A NORTH END STORY
(as seen through the eyes of a five year old girl arriving from Calabria, Italy in 1956)
by Rosalba Ursino
My dad was already living and working in the North End of Boston when he sponsored me and my siblings together with my mom to come and join him to start a new life in the North End. We traveled from Naples, Italy on the SS Independence in January of 1956. Arriving first in New York and then taking the train to Boston.
Not too long after I arrived, I attended the Eliot School for kindergarten. I recall going to school there one day and speaking Italian, and then almost miraculously, speaking perfect English the next. I remember it being such a welcoming and positive experience. Each morning, my grandfather Paolo would bring me to kindergarten but not before stopping at a small convenient store on Battery Street next to Otteri’s Bakery. There, he would buy me a Boston Scooter Pie to have with my milk during break. I remember one day, someone else accompanied me to school and they did not know about our routine, I was sad thinking that I would not have a snack to go along with my milk during break, but, then I recall being called out of the classroom because someone wanted to see me, and there he stood, my grandfather Paolo with my Boston Scooter Pie!! You cannot imagine what that meant to a young child such as me. To this day, I never forget the happiness such a simple thing brought to my heart. (I would like to add that if it weren’t for the initial sacrifice my nonno Paolo made to come to this country to better his family, none of this would of happened.)
We lived in the Savarese Building on Commercial Street. To me the building was so huge and I loved running up and down the stairs of the many floors. It was a wonderful place, sparkling clean and everyone was so friendly. I recall a wonderful woman named Angie, who lived in one of the apartments next to us. She helped my mother adjust to the new world. Angie showed her around the North End, where to shop, worship, etc.. My mother, being young and having four small children to care for needed all the help and support she could get. She was used to her small village in Italy where everyone knew each other and shared a legacy that went back from generation to generation. Here she was in a Big City, a foreign land, in the New World. My grandparents worked for the Savarese Cheese Company, so they were never too far away in case my mother needed help with us. We would sit outside on the steps frequently just to play and people watch.
In the summer of that year, my mother decided to take us to Revere Beach by street car and train. Well, with four little children it was not an easy task. That day, my very first day at Revere Beach, I got lost! One minute I was next to my mother and my siblings, then as I was coming back from the water’s edge I could not see nor find my family! I was five years old in a new country, lost and afraid as I saw what seemed a million people around me. I recall crying and crossing the Boulevard walking and then looking into all the faces of the strangers in fear until one of those strangers was a wonderful woman named Rosina, who lived in the Building next to ours in the North End! She was Rosina “The Napolitana,” and was so nice. She looked at me and I hugged her crying. After I told her I was lost, she took me to the police station and explained the situation and for some reason or other they allowed Rosina to bring me back with her to the North End and wait for my family there. I cannot tell you how happy I felt to see my mother again and my family, but I do recall that the very first thing I got was an old fashioned spanking for wandering away, and I don’t think my father was ever told about the days event!
After a few years we moved out to the suburbs, and I must say , I didn’t really like it . I missed the North End, the sense of community where everyone knew each other. In fact where we moved we didn’t even know our next door neighbors. School was not that positive of an experience either. I found it to be a little biased and sensed a some prejudiced against Italians.
We kept our North End connection since my father ended up buying the business where he initially worked as a clerk. He bought the old Gloria Food Store and renamed it Salem Foods, because it was located on Salem Street. My dad was known for his kindness and generosity besides his good looks, As I have been told he was known as “Frankie Green Eyes,” he had the most wonderful green eyes, and many admirers!
We would go back to the North End faithfully every Saturday, to help out at the store and on Sundays to visit our grandparents. One day while adjusting to our new residence in the suburbs, my little sister Nancy went missing. She was outside playing
with the rest of the kids when suddenly she disappeared. You can imagine the fear in my mother’s eyes. We suddenly called the police and about a couple of hours later she was brought home. Guess where she was? She was found walking through Charlestown and when asked where she was going, she responded to my nonna, the NORTH END!
My connection did not end there. When it was time to attend High School I attended Julie Billiart Catholic High. I wanted to go back to the environment where I felt secure. During my teenage years I spent a lot of time in the North End with my friends. Every Saturday night after we attended the dances at Azione Cattolica in the North End, we would go to Café Pompei for our midnight cappuccino, and then meet up again on Sunday morning at Café Paradiso. The North End was the place to be if you were anybody.
Today, the North End is still very much part of me. My family and I still go there just to grab a coffee or to go out to eat and when we do we still go by Salem Street just to look at the spot where my dad first started his business Salem Foods. But, the difference is that now a little bit of the North End can be found in every suburb. Everywhere you go you will see extensions of the businesses that made their start in the North End. My dad’s place is now in Waltham, and it is still called Salem Foods. The North End was great and this is evident in the way it has expanded and influenced other communities with it’s rich culture and heritage. This influence revitalized some depressed areas that are now bustling with business.
Now, you don’t really have to actually go to the North End to have the North End Experience. An example would be, just go to the Salem Food Store in Waltham on Moody Street, and you will experience all of the best the North End, and the Old World tastes without the New World prices. ……I would like to end this with “Home is where the heart is and the North End is in our hearts” wherever we may be.
At the present time, Rosalba Ursino is employed in a law office where she has worked for 23 years. During her spare/leisure time, she creates her own beauty products, such as organic soaps , fragrances, and skin care. She also enjoys cruising and writing poetry.. Rosalba recalls being inspired to write poetry by her father Francesco, a writer, world traveler and entrepreneur. She derives her ideas from the beauty of nature and spirituality. Rosalba creates poetry and things of beauty by pondering on all that is good, and beneficial to mankind, as she states in some of her writings: “Truly, if one seeks riches, one needs to only look at what has been freely given to us all, for you cannot get richer than that.” For more information about Rosalba visit http://www.LeSorelleUrsino.com.