Growing up, Gran Fran spent many hours in the kitchen with her mother (Mary aka Maria, depending on whether or not she was more Italian or American that day) and her grandmother, Caterina. Below is a little bit of history on Gran Fran's grandparents. Recipes will follow! xoxo Gran Fran, we love ya!
My grandfather Francesco Sabato Natale Sansone was born in Santa Barbara, Cerasso, in Salerno, on a Saturday, Christmas, December 25. (Look at his name, girl!).His family was extremely poor; as one of the oldest sons, he had two brothers and a couple of sisters, he was expected to provide for them. With that in mind, he set off in steerage; compared with the retelling of his experience aboard ship (and later that of his wife, my grandmother,), the journey portrayed in the film The Golden Door seems like a walk in the park. In the U.S., he found “rooms” near his paesani—they were all from what each called bella paese mia--(he lived above a live poultry market on 20 St. near Fourth Ave. in what was then known as South Brooklyn, but is now considered Park Slope South or Greenwood Terrace). He bought a shovel and set out to do construction work—as a day laborer. Mostly, he worked on building the subway.Francee (fran-chee) was considered a man of letters—having completed the fifth grade in Italy-- and was an avid reader of Il Progresso, one of Generoso Pope’s newspapers.He enjoyed reading the paper while sitting outdoors and smoking a DeNobili cigar. His greatest achievement—besides being a father to his six kids—was his role in organizing and collecting money for the Mass, the parade, and the feast of St. Michael. His good grey suit, with the committee button pinned on, was saved for the occasion.
My grandmother Caterina “Ninuccia” DiFiore was born in Rutino, also in Salerno, on October 15. The family was dirt-poor. Her oldest brother had emigrated to the U.S. and lived —where else-- on 20St.across the street from the live poultry market. She came to the U.S., when she was 17, accompanied by her second-oldest brother, Angelo, Zi Angelo. Ninuccia, a diminutive of Caterina, had no education at all, and could neither read nor write. Until she died at age 94, she had mastered only her own signature, which herkids and grandkids taught her so she could sign her unemployment checks—she was a seasonal worker, a seamstress, working doing pieceworkat home and in a factory. When she came to the U.S. she was fleeing not only poverty, but also, a persistent suitor whom her folks wanted her to marry. On the pretext that she would return, she left Rutino wearing a locket, he had given her. She wore the locket when she married my grandfather in 1916.
Both were hard workers who were deeply devoted to their children and would still try to better the situation for those “over there.”They sent packages of clothing, Mass cards when a relative died, and money whenever possible.But there was one void in their lives. They never saw their parents again.
And at my grandfather’s feast, they and their friends cried unashamedly when one of the of the would-be sopranos would begin to sing; “Mama, solo per te, la mia canzone vola…”