Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Frances Biegner: A Quiet Pink

Nothing presages the power of autumn more than losing a mother in the roiling heat of August. If fall is the season of change, a time we remember the dead, then we quickly learn that all change is just another form of death.


A mother’s love is unique. It is not better or worse than other types of love. It is visceral. It vibrates within us at a molecular level. Even if we do not like our mothers, we feel somewhere deep inside that we should. After all, she was our first home in this world. The roots of our ability to count can be traced to that original heartbeat we first heard.  It is where music comes from; how it is passed along. It is our very first lullaby.  

My mother was a big fan of St. Francis of Assisi, with whom she shared a name. In the Catholic mystic tradition, his love represents an “a-rational” kind of love. His is a love that allowed him to kiss lepers and to tame wolves. It demands nothing. It is a fool’s love, a sign of the mark, the sap, the rube, the sucker.  There is a story of St. Francis that goes like this: once a peasant came upon St. Francis hoeing in the garden, and asked him, “What would you do if God were to tell you that at the end of this day, the world would be destroyed? How would you spend your last hours on this earth?” Francis, not even looking up from his hoeing, replied, “I would just keep hoeing.”

That describes my mother’s take on things.  Just keep hoeing. And have faith. Always, have faith.

This interview, taken six years before her death, are answers distilled from a life turned over to God. It is a life not without tragedy: from losing a toddler sister, hit by a truck on the streets of Brooklyn, to being widowed, with no insurance, income or job skills and five children still at home to raise when she was only forty-eight. Her life was a study in the “a-rational.” It defied what experts tell us we need to live in the modern world.

Her voice on the audio is as warm as tea; her laughter, more like a cackle, is like a campfire. I asked brazen questions, trying to get her to think about her life.  I had to choose between editing out some of her responses, afraid of offending someone, or leaving them as she told them to me. In the end, I opted to keep them as she told them to me because this is how she felt. I reckoned that in her death, she should be free to say whatever she wished without the fear of whitewash.

To be sure, some of her memories are questionable or flat out wrong. (I have tried to notate the answers that I was able to research). But my intention here was not to provide a historical picture of time and place. It was not to test her memory, or create a firm map of the way things were. That picture may emerge as you read or listen to the interview. My hope was to offer us all a glimpse into the interior landscape of this woman who in essence, provided the basis for our own interior lives.

As for the title, I could not resist the reference to the color pink. The woman was all about pink. Pink is a more demure red; a gentler passion. Her kindness came from her passionate beating red heart tempered by the softness of her effusive faith in a God who is, in her world-view, always a member of the family. Pink was who she was: from Pepto-Bismal colored bathrooms, to bubble-gum colored clothing and handbags, the woman was an IED of pink.

What I will miss most about her are not the obvious things: her gentle self-effacing humor, the steeliness of her love and pride in you, even though she could be so mad at you, the grace with which she faced aging, and infirmity. What I will miss most is her nearly constant trust in God. Especially as we age, we each need to be reminded of this! It is important to hear someone say it out loud, to hear the words spoken to you, no matter how old we get, no matter what is happening in our lives, or no matter how our relationship with God changes over a lifetime – whatever we may perceive God to be.

She loved us all with a still intensity, a quiet pink.  I trust that this comes through in the interview. 

I just pray that heaven has pink walls.


MB: Tell me your name, your birth date and our relationship?

FB:  Frances Katherine Biegner


MB: Where were you born?

FB: I was born in Brooklyn, in a house, at 135 Nassau Avenue, Brooklyn, New York. Above a shoe store.


MB: Describe your earliest memories of your growing up there? Describe your home?

FB: Earliest memories? We had a huge tile kitchen, all tile, with a tile pantry, where we stored all our foods. We were the first ones in the neighborhood to have a refrigerator. What else do you want to know?


MB: How did you get along with your siblings? Be honest.

FB: Well Jean was always spoiled because she was the oldest one. For some reason she was second to the sun –


MB: the “S-U-N” would be Uncle Freddie?

FB: Yeah

MB: I have to get his side of the story too.

FB: And for some reason, they always gave it to her. I remember, I just thought about this the other day, my mother was in the hospital, very, very ill, and it was the first time we were allowed to wear stockings – not pantyhose – stockings. And we each got a pair, she got a pair and I got a pair. She ripped her pair and then pulled a tantrum because she wanted mine.

MB: How old was she?

FB: Let’s see, she had to be, I guess around, this was around when my mother died, I would say she was around 11 and I would have been 10. And of course, grandpa said, “Give her your stockings”. And when I got to the hospital, my mother realized I had been crying, and she said “What’s the matter, why’ve you been crying?”  And I said sister (Jean) – we used to call her sister – took my stockings. My mother said we’ll get you another pair.


MB: this was right before you mother passed? How old were you? When did your mother die?

FB: I was 12. She was 38.

MB: What did she die from?

FB: Hodgkins Disease.

MB: What do you remember about that time?

FB: How much she suffered, because at that time, they knew nothing at all about Hodgkins disease. She used to walk the floor at night moaning in pain. Did they have pain killers? No.


MB: Grandpa ever talk to you about that? About your mom being sick?

FB: Well, I think he had the hopes that she was going to pull through. Actually she died during a blood transfusion. She needed a blood transfusion, and at that time, they did it person to person. That was in ’38. And what happened was it didn’t…she died during the blood transfusion.


MB: What do you remember about the funeral? Did they have you guys go to the funeral?

FB: Yeah, she was laid out in our bedroom because they didn’t have funeral homes in those days, in our bedroom, with all those flowers, for months you could smell all those flowers in our bedroom. And I remember all my aunts coming in, in a typical Italian funeral, throwing themselves across the body, hysterical screaming. People don’t do that now.

MB: In our family they do.

FB: (laughter) And that was hard for little kids to see, it was scary.


MB: Did you ever talk to your sisters about it?

FB: Yeah, we used to talk about it all the time, how frightened we were, you know.

