|Title||Transcript: of oral history interview of Sam Sciancalepore, June 22, 2012 by Ruth Charnes.|
|Collection||Hoboken Oral History Project Collection|
|Scope & Content||
Transcription of oral history interview of Sam Sciancalepore, June 22, 2012 by Ruth Charnes.
An oral history that is part of the "VANISHING HOBOKEN"-
A Project of the Friends of the Hoboken Public Library and the Hoboken Historical Museum. Full text is in notes. See below for other formats.
Also participating in the interview session was a son of the inteviewee, Stephen Sciancalepore.
Typescript copy, 33 pages in binder, plus digital document formats (PDF, .docx and .rtf) on file. The audio file (.wma) referred to in the transcription is not on file here.
Transcriber: Jack Silbert.
THE FRIENDS OF THE HOBOKEN PUBLIC LIBRARY AND
THE HOBOKEN HISTORICAL MUSEUM ORAL HISTORY PROJECT
DATE:22 JUNE 2012
RC: Sam, thank you so much, first of all, for being here.
SS: You're welcome.
RC: Let's start even before your beginning with a little information about your parents, where they're from, etc.
SS: My parents came from Molfetta, Italy. [Door opens and Sam's son Stephen comes in.] Uh oh, the boss is here.
STEPHEN SCIANCALEPORE: Hey, Ruth. How are you.
RC: Hi, Steve.
SS: We settled in Hoboken, 303 First Street.
RC: Before you go on: Were you born in Molfetta, and you came here...?
SS: Yes, at the age of 7.
RC: OK! May I ask the date?
SS: You want the date?
RC: When were you 7, in other words, when did you come here?
SS: I don't remember. [Transcriber's note: Later, he says they came here in 1927.]
RC: OK. When you were 7.
SS: I was 7.
RC: OK. And did you come to Hoboken first?
SS: Straight to Hoboken.
RC: Straight to Hoboken, OK.
SS: And when we came from New York, that's a time when we didn't have to go through the island anymore. We just... they checked...
RC: Landed in New York City?
SS: In New York City by boat. And the name of the boat was Rex, which was sunk during the war, whatever. [Transcriber's note: The SS Rex was an Italian ocean liner launched in 1931. On September 8, 1944, it was bombed by R.A.F. aircraft and sunk.] But anyway, we went directly to a ferry-the 42nd Street ferry-packed up all our baggage, and we came to Hoboken. And I thought I was in a different world, actually traveling on water, which I never did. But, at Hoboken, that's where the rest of the people from Molfetta landed. So we were pretty happy about that. We made a lot of friends, and we knew a lot people.
RC: So your family knew people here even before you arrived.
SS: Right. It was like "old home week." Everybody got together. And it was very nice. I immediately went to school, not knowing how to speak English. But, at that age, you learn...
SS: Quickly. And it was a lot of fun. I made out with people. We got friends with a lot of young boys from the neighborhood. All different nationalities: Irish, Italians, Jewish. Everybody got along, no problem.
RC: I've heard that. Did you have any brothers or sisters when you came or after?
SS: When I came I had one brother and I had one sister here, from Italy. But then one was born here. My mother thought it was a tumor! [Laughs.] Next thing I hear, I hear a baby crying in the next room. That was the tumor.
RC: That was the tumor. OK.
SS: And I'm sorry they're both gone, both my sisters gone. But my brother's still around. He's 88 years old right now. And I tell you, he's in better shape than I am. I'm 83, and he's still in better shape than I am. But we had a nice family. No animosity, a lot of nice people. We ate in each other's homes. My brother got a job downstairs in a Jewish grocery, no, candy store, we called it in those days. And he got older and he got himself a better job, and I wind up going there.
RC: That's where you apprenticed first.
SS: Three dollars a week.
RC: Three dollars a week. Full time or...?
SS: After school.
RC: After school. OK.
SS: Pay no taxes. But he was a wonderful man, he was a Jewish fella, wonderful man.
RC: Do you remember the name of the shop?
SS: Cheap Sam.
RC: Cheap Sam. OK.
SS: My true name is Sergio. That's my true name; everybody called me Sam. So I worked there, and got older. Started working across the street was a grocery store, what the heck was it? Oh god. And I started working there as a delivery boy.
RC: Was this after high school or while you were still in school?
SS: Still in school.
RC: Still in school.
SS: I went to Number Five School, which is between First and Second Street on Clinton Street. That's where the medical building is there now. Is that a medical building? Yeah. That was the school. Number Five School. We had no walls. We had slide walls. That's how they separated the classes.
RC: Was it built as a school, but, divided...
SS: Yeah, it was built as a school, but divided with walls. When we had an assembly, all the walls opened up and we all got together. And it did the job. Very nice.
RC: Do you have any remembrance of how big classes were, how many kids were in school with you?
SS; It couldn't be no more than 15 or 20.
RC: Really. So it wasn't huge classes like we have nowadays.
SS: No. But everybody went there to learn. Teachers made sure you learned. Those days they were allowed to whack you. Hell yeah.
RC: With a ruler, or just...?
SS: With a ruler. On your hands. It hurt.
RC: It hurt-I'll bet!
SS: But, we learned. We learned. And my brother went there before me. And the teacher that taught him, saw me. He got me in the corner of the room, he gave me a few whacks, he says, "If you're anything like your brother, you're going to get some more." But anyway!
RC: And did you?
SS: No. I was afraid! He was a good man, he was a good man. They taught us. They taught me everything I know. And that was it. What happened? Then I went to high school. Brandt School, over here. And I started, I think the 8th or 9th grade, I forget. The problem was, I had to work. I went to school only in the morning, and I played hooky in the afternoon.
RC: In order to work?
SS: In order to work. I loved to work. We used to give all the money to our families. My father was only making $25 a week.
