It was about six in the afternoon and I hadn’t been home all day. I turned the corner on to Luquer Street heading towards Columbia Street. I went by the horse stables that was home for several fruit and vegetable peddlers and heard someone call out “Hey Keno”. It was old Mr. Pauli the peddler. Pauli Hook Nose Mengiano is about 75 years old with pure white hair, brown eyes, and always has a three day old facial hair since he doesn’t shave much. He always has a dark tan both during the summer and winter which I imagined was due to the fact that he spent most of his time outdoors selling his produce. Mr. Pauli always has a De Nobili Cigar stuck in his mouth. It seems that he is always wearing the same old red plaid shirt every day over his dirty, torn, brown pants and unlaced black combat boots.
Mr.Pauli is a nice man even though is smelled like his horse Pinto. He was always good to the kids in the neighborhood and sometimes at the end of the day Mr. Pauli would give us his leftover produce to bring home. When he gave us leftover potatoes and carrots we would build a fire in a vacant lot and pretend that we were in the woods camping. If the tomatoes were too soft and almost rotting we could not help ourselves, we would throw them at each other. It was quite a sight to see all these kids reeking and covered from head to toe in rotten tomatoes.
Mr. Pauli was sitting on top of his green wagon when I responded to his call. “Hi Mr. Pauli,” I would not think of ever calling him Hook Nose, “do you need any help in unloading your wagon?” I always addressed him as mister as a sign of respect and I think he liked that. “No Keno, I’m done unloading for the day. But tomorrow I will have a big load of green melons to sell and if you want to make some tip money you can come along with me to carry the melons home for the ladies. The ladies will probably give you ten cents to bring the melon up the stairs to their apartments and if you’re lucky they may give you fifteen cents for helping them.”
Wow! My mind stared racing ahead of me. I was thinking of the bankroll we need to finance the drop the penny in the jug game. “Yes, yes, I would like to work with you tomorrow. What time should I meet you at the stable?” “The truck is scheduled to deliver the melons around 7am so I think we can start selling melons around 9am.” “Okay I’ll meet you just before 9am.” The timing could not have been any better. It’s hard work for a little kid like me to carry a heavy melon up several flights of stairs. I just hope that it’s not too hot tomorrow.
My mother is gonna be pissed off, so I started running as fast as I could to get home. I made it. My home is at 379 Columbia Street, two flights up over the Nick’s grocery and sandwich store on the ground floor. I don’t think my mother liked living over a grocery store located on a busy intersection. Trolleys would ring their bell along with cars and trucks rolling by on cobble stone streets every few seconds. There was much noise and activity all day long. During lunch you will also see as many as 30 to 40 men sitting on sidewalks, boxes, steps leading into the building eating lunch. Many times you would literally have to step over these men to exit the building. But for me it was great to have a grocery store in the building. If I had you buy some groceries for my mother I would only have to run down stairs to buy them.
I went into the front entrance of our building which has an outer and inner door you have to open to get into the hallway. Not like Pecker’s building which had no entrance door at all. I jumped two stairs at a time up two flights to our apartment entrance I picked up the dirty glass pickle jar that I left on the landing outside our apartment and entered. I did not need a key to get in since our door was never locked. My mother, Francesca, was standing there in the kitchen with her arms folded. This is not a good sign. Even though she was mad about me for being late for dinner. She stood there with a mean frown on her face which was not pretty but she looked beautiful to me. She has blue eyes, light brown hair, dressed in a powder blue smock decorated with tiny white flowers. She didn’t speak much English which was okay in our neighborhood since mostly everybody who lived here emigrated from Italy. Since my sister and I went to public school we are the only two in our family who could communicate in English and Italian. At home, for the most part, we talked to our parents and between ourselves in Italian.
Our parents did not like it if me and my sister were talking to each other in English and left them out of the conversation. Even though I knew that my mother was not happy for being late I could tell by the look in her eyes that she was glad to see me. She said “Perche e piu tardi per cena? Lei e troppo magro e Lei ha bisogno di mangiare. (Why are you late for dinner? You are too skinny and you need to eat.)” “Mamma, lo sono spiacente che io sono in ritardo per cena. (Mama, I am sorry that I am late for dinner.)” “Perche ha bisogno di questo vaso di vetro sporco? (Why do you need this dirty glass jar?)” “Io ho bisogno di questo vaso di vetro giocare un gioco coi miei amici. (I need this glass jar to play a game with my friends.)” “Buono, pulisca il vaso e l’esca dalla casa. (Good, clean the jar and get it out of the house.)” Meanwhile I could hear my sister Isabella playing her big band records in the other room so I asked my mother “Dove e mio padre e quando generera ritornato a casa? (Where is my father and when will father come home?)” “Suo Padre e non senta lui lavorera ogni notto e sara a casa di mattina.(Your father is not hear he will work all night and be home in the morning.)” “Bunon, io sono pronto ora mangiare.(Good, I am ready to eat now.)”
Even though I needed a bath I was too hungry at this point to do so, I just washed my hands and sat at the table in our kitchen with a fork and spoon at the ready. Since it was way passed our dinner time I was the only one who did nothave anything to eat. Therefore my sister and mother did not join me at the table. My mother gave me a bowl of pasta and faggoli with some bread. Not my favorite meal but it was hot and the garlic smelled good and it was better than Pecker’s peanut butter and jelly sandwich, so I dug in.
After I completed my dinner my mother said “ora venga qui! (Come here now!) Lei e sporco, Lei ha bisogno di orafare un bagno. (You are dirty; you need to take a bath now.)” I was not thrilled with the idea of taking a bath but I must admit that I smelled pretty bad. We didn’t have a bath tub and our toilet was in a closet off the kitchen. Our baths were taken in the laundry wash basin located in the kitchen.
This wash basin is not very big and not very private so who ever need to take a bath asked everyone else to stay out of the kitchen while they were bathing. I was about the only exception since I was small enough to sit into the wash basin and my mother would insist on scrubbing me with Octagon soap.
It seemed to take forever but I was washed up and ready for bed. It was still too early for my mother to pull out my cot into our family room so I sat by the radio to listen to the Lone Ranger and his adventures.
After I turned off the radio and since it wasn’t getting any cooler we all went down stairs to sit outside the building on the stoop and some chairs my father brought down from our apertment. It wasn’t all that much cooler than our apartment. We met up with a bunch of other families doing the same thing. This gave my mother an opportunity to socialize with friends and dishwater relatives about how good it was in back in the old country. I often asked myself? Why did my father and mother leave the Garden of Eden in Italy for a ghetto in Brooklyn? I’m thinking that they missed the friends and family they left behind. I just sat there listening to all the stories and I started daydreaming about my going with Paulie tomorrow to sell watermelons and the forth of July celebration coming up the day after and the fireworks we plan to shoot off. Yes, the fireworks. Thanks to Roger the professor and Blackie, me and Pecker were ready to do some real damage with our arsenal of fireworks.