Interview with Eugene Bruno, 1981 March 12 [audio](part 1)
- Family history and Italian originsSynopsis: Bruno talks about his family's origins in Italy and how they came to the United States. He talks about his very early childhood spent in Squirrel Run. He says that after his family moved into the city of Wilmington, they continued to visit Squirrel Run on the weekends. Bruno describes watching games of bocce on these visits. He talks about some of what happened to him in Squirrel Run, including nearly drowning in the Brandywine.Keywords: Aquila (Italy); Bocce; Grapes; Immigration; Squirrel Run (Del.: Village); Street-railroads; Turin (Italy); Wilmington (Del.); WineTranscript: Tremaine: Your name?
Bruno: Eugene Bruno. 315 Silverbrook Drive, Elsmere, Wilmington,Delaware.
Tremaine: Place of birth?
Bruno: Number 98, Squirrel Run
Bruno: Retired. New Castle County government.
Tremaine: Father's name?
Bruno: Frederick Bruno.
Tremaine: And his place of birth?
Bruno: Aquila, Italy
Tremaine: And his occupation?
Tremaine: And his father's place of birth?
Bruno: Aquila, Italy.
Tremaine: And his mother's place of birth?
Bruno: The same place
Tremaine: And did she work?
Bruno: Just farming.
Tremaine: And your mother's name.
Tremaine: And her place of birth?
Bruno: Was Turin, Italy.
Tremaine: What was her maiden name?
Tremaine: And her mother's name...or place of birth?
Bruno: Place of birth the same...Turin, Italy.
Tremaine: And her father's?
Bruno: Same place.
Tremaine: And did either of them work?
Bruno: They had a large farm, and they milled flour and grain.
Tremaine: And do you know when they came to this country?
Bruno: No, I don't.
Tremaine: I'm sorry I don’ t know how to get that out…
Bruno: As far back as I can recall...?..Squirrel Run, I do recall having a bed on the windowsill of these homes, because the windowsills were rather wide. First, I was born in a home that was assigned to a Mr. John Marenco, and somehow or another, I don't know how, my parents went to live there in the same house. It was kind of tight, close corners. There wasn't enough room for everyone, so I, in turn, slept on the windowsills, which were wide enough to be...almost a bed. Very wide. Big, insulated stone homes and very comfortable there was nothing there to worry about, catching colds or anything.
Tremaine: No... You didn't fall off?
Bruno: I may have fallen off a few times. I don't know. But I do remember that there was a big coal stove in the kitchen and a winding stairway going upstairs. And I remember someone saying there was only room for two bedrooms up-stairs or something. And these folks had three or four children of their own, and we had...two, plus my mother and father, so it was kind of crowded. And I also recall that most of the outsides of these homes had grape arbors. In fact, they were attached to the house, so you'd walk out of the house and there was...uh...arbors over concrete forms that were built. The Italians were great for concrete forms like this...brick and stonework. They built these things. They didn't grow the grapes for beauty or anything. They grew them for one specific thing. They were wine makers and grape growers. And they did. And they did make an awful lot of wine...pure, red wine. And uh, I don't recall when we left Squirrel Run, but I do recall going back there many times. It must of been that I was four, maybe five years old at the most when I went...when we left there, rather, and came to Wilmington. And we moved to 501 Rodman Street on the West side of the city. That is the first home I remember living in in Wilmington. That's why I say I must have been five years old. My parents often told me my memory was terrific for a young kid, and I do remember all of that. I started school at the old No. 25 school, which is now called Charles B. Lore, and weekends we used to take our trips to Squirrel Run for enjoyment. We'd catch the No. 7 trolley at 6th a Woodlawn up Woodlawn Avenue down through Rockford Park and into Henry Clay and Squirrel Run. I think at the time...I'm not certain...but I do-feel pretty sure that the trolley fare was five cents. And we had five cents to spend at the end of the line, there was a little concession stand. And sometimes come home with two cents change. It was quite a treat. Then we used to go down to Squirrel Run after getting our treat and watch the men play the game of bocce, a famous Italian game they come from Italy with. It was played with large wooden balls about 6" in diameter. There would be 8 of those, and one little small ball. And..uh..actually the large balls they called Palle? in Italian and the smaller one they called Palline?? because it was small, about 2 or 3 inches in diameter. The object of the game was to throw the small ball a distance of thirty feet or so and then throw the large balls at the small one and see who can get closest to it. And you would pair off into partners, two on each side, and the people that would get closest to the ball, each ball counts a point. That's how they would determine the points. Sometimes it would be 11 points, 7 points, per game, with 20 points that concludes the game. Whoever won the game would get the treat of drinking the homemade wine, and whoever lost would have to pay for the wine. They would charge them maybe five or ten cents a quart, and the money they received from this game they would buy barrels, if they needed them. Things of this nature...groceries. This game, incidentally, was played in front of this store, and I remember, it had everything in it....clothing and hardware and, oh gosh, anything that a person would need, this store had it. It was just a general store that had everything. There was a ...we used to sit on a bench in front of the store and watch the gentlemen play this game, and as the day wore on they would get drunk. That's when we had the fun...comedy...watching them throw a ball and fall down with it. It was quite a lot of fun.
One big thing that happened to me...I don't recall it, but two older folks told me. They were much older than I and have passed on. They were in their 70s when they told me this. This was maybe 10 years ago when they told me. Across the Brandywine there were no bridges. To get from one side of the creek where the store was to the other side where folks lived in homes, there was a large oak tree or something laid across the Brandywine. We used to walk on this to get on the other side. It was rather high, the water under it. They said one time a little boy was walking over this thing and he fell. During the course of the day they were looking for this boy. They couldn't figure out where the devil he was. They said, oh Lord, because people have been known to drown. One every year, anyway, in the Brandywine at that time. And the little boy happened to be me. I walked across there and fell off. I fell on one of the big boulders that was in Brandywine Creek, struck my head and lay unconscious on this boulder. They tell me if I'da rolled one foot either way I would have been drowned. And someone coming along saw me. They looked down and saw me under there, and they rescued me and got me out of there. I don't remember this, so, as I say, I must have been awful young. But I do recall the living in the house and sleeping on the windowsill. And the people that were assigned this house had a son, Fred Marenco, a little older than I. I was told that he was the ornery one. I was in diapers, that's how young I was. My mother told him to watch me while she went to get new diapers for me. In the meantime, I started crying. He didn’ t know what to do with me. He picked me up and set me on the hot coal stove with no diapers or nothing on. They said I should remember that, but I'm afraid I don't. When I see any parts of this man's family, they always bring this up to me...say "remember when brother put you..." I say, "I don't." I'm glad I don't. And he's the same person who tried to cut my fingernails when my mother wasn't around. And I was screaming bloody murder. She said when she arrived he'd already cut about three of the tips of my fingers...just you know, little tips...cut them off. So I had quite an experience out there at Squirrel Run between falling and sleeping on window sill. It's like...now I still take trips up there. It's something there that draws me. I don't know what it is. I just love the place, and I love to be in country like this in the... But as far as I can remember, that's all that I can actually remember. My biggest memory is going back there on weekends for the trip We had chores. Everyone worked those days. Everybody had to help, cause there weren't no money around. You didn't live like you do today. Everything that you got you earned. At the end of the week, we were really happy if mother or father could give you five cents to go up to Squirrel Run to visit. It was the greatest treat in the world. Even movies we couldn't afford. Movies were only five cents, but we couldn’ t afford it. To go in town to the stores, we walked. We walked to Market Street or wherever we had to go, since there were no such thing as bicycles or anything of this nature. It was truly a rough, rough way of living. I can actually say I went through some of the toughest times there were, counting everything. But the...one of the biggest thrills of my life was Squirrel Run. When I meet a friend, like one of these friends I talk about, I often bring it up. They do too. They say, "Remember Squirrel Run?" I say, "I wish I could remember much more."
One other thing happened up there, but I wasn't permitted to go: My father and I were visiting there on a weekend, and there was an awful commotion up on the hill somewhere, where they had the farms. I think it was du Pont's own personal farm, there, where he raised the corn. It was the time of year when they cut the corn...they used to cut it by hand...machetes or whatever they used, these knives or sickles. The boys were playing a game up there, and one boy, his name was Ghione. His family were living there to raise their family there, too. Most of those are all gone, also. And there was one boy about 11 years old was running, and he fell. They were trying to pick him up...Come on, let's play. It was a tragedy. I didn't see. My father wouldn't let me go up and see it. He saw it, then grabbed me and took me away. One of those stalks of corn was dry and sharp. Pierced his heart clear through and killed the poor boy. I wasn't permitted to go anywhere near that. Well, I was scared to go anywhere near that farm anymore. We used to always say that the corn will kill you.