RC: What did he do?
SS: He was a maintenance man in New York City. But, I played hooky, and I went to work as a butcher on 5th and Madison Street. And the principal found out, Mr. Stover, I'll never forget his name, and he found out and he says, Sergio, he says, you know, he says, I'm going to have to, what'd he say, when they let you off for about three months.
RC: Suspend you?
SS: Suspend you for three months. He said, because you did this, you did that. And I was old enough to quit. I said, I'm sorry, so I'm going to quit, I'm going to go to work, I need the money, and this and that. And he says, I'm a foolish man for doing that, because... But, anyway. I did that. And I became a butcher for a long time.
The war started. And butchers were making a ton of money. Because meat was scarce, but they had food stamps, and the old story. But, my father said, No, you've got to quit that, you'll make more money than me. This is all lie! He says, you've got to become a plumber, I have a friend of mine... The difference between the money I was making, and the getting $20 a week. And I had a little car, which I'd ride around with. But, that was it. Then I got drafted.
RC: How did you feel about, before we get to that, how did you feel about-beside the money-how did you feel about switching careers?
SS: I had no feeling about it.
RC: It was OK with you?
SS: I just did what I had to do. I never found any reason to, as long as I had work, I loved to work. And so, he put me as a plumber.
RC: Who did you apprentice with?
SS: Rotondella Brothers, on First Street.
RC: They're still around?
SS: No, they're gone now, both of them have died. But, they were tough people. Oh, tough. But, you had to really work. It's not like today. Everything was hard work. But I learned a lot.
And then I got drafted.
RC: What year did you get drafted?
SS: I'm sorry?
RC: What year?
SS: Uh, had to be... '52.
RC: Was this Korean War?
SS: Korean War. But I didn't go to Korea. I was shipped to Germany, thank God.
RC: Thank God, that's right.
SS: But, I went to Germany, and I learned a lot. I learned a lot in the service. The best thing that ever happened to me.
RC: In what way?
SS; In what way? Learning, schooling. They sent me to schools. And I came out with a commission. Not commissioned officer. But, we did very well. I made trips to different countries on the U.S. government.
RC: Where did you go?
SS: Back to Italy. I went to France....
RC: Did you visit family?
SS: Ooh yeah, I visited family. As a matter of fact, when I went there, they thought I was a millionaire! And then my aunt had to be there. And they said, maybe you could send... we would send clothes to them. And I said, you know, I'm going to do something nice for you. I lied a lot! I'm going to send them-a car.
They said, you could do that? Sure, I could do anything. I told them, What color do you want? They said, any color! No, you've got to give me the color. I would tease the heck out of them. Anyway.
RC: And did you ever send the car?
SS: Of course not! [laughs]
RC: It was a good story.
SS: But anyway. I came back. Got discharged.
RC: What year was that, do you remember?
SS: I would say about '54, something like that. I went to back to the butcher shop, and he said, look, the supermarkets came, I can't compete. He worked alone. As a matter of fact, his name was Finizio, Henry Finizio. I worked for his wife for years.
So, I went back to plumbing. Rotondella. I worked very hard, and I got married. I took a trip to Canada; I met my wife.
RC: She's Canadian?
SS: She's Canadian. Ended up... 56 years.
SS: She's a good woman. Best. Without her, I'd never make it. [laughs]
RC: Well, I know you have one son, Steve. Do you have other children as well?
SS: He's the worst one.
RC: Well, we don't have to decide that now.
SS: No, later. [laughs]
RC: But does he have any brothers or sisters?
SS: But anyway. We got married and we lived in... eight-twenty... 826? 828?
STEPHEN SCIANCALEPORE: What are you talking about?
RC: Where you first lived.
STEPHEN SCIANCALEPORE: I think it was at 829.
SS: 829 Garden Street.
RC: 829 Garden, OK.
SS: As a matter of fact, they just renovated.
RC: Was this one floor of a brownstone?
SS: No, this was four floors.
RC: Four floors of a brownstone.
SS: And we stayed there for a few years. And then I went in business. And, I'm not going to tell you, it was very hard, not just myself, my wife, she had the baby...
RC: What is her name?
SS: Mary. And we had a good time. We worked very hard. We were at 920 Washington Street, my first shop. The landlord, a Greek man, very nice man. And his grandson now has got the computer shop there right now. So, anyway, from there, business was picking up and we moved out of Hoboken. Moved to Palisades Park. Very nice, friends there, we always managed to have a good time wherever we move. And from there, I moved here, bought this building. Wanted a place where I could park the trucks in back. I've been here ever since.
RC: When did you move to this building? Do you remember?
SS: I don't remember.
RC: One other question about the business. I assume you're the "S" of S&B. Who is the "B"?
SS: I took a partner. My nephew, Binetti, B, he's my nephew, my sister's son. See, I'm glad you're asking me these questions, because I forget. And we stayed together for a couple of years, when he decided he wanted to be by himself. I said, no problem. And we had a lot of real estate. He took the real estate and I stayed with the S&B. Anyway, he lost the real estate. But he moved to Holmdel and he's doing very well. He's doing beautifully. We are very close, very close family. We visit each other, and he went out there for quite a few years. And as a matter of fact his brother, my other nephew, has a business here also, Binetti Plumbing.
RC: I've heard of Binetti Plumbing, I didn't realize that was your family as well.
SS: That's my nephew, my sister's boy.
RC: Do you fight for jobs?
SS: No, we never have to fight. We always manage to get work. You know? I can't understand why some people complain. We always have work. Let's see, I can't remember anything else.
RC: Well, I'd like to ask you about some about your early jobs, especially in Hoboken. I've heard some interesting stories about people who wanted to pay you with perhaps not the usual cash.