MB: Do you remember anything you guys talked about?

FB: (long pause) I guess, I don’t know, I need someone here to help me remember.

MB: And what did grandpa talk to you about  after she died?

FB: He told us we were never going to have another Christmas in the house. It was like 2 weeks before Christmas, same time as daddy. Aunt Frances, who was helping take care of us, she was the one who brought the tree in Christmas eve, she bought toys for us, you know, to make sure that we had a Christmas. And then after that he was alright about it.


MB: Did he ever talk to you afterward about grandma?

FB: No, no. He was very quiet.

MB: What was grandma’s full name?

FB:  Her full name was Josephine Ambrosino Calabrese.  She was the first social worker in the family.

MB: How so?

FB: Because people used to come to her with their problems, and she would help them sort them out. Everybody used to come to her. She worked in the shoe store with grandpa. People  - customers – used to come and seek her out saying “Oh, I’m having trouble with my husband…” and she would kind of like advise them. And then I always remember – because this was during the depression – and we were pretty well off – you know by this time we were living at 70 Oakland Street (Ed Note: I could find no Oakland Street in Greenpoint, but there was an Oakland Ave. in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn.) which was a two-family house that grandpa had bought – beautiful house with a cobblestone street and wrought iron fence. And people used to come, it was so bad the depression, to ring the doorbell and say,  “Do you have any food.”  And my mother used to fill up bags of food, cans of tomatoes, whatever she could put in, fruit or whatever, and give it to them. I remember, one woman took and kissed her hand and said, “Bless you bless you.” So she gave that woman a job, ironing our clothes. I remember she paid her $3 a week. Because she (my mother) was always at the store with my father, so this woman would iron our clothes for $3 a week.


MB: This was in Greenpoint at that time, right? Was she Polish? Was the area Polish at that time?

FB: Yeah, the area was mostly Polish at that time.


MB: Describe a typical school day? When you were a little girl.

FB:  A school day? Let me think, why am I blocking on a school day?

MB: Do you remember school?

FB: Yeah I remember school, yeah. I always felt that because we were Italian we were looked down upon. Not that anybody ever said anything. But you had the feeling, you could sense that, you  know? I remember one of the teachers I had in 4th grade, I mailed her a birthday card, and she seeked (sic) out this other girl – who turned out to be Irish, like the teacher – and she said to her: “Who told you to write on the envelope ‘LOCAL’ that was so smart of you.”  And she never acknowledged that she got my card, but I always felt it was because I was Italian.

MB: You were treated pretty well among the Polish of the area?

FB:  Oh they respected grandpa, they loved him.

MB: There were no other Italians, or a few other families?

FB:  There were maybe a couple started to trickle in. It was mostly Polish and a few German.

MB: You don’t remember anything else about school?

FB:  I’m trying to remember. Well, we went to the local school, never went to kindergarten – it was 1st grade to 4th grade, then we went to the middle school, down the street which was around the corner, at the end of the block, like a two-block walk – and that was 5th and 6th grade. Then 7th-8th and 9th  was junior high. That was scary because it was like going to this big school.

MB: These were public schools right?

FB: Public schools.

MB: What school was it? PS – something?

FB: Yeah PS126 was the Jr. High. PS54 was the first school. And the one on Normand Avenue was…can’t remember that one. Then 7th-8th and 9th – no – 7th and 8th grade was on Manhattan Avenue – which was quite a walk. And it was a rainy day, my mother used to give us money to go into Woolworth’s to have – and this always reminds me of – tomato soup – and they would give you a slice of bread and butter with it. I loved when it would rain because I knew we would be having tomato soup at Woolworths. But otherwise we walked home – it was a 15 minute walk back – my mother always had lunch ready for us – then we had to walk all the way back.  I would say it was at least ¾ of a mile.


MB: What about your subjects in school? Do you remember taking Math? Or arithmetic?

FB: Yeah, we had regular reading. I had a wonderful English teacher who taught us so much. And she always said that when she died, she hoped that they would put a pencil and pad in the casket with her in case she had to write something down.


MB:  Do you remember her name?

FB: Um..What was her name? It’s on the tip of my tongue. I can’t remember.

MB: Did she make you want to write?

FB: Yes, she did.

MB: Did you ever pursue that? Ever keep a journal?

FB: I used to do a lot of writing. Then at night whenever we would go to bed, the other kids would say “Tell us a story,” and I would make up a story. They loved listening to those stories.

MB: You don’t remember any of those stories do you?

FB: No, I don’t. No, no.

MB:  You don’t have anything written down from back then do you?

FB: No I don’t. No. No.


MB:  Did you have friends in school?

FB:  Yeah, we had a lot of friends. Yeah we had, not so much in high school, because in high school you had to get on the subway and go into Brooklyn. That’s where Daddy and I met. Because he lived around the corner.

MB: In Greenpoint?

FB: Yeah, in Greenpoint. In fact, grandpa used to fit him with shoes when he was very little.

MB: When was that? When did you and Daddy first meet?

FB:  Daddy would work on an ice truck before he went to school in the morning, delivering ice and the guy that had the ice truck, rented the garage from my father – from grandpa. So I used to see him all the time. We were about 13-14 years old.


MB: Was he your first boyfriend?

FB:  Yeah. First and only.

MB: Do you remember the first kiss?

FB: First kiss?

MB: Where was it and what are your recollections of it?

FB: I guess I was about 16. Maybe at a sweet 16 party or something.

MB: Did he kiss you or did you kiss him?

FB: He kissed me. (laughter)


MB: Describe the typical family dinner.

FB: Typical family dinner – especially on Sunday – we would sit down around the table around 2 O’clock and we would be at the table all day.  Just sit there, just one thing after another. Especially after grandma died. Grandpa always made sure we had a nice Sunday dinner. And then by that time, Uncle Freddie was in college so he used to bring friends home for dinner. So you know, we always thought that was cool, he was bringing home these cute guys, you know.

MB: Freddie is the oldest right?