Bruno: It was a fear our parents instilled in us, and we abided by what they say, anyway. They were disciplinarians, believe me. With the back of their hand. It was discipline. This is the way it really was. But through all the hard times and everything, it was beautiful. I enjoyed it. It was really nice.
Tremaine: You spoke of going out on the trolley and what was at the end of the line.
Bruno: Oh yes. At the end of the trolley line, an old Italian man I may be wrong but I still would venture to bet that his name was Frank. He had a little shack, or whatever you want to call it. It was about 6 foot square by six foot high and 6 foot wide. He sold, of course, cigars and cigarettes for the grownups. For the children he had potato chips, pretzels, pickles, and things like this. We brought our little match box that the families used for lighting their stove, little penny box of matches. It's only about a little one-inch square box with stick matches in it. When they were all gone, our parents used to give us the box to store our goodies in or anything we had. So we used to put our little 10¢ in there: 5¢ for the trolley and 5¢ for when we got to the end of the line. They were all pennies, incidentally. When we got to the end of the line, I for one would buy potato chips, pretzels and one pickle. The rest of us was about the same. And we'd still come home with 2¢ as our change. That's how cheap things were. Then we'd walk down to the woods from there, to Squirrel Run, the gang of us, and spend our day in Squirrel Run watching the bocce games. This is what we used to do. In the meantime, in between time, they would have picnics. Where they had food and drinks and all the families would get together. That was one real big thing. It had to be a special occasion for that, because it took an awful lot of food and things they didn’ t have. I've often heard them say though, my dad included, that DuPont was the greatest, because he gave them a place to live up there. He gave them work. And anything that they needed, they didn't go without. If he could afford to give it to them, he’ d give it to them. If they were worthy of it, he would help them. As far as the powder mills, I can't tell you to this day when they were destroyed by the blast or whatever happened there.
Tremaine: Well, there were several.
Bruno: Yes. One of them in particular. I do recall my father saying...I can see him looking at me over his grave and giving me the devil for saying this...but he said that one weekend he got on a drinking binge of that wine and he was too drunk to go to work. That was the week one Of the blasts happened. He said he would have been killed in that thing had he been working. But he was glad that he got drunk.
Tremaine: I'm sure you all were, that one time.
Bruno: But he revealed that thing, and he was kind of proud of that. But the big blast that destroyed everything, they said there was one that destroyed just about all...I don't know what year that was, really. I intend going back there for visits to many of them, I guess, cause I've been there before and I enjoy them. But I'm going to look it up more thoroughly when I go back and try to learn everything about it, cause it is my birthplace and I'd like to know.
Tremaine: Well, go up to the Library.
Bruno: I can go up there and get some of the names of the people that were born there. There's probably some of them nearer to me that I'm not aware of
- Neighbors and friends from Squirrel Run and Wilmington; His father's work; Bruno's schooling and education; Leaving school for work and World War IISynopsis: Bruno expresses his desire to meet other people who grew up in Squirrel Run. He says he does not recall what his father did when he worked at Hagley Yard. He says that after his family moved to Wilmington, his father worked construction and that he sometimes went to work in Pittsburgh. He recalls his father bribing his boss with homemade wine in order to keep his job. He talks about his good performance as a school student. He says that he had to leave school early due to his family's financial problems and his father's alcoholism. He lists several jobs that he held, including a brief time at the Hodgson Brother's woolen mill. He says that he was drafted in World War II and struggled finding work he was happy with after the war. He talks about how he got work with the New Castle County, Del., government.Keywords: Baltimore and Ohio Railroad; Construction; E.I. du Pont de Nemours and Company; Education; Friends; Hagley Yard; Hercules Powder Company; Hodgson Bros. woolen mill; Italian language; New Castle County (Del.); Pittsburgh (Pa.); School; Squirrel Run (Del.: Village); Street-railroads; Wilmington (Del.); Wilmington Country Club; Wine; Winterthur; Work; World War (1939-1945)Transcript: Tremaine: I'm hoping...that the different ones we interview...that when this exhibit opens on Labor Day we can have something and everyone come. I'm sure many of you know each other.
Bruno: Oh gosh.
Tremaine: That's what I'm working for, cause I think it would be wonderful. Hopefully then, maybe we can tape it; because I'm sure when different ones see each other, different things will come out that they haven't thought about for years.
Bruno: Right. One in particular, friend of mine, he's with the Hercules Powder Company now at the Mills? at Lancaster Pike. His brother goes to the same church as I do, and every time he sees me he says, "Oh my brother Lou was talking about you. He'd like to see you sometime." But this is as far as it gets. We never get together. It's a shame. The only meeting place is, it seems, a funeral parlor. And that's where I don't want to meet anyone. But these people... some of 'em are still around...that were born there.
Tremaine: Oh yes. I've talked to quite a few of them.
Bruno: Well, getting together is...ah...cause I would love to see a reunion. Oh Lord. That would be terrific.
Tremaine: Well that's what I hope we'll have. I've talked to several people.
Bruno: That's really nice.
Tremaine: Well your father worked there in the Yards?
Bruno: As far as I know he did. Evidently he did or he wouldn't have got to live there.
Tremaine: But you don’ t know what he did.
Bruno: No. No I don't.
Tremaine: Do you remember what type of clothes he'd wear.
Bruno: No. No I don't. The only awakening I got about what type of clothing he wore up there was the film they showed us up there. Now I wasn't even aware of Chicken Alley. That was well-known up there. But like I say, I was too young to know. I wish I were older. I enjoyed going back there more than anything, and I probably would've enjoyed it more if I'd stayed longer. Things came up, they just couldn't live there anymore, I guess. … the film...I forget the lady showed it to us, she was real nice...and I enjoyed watching it. In fact, I was the only one in there. Me and a cousin of mine was watching it. He was born there, but he lives in Florida now. Can't get in contact with him, where he's living.
Tremaine: He was born up there?
Tremaine: What is his name?
Bruno: Anthony...Chupatelli. I would never get in touch with him, because he's had problems in his family life. He lost his wife at a young age and since then he's just wandered off. I think he's just given up everything, so...But the rest that are in Wilmington, now, there's many of them. As much as you'd like to interview them, I would just like to talk to them.
Tremaine: Yes, I'm sure.
Bruno: One in particular, the one like I say, the memories of what he'd done to me...Fred Marenco, he lives up on Lancaster Pike now. He has what they call Fred's Mushroom House. He owns a fleet of homes for the help plus he has his own mushroom...home that he lives in, plus his own mushroom house. He's pretty well off , so to speak. A wonderful, wonderful person to talk to. And real nice. He would be good.
Tremaine: Yes. I don't have him. Now, when you moved into Wilmington, did your father still work out there...the Yards?
Bruno: No. When we moved into Wilmington, the first home was 500 Rodman, like I said on the west side of the city, I do recall my dad going away two, sometimes three months at a time to the coal mines in the Pittsburgh area, then come home for a while, then go back to work. And this is the way we lived for quite a while. After that he got a job that I believe was with, they called it the Traction Company then, the trolley system...Delmarva, whatever it was owned the trolley cars. He worked there putting in rails and cross-ties and spikes, whatever work there was. I do remember at lunchtime when he was working in the area of 6th and Lincoln...they were putting in a trolley line at 6th and Lincoln...and I must have been 9 years old, I guess around mother would get a bottle of wine out of the cellar barrel, put it in a paper bag and say, "Now take this up to your father." It was a quart milk bottle. At lunch time I'd take it up to him and sit there for a while. I'd see the boss come around and he'd hand it to him. And when he came home I questioned him. It's a wonder I didn't get slapped for questioning, cause they didn't want you to question them about anything. Finally he admitted. He said, "Well, you see that wine you bring me. If I don't give it to that boss, I don't work." He said he had to give him something. Didn't have money to give him, so he give him wine. He said a lot of the older Italian men that worked there did the same. They gave in cause they had no money. More or less like a…
Tremaine: A bribe...
Bruno: Bribe. Yes.
Tremaine: Well that wouldn't work today, would it.