SS: Oh yes.Angione.Nice people, wonderful. And we became very close. And then he called me one day to fix a faucet or whatever it is. After I was done, he says, I'm gonna give you something, don't tell anybody, you're gonna be happy to get it. She comes over with a bag of tomatoes. She says, "Don't tell anybody."
RC: Now was this instead of another payment in cash, or just a bonus?
SS: No. They would pay. At times, they'd always complain it was too much money. And I would take it off. "OK, you'll take this off..." That's how you get away with it. I'm Italian, I know how they operate. But very nice people. People I dealt with, very nice. Very few hotheads or whatever. I don't know, somehow I just got along with everybody.
RC: I think that's you, frankly!
SS: Actually, all these years, to me, it was a lot of fun. I can't remember everything. All the tradesmen, we would meet at the diner, I think it was 5th or 6th Street, Washington Street, it was a Greek diner there, it's not there anymore, we'd all have breakfast with the gang and all. I knew a lot of older people out there, restauranteurs that I'd done work for. Schaefer, I don't know if you remember Schaefer. Wonderful man. We did all his work. I tell you, he was a top-notch man.
RC: I would assume that working here in the 50s especially was very different from what you're doing now.
SS: Very different.
RC: Can you talk about that: more the types of job you used to do versus what you're doing now?
SS: Basically the same thing, except, everything was harder. Heavy pipes, heavy cast-iron... now everything's PVC, copper. Now you have phones to contact each other, then you didn't. Now every man's got a phone. It was harder, and you worked later hours. Time runs so fast, but, they were good times. Maybe I don't remember the hard times, I don't know.
RC: It's a good thing sometimes. But I think times were hard in Hoboken, especially in the 50s, and I'm wondering if people, you know, really struggled....
SS: If they were hard, it didn't bother me. Like I was telling you, everything in those days, trolley cars, garbage wagons, horse and wagons.... We used to put our water-main pipes in the streets, now there are machines-there was one man, Italian man, he had to be 80s, he would do the digging on the street, mind you, a little guy, and you give him a hundred, two hundred dollars for the job, and he would dig it up. You don't get anybody to do that anymore. It was different, we never used machines to dig up the streets, we do everything manually. The sewers. And I did it, as a helper, I did it. It was different. When I was young, we used to hop on the trolley cars to go up to 14th Street. Never paid for it; hop on the side and just take off. I'm trying to think of other things. The streets all had railroad tracks on them.
RC: For the trolleys.
SS: And Hudson Street had-there were trains on Hudson Street. You would not know what Hudson Street looked like.
RC: I've seen pictures, even in the early 70s it was incredibly different.
SS: It was different. One time, one bad thing happened. We had trolleys going from Hoboken to Jersey City. I forget what you call them-it was a trolley. What do you call it-over, like, a bridge.
RC: Oh, the viaduct? There was a viaduct, I know, at one end.
SS: There was a viaduct. But there was a trolley car going from Hoboken, from the Tubes to Jersey City. And we moved to Jersey City, my father, after a while, he bought a house. But I still came to Hoboken to work. And I worked for Rotondella. On cold days, it would freeze. It's not like today. We had to go in the cellar, to snake out a sewer, not knowing that the cellar had filled full of water, and there was ice on top. The boss said, Sam, go in there, look for the [unintelligible], so we can clean it out. So what happened, I'm crawling in there, and I pop right in all this... guck.
RC: To put it politely!
SS: To put it politely. So he says, well, you better go home and change. I come back, I says, how am I going to get home? He says, take the trolley. I say, the trolley? He says, yeah. He wouldn't take me in the car; I smelled too bad. I tell you, I had it all to myself!
RC: True luxury!
SS: My mother, father took a look at me, say, what happened to you? They wouldn't even come near me. [laughs] That's one of the instances.
RC: So did you change and go back on the job?
SS: Yeah, I went back, he says to me, he says, we finally got it cleaned out. So who went there? One of the guys put boots on, whatever, he finally got it. But that's what it was. That was right on Willow Avenue. I know every house there, but every house has changed. We did work on almost every house. It was the nice part, is meeting the people that do the jobs. And I found out the nicer you are to people, the nicer they are to you.
RC: Do you think that's still true? The population has, I think, changed so....
SS: I don't think we have any problems. Joann, do we have any problems with customers?
JOANN PORTA: Not really. Every once in a while, but, you know, it usually works itself out.
RC: You don't think people are fussier or more particular?
SS: But that's my son's department.
SS: He's from the newer generation. Computer, this and that. Me, I'm from the old generation. I look at a computer, I walk away from it. I don't know what to do with it.
RC: I think, not only that. I heard a neighbor of mine, I would say newcomer, even to me, complaining to, I guess, a friend this morning on the sidewalk about someone who was doing work for him. And I thought, you know, if I worked for this person, I probably would've punched him a long time ago.
SS: Well, we do get people like that. Somehow we get around it.
RC: You get along.
SS: My son is better than I am. He's got...
RC: An even temperament?
SS: He's better than I am. Sometimes I blow my stack. But, you know, one guy told me, he says, never get mad at people. You get mad at them, just... be happy, and don't hold a grudge. And we try to do that. Really, now that I'm talking to you, and I'm thinking about all these things: I had a pretty good life. You know? It's very good. And Hoboken, it's a nice town. Because no matter where you go, you meet someone from Hoboken. You go to China, you meet somebody from Hoboken. We go to Florida last year, talking to the guy helping us with the baggage. He says, let me help these old people! He says, where you from? He says he's from Jersey City. He says, oh, where are you, oh, Hoboken. I lived in Hoboken, but then I moved.... Hoboken always comes up.
RC: It does seem for a relatively small town that that happens a lot.
SS: Years ago, people would hold their noses, say: You live in Hoboken?
RC: I've heard that too. Not anymore.