FB: The oldest, yeah. And he had befriended – this is really something – it was – was it right after the war? He had befriended a young German guy who was a writer and a disc jockey in Germany but who had been in the German army and he also had befriended a Jewish professor and his wife and the wife had seen her whole family wiped out in the holocaust. So, this one Sunday Uncle Freddy decided to ask grandpa if we could have this guy over for dinner with his wife, and he wanted the whole Italian dinner and we cooked all morning long. Then the doorbells rings and in comes Kris Meyer, (Ed Note: Not certain of the spelling of this name) the German, came unexpected at the table. Introductions went around, everyone sat and talked, everyone was very cordial. The woman sat very, very quietly. Then all of sudden she jumped up from the table and she lunged at this guy and said, “You killed my family!” She said she recognized him as one of the soldiers that killed her family. It was a very uncomfortable time.


MB: What happened then?

FB:  Well, Uncle Freddie tried to calm her, Kris Meyer took it very well, he was a gentleman about it and the husband calmed her. I think she had a real…

MB:  Was he really the soldier she thought he was you think?

FB: To this day, I don’t know.

MB:  She was like, “He’s a German…”

FB: He was German yeah. She recognized him. I think Uncle Freddie kept up with him for a long time, because he got to be pretty well known in Germany as a writer.


MB: So Sunday’s you would have the big dinner, which is very typical Italian. What would you do during the week? And grandpa cooked? He would do all the domestic stuff?

FB: He did most of the cooking.

MB: What were you guys doing?

FB: We worked along side of him.  He’d try to teach us. And every night – Saturday night we’d – was always lamb chops, baked potatoes and peas. That was our Saturday night dinner. Friday was always, you couldn’t have meat. We would have spaghetti and frittata, you know the egg omelette,

 that was always our Friday night dinner.

MB: That’s where the egg omelette comes from. I still remember it with the potatoes,

FB: With the potatoes, yeah.


MB: Let’s talk about Daddy. So you told me you were 13 you think when you first met?

FB: 13 yeah.

MB: He was your only boyfriend?

FB: My only boyfriend, yeah.

MB: When did you know it was serious?

FB: Well then, he was graduating from Boys High then he joined the Marines, he was going to be drafted anyway.

MB: Didn’t he actually … wasn’t he actually underage?

FB: He was 17. Can you imagine? 17?

MB: Had you met his parents?

FB: We knew his parents, we always knew his parents. They were typically German.

MB: Meaning?

FB: Not too kindly with me because I was Italian.

MB: Like you were three shades darker than he was.

FB: Yeah. Yeah.

MB:  Did they ever say anything to you?

FB: No they never did, no. Uncle Jack and Aunt Vi – do you remember them? Uncle Jack wrote him a very long letter that said, “she’s a lovely girl, and we always liked her,  but you’d be making a big mistake by marrying her.”  He said you are marrying out of your culture. Daddy kept that letter for a long time.

MB: Why did he keep it?

FB:  He was very hurt by it.

MB: Did he ever confront Uncle Jack about it?

FB: No, but you know what? Then they all turned around and I was the best thing to happened, you know?


MB: Talk to me about the happiest moment of your life.

FB: Happiest moment? (Long pause)  We had a lot of fun growing up.

MB:  This can span your whole life, I mean, it doesn’t have to be just back then, it could be now.

FB: I think the happiest was being married, having my family. That was a very comforting time. And it’s probably because, you know, my mother died when I was very young.

MB: Did you guys talk about having 8 kids?

FB: No.

MB: You guys ever talk about having kids?

FB: Yeah, we did. Daddy always wanted 5 children.

MB: You weren’t too far off.

FB: Then I remember Daddy saying, he went into church and found out I was pregnant with David, he sat in church and said…wait a minute, Denise was number 5, no wait, no, (pause) Joseph was 5, Denise was the surprise. It started with Denise. Because he thought that was it.

MB: Okay, so I want to ask you about the “condom” incident. I remember one day, don’t ask me why, I was looking through your room, and I found a package of condoms. Do you remember that?

FB: I don’t remember that.

MB: Maybe I never told you that.

FB: You didn’t tell me no.

MB: How did… of course, this was against the Catholic Church…how did you reconcile this?

FB: Because, well you know, at this point we decided…

MB: Was it an easy decision? That you needed to use artificial means for birth control?

FB:  Yeah, it was an easy decision. I think after Christopher, I think I went on the pill. But for about a year, but there was all this controversy about what it would do to you, whatever.

MB: You never had any religious objections?

FB: No I never did.

MB: Daddy never did either?

FB: No.

MB: Good. (laughter)


MB: What would you say your saddest moments were?

FB:   I guess the saddest was losing people. My mother, and Daddy around the same time, practically the same date as my mother. And you know my mother died on December 14th, and we had this wonderful aunt, her family was…she was married to grandpa’s brother. So there are two brothers married to two sisters. And they lived in Williamsburg.  They used to walk all the way from Williamsburg, through McCarren Park, every morning, after my mother died to put breakfast on the table for us, to see that we got off to school alright. And then all of a sudden, she got sick. She died the same day as my mother, one year later, on the same day.


MB: So you were about 12?

FB: 12 yeah. It was like two deaths in a year.

MB:  And there was a sister too.

FB: Yeah she was only 3.

MB: How old were you when that happened?

FB:  I was 4. And I remember when that happened. Aunt Frances was like a teenager, my mother had just had appendicitis operation and she was upstairs recuperating, and Aunt Frances was upstairs watching us. And we were right in the shoe store, the shoe store was right on the corner of Nassau Avenue and Oakland Street (Ed Note: there is no Oakland Street and Nassau Avenue in Brooklyn, so I am not sure if my mother has her directions wrong, or street names have changed since then. There is an Oakland Street in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn.)

