Tuesday, December 18, 2012

WHEN MY MOTHER DEFIED THE MAFIOSO

As some of you already know, I grew up poor.  My father was an alcoholic who did not work regularly.  My mother had a low-paying clerical job, and were it not for extended family, my mother, sisters, and I very likely could not have stayed afloat.  At some point, when I was around 12 or 13,  we moved in with my maternal grandparents, all five of us, including my father, with whom my grandmother did not get along.  (I can't think why.)  My grandparents came to the conclusion that they would have to help us if we were to have a place to live.  Although they had a large house, the arrangement with all five us living in the same house with my grandparents was not suitable.  My grandparents' solution was to sell their house and buy a duplex.  The two of them lived on the ground floor, and my family and I lived upstairs.  At least, if my mother could not pay the rent or the full amount, we would not be evicted from our home.

When we first moved in, we did not have a refrigerator, having left the old ice box behind when we moved in with my grandparents, so we took our meals downstairs at their house.  My grandmother cooked wonderful Creole-style meals, and my sweet grandfather fixed us breakfast each morning, which included coffee-milk.  We joined the coffee club at an early age.  Although we slept in different houses, we were downstairs at my grandparents' house a good bit of the time.  I believe we carried my father's meals upstairs to avoid friction.  After a spell, my mother bought a second-hand refrigerator from a man in the neighborhood who was rumored to belong to the Mafia.  He had the largest and fanciest house on the street and used an alias, but his original name was common knowledge.  Apparently, my mother had an agreement to pay for the refrigerator over time, however, she didn't, because she said the fridge was not worth $100, the amount to which she had agreed for the sale.  I remember asking her whether she was afraid to risk not paying what she owed to a member of the Mafia, but she said she was not.  She was convinced the mafioso neighbor had scammed her, and her mantra was, "The refrigerator is not worth $100."  So far as I know, my mother never paid, and the Mafia man didn't press her for the money, nor did he kneecap her or break her knuckles.

The photo shows a 1940s fridge which was similar to "ours".   

10 comments:

  1. That's a great story. Now I know where you get your feistiness. It's a good quality to have.

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    1. Thanks, Ruth. I think I would have paid the Mafia man. I seem to remember one time when he made a comment in passing that my mother had never paid for the fridge, but that was all. Not bad, all things considered.

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  2. God bless your grandparents!

    --and we had a fridge like that too... with a tiny metal "freezer" section in the top that always got thick ice on it. My mother finally got so frustrated with the fridge that she took a permanent black tip marker and made a huge wicked face on the fridge --all mouth and eyes. In 1960, a film maker asked my family to be in a film for the World's Fair (or something like that --I can't quite remember --the film is now in the Smithsonian.) But the film maker decided he couldn't film my mom in the kitchen with the old fridge with the wicked face --so he bought her a new fridge! My mom was VERY happy!

    --but it wasn't a mafia fridge... that's the best!

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    1. margaret yes, the freezer section was quite small and had to be defrosted often. Your story is better than mine. And you and your family got a new fridge and are in the Smithsonian!

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  3. Grandmères were tougher back in the day!

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    1. KJ, I know. The next generation lost some of the toughness.

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  4. I guessing your mom thought "I stand up to my husband (and even parents), I can stand up to anything"?

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    1. JCF, that's probably a good guess. The man was in the juke box and pin-ball machine business, which was sometimes a money-laundering operation for illegal gambling activities of the Mafia.

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  5. My heart is really warmed by the kindness your grandparents showed in selling their house and installing you all upstairs to look after you.

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    1. Cathy, my grandparents saved us, which is one reason I never felt poor, although we were and had to make do with less. I felt valued, which counts for a great deal.

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