SS: Not anymore. Now, you say you live in Hoboken: Wow. It's nice that I know so many people. The sad part is, a lot of them are passing away, you know? I knew a lot of good friends, good friends that I had that are gone. When I was young and I worked in the butcher shop, we had a clubhouse, and there were a bunch of people there who got robbed by people from New York, two guys.
RC: People from New York came here to rob you?
SS: Well, to rob, not from me...
RC: I mean, rob the group.
SS: We happened to be in there.
RC: What happened?
SS: We came out!
RC: A real stick-up?
SS: Real stick-up. But, they were very nice.
RC: That's the old days for you!
SS: I asked them for my wallet back. He said, I can't, I'm not allowed. I said, I got my license... He said, I'm sorry. I said, OK, what are you gonna do? It was strange, it was a lot of fun. I don't know what else to say, you gotta ask me some more questions. There's so much that happened, that I can't remember everything.
RC: Well, one thing that struck me when we tried to get together yesterday: You were busy on a water-main break. So you're still very involved...
SS: Oh yeah, I come in the morning. But, comes the afternoon, I get tired, I go home. And, I tell you the truth, I want to help my son out-sometimes he gets stuck, he needs a hand-I think he still has me as an errand boy to go around, checking...
RC: Or bad cop, I'm sure bad cop.
SS: He'll say, OK, Dad, let's go take a look at this job, see what it's all about.
RC: So you're still on the job, in effect.
SS: I've been blessed with wonderful children, and especially Steve. He's a good boy. The best.
RC: And I assume he will be keeping S&B going into the future?
SS: I think so. Everybody took a liking to him. He's a very nice guy.
RC: Any other children? And if so, are they in Hoboken?
SS: My granddaughter, she's 27 years old, she just moved out of upstairs, she wanted to come to live in Hoboken. The worst thing I ever did!
RC: Should I ask why?
SS: Why? Because I'm her grandfather!
RC: Not that she was a fussy tenant.
SS: Oh, the worst, the worst! [Laughs]
RC: The worst-coming from you, I'm sure!
SS: But, she moved out. She's moving out, and she found a boyfriend in Pennsylvania, so I think she's going to move out there. And my other granddaughter-as a matter of fact, they're all graduating. This one graduated yesterday, last night. Steve's son graduated a couple of days ago. And tonight we're going to another one, Erica, my other granddaughter, to her graduation. So, in one week we're going to three graduations.
RC: Were these high school or college?
SS: High school. Now they're all going to college. Just the two of them are going back to college. Lauren, the older one, she went to college already. They all live in Ramsey now. Steve lives in Franklin Lakes. And I live in Wyckoff. But still, most of my life is Hoboken. We spend all our time here in Hoboken.
RC: Your life is, on one level at least, still very Hoboken centered. You're here almost every day.
SS: And I tell you, I can walk the street, and it'll take me a half hour, an hour, and I stop-I know so many people, and they all stop to say hello. And it's great to meet these people. Especially Eugene from Amanda's.
RC: Eugene Flinn.
SS: Very close. Never has a bad word to say about...
RC: He's done a lot for the community as well.
SS: He's a good man.
RC: He works for the museum, he's helped the Friends of the Library...
SS: He's a wonderful, wonderful man. And some other people are good too. Not many people, I don't know-I never had much trouble with anybody.
RC: I think it's what you bring to the party, actually, you know. That's part of the equation.
SS: Like I said, now my son takes over. Half of the time I don't do anything. I go home. My wife and I go out maybe to eat or something. But that's about it.
RC: You travel, I think, in the winter? To get out of the cold?
SS: We go to Florida now. But it's getting harder and harder to go away. But, you know. I have a knee problem. We have issues as you get older. The body's starting to crack up.
RC: I've heard.
SS: But thank god, I'm able to stick around. I don't know, I'm trying to think what else I can tell you, so many things happened....
SS: He lived in Hoboken together, and naturally he gets married.
RC: What was your brother's name?
SS: Jerry. He worked on Eisen Brothers. And he worked very hard like anybody else. He was there for years until he retired. Then he went on his own, just doing odds-and-ends stuff. Jerry was always working.
RC: Talk a little bit about the place he was working, and what they did, because I think people don't know about that part of...
SS: There was a factory, on 15th Street or 16th Street, between the two bridges: Between Park Avenue bridge and the Willow Avenue bridge. And there's a factory there, Eisen Brothers, they made furniture for Sears, I think other companies too. And they made pretty good furniture in those days. That's all they did. He became a supervisor. A lot of Italian people worked there. As a matter of fact, the owners, they knew my brother very well, they treated him very well.
RC: Was this, what, 20s? 30s?
SS: Had to be, let's see, we came here in '27, had to be in the 30s. It was a big factory. Then they knocked it down, they leveled it off, they were supposed to build a park or something, I don't know. But, he worked there. What else did he do? He worked as a baker. He worked as a-there were so many jobs. We went from one job to another. And that's it. The best part was when I bought myself a car. I was 15 years old.
SS: Yeah. Nobody knew about it.
RC: Nobody knew about the car, or nobody knew you were 15?
SS: I bought the car for fifty dollars. The roof was caving in, it was a Chevrolet. But you have no idea, it was ricocheting off all-but I learned by myself. But then when my wife went to get her license when we got married, I told her, look, I gotta teach you. We had nothing but arguments.
RC: About learning to drive? That's always dangerous.
SS: She says to me, she says, if I don't get out of here, we're going to wind up in a divorce! But she wound up getting her own license. And now she's trying to tell me how to drive.
RC: So who usually drives, and who's usually the backseat driver?
SS: No, either one of us. Nobody-we ask each other, you wanna drive or do I drive? I'd rather she drove, because every time I drive, watch out for this, and watch out for that. I don't want it wind up we get mad at each other. So I say, no, you drive. But that was fun.