 And they were doing some construction on the road, and she saw a kitten run into the street, and she went chasing after the kitten, and a truck came, and ran right over her head. Grandpa came and picked her up and ran down and put her on the counter of the drug store, but she was dead. That was awful. And I think that was what caused my mother’s sickness, because after that well, then she had Aunt Anita after that. And then Aunt Marie.


MB: Did she ever talk about the loss?

FB:  People used to stop her on the street, say “Oh, I don’t know how you are dealing with it!” At one time she got hysterical on the street, saying  “Please don’t talk to me about it!” You know. It was a hard thing for her to get over.

MB: What was her name?

FB: Marie.

MB: Anita was born next?

FB: Anita was already born. Anita was a baby. Then she named the next baby Marie, after her, which Italian people did that.

MB: It’s kind of funny because today it would be considered not a thing to do.

FB: I know, yeah.


MB: Who was the most important person in your life?

FB: I would say my mother. She loved books.  She was always buying books for me, she was always reading.

MB: Were you a reader?

FB:  And I was a reader then. And she was very well versed. She was really a woman ahead of her time.  But you know what? Her sisters were illiterate, they could hardly read. They didn’t know how to write.

MB: Her sisters were your aunts – like Aunt Frances.

FB: Aunt Frances could write and read, but the older sisters, Aunt Laura – they couldn’t.

MB: How come I don’t remember Aunt Laura?

FB:  Aunt Laura was Stanley’s mother – grandmother. You don’t remember her?


MB:  Who were the others?

FB: Aunt Maggie – Aunt Maggie died in December like her two sisters did and over a simple operation and she begged the doctor not to do the operation in December because both her sisters died. And the doctor said that was superstitious, but the doctor said she was her own worst enemy. She had a heart attack on the table.


MB: Who else?

FB: Aunt Maggie, Aunt Laura, Aunt Katie was the aunt that came from…

MB: Now why were these sisters illiterate. Was it the culture of that time not to educate women?

FB:  Yeah.

MB: What about your father?

FB: My father read. He read all the newspapers. You know how Joseph always has all the newspapers? That was grandpa. Always had all the newspapers.


MB: Grandpa’s name was what?

FB: Charles Calabrese. Actually, it was – he changed it when he came over – because he wanted to make himself more American.

MB: What was it?

FB: I think it was Angelo.

MB: I could have been named Michael Angelo instead of Michael Charles. That would have been perfect! (laughter)

FB: Yeah right!  And theirs was an arranged marriage, grandma and grandpa.

MB: Was this back in Italy?

FB: No it was here in the United States. Your great grandfather, when he came over from Italy, he broke horses for a living. He trained horses, in Williamsburg. Then he saved his money, and he bought a fruit and vegetable (store) and it was a 24 hour fruit and vegetable (store) so he had all daughters. The only son he had was Uncle Mike, you remember Uncle Mike? That was the only son, he was very spoiled. Because he had aspirations for him to be a doctor, he went to St. Francis Prep, then he got married when he was 16 – he ran away and got married. And grandpa supported him his whole life.


MB: What were the uncles like? The husbands of your aunts?

FB: Yeah, the husbands – Aunt Laura’s husband was supposed to have been a count in Italy, so he wasn’t allowed to work when he came here, and everybody respected that. So grandpa Ambrosino supported him too. And then their children, well one of their children, Frank Santorelli, Louise, and Sal – Sal was the only one to go to college. He graduated from Fordham University, and he was a patent attorney. He was the one that got all the education, nobody else did. Louise graduated from high school and that was it.


MB: So grandpa – your father –

FB: They came from the same town.

MB: Did they push college for you? Or just Uncle Freddie.

FB: No, if we had wanted to go to school we could have. He always said that. Aunt Anita had the opportunity, but Aunt Anita wanted to be a nurse but grandpa thought that was not a dignified position.

That was all she wanted to do.

MB: She would have been a good nurse.

FB: Yeah, she would have been a good nurse. So instead she graduated high school and went right to work.

MB: Where did she work?

FB: She worked in Gimbels. She was always in retail.


FB:  So I started to tell you, they came from the same town. They knew my father, grandpa Ambrosino knew him – and knew he would be a good husband for my mother. So, my father approached him to ask if he could have his daughter’s hand in marriage. He bought the engagement ring, went up to the apartment. My mother sat at that end, my father sat at that end, and grandpa sat in the middle – he was a big guy – I mean gruff and tough. My father put the ring on the table, my grandfather took the ring and he gave it to her. That’s how they got engaged.

MB: No drinks? Nothing?

FB: No. Well, they might have had a little something like that. Yeah

MB: This is the guy that was breaking horses, right?

FB:  Yeah, and then he had his own business in the city. He used to buy property in Williamsburg. He had a lot of money.


MB: So this was an arranged marriage, do you think they actually loved each other?

FB: Yes, very much.

MB: What makes you say that?

FB: Because my father was devastated when she died. Devastated. And somebody had said to him, “You know, you have these young children, you really should look for a woman to help raise them,” and he said – I’ll never forget this – “Nobody could ever love them the way their mother did!”

MB: Which wasn’t unusual, especially for a man losing a woman to find another woman.

FB:  It wasn’t unusual, a man got married right away. 

MB: He sounded like he was pretty independent himself.

FB: Very independent. And he was only in his 40’s when she died. He was an amazing man. Quiet. A great baseball fan – Dodger – Met – when the Mets came…before he died

MB:    That can’t be. The Mets came in after he died. The Met’s are as old as Christopher – or at least Shea Stadium… (ED NOTE: The NY Mets were founded in 1962, five years after my grandfather passed away.)


FB: You were a baby. He used to love you. You used to keep him company, when he couldn’t go downstairs into the store. We used to put the playpen in the room with him and he would say, “Bring Michael into the room with me.” And he would sit. And you loved him. It was just so … you know.

MB: How old was he?

FB: He was 73.

MB: He had cancer, right?

FB: He had colon cancer, yeah. Which reminds me, have you had a colonscopy?

MB: Yes, (laughter)


MB: Do you ever remember them fighting, you mother and father?