Bruno: No. It was a shame. That was the only way they could hold a job. From there I recall he went to work with the B&O railroad, same type of work. A little harder, I guess...railroad ties and tracks. When worked slacks off, they just go working wherever they can pick up a job. I remember many times he used to say digging ditches. He must have dug an awful lot of ditches, because, oh, last ten years of his life I can recall him bent over from working like that so many years. Couldn't straighten up. Just humped over. This was what he had done. Wherever he could get a job and earn a dollar for his family, he would go. Until we got old enough. I went to school what they called No. 25 at that time. It's Charles B. Lore School now. And, uh, I do remember I went the first grade and to the second grade, and the teacher came home with me. I was scared to death. My dad couldn't read or write English, but he was the greatest at reading a report card. I don't know how he learned it...that and counting change. They were told, when they came from Italy, "Learn how to count your money." The teacher came home and she was talking to my parents, and all of the sudden my father grabs me and hugs me, and my mother...when my mother was happy she would cry. Tears was all in her eyes and I thought, "Lord what did I do?" The fact was the teacher told them I was skipping a grade, from the second to the fourth. My father, being a strict disciplinarian, sort of taught me that...better to get my homework done and do it right. I knew what would happen. He wouldn't spare the rod. And my mother was a pretty well-educated lady, coming from the far north of Italy. They were more educated than the others of the southern part. She used to teach me an awful lot. So through that I skipped to the fourth grade. Then when I got in to the sixth grade, I skipped to the eighth. Skipped the seventh. Fact, I got on the honor roll system. It was two of us in the whole school that got on the honors system. This was Charles B. Lore school...excuse me, it was what they call Willard Hall. Used to be at 8th and Jackson. It was a junior high school. It's no longer there. They tore it down for I-95. There I skipped from 6th to the 8th. I got on the honor roll. I was one of the three people in the school who got on the honor roll. So the News Journal got wind of it, and they got us our names in the paper. Called us honor students and that we had a great future and all. My dad, oh gosh, he had it in his wallet. He'd cut it out, you see. And wherever he went he showed it. And I, it may sound nutty, but I loved school and homework. I enjoyed it. I enjoy a challenge. To this day I love a challenge. Homework was a challenge to me and I would...if I could beat it, I felt great, which I did. At that time, a lot of the...especially the English in school...I grasped it early, because when the teachers were talking about, oh as an example, feminine genders, masculine genders, I'd say "gender, gender." In Italian the word genders mean people, "genda". We say "genda," they say "gender," So I copied from what I knew in Italian. I could speak very good Italian and understand it as a child. So I got by and I skipped to the 8th grade. Then I graduated to go to high school. I just started high school, and the drinking problem got to bad...at home for my father, and he couldn't bear it anymore. And oh it got awful bad with him, and he left us. He just took off. And when he did, I was not quite 14 when I was in high school. I was 13...13 1/2years old and in high school already. And I looked forward to getting out of high school and going to college, which would have been a great thing in those days, because people didn't have the money to afford...Like my mother always said, "I'll scrape and do anything, but I'll get you there." So after he left us like this, I was the oldest son. I had a brother 10 years younger than I and a sister, so I had to leave school to go to work. I got working papers...l4 years old. It tore me up. I didn't want to leave. I enjoyed school. So I was walking the street looking for work, and lo and behold, my sister had gotten a job, at of all places down where Hagley Museum is now. It used to be Hodgson Brothers Woolen Mills. And we'd call that the upper mill up where the Museum is, and the lower mill was on the other side. She said, why don't you come up there. You might get a job. I said, I'm not old enough. Fourteen With working papers. And I had to go to school one or two days a week with the papers. And I went up and there just happened to be an opening. And the man gave me a job. And I felt good about going to work, because I thought "Now look at this. Isn’ t this a coincidence. I was born up here, now I come to work up here."
Tremaine: What did you do?
Bruno: I was...oh, just a handy person. The machinery, I used to oil them every morning...and things of this nature. Just to make sure the machines were running. Then they had small, little one inch bands under these bobbins.
Where they made wool...under the machine, there was all these little bands. Had one band that would rotate for each bobbin to keep it moving. They would break sometimes. Mr. Hodgson taught me how to use a sewing machine to sew the bands together. Then we'd put them back on, jobs such as this. Maintenance. Keeping the machines running. And of course I helped load and unload wool when it came in. Wasn't too bad, because the wool's light anyway. In its primary stages it's very light. This is what I did for quite a while. I used to play sand lot football with the rest of the boys, and I fell on a broken milk bottle one time and tore my knees all up, and I couldn't walk for a long while. In those days if you didn't go back...if you didn't want to work...didn't have the ability to come back to work, they replaced you right away. They didn't fool. So that's what happened. I lost the job.
After that I roamed around different jobs. I just couldn't find what I wanted. I was really fidgety. I wanted something. I didn't want to be just a nobody. I wanted to be somebody. I just didn't know how to go about it. And I didn't have enough education to get what I wanted, cause all they said was, "Do you have a high school education?" I said, "No I don't." That was bad. I finally got a decent job with Shell, Horn and Hill...uh...fuel company over here I started out on one of their tank trucks delivering fuel and they liked the way I worked, because I always believed if a man wants 100%, I'll try to give him 100% if I can. That's the way I was, a conscientious worker, and still am to this day. Well, they saw that and they promoted me to the sales department. I used to travel all over Pennsylvania areas and the suburbs selling for the company. And lo and behold that lasted only about a year and the war came. The Second World War started. And I was home, the oldest son of my mother, and my younger brother was too young to go. My older sister at that time had gotten married. She wasn't living with us anymore. And I went to the draft board, and they told me, "Don't worry, you'll be listed 3A. Same as a married man, because you have responsibilities." I said, "Oh good." December of 1942, right before Christmas, and I went out and spent a little extra money on gifts that I could afford, on myself, in particular. I went out and bought a new suit and everything. And a little before Christmas I came home from work one Friday--it was payday --and my mother was laughing. I said, "What's wrong." She said, "President Roosevelt sent you a letter.” I said, "A letter from the President. What does he want?" It had in there, "Congratulations." I said, Congratulations! "You have been selected for the military service." I said, "Oh Lord." That's when they hurt me. Oh, I hated the army. Oh Lord, I can't tell you how bad I hated it. In fact, I, just as much AWOL time as I did service, I believe. Every chance I got, I slipped away. It wasn't my line. I didn't...didn't like it.
But I stayed with it for close to 4 years. I spent two years of that time in the Pacific. Incidentally, before that they were looking for volunteers to go to Italy— constabulary forces. And I volunteered. They wanted people who could talk the language very well. So I could. I spoke English and Italian. And they said, "We'll see," when they interviewed me. They checked up the records -my father especially. They found he'd been a stowaway coming across to here. Whatever he'd done through his life didn't go good with Uncle Sam. And he still had ties over there with his family. I guess they thought if I went over there things wouldn't work out right. I might get in contact with the family, and it would ruin the idea of what I was over there for. So in turn they shipped me to the Pacific, and I spent a little better than two years in the Pacific. And when I came home from there --in fact I was married at the time--when I came home from the Pacific, I found things weren't what they were supposed to be. I was one of them "Dear John" fellows, and I didn't realize it. So I proceeded to get divorced, and went to live with my sister. And I thought, "Well, this is the best thing for me. I just don't trust another one.” So I just live this way, and I'm happy. I get along, and everything's fine. So then I came back and I went to work again with this fuel oil company. But then, after four years, things aren't the same. I said, "Well..." I Worked for a little while--I said, “ I'm sorry. I just can't go through with it."Especially taking orders. It was hard. It was really hard. When you've taken orders for four years from tough sargeants and lieutenants, you come home and you're not about to let anybody...especially when they teach you to be brutal. Let's face it, they taught us to be killers, really. And you're not about to take orders from someone coming home. I left there, and I got a job with the Wilmington Country Club as a houseman indoors. Doing custodial work and maintenance work. There was four of us in there. I really enjoyed that, because I worked the parties. I had a concession...hat and coat racks. It was a non-tipping club, but I don't care who it is. When they get drunk, they can't read. Most of your rich were in there. Willie du Pont was one of them, and Cloren, the big attorney. All the wheels. Oh gosh. They all knew us real well-- all the workers. I mean, they liked us and we liked them. They're ok people when you get to know them. That Willie Carpenter, I know when he was a little kid he used to come around. He was ornery as the devil, that little thing. Tips...we still made tips.