But she also, she could tell you stories, about the first house that we lived in. There was a big pole to where we hang our clothes to dry up; we had no dryer. Four stories high, and we just married. Going into the apartment, and I'm climbing up the pole. And I went all the way up. And I look down; I froze. I sat there for about fifteen minutes. And my wife is going, when you gonna come down? I say, I'm afraid. She says, OK, I'm gonna go to the front room. I said, why? She says, I don't want to see you when you make a splatter on the floor! I said, thanks! Finally, I said, well, I gotta go down, one way or another.
RC: This, I assume, was one of those where you had a pulley from the window to a pole that...
SS: Oh yeah. I put on the pulley, and I came down so fast! But that was funny; when I got down there, I said, that's the way you love me, right? But that was funny.
RC: She loved you so much, she didn't want to see you go splat. I think that's...
SS: She didn't want to see me splatter. But, there were other things there we did. We had neighbors, we talked to each other from the backyard between Bloomfield Street people and Garden Street people. You could see each other.
RC: From yard to yard? Or from house to house.
SS: From house to house. And we became friends with a lot of them, a lot of people. Dominick DeCesare, he just passed away, his son took over the-anyway, he's in business in Hoboken. So many others, I can't remember their names. A lot of contractors. It was fun. And then we'd go out, nights, we'd go to the Feast, the Italian feast every year, those days was different. Those days it was a lot of fun.
RC: What was it like in the old days?
SS: My brother-in-law, he would carry the saint, one of the guys. And you had to pay to carry the saint. I gotta tell you, the best one is this-this is coming to me now. When they first got engaged, my brother-in-law, my sister-my older sister-it's a custom that the Italian people give themselves gifts. So he buys me a cowboy suit, oh, very nice. A cowboy suit with guns on the side.
RC: How old were you?
SS: Maybe eight. Ten?
RC: Not in your 30s.
SS: Not in my 30s. So what happened, my mother goes, OK, let's put it aside, I don't want you to wear it, I don't want you to wear it out. In those days, you'd wait till it rotted out before you wear it! Anyway, they broke up. They had a little bit of an argument and they broke up, and we had to give the gifts back. Got my cowboy suit back. I said to my mother, I says, why do you have to give it back? She says, well, I've gotta give all the gifts back. So they made up again, they got married. I said, well, when I am getting... me, well, I'm getting older! I said to mother, the hell with them! I don't want it anymore.
RC: You never got the cowboy suit back.
SS: Who do you think I saw with the cowboy suit? His son! The Binetti that supplied the B.... I said, son of a gun, Binetti! But that was funny.
RC: So you saw the suit, but you never got to wear it again.
SS: Never got to wear it. But they do everything according to customs, you know, silly customs, and it was fun. But you sat on the stoop, and you walked the streets, they'd have a jug of wine. Everybody gave whatever they had. It was fun. All the old-time people sitting down and talk, all their stories; it was funny. I never heard of any crime those days. Maybe because I didn't know any better or I didn't hear it. But you never heard anything. I mean, we left doors open. I was babysitting for my sister that was just born here. And I would leave her with a bunch of my friends, to move the carriage around. And I would go back home after 3, 4 hours. My mother would say, well, how...
RC: Everything's fine!
SS: Everything's fine. Everybody would play with her. It was a different ballgame. Never had to worry about being kidnapped or anything like that. Today, it's a different world.
RC: It is. I first moved to Hoboken in the 70s, and even then, people weren't locking their doors.
SS: We went to jobs to where people would say, the refrigerator is open, help yourself to wine, there's a jug of wine there, this and that. I worked with a guy named Bill. He was a good mechanic, but he liked to drink. One day he drank almost, I would say, a quart of wine, or whatever. And he starts waving. I says, Bill, I says, you better go home. Don't go back to the shop. Get in your car and go. Because if he sees you like this.... The boss come to me-this is Rotondella-he says, what did Bill have, a couple of drinks? I said, well, not too many, I just told him to go home early, I don't think he was feeling good. We covered each other.
But, he really taught me the business. He was an Irishman; nice guy. And, oh, he'd be tough on me. Best part, he would give me measurements with his hands, say, go get me piece of pipe like this. And I'd go up to the pipe, and go like that. And the owner would say, "These two guys know their business? They don't use..." But we do. And that's how we had some fun while we were working. It was good, clean fun. And then they'd call the boss up, and the boss-we used to laugh-"Leave them alone, they like to play their jokes." You know? It was different, those days.
RC: I have to ask, because you mentioned the wine. I've heard that it was not uncommon for people to make wine.
SS: Oh, my father made wine. There's another thing.
RC: Tell me more.
SS: We'd make wine every year.
RC: Most families did?
RC: Did you grow your grapes? How did that work?
SS: No, we bought the grapes. I don't know where he bought them. But they bought them, and they were delivered with the horse and wagon. Dropped it off. I hated that, because I had to work. It was hard work. A box of grapes was about, I don't know, 30 pounds? I was a young kid. But the one day we were squeezing the grapes. The end of it is sweet. Every once in a while I'd get a sip of a drink.
RC: Did you step on them, like you see in the movies?
RC: You didn't jump in a vat?
SS: No. We got no room to put a vat! We barely had room for us to live there. We were in the cellar, 2-by-4s with rats and mice and everything.
RC: So you had a press?
SS: We had a presser. We had a smasher which was by hand.
SS: And we'd go to the barrel, and we had to ferment it. And then we'd get the presser. We would borrow from one other, our neighbors. One guy would say, OK, I'm finished with mine, come and pick it up. Pick it up, carry it over, all over the neighborhood. Put it in the basement, we'd press it. And we'd stay there maybe till 10, midnight doing it. And even the young people, years younger, we would drink wine. And you know, I'm still around, I think it's pretty healthy stuff. This one time-wine tastes so good!-my father kicked me in the pants and chased me upstairs.