FB: He was a very strict husband. She was very obedient to him, but that’s the way they were in those days, you know?

MB: Do you ever remember him losing his temper?

FB:   No, I don’t remember him … he never raised his hand to anybody – except Uncle Freddie – he would throw shoe boxes at him. (laughter)

MB: What was that all about?

FB: Well because Uncle Freddie was in college, and you know what he used to have the nerve to do? He would go downstairs – my father used to leave change in the register, he would go down and empty out the cash from the register, and I would go down with grandpa and he would say “manege – he’s been down here again.” He took the change. (laughter)


MB: Are there any words of wisdom you would like to pass along to me?

FB: Words of wisdom?  What have I learned? (Long pause) I would have to think about that.

MB: What are you proudest of?

FB: All my children.


MB: How would you like to be remembered?

FB:  How would  I like to be remembered?

MB: Not that you are going anywhere but when you do go…

FB:  I’d like to be remembered as being fair, loving, not being partial to anyone, everyone being equal, in my eyes, even though some of them don’t think so… but that’s the way it is. That’s how I’d like to be remembered.

MB: We all know that we have a favorite kid. Who’s your favorite?

FB: I can honestly say I don’t have a favorite – everyone is special in their own way.


MB: Has your life been different than the way you imagined? I mean your adult life, has it been different than the way you imagined growing up as a kid?

FB: Yeah, after Daddy died, it was very different.

MB: That must have been a very hard time for you.

FB: You know what, at the time, I realize how difficult it really was.

MB: You know what your greatest gift to me was?

FB: What?

MB: Growing up and always feeling rich.

FB: Feeling rich?

MB: Yes, I always felt rich. And now I look back and I realize how could that have been because we had no income? So that is your greatest gift to me. And that is something I try to give to my kids, no matter what happens, you have to make them feel secure.


MB: Have any regrets?

FB: None at all.


MB:  Would you have done anything different?

FB: Yeah, I would have gone on to school if I could have.

MB: There’s still time…

FB: At 80? (Laughter) I know a lot of people do it at my age.

MB: Is there anything you never told me about, but want to tell me now?

FB: (Long pause). I think you know it all. I’m trying to think if there is anything.


MB: Did you and Daddy ever fight?

FB:  Oh we fought a lot. Oh my God!


MB: Did you ever think about divorcing?

FB:  We used – especially when we were very young in the marriage – we used that word a lot –  (in a mock voice:  “You know what? You can always get a divorce!” “Go ahead! Why don’t you get a divorce!”)

MB: But you were so Catholic! Him I could see being a Lutheran, but you…

FB: (Laughter) I know – it was all stupid talk.

MB: Well, it is – well it’s sort of the nature of marriage anyway.

FB: Right, right.


MB: Did you ever – I remember Daddy with a temper.

FB: Yeah, he had a bit of a temper, but he got over it fast. Now what do you remember about him?

MB: I just remember him being explosive.

FB: Him being explosive? Yeah.


MB: Still, there was this sense of  - I still remember that time he let me and Joe have this fight and we didn’t fight much but when we did it was all out. And I do remember the time where we were fighting upstairs and I remember him peering through the door, just letting us fight, to resolve this thing. He never stepped in. And I still remember that, I remember Joe beat the crap out of me. Because I think Joseph had some real major anger management issues, I really do, I mean he was really wailing, and wailing on me, and Daddy was just looking through the thing, and I am thinking “Why aren’t you coming in to save me?” (Laughter). He was beating the crap out of me.


FB: Why do you think he did that?

MB: By today’s standards, that’s good parenting, they tell you to let the kids resolve things themselves, and I think that goes a long way to our relationship – mine and Joe’s being so strong. Granted, we were only a year apart. I think that maybe he thought some things needed to be resolved – the kids needed to resolve – as opposed to today, where we want to step in the way of everything and they have no ability to do anything.

FB: Yeah, that’s true.


MB: What was going through your head the first time you saw me, when I was first born?

FB: The first time I saw you? (Pause) well you were such an easy birth. And you were such a good baby. And that helped a lot believe me – having other kids. You were always easy-going, always happy. Always smiling. Everybody used to always say, “He’s such a happy baby!” (laughter)


FB: The other things I remember is that grandpa – after grandma died – and this was especially when we were teenagers – and this must have been hard for him to do – in the summer time, he would pack up this lunch for us,  and it was always meatball sandwiches, in our own little shoebox, we each carried our own little shoebox, with our own little lunch in it, and we would  get on the train, and go to Rye Beach. That was a long trip. We would go on boat rides – we loved the boat rides –


MB: Which boat?

FB:  It was probably going up the Hudson. Yeah. And you know they would have dance shows on it, this was major entertainment for us, you know? And or going to the beach – you know he really didn’t enjoy the beach but he knew we did so we would go to Valley Stream – at that time had a beach – so we would get on the train and the bus, and go to Valley Stream State park, and we would have our picnics there, when we were little kids, he would take all of us.


MB: How many were there of you then? Four? Five?

FB: Yeah there were five of us, yeah.


MB: Do you remember any of the songs you used to sing to me?

FB: The songs? Do you remember “Tura lura lura”?

MB: I know the song, but it’s an Irish song.

FB: Yeah, I know.

MB: There were no Italian songs?

FB: No, I used to sing that a lot. (Laughter)

MB: Well you could say that about the Irish, they have good music.

FB: (Laughter) Yeah.

FB: Do you remember when you were two or three years old, and you were sitting on my lap, and you said to me, “Mom, your heart is so big, it shows.”

MB: I think that must be a learned memory, because I think you told me that before – I do remember it but I am not sure if I remember it myself, or …

FB: It was cute. And you asked me when you were receiving your communion, you asked me what does a soul look like?

MB: I asked you that? And what was the answer? What did you tell me?

FB:   (Laughter) and then were riding in the station wagon, you were in the back of the station wagon, we were on Hempstead Turnpike, and we passed a fish store and it had a sign on it “FILET OF SOLE” and you yelled, “Mom stop, they sell sole here!”