I used to put my paycheck in the bank every month and never use it. I'd live on the tips. I remember coming home one time with a bath towel full of change tied up like a hobo. I did well there. I liked it. But when work started all over the country, when things started getting good...money was available, and you couldn't get it there. A club is...it's a non-profit club, you know, a country club. It goes just so high. I went as far as I could with them, but it wasn't much money. I left in good standing and all, good references and everything. I worked at Winterthur for Henry du Pont in the Gardens. That was my first love...garden work. I always did like fooling in the gardens. I worked there for quite awhile, but then again there wasn't any money. You could only go so far. I ended up with New Castle County. I was a plain truck-driver there, that's all. I started there at, I think, about $1.60 per hour. In less than a year's time I went from that to $5.00 an hour as a foreman. I took the test--there was a rigid test they had there. As I said, I love a challenge. I took that test. A couple fellas even told me, "You're nuts." I said, "No. I want to try it." I come out of that test with 95.5, and I'm allowed a 5-point preference for being an ex-veteran...a GI. They couldn't add it to that, because it would have been over 100. There's no way in the world they could have refused me the job. So I got the job, and I stayed at it almost 10 years. And I contacted emphysema. I was a heavy smoker. I blame a lot of it on the pressures of the work--jumping from a no-one to the pressures of responsibility. I just wouldn't...tried not to let it get ahead of me. I fought it so hard that I had to smoke more. And I was up to around 2 packs of cigarettes a day when I realized I couldn't breathe well.
I went to the doctor and he told me "You have emphysema. If you quit now, we can arrest it," which they did. And I quit right then and there. I climbed the walls, but I did. They put me off on disability. That was 4 years ago. Since then...I went on social security at the same time, I was 62...so I went on social security and the County disability, which was fine cause the county does pay all Blue Cross-Blue Shield, Medicare. I'm not rich. I don't live in luxury, but I don't want for anything. If I need something I can buy it. I don't go too high above my means. Things have been going pretty well since then...living here, everything's shared. Any expense or anything happens we share. Everything worked out fine. I hope I covered just about everything. I think it's been very nice.
- Working at the Hodgson bros. woolen mill; Racial and ethnic tensions in Wilmington, Del.; Father coming to Wilmington, Del.; Storing and preserving foodSynopsis: Bruno describes his work at the Hodgson bros. woolen mill. He talks about his family being on a form of public assistance to cover the cost of their groceries. Bruno talks about racial and ethnic tensions between African Americans, Italian Americans, and Polish Americans in the neighborhoods of Wilmington, Del. He talks about an African American lady who baked bread in his neighborhood. He talks about how his father came to work in Wilmington. He describes the variety of preserved foods that his family stored in their basement.Keywords: African Americans; Clothing; Food; Hodgson Bros. woolen mill; Italian Americans; Pittsburgh (Pa.); Polish Americans; Preserving food; Race; Squirrel Run (Del.: Village); Welfare; Wilmington (Del.); WorkTranscript: Tremaine: Let's go back to the time when you were 14 when you took the job at the Mill. You said your sister was there. What was her name?
Bruno: Her first name was Franc...Well, her real name was Frances, but for some reason unknown to me, she couldn't get a job...see there was an age factor there. She was about three years before me...difference in age. I don't know if it was the age factor or not, but she went under an assumed name and got that job. She went under the name of Rose something. I don't recall the last name. Well, that's what she went under.
Tremaine: Now when she got married, did she keep on working there?
Bruno: Yes. For a while.
Tremaine: Did she take her right name then?
Bruno: Yes. She took her right name later.
Tremaine: What was her married name?
Bruno: Pacelli. Frances Pacelli.
Tremaine: Is she alive?
Bruno: Yeah. She's just about...
Tremaine: Where does she live?
Bruno: She lives on 1800 block 6th Street, in what they call the Little Italy section. She still lives there. In her soul, she's still up there. But we haven't had any communication together in quite a few years.
Tremaine: I just wondered if I could interview her. You see I don't mention anyone's name I interviewed. I say I've interviewed people that you would know, and people that were born there. But we don't even tell where we get the names.
Bruno: The truth is...my sister...I doubt if she could help you at all, because--it's a shame in a way, but she would have a difficult time telling you what she had done yesterday. Her memory...she's about 69 now and this has happened… Oh God...in the last four or five years. She's gotten to a point where she doesn't remember. I would say it would be a lost cause if you tried to...I would mention things myself about Squirrel Run...doing things. She would stand there and scratch her head. Especially the woolen mills. She wouldn't remember. I'd say, "I remember when you girls..." There were outdoor toilets in those place...right over the run into the Creek. They would walk out to these wooden things, and when they come out of these places...the girls were slim...they'd come out all so big. I says, whatever happened to these girls? They'd take the wool and haul her up under their dresses, all around their body, slip their dress back on, and that's the way they used to come home with it. See, the parents would knit the wool, knit the sweaters, for the winter. They used to take the wool...the Company never missed a little. That’ s the way they used to do it. I'd mention these things, and she'd say, "I don't remember."
Tremaine: That's too bad.
Bruno: Me, I’ ve always had a good memory. Of course, it's probably not as sharp as it used to be, but I can remember way, way back.
Tremaine: Oh, it's started again. (tape recorder starts squeaking) Do you remember any of the stories that might have been told to you. Do you remember how you were dressed when you went to work at 14 there? Do you remember what you wore?
Bruno: What I wore when I was fourteen...I remember my mother was on welfare. They called it Mayor's relief at that time. You were permitted $4 per week for groceries, and groceries only. If you had a member of your family that smoked... one cigarette they were selling for a penny a piece at that time...if you had a cigarette listed on that list, you were cut off for a couple of weeks. At the same time, if you were on there, you couldn't own property. You couldn't own anything. Many, many people...we didn't, we weren't that fortunate...many, many people had to sell their homes to get on this relief. I can't help but say that the realtors were grabbing these homes...stealing them, really...for no money at all. That's what was happening to these people. Like I say, we didn't. We paid rent -$25 per month, and had to scrape to do it. Lived off of Mayor's relief. We used to go there for clothing sometimes. They had excess clothing, and they could give it to you. I remember walking to 6th and Shipley with just a sweater mother knitted for me. I was cold. It might have been round this time of year or January. And when I go in there, the woman in there sympathized with me. She said, "Oh, poor soul." And I was shaking with the cold. She says, "You need a coat, don't you?" I said, "Yes ma'am." She gave me a coat...it was maroon. And I know when I put it on, I must have worn two inches off it walking the streets, cause that's how long it was. I could have put my sister and my brother in there with me. And my mother was a very good dressmaker. She did wonders with that coat. It didn't look like a coat much when she got through with it, but she fixed it so it would fit me--cut it open and re-sewed it and different things. This is one of the things I wore to the Mill. Other things...I had shirts and sweaters and things that my mother made.
She'd go to Bancroft Mills to buy the goods in there. She'd make me shirts. If it wasn't for that, I don't know. The only shirts I'da got would have been hand-me-downs, which we got plenty of at the time. A black lady worked in Wawaset Park, which was sort of like Westover Hills where the rich people lived. And once in a while they would give her clothing from the children, say, "Here you are, Mrs. Roman. Take this home." The black lady would stop at our house on the way home...they referred to my mother as "mom," everybody did. She'd say, "Mom. I've got some clothes here. I don't need them. My children get plenty of them. You need them. Here you take them." She would give mother clothing, like dresses for my sister, shirts for me. We really appreciated that. This is how we got all our clothing.
I must say, when you got to the time when you could make a little money, it taught you how to really appreciate that dollar you made. How to say, "I'm not going to throw this away. I'm going to spend it wisely." I learned a good lesson in my life. A real good lesson. I just don't throw money away. I'm not the tightest person in the world either. I'll go along with a lot of things. In fact, you have telethons and things on T.V., I give ‘ til it hurts. I put myself in their position. I sit by that T.V.--and I'm an old man – 66 years old. I cry like a baby when I'm watching. I sympathize with those people. Same way when they have orphans on there, and they say take an orphan home with you. I think, "Oh, I wish I could have one of them." This is what it has done for me. Being such a rough life, you learn to appreciate every little dime and everything that you ever made. That's why today...I've had...my crew on my truck when I was with the county...sometime I’ d have two or three blacks on the crew. They'd say, "Oh, you're really loaded with that house." I say, "Yeah, I got a house. But I'll tell you something, my friend. Nobody gave me anything. I earned every stinking penny of it. I worked hard."
Tremiane: Do you remember any blacks working in the woolen mills?
Tremaine: Or living at Squirrel Run? Anyplace around there?
Bruno: So many people worked there. You're speaking of the woolen mill?
Tremaine: Or of Hagley.
Bruno: Up at Hagley, no. Woolen mills were all girls. But the woolen mills...you see, the I was the only boy. Oh, it was bad. Those girls were 16, 17, 18; and I’ m a little14-year-old. They'd tease me. I was bashful all my life, anyway. They had me running all over the place. They were Polish girls and Italian girls worked there. Oh Lord. But so many of them are married now. Course they have different names...last names. I don't know where the hell they went to.
