the longest time we thought they came through Ellis Island but this doesn't seem to be true.
  • According to family stories, my mom's grandfather basically tricked his new wife into coming to America by telling her it was only for a short trip; he even had her leave her trunk with all her trousseau items behind in Italy. She never did get her beautiful tablecloths and other treasured items over to America.
  • That same grandfather drove an ice delivery truck in Manhattan where the family first lived.
There are so many more tidbits I could share with you but I really don't think they are of great interest to anyone outside my family.

When I told Mom I was going to NYC for a book convention she was so excited for me. She and my Grandpa started listing places that I should visit if at all possible, places that are significant to our family history - streets where family members used to live, the park where Grandpa used to swim, and so on. Of course we quickly realized that these places are all either on the other side of Manhattan or way out in Brooklyn so they really aren't feasible for this trip. But I can see that a family-history trip to the City is in order one of these days ...

Thanks to Softdrink for the excuse to write about my Mom, family history, and New York. And yes, I am even more excited for BEA/BBC now!


bermudaonion said...

Congratulations on winning last month's mini-challenge! I love the post on your mom - I want to do this mini-challenge, too, but I can't figure out who to write about.

Kay said...

Heather, congrats on your win. I loved your post about your Mom. You three look so sweet together. Have a great time!

Florinda said...

I loved reading this, Heather! Thanks for sharing all the fun facts about your family. I also come from a family of New York Italian women (Bronx, not Brooklyn, though). None live in the City anymore, but you're not kidding about the accent never really going away :-).

softdrink said...

I have to confess, when I posted the mini-challenge I was hoping you'd write about your mom! I love your family stories...thanks for sharing!

And enjoy those NY "souvenirs." :-D

Alyce said...

Congrats on your win!

I loved reading about your family's history in NY! I thought all of the little tidbit facts about your family were fascinating. I think one of the reasons that I'm fascinated by other people's family stories so much is that my mom was adopted, so I grew up knowing nothing about half of my ancestry.

Amanda said...

I love learning about my family's past as well. Congratulations on getting a cool tote! I love The Strand. You should also check out Housing Works. Such a cool place, used books, and all goes to a good cause.

Jenny Girl said...

Congrats! You will have a great time in NY. Love the family stories. Listening to my aunts and uncles tell me stories makes me feel like a kid again.

Heather J. said...

*** I'm glad you all enjoyed hearing about my mom! ***

Dreamybee said...

That's so cool that you have someone in the family who knows all that family history. I wonder if your great-grandmother ever forgave your great-grandfather for that trousseau bit!

Heather J. said...

Dreamybee - From what I understand, she was upset about it until she died ...

Serena said...

I hope you get to see some of those family history sights at some point...that sounds like a fantastic idea.

Dawn @ sheIsTooFondOfBooks said...

Congrats on winning last month's mini-challenge!

And, keep these family stories coming :) If you don't get to visit "the old homesteads" this trip, you can plan another visit.

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