MB: I really said that?

FB: (Uncontrollable laughter)

MB: Well, it was good I could read anyway. What other dopey things did I do? Aside from the paint can story that we all know.

FB: Do you remember that?

MB: Again, that is another shared story.

FB: You and Joseph, Daddy is up on the ladder, and he had the water running because he had to thin the paint. But you put the hose in the red paint it ran all over into Lobacarroll’s  (neighbor behind our house) yard. Do you remember that? Oh my God.


MB: What advice would you give me about raising my own children?

FB: What advice would I give you? To let them be what they want to be and to support them in whatever they want to do and just love them.


MB: What were Daddy’s goals for us, what did he want for us.

FB: He wanted everybody to go to college. And he said after everybody was through, he was going to go back.

MB: He said that?

FB:  Yeah, yeah.


MB: What would he have gone (back to school for)? Do you know what he liked?

FB: I don’t know.

MB: What subjects did he like in high school? Did you know?

FB: Yeah, he loved weather, meteorology and all that- he was very interested in that – what made – how the weather developed and all.


(Long silence)


MB: Did you get into trouble growing up?

FB: I never got into trouble.

MB: Never once?

FB: No. Never.


MB: Did you have a nickname?

FB: (Pause)uh… just Franny I guess.

MB: Who called you Franny – your sisters?

FB: Yes, I guess. Yeah, yeah.


MB: Do you remember your best friends?

FB: Oh yeah, Eleanor Leno.

MB: Is she still alive do you think?

FB: Yeah she is still alive.

MB: Do you ever see her?

FB: No we had lost – actually, she was Aunt Anita’s friend. And after she got married, we kind of lost track of her, because she move to New Jersey.


FB: Eleanor Price –


MB: That name sounds familiar.

FB:  Yeah, in fact I just saw her, what was it? Last year, her and Aunt Anita – we met – she still smokes like a fiend – still as skinny as can be.

MB: She’s got to be as old as you.

FB: She’s the same age as me. She was still smoking, I said, “Ellie, you’re still smoking?” She lives with her children out in Hauppauge.

MB: She was your best friend? One of your best friends?

FB: One of my best friends, yeah, yeah.


MB:  What would you do for fun as a kid?

FB:  What would we do for fun? (Pause) I guess movies was a big thing – went to the movies a lot, the pool. We had the pool right down the street from us – It was a beautiful pool, McCarren Park Pool – and we spent a lot of time there as kids growing up. We would walk to it – it was like five or six blocks away from where we lived.


MB: What kind of games did you play?

FB:  Games? (Long pause – thinking) why can’t I remember what games?

MB: Did you play hopscotch?

FB: Hopscotch, yeah. Board games we had.


MB: Do you remember when Daddy proposed?

FB: Daddy proposed? (pause) I don’t think he ever did.

MB: Well how did you…

FB: He assumed we…because he went into the service and we you know, corresponded. He was seventeen and I was seventeen.

MB: You must have been very nervous – worried about him.

FB: Yeah yeah.

MB: Did you know anyone that lost a husband or boyfriend in the war?

FB: A tenant who lived upstairs – his son died in the – what’a’ya’call it – the Normady invasion.

And he left a wife and a little girl.

MB:  So Daddy never asked you to marry him?

FB: No because he talked about “When I get back…”

MB:  … you’d get married.

FB: Yeah, yeah.

MB: Not very romantic.

FB: No, and then he talked about joining the fire department.

MB: Did he really?

FB: Yeah.

MB: I could see him as a fireman.

FB: But then what happened was, the type of job he went into – it was a union thing – and it could only be passed down from father to son, so his father convinced him it was a good deal because…

MB: It was secure…

FB: Yeah, but he really wanted to be a fireman.

MB: Did he ever express resentment about that?

FB: No, he never did. No.


MB: Do you remember the first time you found out you were pregnant?

FB:  I had had a miscarriage before Joanne.

MB: I didn’t know that.

FB: Yeah. About two months before.

MB: Okay, let’s go with that pregnancy then, do you remember how you felt when you discovered you were pregnant. Or did you not know until you had the miscarriage.

FB: I didn’t know until I had the miscarriage.


MB: So what was Daddy’s reaction (to the pregnancy that was Joanne)?

FB: Very happy. Hoped it was a girl.

MB: Really?

FB: Yeah.

MB: Did he want all girls or just the first one?

FB: No he wanted a girl, because, you know there were all boys in his family. I think he wanted that for his parents, his mother regretted that she never had a daughter.

MB: So he wanted to please her?

FB: Yeah, yeah.

MB:  How did you get along with his mother?

FB:  Um….

MB:  Be honest.

FB: She …(hesitating)… was not very….uh…grandpa was always very nice, he always liked me, but she always found fault…

MB: Stereotypical mother-in-law…

FB: Very stereotypical mother-in-law, yeah.

MB: Not like you of course.

FB: No, not like me…(laughter)


MB: How has being a parent change your life?

FB: How did it change my life?

MB: I mean, parenthood is like a big thing, and nobody teaches you about this stuff…

FB: No, and you know what? And you are so young when it happens, that you are kinda like…

MB: I mean today that have hospitals and you can take classes…

FB: No they didn’t have any of that.

MB: So how did you learn how to breast feed, and…

FB: Because you know I had Aunt Frances, who was like a mother – she saw me through the pregnancy –help me with Joanne – you know when a newborn baby cries a lot and you don’t know what to do with them. She was a big help.

MB: And how was Daddy with the baby?

FB: Oh, very …he changed diapers – something men in those days didn’t do? You know?


MB: You breastfed Joanne, right?

FB: For a while, then after a while I really didn’t have much milk.

MB:  Did  you breastfeed the others?

FB: No, not the others.

MB: At the time that was the trend.

FB: They said, “You know, you have formula, you don’t need to.” Which was so foolish when you think about it.