Voice: She asked you if there were any black people.
Bruno: Blacks. No, no. Those days...it was really..No blacks worked with whites, unless it was in the labor force or something like this.
Tremaine: Were there were a lot of Italians that lived near where your folks lived when you lived over there?
Bruno: Oh yeah. Well, you see when the Italians came over to this country, it seemed like wherever they migrated, the new ones that came over would automatically go there. They didn't mix with...At that time, the Polish lived in what they called "Browntown." They still do...Maryland Avenue and that area. The Italians were in Lincoln Street... Little Italy, you see. And you'd sort of stay in your own territories. And I do recall when we young boys... when I was maybe 17 or 18...you walk through Browntown and they were ready to fight. By the same token, Polish boys didn't come through Little Italy. For no reason whatsoever. It's just, "This is my territory. You don't walk through my territory." That's the way it was with everyone. The blacks, they would mix in more with us and the Polish than the whites would at that time. Of course, today it's reversed. The blacks and the whites don't get along. But where I lived on Rodman Street, we lived there...a white next-door, then a black, and a black. They knew their place and we knew ours. Of course, nobody had nothing. This is why we got along. Today, there's so much money and things around...I think it's ruined the world. We're living too high and mighty. We got along swell. Just like I say, the lady that brought us clothing. We had one black lady that was great for baking. She'd bake bread and rolls and things, and oh, she'd smell up the whole street with that baking. Then she'd call me and all the little white boys and say, "Here, take some to your mother before it gets cold." I run over, with a loaf of bread under my arm...this is the way it was. It was nice.
Tremaine: Was your mother ever able to go back to Italy?
Bruno: No. Because when my mother left Ital -- she ran off, really. She had no business too...if she had understood...but, like I say, she was too young. Her parents were well off. They owned the mill. They had people working for them. It was up near the Milan area-- Florence, Turin. She was 13 years old. From what I understand it was a worker in the mill--a young boy, 16 or l7-- he ran off and took my mother with him to the United States. Then it didn't work out after they got here. She lived in the Pittsburgh area, near the coal mines. That's where my father met her.
Tremaine: What brought them here, then?
Bruno: Oh, they said it was the land of milk and honey. They believed it.
Tremaine: I mean to this area from Pittsburgh.
Bruno: Well, I don't know. I guess there again they must have heard. You see, people from this area were going to work in Pittsburgh, and they said, “ Why don’ t you go there?”
Tremaine: Through the grapevine, yes?
Bruno: “ There's an Italian neighborhood, and work.” They didn't want to stay in Pittsburgh if they could help it. Coal miner is tough work. My father said in those days they had a pick with a three-foot-long handle. You had to bend down like this and chop a hole deep enough to tunnel. God knows they didn't want any of that. When they had a chance to get a decent job in this city, they did. Evidently, they're the ones that told them that Wilmington is a good place. So they migrated here. But, one thing I must tell you, though. I do remember all the hard times--no money, no nothing--but there was always... My father said many, many times, "Oh I don't have money..." But when it was time to make wine, there was always enough money to buy the grapes and make a couple barrels of wine. That's a hundred gallons. You know that takes about 40 boxes of grapes. Even at that time, grapes were about 42¢ per box. But they always managed to find that money. In the winter, laborer that he was, he couldn't work in bad weather. They say we had worse winters then. I believe we did...mean. Sometimes you'd stay home maybe a month with no work. But we could walk down the cellar to our basement--it was dirt floors with big thick rafters--and hanging from the rafters would be cheeses, salamis and things of this nature. And big crocks--my mother would have pickled peppers, pickled tomatoes, or anything in these big crocks. And she had one crock about 5 or 10 gallons, and she'd have lard in it, that she'd made from different things we slaughtered...when we got a chance...a lamb or something like that. She used to put fresh sausage that she made in the lard, and the lard would preserve it, because we had no refrigeration.If you were lucky you had an ice box, but we didn't even have one of those. We had a box which you'd stick out the window. You open the window and reach out for it, and that's what kept stuff cold in the winter. We had food. We ate pretty good. I often wonder where they got the money to do this. Evidently when they had a dollar, they'd buy one of those. But you didn’ t use it until the time came. Til bad weather came. But food was there. There was...wine. Truthfully, for quite a while I couldn't tell you what water tasted like. When the table was set, they'd look at me and say, "Ok, boy." I'd go down the cellar. That was my duty. I'd go down and get this big jug and set it in the middle of the table. You drank wine with your meals.
But I'll tell you, with the winter weather, if you had to go to school, the teacher would say, "My you have rosy cheeks." It was that wine. But you learned to take it...you wouldn't get intoxicated. No. You had your senses, cause you didn't drink that much. One glass. This is the way it was. That's the way we lived.
- Medicines and home remedies; School lunches; Celebrating holidays; Eating wild gameSynopsis: Bruno talks about medicine and home remedies, like drinking heated wine to sweat out fevers, or eating dandelion to prepare for summer. He describes what his mother packed at home for school lunches. He talks about some of his families leisure activities including Halloween and celebrating Fourth of July. He talks about hunting and eating wild game.Keywords: Dandelions; Doctors; Fourth of July celebrations; Halloween; Home remedies; Hunting; Medicines; Poke weed; RadioTranscript: Bruno: I do remember we had no money for doctors. I was always with a cold or something. I would always come down with what mother used to call "the grippe," but it was the flu... a fever and everything. I remember she used to set a bench, two benches, up by the coal stove, which was the only source of heat we had. And she would sleep with me there near the coal stove and keep the coal stove going. She would take a bottle of wine--red wine--and pour it in a pan, put it on the stove, sprinkle sugar in it and watch it ‘ til it come to a boil. Then she'd put it in a cup and hand it to me, and I would sip and sip ‘ til I drank the whole cup. And that will put you to sleep. And it put me to sleep, and I can remember her in the middle of the night changing my underclothes cause I’ d be soaking wet. She'd dry me all off and put clean underclothes on ...and I'd wake up the next morning just like a brand new person. Sweat myself out...cold and everything. I don't know why people today they don't try something like that. I mention it to a few people, they say, "Oh, I don't know." I say, "It'll work.” You can't get the regular, so called, Dago Red today, but you can get good liquor store wine almost like it. And it does work. I know it works, cause to this day I do it. You had to supplement a lot of things. If you didn't have something, you'd try something that you could afford. Like, for the doctors we'd use our own medication. In the spring of the year, say, a couple more weeks, at the end of March, a flock of Italian women would get together up in that neighborhood, and they'd have their burlap bags and their knives. They'd head out to the fields--wherever they can--where there's homes now. But you used to see them. They were all over there picking dandelion. Fresh, young dandelion. You bring them home. We'd have a salad. You boil dandelion, squeeze that all out and chop it. Then make a soup with ham or peas or potatoes. Lots of time they'd take the dandelion and chop it all up...boil it and chop it all up...and put scrambled eggs and onion. It was delicious. My mother used to say, "You eat the dandelion.” Especially the salad. We’ d put a little oil on there. They'd say, that helped to thin the blood out for the summer. And during the winter, we'd get this stuff...have it in health food stores...We called it Malva. They have another name for it now. The American name I don't know. It's a leaf like a tea.
Voice: You make a tea out of it.
Tremaine: All I can think of is sassafras.
Bruno: No. It's not sassafras. I know sassafras. This stuff it grew like weeds in the garden, you know. They’ d drink it like when you had stomach problems, like pains.
Tremaine: There's comfrey...
Bruno: I don't know what they called it.
Bruno: Not mint. No. In fact, my sister-in-law lives out in the country. She has some growing all around her fence. She tells me if I want some, come and get it. Another thing. In the spring we'd get poke. I don't know if you've ever heard of poke. It's like an asparagus.
Tremaine: Oh. Yes.
Bruno: Poke weed. They used to go out and pick that. It's all full of ticks. We used to eat it. You'd boil it or put it in a salad. Then with scrambled eggs. It was always great with scrambled eggs. We used to take it with us to school. Or a person like my father would take this to work with them. It was good. It didn't cost you much. Well eggs...everyone had chickens. This is what we would do. Make our sandwiches. Oil, especially. Well, they were great for olive oil, the old timers. Still are if they can afford it. But even now, I can't afford olive oil myself. We got used to corn oil. Well anyway, it's not good for you. I learned this after all these years. The doctor says use corn oil, so we use pure corn oil. I've often kidded guys, I say, "You know why the Italian people use a lot of oil in their sandwiches for their kids when they go to school? So the parents can find out if they went to school. They can follow the trail of oil leaking out of their bags. That way they can tell if they went to school or not. We used to use it as a joke, but those sandwiches...I can remember in school, especially junior high, you'd open the bag and there'd be all that oil. So the teacher said, "What are you eating!" I'd show them: a pepper and egg fried sandwich. Pepper and eggs fried together... scrambled eggs...and no meat. You just couldn't afford meat.