RC: You had more than just a sip? Is that what you're saying?
SS: What are you talking about? I was drunk!
RC: Just practicing, just practicing!
SS: In those days, parents don't talk to you, like, oh don't do this, don't do that. You felt it. You'd be sitting on the table, and you know you're gonna get whacked. And you just had to wait for your turn. And every time you moved... And when you least expect it, along came the hand.
RC: How much wine did most families make?
SS: I would say maybe a barrel of wine, and they put it in jugs.
RC: To get through a season.
SS: And sometimes they'd make vinegar; you had to throw it out.
RC: Was that if it wasn't successful, it ended up as vinegar?
SS: We used it for salads. But, they also made their own booze, you know. They bought the alcohol-they would sell this stuff in stores.
RC: You mean people would make it TO sell in stores?
SS: They would sell the alcohol; you'd buy the alcohol, you'd make it. And they'd sell you the ingredients to put in there to taste like, uh, anisette. Sambuca wasn't out in those days yet, just anisette. And there's another, forget the name of the other stuff. Strega.
SS: We used to make our own strega.
RC: Was this, by any chance, during Prohibition?
RC: So it was perfectly legal.
SS: I used to go across the street and buy beer for my- on the tin of beer and I would bring it upstairs. They'd sell it to us, and they weren't stopped. Sometimes the men and women outside the stoops, at nighttime, and they'd say, send one of us, OK, go and get-go see Joe. Across the street was a bar, and everybody knew him. He knew us. He'd just fill up the thing and take it. We didn't have to pay.
RC: Put it on the tab.
SS: Put it on the tab. And nobody'd stiff anybody. So anyway, that's all I can remember.
RC: Let's talk more about food, because that interests me.
SS: Well, food, we would get most for soup, beef soup, would be bones. Go to the store to get bones. And mostly vegetables. I don't remember meats much.
RC: It wasn't as common.
SS: Yeah, mostly vegetables. Beans. Italian pasta e fagioli. All healthy foods which I go crazy over now. I hated it. I hated it. Now it's a specialty.
RC: And did your mom make pasta? By hand of course.
SS: Oh, she made pasta. She made the stuff, I forget what you call it, what is that stuff they make the soup?
SS: Not [unintelligible].
JP: The one you used to break up? You put it on the table and break up.
JP: We used to do it at my grandmother's house, we used to break it up on the table.
RC: Oh, like the little...
JP: It was like a big sheet of dough.
RC: And little squares that were...
JP: Little pieces of parsley. You'd just break it up into little pieces and cook it in the water.
RC: I'm having a blank too.
SS: And my mother made her own cookies on Christmastime. I tell you, you go to the store, you'd never get cookies like them.
JP: I'm calling my mother.
SS: And the cookies, oh they were delicious. And there was one woman that made it before she died, part of the family, Christmastime I'd go there, wait, and it was getting harder and harder to make it, she was getting older.
JP: "utreet." Sam, "utreet."
RC: You have to spell it for me.
JP (to mother on phone): How do you spell that, do you know how to spell that?
SS: She probably don't even know!
JP: She's guessing, like, "trite." It's semolina, egg...
RC: Not starting with a u?
JP: No u. And it's got parsley in the dough.
SS: Now she's giving you the menu.
RC: I'm going to go to make it.
JP: Right, you roll it out nice and flat, you lay it out. Let it dry. And then just break off chips. And that's it. "Utreet," that's what she said. [to mother:] So what would that be, would that be a "u" in front of the "trite"?
SS: No, that's...
JP: Yeah, that's like a dialect, it's just part of the, yeah. La trite, u trite. [laughs] OK, Mom!
SS: That's enough, Mom!
JP (on phone): Yeah, OK, well, Sam's doing an interview with the Hoboken Historical Society, and he remembered it, and I said, oh, I gotta call my mother and find out what it was called. Right. OK, thanks Mom. Bye.
RC: This was a consultation by Joann, whose last name is...
RC: ...who is in the office and is helping us with this question about the pasta. So please keep this in the interview.
SS: The best part, I'm going to give you a name which you can never spell. They used to make "strascinati," [transcriber's note: SS pronounced it "strascinette" but I believe this is correct] all that is is-top hats, right?
JP: Yeah, we used to call them the little hats.
RC: Little hats?
SS: But they sell em in stores now.
JP: Yeah, they have them.
What are they called now?
JP: Uh, I think it's, uh, ...
SS: Call your mother, see what strascinati...
JP: She's gonna kill me now.
SS: I gotta find out what they call them in the stores.
RC: Little hats...
SS: Little hats.
RC: It's not like orecchiette? They look like little...
JP: Actually, yes.
JP: I think that is it.
SS: I think that's it, orecchiette, yeah.
JP (on phone): The strascinati, what is that pasta called, is that orecchiette?
JP: Yes, that's it. Okay.
SS: We never bought it at a store, we used to make it.
RC: But you have a different name for it.
SS: Well, that's the dialect. But it was our dialect. Because, right now, our dialect isn't spoken [unintelligible] anymore-it's only spoken in Molfetta, Italy.
RC: It isn't?
SS: No, because it's all...
RC: It's all homogenized.
SS: Everybody goes to school. Years ago, my parents never went to school. My father, the only time he learned how to write when he went in the Italian army in Italy. Oh yeah.
JP: Sam. Orecchiette. My mother's saying, does that mean "ear" in Italian?
SS: Yeah. The ears, yeah.
RC: They look like that.
SS: They look like that. And my mother would stay there and do it and she would make this soup, and the cookies, and whatever. You call at Christmastime, the aroma, of the cookies... ahhhhhh. And I would look for them, and my mother had to hide them, because we'd eat em up. She got mad at me, my mother, she tried to hit me, but she couldn't hit me, because, it would hurt her arm! She says, I'm gonna tell your father!