MB: What was the most profound spiritual moment of your life?

FB: The most profound spiritual moment of my life? (long pause) I think it would have to be when Daddy passed away?

MB: What did you learn?

FB:  Because I really felt that he wasn’t gone. You know? I felt that he was always around.

MB: Do you ever feel him now?

FB: Yeah, yeah, yeah.


MB: Who are your favorite relatives?

FB:  Who are my favorite relatives? Well, I think Aunt Frances, because she had an influence, and saw us through graduations, and weddings, and whatever, you know. I think yeah, she was a favorite.


MB: Did you have any nicknames for Daddy? I know you called him “Richie” – some people called him “Dick.” You always called him Richie.

FB:  I always called him Richie, yeah. Because that’s how I knew him ever since we were little, you know.


MB: Do you ever dream about Daddy?

FB: Yeah. A lot.

MB: Can you describe any dreams?

FB: Well sometimes I dream he is still alive and he is taking part in what is going on in the house. You know what I remember right after he died, I had this dream that he was dressed in a uniform, it was as if we were getting married, but we weren’t getting married, and in my mind, I knew it was his funeral, but I was walking along side of him. And all the children were behind me. It was right after he died.

MB: Wow, that’s interesting.


MB: What was your wedding like?

FB: My wedding was like a …

MB: It was in a church?

FB: It was in a church, yeah, but it wasn’t a Mass, because in those days, you went to church and you got married. You know. I had it in the Republican Hall.

MB: We’ll forgive you for that… (Laughter)

FB: Which I hated! I didn’t want it there, but it was hard to find a place it was right after the war, had a rinky dinky band, because you had bands in those days. And it was like sandwiches, and salads, potato salads, whatever. Macaroni salad, cole slaw and then the big tray of cookies. No wedding cake. Just the cookies. Italian cookies.

MB: And you had Daddy’s family there too.

FB: And they were all there too, yeah.

MB: Do you remember the first dance, or did they do that back then?

FB:  Oh yeah, it was Let Me Call You Sweetheart. (Laughter) That’s what everybody dance to in those days.

MB: What would you ask Daddy if he were alive today?

FB:  What would I ask him?

MB: Or what would you say to him?

FB: What I used to say to him all the time, “Aren’t these kids great?” Every time somebody does something.


MB: What sort of special talents did Daddy have?

FB: Um…

MB: You said he had an interest in weather…

FB: He had an interest in that…

MB:  Was he good with machines? Was he mechanical?

FB: He worked with machines at work. Trying to remember…He hated painting.

MB: Were there any jokes he used to tell?

FB:  He was not really a joke teller.

MB: He had a lot of friends, though.

FB: He had a lot of friends. He was very well liked.

MB: Do you remember any of his friends?

FB: I don’t know if you remember when he worked in Kleins? All those young people came to his funeral.

MB: I remember there were a lot of people.

FB: He was very well liked, yeah. Yeah he had a lot of friends. Do you remember Bob and Shirley Stokum from New Jersey? George and Rita Tobin.

MB: How did he know them?

FB: From work.


MB: Is there anything you wonder about Dad? Anything you just wonder about him? Why he didn’t do something?

FB: Well I feel like I never really had a chance to say goodbye to him because we said goodbye in the morning when he went to work, and that was…(Long pause.)


MB: Is there anything else that you think I should know that I haven’t asked?

FB: Let me think…um… Do you remember how you used to hate to get dressed up on Easter Sunday?

MB: I still hate to get dressed up on Easter Sunday…actually that’s not true, I’ve taken the opposite approach and I sort of see the value in that…I’m still afraid of buttons though.

FB: (Laughter) You’re still afraid of buttons? Do you remember when Robert came over one time, and I think it was Easter Sunday, and Aunt Barbara said to him  he should take off his pants and put on his old pants, and I told you to do the same thing because you were going outside, to play ball, and you both went upstairs, and changed your pants, and hours later we found out you put on his new pants.

MB: (Laughter) I don’t remember that. Why did I do that?

FB: You saw those pants on the bed and said, “I guess these look alright…” (Laughter)

MB: I don’t remember that at all.  I wasn’t the sharpest tool in the shed is what you are saying.

FB: Robert lives in Colorado.

MB: I know this.


MB: Well if you can think of anything else…

FB: I’ll think about it. If anything comes to mind. Sometimes if you’re laying in bed at night – sometimes in a dream sometimes you…

MB: Dreams are interesting. You should record them. That dream about Daddy is interesting. I’d like to find out what that meant.

FB: It was right after he died, he was in a uniform, a lot of brass on him, and I was along side him and all the kids were behind him, marching in church.


MB: That was a tough time – his death.

FB:   It was, yeah.

MB: What was the – God it must have been awful – what was – I mean I know that missing him is obviously the hardest thing – but after that…

FB: But I have to say, all the kids – like people tell me you were very, lucky, because a lot of times when a parent dies like that, especially with the boys, it can either go…but you know – everybody – you were all so good. Worked hard, everybody worked, everybody went to school. That was his dream for everybody.

MB: I don’t remember that ever being said, but I do know that that was definitely the sensation that was passed.

FB: But, because I am thinking, Joseph was in high school, he was just in his senior year, and you were a freshman…and remember when you went …and was Joseph out of high school when you took that trip around the country?

MB: That must have been tough.

FB:  And I was thinking, yeah, what was I thinking of, when you think about it, these were two kids and I let them go around the country? What was I thinking?

MB: You know that was the best time in my life and it was the best time in Joseph’s life.

FB: I know, and I remember… do you remember I got sick in church?

MB: You told me about that.

FB:  …and I had to go outside.  And Joseph came out, sat on the steps next to me and said, “Mom, do you want us not to go?”  I said, “No, no, no, I want you to go.” But it was hard.

MB: I never would have said that to my kids.

FB: (Laughter) That’s the whole thing, letting go.

MB: That’s a hard thing.

FB: That’s a hard thing to do.