Tremaine: You got your protein from the eggs.
Bruno: The school cafeteria was 15¢ , and I didn't have that. I'd sit in the locker room and eat this. Incidentally, I had just one sandwich, but it was about that long.
Tremaine: More like a hoagie...
Bruno: Oh. About 12 inches long. What it was, today they call it hoagies. I had it years and years ago, before they ever heard of it. We used to split that down the middle and, oh, everything you could spare you'd throw in there. Cut it in half and make two halves, then you go to school with it. Go to work with it. It took a good half-hour lunch to eat it.
Tremaine: It was filling and nutritious.
Bruno: Yeah. That's where the Italians got their idea about the hoagies...started it up. And your pizza pie. My mother used to make bread, cause we did buy a bag of flour when we could afford it, and it lasted a long while. She'd bake bread, and when there was a little dough left she had nothing to do with it. She'd roll it out and...cook it...bring it up to what it's supposed to be, and then take sauce from spaghetti and pour all over it, let it soak in there and give it to us. That was a pizza. And it was good. And for sweets, she knew that a child had to have a certain amount of sweets. She would take a slice of bread, soak it in water and sprinkle sugar on it, and give it to us. Lots of times she would put it on the lid of the coal stove. The lid of the coal stove was clean. You could put anything on it. You could do wonders on the lid of a coal stove. You take a steak and put it on there, flip it over once and you've got it. Better than a broiled steak anytime. It was good. Same way with the breads. You could toast bread anytime...toast bread with sugar on it. This is the way we used to get our sweets. One thing my father was a stickler for, and he was right. Candy's no good for your teeth. Wouldn't let us have candy. Well, when you went to school you'd sneak a piece of candy...candy and gum, all that stuff.
They had strange, strange beliefs. Didn't believe in a lot of things. Didn't believe in Santa Claus, which broke my heart. My father never believed in Santa Claus. Christmas, my mother would tell me take your stocking off. She wouldn't use the ones we took off; she'd use a clean one. I remember they were long, black ones cause we wore knickers. I hated those devils. Those stockings come all the way up to your knees, and you'd use a garter made out of an old inner tube of a car. An old inner tube--put that on to hold the pants and the stocking together. I remember on Christmas morning hanging on the side of the stove long black stockings with oranges in them and nuts, if you were bad it was pieces of coal. That's what you got. It was great. It was a good Christmas. You'd eat well then...Christmas time. Friends would come round to visit, and every time friends would come round our faces would light up. The children would say, "Oh boy, something special today." They put out the special when the friends come. You eat real good. It wasn't bad. Heck, could've been worse, I guess. It taught me a great lesson I'll never, never forget.
Voice: Well, I think we were happier than children are today.
Bruno: We had more friends, because we didn't have the boob tube television to keep us. You call someone, "Aw, I'm gonna watch a show tonight." So you come in to visit...and I have done it. I'm guilty.... I'm watching T.V. or something, a lady friend of hers or a man, I'll ask them, "You ladies mind going in the other room? I want to watch the game." This is where the mistake is in television...
Tremaine: Ah, ah..transportation.
Bruno: Didn't have transportation then. You made your own amusements. You had the ground at home, and a family. It was a group. You did things together.
Bruno: In our old neighborhood, heck, one person that might have had two or three persons working--many of them had very large families--they could afford...they would buy an old radio. I remember they would go to Delmarva Power and Light and buy a trade-in. Little old Scott-?, little round-shape radio. When we found out they had a radio, oh gosh. They didn't have a house large enough to bring in all the friend--the kids. We’ d run down to this house and ask, "Are you going to play your radio tonight?" They'd say, "yeah." We'd all sit down in there, and you could hear a pin drop. You'd hear every word. We thought it was amazing to hear a radio. By the same token, the first person who could afford a telephone, we'd go down there and make excuses to use that phone. It was...It brought people together. We were closer. Christmas...Halloween. It was wonderful.
Halloween we used to go to different homes. Particular the old, old Italian people that was still around. They'd come to the door and they didn't know who we were half the time. They didn't have goodies to give you, so they gave us wine. It was permissible cause your parents always did anyway. I remember many a Halloween I don't remember walking home, little kid that I was. The parents didn't say anything, cause we was in the radius of one little street. That was it. Up one side, down the other. But we didn't do destructive things.
Tremaine: What did you do on the Fourth of July?
Bruno: Fourth of July? Oh...the men took over then. The parents, the father They would get out in the middle of the street with those shot guns--double barrel--and fire them up in the air. We wouldn't dare get near them. They scared the daylight out of us, those things...yeah.
Tremaine: Did you make firecrackers?
Bruno: They were around, but we didn't have them.
Tremaine: You didn't make any?
Bruno: No. They all had guns because...one of the reasons all of the men had guns… they would go down to the marshes and shoot blackbirds. And actually they brought them home to eat them. I can remember many a night plucking feathers out of blackbird. That's a job. And then, mother would cut them in half and start cooking them. You bite into them, you bite into them little lead pellets. We were picking them out of our mouths. But you had to get some source of meat.
I remember my dad coming home many a nights, especially when he worked at the railroad, he would come home with a groundhog one night...live...in a burlap bag. They'd take in the back yard and kill it...hit it in the back of the head with a poker or something...possum. Today you wouldn't pay me enough money to eat...but I ate those things.
Bruno: Now rabbit I don't mind. I'll eat rabbit anytime. Just marinate it, right? My father, incidentally, used to marinate his wild game with wine. Take that wild taste out of it. Many people use Vinegar today. He'd use wine. Incidentally, he did some wild things. I don't know where the devil he came from in Italy, but...He used to take goat hides and get them tanned, and he had them laying alongside all the beds in the bedroom. You wake up during the night...we used to sleep with our socks on, because it was so cold. In those days you had to...you step on one of those hides and you're going three foot across the floor sliding. He had all kind of hides, even had a Russian Mountain Goat. I don't know where he got that hide. Then one day him and another friend of his got to drinking wine together in the house and they got brainstorms. They come up with the idea that they was going to tan a skunk hide. My father said, "Oh, good idea. We'll put it in my back yard over top of the toilet.” They got that thing, and you know for almost a month the neighbors threatened to shoot him. They said "Please." Cause it stinked the neighborhood terrible. I'll tell you, it got so bad I wouldn't use the out back. I said no way. I'd go see a neighbor or something. Oh, it was awful. But he thought that was great, and he tried that for over a month, and finally he decided, "You know, I don't think this is going to work," so he got rid of it. But he had a friend that worked at the Blumenthal Leather Factory, and he said he could do it. Some of your best brains in the world, years ago, tried to do that and couldn't. He's just an ordinary worker, and he's going to do it.
But he couldn't do it. Had to get rid of it. Oh gee. It was terrible. I couldn't even eat in that house. Smell that thing! But these are some of the things he used to do...nutty...gosh. But rabbit. I've eaten my share of rabbit. We had a lot of wild game. Rabbit. Squirrel. Now squirrel is really, really good. A lot of people say they wouldn't eat squirrel, but Lord is it good. It's just that it takes so many of them. They're so small. One man in particular,..Has the tombstone place on Lancaster...up by the Silverbrook Cemetary. Sells tombstones.
Tremaine: Right on the corner there?
Bruno: Right. He used to go out to the marshes an awful lot and shoot birds. But he didn't eat them or anything. He just loved the gun.
Tremaine: Oh, I can't see doing that.
Bruno: He would bring burlap bags half full home sometimes and stop at my father He' Say, "Here you go, here're some birds for you." Dump them on us. Oh gosh. We'd have a mess of birds to eat. Any game that man got he'd bring around to us. We'd eat it-
Tremaine: Now he didn't waste. I was thinking he just shot for the sport.
- Growing a garden; Using garlic as a home remedy; Foraging for food during the Great Depression; Job with New Castle County, Del., and helping a young man learn how to speakSynopsis: Bruno talks about having a garden and growing celery, parsley, and garlic. He recalls wearing garlic as method to ward off disease. He talks about growing hot peppers, which he says he does not enjoy eating. He recalls foraging for food during the Great Depression. He talks about peeling and roasting nuts. He describes making and eating lupini beans. Bruno talks about social security and his old job with New Castle County, Del. He starts to tell a story about getting help for a young man who could not talk.Keywords: "Elephant Ears"; Almonds; Bread; Celery; Chestnuts; Gardens; Garlic; Hickory Nuts; Lupini beans; Mushrooms; New Castle County, Del.; Parsley; Peppers; Sassafras; Speech Therapy; Sweet basil; WalnutsTranscript: Bruno: No, no. We had our own little chickens...chicken coop. We had maybe five or six chickens. Just enough to get eggs out of. Once in a while when a chicken got old we'd kill it for...it was only good for chicken soup or something like that.