RC: I'm curious: In my family, my grandparents went to school to learn English after they came to this country. Did your folks go to school? How did they pick up English?
SS: My father picked up English working.
SS: My mother never spoke English.
RC: Never spoke English.
SS: But, when my wife came into the family, that was cute, the greatest thing in the world, she had to learn the dialect to converse with my mother. And she was embarrassed to say it in front of me, because whenever she said it, it was so funny, I would laugh.
RC: Now, was she of Italian heritage?
SS: She's Czechoslovakian.
RC: She's Czechoslovakian. So she didn't come with a different dialect; she came with a whole other language.
SS: I met her on a trip to Canada. And we just saw each other, and that was it.
RC: This was like, across the crowded room, and you knew you were meant for each other? Was it that dramatic?
SS: Right. Well, what happened-this is funny. I went to a fancy hotel, and she was at a cheaper hotel because she didn't have the money. So, there were French girls there, I'm running after them, and I'm coming out with lipstick on my face, everything. But she was eyeing me up all that time. And she's sitting out with her girlfriend, and god knows what went through her mind. So, when I saw her, she was in pin curlers and all, and she looked like hell. At nighttime she was dressed up very pretty. And I saw her; I looked at her-wow! So, I managed to get a hold of her; we danced. And I said, why don't you come in the car with me; I want to show you pictures of when I was in the army, and this and that. She says to her girlfriend, can you follow me, make sure. And she says, [unintelligible] "You know, he actually showed me the pictures!" I said, well, what the hell did you expect?
RC: Well, after seeing all that lipstick on you, who knows what she expected!
SS: Well, anyway. She made a hit with my parents. They loved her. They hated me, but they loved her! And they still-to the last day, they loved her. Everybody liked her. She's a good person, my wife. Without her, I couldn't have been what I am. Really. She made me what I am today. And that's about it. I can't remember any more.
RC: Since you met in Canada, was there any issue about her coming to the states?
SS: No, she saw me, right away, she says...
RC: That was it.
SS: That was it! We got married in less than six months! She says, this is the guy I'm gonna marry. I said, yeah, you stole me away from my parents, I told her. It's funny. But I never regretted it.
RC: It sounds that way.
RC: It certainly sounds that you never regretted it.
SS: Ah, she could tell you the type of woman she is. She's a good person. She's got a big heart.
RC: I hope we get to get some of her memories on tape as well. That would be great.
SS: Oh yeah. She's hot stuff. See, I'm the type of guy that lets things go. Not her. Things have to be done right there, and done right. She's like Joann: I'll check it right way. She did all my bookwork when I started the business. Like I said, without her, I couldn't have done it without her.
RC: Is she still involved in the business? Or happily at home?
SS: No, no, she's still involved with the real estate and all. Stephen now handles most of the business. We're still involved. We still keep our minds active.
RC: I think that's crucial, whatever age.
SS: She's very good; she does all my paperwork. I'm getting lazy, whereas she's doing what I should be doing. That's why I say that she's great. And the children, and grandchildren, they just go crazy over her. We have a close family; we're very close. Comes time to get together, everyone is there. And that's what makes a family. You know? I'm very proud of my kids. Very proud. I think it's a lot to do with her, keeping it together.
RC: I'm sure both of you. I'm sure both of you.
SS: Not me so much. She took care of all the kids from the day they were born. Ah, she's great. The best time, I think she was the most beautiful girl in town when she was pregnant. I would see her with her little pot belly. And I tell ya, and never complained, never complained. I think the little one, the little one, Michelle, she takes after her. Oh, she's something else. But, a lot of fun. A lot of memories, a lot of memories. My kid, what does she do, Michelle. One day I came home from work, I used to come home late, with a little [unintelligible] and she said something to my wife. Michelle. She says, I'm running away from home. She's this tall. Cute as a button. And I come home, and she's outside with her dolls, and her clothes, her coat on. And my wife is looking from her window, she makes sure...
RC: She doesn't go too far.
SS: So I pull up, I say, what are you doing here? She says, I'm running away from home. You are? Where you gonna go? I don't know, I'm running away from home. Did you eat? No. So I says, why don't you eat first, then run away. OK. We went inside. And she forgot about running away!
RC: Your wife is a good cook, obviously!
SS: And she did other things, too. Ah, she's funny. She's cute. She's still cute, at her age. And that's it.
RC: So it sounds too like you were already doing well when you two got married. So you didn't have such the typical, you know, struggling...
SS: No, I wasn't in business when I got married.
RC: You wasn't? Uh, you weren't. Excuse me! You weren't. Ah.
SS: No. I lived on Garden Street. And I decided one day... Oh, the most important thing. I come down one day with ulcers. Bad case of ulcers. In those days, they cut you open. And I was bleeding like crazy, and I wind up in the hospital. I was working for Rotondella Brothers. So in those days, they keep giving you blood, they didn't know how to stop the bleeding. All they had to give me was Tagamet. And that was it. So, two or three weeks in the hospital. Finally-this was Jersey City Hospital, right over here-and I was still living in Hoboken at the time. And she, I'm thinking, I said, what am I doing here? Working like a horse. I got ulcers, working for Mike... Because when I worked for somebody, I did it with all my heart, and I worried about the jobs. I decided, well, you know what? I said, this is it, I'm gonna quit. Because if I'm gonna get ulcers, I want to get them for myself. So anyway, finally the bleeding stopped. I went home, I looked like a scarecrow. That's how bad I was. And I said to my wife, I says, I'm going to go into business for myself. She says, why not? She says, you come in ragged for this guy.... We had five dollars in the bank. She had a job on Hudson Street that she was paid babysitting money. And we were making out, whatever, what's left of her salary. So we decided to go into business. My father gave me a toolbox. No, no, I'm sorry, my brother-in-law gave me a toolbox. I'm sorry again, my brother-in-law gave me a desk and chairs...