MB: No matter how old they are, it’s hard to let go.  I always tell people who are pregnant that the one thing no one tells you is how much it hurts letting go. You get so wrapped up in the baby and the whole parenthood thing, some people can’t let go and it’s a problem.

FB: Yeah, yeah. See I think that was Aunt Marie’s problem. She was the baby. She was only four when my mother died.

MB: She probably has very few recollections of your mother.

FB: Very few recollections, yeah, yeah.


MB: You have no writings of your mother at all,huh?

FB: Isn’t that awful? I know.  And I …you know..

MB: You don’t think your sisters have anything?

FB: No, no.

MB: I wonder if Uncle Freddy does?


MB: Well I am going to write this up, I am going to put some observations to it. Is there anything you don’t want me to include? And I want to see everybody’s stories. Ultimately I want to archive it, and give it the tape to my grandchildren, so they can hear your voice. Because, you know I don’t remember Daddy’s voice, and I was a freshman, so I should, but I don’t really remember his voice. So the sound for me is what goes the first. We have movies, but no sound.


So if you have anything else, I can come back and record more.


FB: Yeah, well I will think about it.

MB: I think you answered all the questions, they weren’t too personal, right?

FB: No, not too personal.

MB: Now, about your sex life…

FB: (Laughter)

MB: Well, you had eight kids.


FB: Do you remember that record Daddy had to teach your kids about sex?

MB: I do remember, what ever happened to that record?

FB: I think I threw it out, because… it was so stupid.

MB: It might actually be funny today.

FB: It would have been funny…

MB: What were you guys… did you actually talk about “Well, we have to teach them about sex?”

FB: I guess, what it was… it broke it down into age groups, what you tell them at certain ages. You know like, I have this friend a work, she’s black, a wonderful girl. She’s got a little boy, he so smart, and she’s pregnant now. He said to her, “Mommy, I know you’re gonna have the baby in your tummy, but how does the baby get there?” So he’s only 5 years old, so she says, “You know it’s a little complicated.” So you know what he said? “God is so complicated.” Wasn’t that ….

MB: That is complicated. So I’m guessing you were very naïve and Daddy was very naïve (about sex) when you were married.

FB: I’m sure.

MB: So your honeymoon was probably very interesting.

FB:  We were both….(laughter) Yes, very.  When I look back.

MB: You have to laugh.


MB: But you got the job done! You managed.

FB: (Laughter)  Right. We managed to find the formula….

MB: Daddy had no girlfriends?

FB: No. I was the only one. Unless he had any in the Marines I didn’t know about.

MB: He never got a tattoo though?

FB:  No, he never got a tattoo… no, no. He was in Camp Lejune first, in North Carolina, South Carolina -  and then he went to – from there they sent him to – he was on a ship – a carrier the U.S.S. Ranger.

MB: You don’t have those clips do you?

FB: I must have them somewhere. And then he went to … his job was bringing German soldiers prisoners back to Germany.

MB: He was probably bringing back some relatives back to Germany.

FB: (Laughter) Yeah.

FB: And then he went to San Diego and he even went to Hawaii, after for R&R. And he came back saying “Oh, we have to go to Hawaii,” but we never did – no. In fact he wanted to go to Bermuda on our honeymoon, he was so afraid to fly, and it was the only way to go, so we ended up going to Florida. Which I hated. And we went Amtrak. It took us 25 hours to get there. Can you imagine? What a stupid… I was so naïve and stupid.


MB: How old were you?

FB: Twenty-two. And so was he. We were like two…(laughter) young… even though he had been around, technically he wasn’t any smarter than me. (laughter)


MB: He was the squeaky-clean Marine, wasn’t he?

FB: Yeah, he was.

MB: He really believed everything they told him?

FB: (laughter) Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.

MB: These are the kids they are sending over there now.

FB: Yeah. It’s awful. It’s mostly the poor or the people from the mid-west who think it’s their duty to…but occasionally you get a story from somebody from Long Island, who was only over there six weeks, when he drowned in a tanker. Did you read that story? Him and three others.


MB: Did Daddy ever talk about the war? He never saw any action.

FB: He never saw any action no, which was fortunate.

MB: I’m sure that probably bothered him? I mean, men of that ilk, wanted to see action?

FB: He might have been a little relieved that he didn’t. I think he was a little afraid.

MB: He could have come back a completely different person.

FB: He could have! And a lot of them did! And they are doing that now, and you see the government’s not even backing them up? Not giving them any…


MB: Did he ever talk about people who DID see action?

FB: I don’t think he knew anybody who saw action. The people he was with, he was on that…for three years. Three years he was on that ship.


MB: Did he have any friends from the military?

FB: A sailor from Louisiana.

MB: What was his name, do you remember?

FB: Eddie Shine.  (Could be spelled Schein or Shein)

MB: Did he ever stay in touch with him?

FB: Yeah, he stayed in touch with him, yeah. For a long time.

MB: Is he still alive, do you think?

FB: I don’t know, I wonder.

MB: Do you remember where he was from?

FB:  Baton Rouge Louisianna.

MB: He’d be 80 now.

FB: Yeah, he’d be Daddy’s age. I wonder if he is still alive.

MB: Did you ever meet him?

FB: Oh yeah, he came to New York, we met him. In fact, he was an usher at our wedding, come to think of it.

MB: They must have been pretty tight.

FB: I’m trying to think if I have a wedding picture. I think I saw him in one of the wedding pictures. I have to look him up, but he was a real southerner.

MB: I remind your that your grand-son-in-law is a “real southerner” too.

FB: (Laughter) I know…

MB: and now your great grand children…

FB: (more laughter)  I know.

MB: He’s a good guy.

FB: Yeah, he is. He said to me, when that happened with Beth, when they rushed her into the delivery room emergency, and he was in there waiting to deliver the baby, he said, (in southern drawl, imitating John). “Grandma, I got down on mah knees in that delivery room and I stahted to pray.” (laughs, more of a cackle, really.)