Tremaine: What about herbs? Did your mother raise any herbs in the garden?
Bruno: Well what we had in the garden...course we had the main items most people had, like tomatoes, peppers… I do remember my father having celery. And you could go there any, any time of the year. And I mean anytime December, January, February, March and get fresh celery out of the garden. He would plant the celery in a sort of like trench. And I remember he used to send me after leaves up...the section up here by Bayard Avenue where there's so many trees. And they would put leaves in that trench around these celery stalks, and old newspapers if they had any. Then cover it with dirt. In the winter if you wanted celery, you had to dig one corner. And that thing was yellow as the top of this tablecloth- And tender! It was really, really good. Nice and cool, too. And this is what we used to eat in the winter. We had that. Course we had our own parsley. Not the decorative type like curly parsley, the real Italian parsley. I've got it in my own garden out here. It's still out. I could probably pick some right now.
And garlic. A lot of...That's the thing. When I say garlic it brings back memories. I had to fight my way to school many a time. The boys that lived in what they called "the Flats" going over to No. 25 school, of Irish descent, I guess. They used to say, "Oh, you garlic wop." It got to me a couple of times. We sort of had to fight 'em. But today! I was showing Jean one day when we was shopping that garlic was 1.79 per pound. I said, "Ah-ha. The so-called persons that used to call us garlic choppers are the one's that's using most of it now. And it caused the price to go up." A lot of people realized how good it is. So I plant my own, and we use it. Everything that my parents had done I sort of know, and I follow suit. Garlic, there again, brings back memories. I remember when there were signs on peoples' homes: "Quarantine," for measles, diphtheria, smallpox. Well, there was never one on our house. Never. My mother used to get a string of garlic, take each clove off, peel it, and with needle and thread go right through the garlic and make a string of beads for the children. Just enough to go around your neck. Button your shirt up like so. You'd go to school like that. I stunk to the high heavens, but never got sick. They always contend, and they were right, that germs you have to breath. And breathing the garlic all day, the scent of that garlic is killing that germ before it can do any harm to you. And I never got sick. Never.
Tremaine: Nowadays they sell those things with the garlic on it that you hang in the kitchen.
Bruno: Right. And garlic has been proven to be good for many, many things. Like they say DMSO for that-- most of that is garlic in there, cause you do get a garlic taste in your mouth after you use it. But these are things I've never forgotten. I use this myself. The only thing I don't go with that the Italian people did is...I like them, but they don't like me...is hot pepper. I grew them out there and I used to kid people. They'd say, "Are your peppers hot?" I'd say, "They're so hot they'll burn the fence down." I have them. I still plant them. We have a cousin that comes around...she's a big, hefty woman. She can eat those things just like somebody eating a pretzel. I look at her and I say, "Julie, you're crazy. One of these days your stomach's going to tell you something.” Like I say, I don't eat them. I eat them and, oh Lord, I'm in misery...pain. No sense in that.
Tremaine: Well did they grow them for the green? I know the red pepper comes after the green. But did they use the peppers green at all?
Bruno: Yeah. Of course, they're not hot-hot; No. See, the reason they let them grow red is...They do get hotter, but a green pepper is ripe. It is ripe. Then again, they let them stay on the vine because when they're fully grown and red they grow longer. Then they pick them and they hang them until they're dry. Then after they're dry they put them in shakers. Sprinkle the mover spaghetti, especially, and things like this. Now I can take it like that. We have some in there from my garden, and it's wicked. I only sprinkle very little on spaghetti sauce and I eat it. But that isn't smart to go with the hot stuff. All the herbs...I have one on the porch here called Rosemary. We take the fresh seeds off. We don't dry them. Fresh little stems. And use that on meats and poultry. It does give a better flavor, but you don't use as much. Where you'd use three or four of the dry ones, you'd use only one. It does give you the... And sweet basil, I raise it. Even just for the smell of it. I put it on the visors of my car. When I was working... this time of year we'd work in the wooded areas building drainage ditches to run water off... I'd run into sassafras trees. I can tell a sassafras tree when I see one. Especially one only so big around. They have a dark green mark on them. I pull and pull until the roots come up easy. Take the roots, cut them off their main stem and stick them under the seat of my car. When I was driving for the county...truthfully, some of the workers that I worked with didn’ t believe in water. The sweetest smell of that sassafras! Of course most people didn't know what it was. They'd say, "What is that smell?” I'd say, "If you'd ever drunk sassafras tea, you'd know."
It's good for your stomach and everything. It's really nice. These are things I've carried on. And I've often said it...in different discussions with people where I used to work. They'd say, "Oh Lord. We need a depression in this country to straighten people out.” I'd say, "Don't ever say that....” I was young, but I do remember the Depression... “ If a depression came, I think you would starve to death. your kind." He'd say, "Whattaya mean?” I'd say, "You wouldn't know what to eat. We could go out in that field. I could come home with a whole meal out in that field out there." He'd say, "What are you talking about?" I'd say, "I know what I'm talking about, there's dandelion out there. There's poke out there. Lamb cress, water cress. And we know all these things. Sassafras. And it's edible.” I do recall my mother bringing home what they call "elephant ears." We called them skunk cabbage, but they weren't. Big thing with the dark green thing? Get down to the root, and the tender roots of that stuff was good. Just eat it like celery. They was really good. And it grows wild. There again, my father used to take me on Sunday mornings when he was around...before he left. It was enjoyable going with him. We used to go through the woods this time of year. It was nice walking through the woods. And he'd find a dead old tree that fell over.
At the bottom where the roots are, there would be mushrooms. Wild mushrooms. I recall him bringing them home and mother would wash them, clean them all up. Put them in a pan and put in maybe two quarters or two dimes in with them. Silver coins. When they were all through cooked, take the coins out and look at them. If they didn't turn black, they weren't poisonous. The silver would attract the poison. Turn black. That's how they knew they weren't...And do you know to this day I'd rather eat a field mushroom than a mushroom house mushroom...especially the white ones. Many of those growing around too, because people who use mushrooms throw it on their lawns. I have it out here. That's what we used to do. We used to eat mushrooms. Hickory nuts. Oh gosh! Walnuts. I used to peel walnuts until my hands would have that iodine color on them. I used to go to school like that I could never get rid of it. Must have taken a year for it to wear off. We used to put all that stuff away for the winter. Then come winter time, if there was enough money to make a cake, mother would make a cake and put the walnuts in it. Almonds. She used to roast almonds. I never knew how she did it, but when they come out they had a sugar coating like a brown sugar on them. And they were so good. The almonds was toasted with just a slight coating of...brown sugar was what it was, I think...on them. I tried the old-timers, even. I asked them how it was done. They said they didn't know. It was really, really good.
Tremaine: I use white sugar on mine.
Bruno: White sugar. Well maybe it was. I don’ t know how it was done.
Voice: Do you make like a little sauce?
Tremaine: I use brown paper on a cookie sheet. Put them in...put butter first...margarine. Then sprinkle the sugar on them.
Voice: How long do you leave them in the oven?
Tremaine: It's not too long. You have to watch them.
Voice: I'll try that.
Bruno: One of the great things in the winter we used to put in the oven...You see, things come back when you say things… you mentioned oven...was the chestnuts. That was our job. We’ d sit at the table with a knife nicking chestnuts so they don't burn.
Tremaine: On the top?
Bruno: Yeah. Top or bottom. Then stick them in there. And they were so good. Then we'd have what they call a lupine bean. They sell them in jars now in the stores. Yellow. We used to buy them...the parents did, rather… for the holidays like Christmas or Easter. Buy them dry, in the Italian stores they would come dry. Then put in...maybe, oh, two or three pound in the bottom of a clean burlap bag. And soak that bag… Put it in a tub of water. They had a spigot with a hose going into that tub with just barely a trickle of water, so the water keeps running over. Then do that for maybe two weeks. They'd absorb the water and they'd swell to their normal size. When they did, they would bring them in when they were ready. Then soak them with a solution of oil...olive oil...salt, pepper. Put them in like that, and they would soak up the olive oil and pepper. Then eat them. Lord they were so good. Aw. Delicious.
