Andy’s Newspaper column archive
Title: Do you have an unusual memory of Christmas? ©
I was seven years old in 1947. Christmas at Grandmas was always an event you would remember. It was the one time of the year when the entire family would get together, ten brothers and sisters, my Dad Andrew Senior, brothers Frank, Eddie, Matthew and Bobby. The sisters Gloria, Stella, Grace, Vicki and Wanda.. I always looked forward to it since the husbands and wives, all their kids and friends would be there too.
Grandma Alberti lived in the lower east side of Manhattan, 13th street, where she had a second story apartment. My Fathers brothers known only to me as uncle Matty and uncle Bobby Alberti lived with her.
We usually arrived at night, Christmas Eve, when the air was crisp and cold. Dad always had difficulty finding a place to park the car, never an easy task in New York. Too many signs, no parking 10am to noon, Thursdays and Sundays, opposite sides of the street etc. Eventually a space was always found. We usually had to walk several blocks before entering the shelter of Grandmas place. Even then it was cold inside but there was no wind. Thank goodness.
When you entered the building, you were greeted by galvanized metal trash cans which were kept just to the right in the dimly lit ground floor hallway. They were surrounded by battle scarred, dull orange painted walls, scratches chips and hand scrawled messages. The stairs to the left, about twenty two of them, transported you to the narrow second level hallway which had a banister along one side of the walk. When you turned to the right at the top of the steps you could see Grandma’s door at the end, about thirty feet away.
It was always a little intimidating to me, dingy and old, but when Dad knocked on the door it always opened to reveal bright lights and a blast of noise and smells from all the party goers who had arrived for the Christmas eve festivities. That crowded apartment, stuffed with busy people, talking, cooking and playing. Things were always in full swing when we arrived. This was no small crowd, all brothers and sisters, their wives, children and some friends close to the family. Easily 40 to 50 people.
As we entered into a bright, small, narrow, busy kitchen with a window at the far end that opened on to a fire escape, pots of water were boiling and the ladies were making dough, rolling it out into flats and press cutting circles in it with an empty can. The cut circles of dough were held in the palm of the cooks hand and filled with a mashed potato mix of cream cheese, cottage cheese, fried onions and seasoning, folded over and sealed so they could be boiled with others in the pots. They would sink to the bottom of the boiling water, only to rise to the top a few minutes later, scooped out and covered with melted butter served hot or fried in more butter and served with sour cream. Oh, and there were sauerkraut, prune and other fillings.
Kielbasa, a sausage link of monstrous proportion, at least to me at the time, was one of my favorite foods. It was boiled until the surface skin of the links split, revealing the meat inside and signaling that they were done. They smelled of garlic and seasoning. Then they were served cut up into round pieces as if they could be used to play checkers. It was an excellent companion to the Pirogi.
We kids always were left to play and explore the apartment. Off to the left of the kitchen was a living room with couch and chair. To the right of that was a formal dining room with a large round dark wood formal dining table with chairs all round. In the other direction was a sitting room, a bedroom and then to the left a small narrow room where Matty slept among books and gadgets.
There were many memorable Christmases and one I will never forget. Our family always had circles under their eyes, sort of a racoon look and my uncle Eddie was no exception. In addition he was thin and I remember him always having a 5 o’clock shadow. One Christmas I was playing with my cousins when my uncle Bobby called to me from the formal dining room. He invited me to come in and visit with the adults. Wow me, sit with the adults. In I went.
The room was dark and it took me a few seconds to see who was there. Uncles Bobby, Matty, Eddie, Willy, Aunts Vicki, Wanda and Stella were all seated and waiting to talk with me. Imagine, they wanted to talk with me. Bobby closed the folding door behind me and now the only light in the room was from the street.
I was invited to sit opposite from Eddie and was then engaged by him in some conversation. Uncle Eddie was saying something when suddenly, right in the middle of a word his teeth shot out of his mouth and I saw it. You can talk about your eyes being bigger than your stomach but I bet my eyes must have been the size of my whole head. My mouth dropped open and I ran screaming in to the living room. It was fortunate that I had gone to the toilet earlier or I would surely have suffered a second embarrassment right then. What a Christmas. I still can’t forget those teeth.
Andrew Alberti Jr