© 2001 by Edward A. Iannuccilli, M. D.,
When I was a child, Sunday morning was special, because it was the day when, following Mass my father took me to Providence's Italian section, Federal Hill ("The Hill"), to visit his father Carmino and his sisters, Vera and Mae. Following that, we would go to "the corner" to meet his friends.
"The Hill" consisted of two parallel one-mile streets: Atwells Avenue and Broadway. between these streets, which left the center of Providence, heading west, were many side streets with rows of three to six tenement houses occupied by Italo-Americans. My aunts, and my grandfather, lived in an apartment in one of two adjacent six-tenement houses. When my father, Pietro, was a child, within two houses lived 100 children! My aunts lived in the same small second floor tenement as in their youth. Their porch was a luxury for them but off limits to us children because Uncle Mike fell from it and fractured his arm when he was a child. We had to go through the small living room to get to the porch. I loved the living room because it contained a small bookcase holding a few books and some Hummel figurines but it did have my favorite volume; "The Kid" by Paul Gallico. It was a story of my favorite baseball player, Ted Williams, and I read it repeatedly. Another room, which we found interesting, was the "cold room," kept so to save on heating bills in the winter. This room was used as a storage area to which the aunts would send us to fetch whatever was needed. The "cold room" stored everything that one could ever want or need.
My aunts were happy to see their nieces and nephews who came to visit on Sunday mornings for they were without children; only some time later would one of them marry. We became theirs. And we loved them. They would give us a special late morning treat, cookies, which we dunked in a large glass of milk. To celebrate the opening of each school year, Aunt Mae gave us pencils emblazoned with the logo of her place of employment.
The morning's excitement grew as we proceeded to the corner drugstore, D'Andrea's on Broadway, where my father would catch up on the week's news with his longtime friends. They talked about many things, but baseball, notably the Red Sox and Yankees, dominated the conversation. During the discussions, I usually went into the drugstore to buy a coffee ice cream and milk treat, which we called a "coffee cabinet." The "coffee cabinet" was delicious and I have tasted none better.
I met all my Dad's friends over the years and what was most fascinating were their nicknames... usually quite descriptive, sometimes, but not usually, flattering. There was "Richmond," my father's brother. His name was Anthony, but he was a well-known baseball player for the Richmond A.C.; thus his name. His stories were always about his baseball exploits. And there was my uncle "Wise Guy" or "Wisey," a toughie in his youth but a gentle fruit peddler in his later years. When "Tony-the-Lame-Kid" approached the corner, it was obvious why the name, but what was even more interesting was that this "kid" kept his name for a lifetime.
"Puppy Dog" was a contraction of Peppine, his real name which, when said quickly and frequently (as when his mother called him from the second floor window for supper) sounded much like his street name, "Puppy." "Peewee" was just about my size in those days. "Angelo the Baker, " "Angelo the Bricklayer," and "Shomaker" worked at obvious professions. "Cotton" was an albino. I could not associate "Nickie Boots" with anything familiar. Nor did "Fazool" make any sense (unless he had a penchant for the Italian staple pasta e faggiole, often called pasta fazool). "Africa" was named because he was a bit darker than the other fellows were. "Frattone" and his brother "The Duke" ran the club where the boys ate and drank and played cards.
"Beanblow," "Frogeyes" and "Sandaclaus" (he was generous) often showed. With his speech impediment, "Tup-ofToffee" justified his nickname. I never understood why "Packy" had his name, nor could my father explain it. When I saw "Sunday Clothes" approach the corner, I knew, as did everyone else, that he enjoyed the finer things in life, especially his Sunday dress.
But the best name of all was "Jimmy Hagan." For years I did not realize that this was a nickname because it sounded so normal. It was not until some years later that I understood its meaning. In my early and mid-teens I had a paper route on Wealth and Heath Avenues. On one Sunday morning, when I usually collected my money, I climbed to the third floor of a three-tenement house to collect the weekly paper money from Mr. Philip Amato. I knocked on the door and none other than "Jimmy Hagan" opened it. I said, "Hi Mr. Hagan, I am looking for Mr. Amato." He said, "I am Mr. Amato obvious reply was, "You are not! You are Jimmy Hagan!" He preceeded to tell me that Jimmy Hagan was his nickname, so called because he was a passionate golfer and thus nicknamed after the illustrious Walter Hagar, but I never understood why they called him "Jimmy" rather than Walter.
It was a memorable experience for me to share my father's family and friends. Sunday mornings were particularly special.
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