Bruno: In fact, we had a relative come here from Florida, a boy. He never heard of them. He said, "What are those things?" We said, "Lupine beans." He said, "Aw." He tried them, and to make a long story short, now when we get them up here we mail them to him, He loved them so much. He can't get them in Florida. We mail them to him.
I'll tell you. I don’ t say it because I'm of Italian extraction or anything, but my God when we used to walk past the Italian homes, the smell of the food alone used to make you hungry. One other thing I remember, a teacher come home one time with my sister. She came to dinner with us, and she walked in the house and told my mother, "Oh God, Mrs. Bruno. This house smells so good you get hungry coming in here. Why is it that I can cook all day and you won't smell it. My mother asked "Do you use garlic, do you use parsley? Oregano?" She said no. Well, you won't smell. My mother would take a fresh ham or pork shoulder--especially a fresh ham, they loved it. Get a knife, push a hole in it. Then she'd have a mixture, she'd put a little bit of Italian parsley in that hole. Push it in. Then a little bit of lard she'd get to hold the stuff together--salt and pepper and all the spices. Then a half a clove of garlic. Then make a hole here, there, all around that thing. Then put it in the oven. Then when it came out...Oh Lord, you cut open that thing, you smelled something. And you ate. Oh Lord, it was good. It was really delicious. You had nothing, but you didn't lack food. When it come to eating...it might not have been meat, but whatever it was it was tasty and good. We were taught also parents, father especially. They'd put the stuff in your dish and you’ d tell them when it was enough. They never overloaded you. They figured it was better to go back after more. But you had better eat what was put in front of you. And we were great bread eaters. ‘ Til this day, most Italian people are, because of the fact that they were brought up this way. Parents tell you to use a lot of bread, because they figured if you ate enough bread you wouldn’ t go hungry because there was a lack of other food. They'd supplement with the bread. If we had soup or anything, you'd dip bread in the soup and eat it. That's why we're such bread eaters today. If we go to the Italian bakery and get a loaf of the French bread that's hot, if I come home with that thing and start putting butter on that bread, so long. I'll eat that whole thing. That whole loaf of bread. And it's bad because it's not good for you, but that's the way it is. Bread is a big thing.
I can say one thing. We had nothing, but I was taught to have a lot of respect. And was taught what didn't belong to me I did not touch. We didn't have 10¢ to rub against one another, but you dare not steal. My father would "I'm going to break your arms if you stole anything." If someone would come home and say your son stole this or anything… and we learned respect from day one. If a lady walked in our house and her name was Mary, and child that I was I'd walk up to her and say, "Hello Mary," that was bad. I'd get my mouth slapped. You referred to them as Aunt and Uncle, even though they weren't. Through respect. You'd say, Aunt Mary or Uncle Joe, Tom. Whatever his name may be. And all the old people in our neighborhood when we'd walk the streets, we'd call them Aunt and Uncle. You wouldn't say, "Hey Joe." No, no. But today I've been called "dirty old man" and this kind of name that I never heard of. It's a different generation, I know. But these are things I'm grateful for.
Bruno: Very grateful. Had nothing, but I gave a multitude in other ways. In respect, in knowledge. This is why I got through life pretty good. Like I said, I think I went pretty far with the little bit of education that I did. I was a self-taught person. I learned everything on my own because I wanted to. I venture to say I knew more than...one in particular that worked for me was a college graduate from West Chester State Teacher's College. I had to teach that man what he knew, and he was a college graduate. And he was amazed. He said, "How do you know so much?" And I said, "I learned from practical work. Not the book. We didn't have the books." This is what you get out of a life that was strict...or not so much strict. It had to be that way. You didn't have anything. You learned to do with what you had. It taught you to value things.
Tremaine: I think a lot of the young people nowadays are going back to that type of life.
Bruno: I hope.
Tremaine: I know quite a few of them. Some of them don't even want to go to college. But they are going back to some of the old values. They're raising their own food. They believe in helping each other and not interfering.
Bruno: I believe in helping. Like I said, I'll bend over backwards to help a person in need. But by the same token, if that person tries to cross me in any way whatsoever, I'll have nothing more to do with him. I don't care if you come to me with a million dollars and say, "If you like me, speak to me." I'd say, "Get out of here." I have no use for them. Like I say, I learned to do without. The worse thing that ever happened to me was when I was working with the county, cause it was all union. And I've seen what unions can do. Unions...pushes every, every year for more money, more money. This, I think the ruination of the country today is the unions. Every time they give you more money, everything else goes up. I was never used to living like that. Having money like that. I like to be...you know, comfortable. I...what I'm trying to say is, I wasn't worth what I was getting. Nobody was. I was getting close to $9.00 an hour and not doing 9¢ worth of work. In other words, we were all Indians...all chiefs and no Indians: three foremen and four workers, laborers. Naah...
Tremaine: Hopefully now, they'll have to cut. Hopefully they'll cut in the right place.
Bruno: I hope Uncle Ronnie does what's right. I heard him talking last night but I didn't like what they were saying. They were saying something about cutting the...the uh...cost of living increases for social security. Now I depend on that. We need that.
Tremaine: Everyone has counted on that. Yes.
Bruno: I don't get a hundred dollars a week from social security and a lot of people do. It's hurting when they cut that.
Tremaine: I'm going to just stop and turn this over. Then we'll finish off. Is there anything else?
Bruno: Well, like I was saying. The thing that I got out of life. I enjoyed learning, and doing without did me a lot of good. In one instance, I feel very proud of. While I was working at the county, there was one gentleman there. Well he was a young boy. Came to work at the age of 18. His parents...one of his parents worked for the county. They knew he was coming in our department, and they requested that the boy go with me. That I could teach him more than the others. They knew I had a lot of compassion. So anyway, the uncle brought him to me and he says, "Bruno, will you take Perry, my nephew here and teach him. I'll tell you what's wrong with him. He has a speech impediment. He was born with a...what they call elephant ears. They operated on him and cut him and fixed him up to normal size, but with this he's conscious of all these things. And people made fun of him all his life. Instead of helping him, they made fun of him. He knew I wouldn't do this, cause I don't like that. Anyway, he was in my crew, and anyone that dared make fun of him I would call him down and say, "Look. You make fun of that man again, and tomorrow you won't be here." Well, he'd take it from there. I took a hold of this boy, and I said "Perry, whenever you want anything, you don’ t ask anybody. You come to me." He had a habit of...he'd open his mouth to say something, and all you'd hear was just a noise. No words would come out.
He couldn't talk. He was sort of like Mel Tillis, that cowboy singer, that western singer. He could sing and never miss a note, but talking he couldn't. And I felt so bad that one day I went into the Medical...of the County and I talked to the lady, the head nurse. Then I talked to the doctor. I said, "Look, is there anything that can be done for this boy? He has this here impediment. His mother was widowed at a young age and she tried to raise this boy. They never had any money to do anything for him." I said, "I can get my crew and the other crews together. We'd pay so much per week, and pay the expenses of a doctor or whatever it takes to get this boy well."
So he says, "You would do that?" I said, "Yes I would." I said, "I'll do most of it myself if I can." Like I said, I'll give ‘ til it hurts. Anyway, she got a set-up where he would meet three psychiatrists for a day for a while. One of them would take care of what he was thinking, another would show him how to talk, and the other one was something else. I'd see him and I'd say, "Perry, how are you making out?" "Pretty good, He'd talk like that. I said, "If anyone bothers you, let me know?" But they wouldn't. They knew darn well what was happening. In about 6 months time, he come back one time...I'd missed him for a while...he'd been taking all these therapy treatments. He came by and I was...over the radios they was calling my name. This superintendent come out in one of the staff cars and he brought this Perry to me. He said, "Here's your boy." He got out of the truck, and he come over to me. “ Hello Bruno." Then he shook hands. I said, How you doing Perry? He said, "I'm doing very well." I said, "My God." He hugged me, and he said, "You're my god." I said, "No, no. Don't ever feel that way.” I said, "I just did what I thought was right, and I hope you get along in life and do well." And that boy came all the way from New Castle where he lived one night, rang that doorbell, and I let him in. She met him and there was some other women in this house that met him. And he started talking. After he'd left and all...they didn't know what he was, that something was wrong. And I said, "Did you notice that fellow?" They said, "Yeah, nothing wrong with him." And I said, "Six months ago, he couldn't utter two words." We helped get him through it. And that fellow's still with the county. The crew he's with now... he'll make them stop that truck just to come up here and say hello. The county called me in...the personnel department...sort of the biggies. They said, "We know what you trying to do with Perry.