RC: Desk and chairs...
SS: Desk and chairs, and filing cabinet. He got them from a second-hand place. And my father bought me a truck, an old truck. I had a toolbox, and tools of my own, and I went into business. Would you believe, from that day on, I was never slow? The word got around, and I just... Two years later, I bought myself a brand-new house in Palisades Park. Brand new.
RC: Holy cow.
SS: But I worked hard. And she worked hard. So it takes two to tango.
RC: And did the ulcers ever come back?
SS: They came back.
RC: They did come back. But they were from your time.
SS: Yeah, right. And my son was one year old. No, one month old-he was just born. And I had to go over there-not Valley Hospital, some other hospital by us. And the doctor, in those days, they still had to-worry about yourself. Finally, it got better. And that was it. The third attack came when I lived in Wyckoff. I started bleeding. And we went to the hospital; he was going to cut my stomach again. This doctor over here. So this new doctor come along, name of Dr. Hatafi, an Indian doctor. And he came over... No, next door neighbor of mine was a school principal. He says, Sam, told my wife, get another opinion, before this guy starts cutting you open. This guy come along, he says, he looks inside my stomach, he says, all you need is Tagamets. He gave me Tagamets. The following day, I was fine. This other doctor who was an operator, he says, we're ready to operate on you. I say, are you kidding? He says, who's gonna pay for the operation? I says, I don't care. I says, I'm going home. I was going home. You follow? There was work.
RC: Perhaps that part wasn't necessary. But it's good that you were on the road to recovery.
SS: That's right. And from then on-things are left out which I don't remember. And from then on in, it was uphill all the way. Well, I bought a lot of real estate, I bought brownstones for 7, 8 thousand, 10 thousand. And in those days-and I always liked real estate. I enjoyed them, I love it. And that's what did it. And I went partners with other people, which we always made money.
RC: Do you still own most of those properties?
SS: I sold one of them. I still have about four pieces, with this. And we have a beautiful house down the shore, Lavallette. The kids come over there and they enjoy it. We're right on the water. It's nice. It was good. From then, I had no education. So you don't need it. In Wyckoff of course I had a neighbor, who was a multi, multimillionaire. He owned seven factories. He was my neighbor, next door. We would both leave at the same time in the morning. I found out, poor guy died of cancer-wonderful man. He never had any education. He never-he taught himself. This guy, so, it's got to be in you. Did you know that? This guy, and when he died, he was a wonderful man, and, you know, we more or less knew how to get along together.
RC: I want to share: My husband grew up in this area, and dated a girl from Hoboken. And he said, this doesn't go back quite as far as you're talking about. But he said he remembers when houses in Hoboken were going for $6,000 and nobody wanted them. And it's hard today to imagine that reality.
SS: But you know, I think I told you: You know who started all this? Maureen Singleton.
RC: I know that she was very significant.
SS: And I love her-we still do work with them. I love her, and she's a wonderful lady. Mark, her son. I know the whole family. Those are a bunch of people that I know and I love and I like. And, there was a partner...
SS: Alice Galmann. I knew her mother...
SS: Yeah, I knew the whole family.
RC: So Alice was born and raised here...
RC: ...and then went into partnership with Maureen.
SS: And her sister Debbie on Garden Street. Wonderful girl. I mean, we've been dealing since I went into business with them. 'Cause she lived right across the street from the shop, at 920, my first shop. And she still lives there.
RC: Yes. And Maureen lives next to me. Or I live next to Maureen, I should say!
SS: Right, yeah, Maureen... they're wonderful people. There's so much respect for each other.
RC: That's nice to hear.
SS: So, you know, these are all friends. And, you know, you get along with them. So, that's it.
RC: I do think, even in the years I've been here, that sense of neighborhood, and that sense of knowing your neighbors and knowing everyone on your block-that's not as true anymore.
SS: Well, the thing is, I meet a lot of people that are very abrupt and all that. I try to be nice to them whether they're abrupt or not. I always walk in the house and see little children, beautiful kids. I love children. Oh, I go crazy. I see a beautiful child, I love em. And I go and talk to them and everything. And somehow kids take to me. I go, what is your name. The parents look and say, she don't talk to nobody. You walk in here... I say, I don't know, I just love children, maybe they sense it. And you play with them, and they give you the toys, look, I got this. That I enjoy. When my kids were small, oh. Now they're big. They tell me what to do.
RC: But you have grandchildren to...
SS: Grandchildren, they're big! They're all men.
RC: They're all big already?
SS: The youngest one is 14 or 15.
RC: You need another generation.
SS: That's why I want to live to be 95. I told my wife, I want to get rid of you and get a young woman. She says, who's gonna wash your clothes? She's good people. Everywhere we went, even when we went on vacation, we always took our kids with us. And Stephen does the same thing, takes his kids.
RC: We're looking at a picture of Stephen and...
SS: No, no, this is his son. My grandson.
RC: Really! He looks so much like Steve did when he was young...er.
SS: And this is when he was small. They still got this dog, Chester. He thinks he's part of the family. This is his daughter, Danielle.
RC: Beautiful children.
SS: Yeah. And this is my other daughter, Michelle, and her daughter. This is Erica-they're all big now. That's Erica, she's graduating tonight. But she was a young kid there.
RC: Well, those of you reading this transcript are not getting to see the pictures, but it's a beautiful family.
Flinn, Eugene O.
|Year Range from||2012|
|Year Range to||2012|
303 First St.
829 Garden St.
920 Washington St.
School No. 5
Business & Commerce
Social & Personal Activity