Bettina Torregrossa Cassera: Sister Wife and Aunt-Introduction

“We’ll get Aunt Betty to watch the kids,” Dad always said whenever he planned an evening out with Mom.  After my brother was born Mom changed.  She was restless and more irritable than I ever remembered.  Of course between the ages of 4 and 6 years of age a child doesn’t have enough memories to reference but I do remember, distinctly, the difference in the feeling within the household.  Mom wanted to get out, to have conversations with other adults and take in places and events that gave her food for thought afterwards.  Dad handled this need very well.  He took care of getting babysitters, making the plans for a movie or dinner out and arranging for another couple to join the activity.

Aunt Betty was never discussed in any way by Dad but as his Aunt.  I knew she was Grandpa Al’s sister but that was it.  She never came to the big family dinners Grandpa Al and Grandma Blanche hosted on special occasions.  But I do remember her coming to babysit at our house.  Dad picked her up and took her home.  Mom and Dad never referred to their Aunts and Uncles as my Great Aunts and Great Uncles.  Since they each shared so many memories of their own childhoods with me as I grew up I naturally became absorbed in a part of their past.  The effect was that I saw no generation gap, at least until my own adolescence.  Mom and Dad’s Aunts and Uncles became my Aunts and Uncles.  For this reason I refer to Aunt Betty without the term “Great Aunt.”  It does not feel right for me to do otherwise.

When she entered our living room, Aunt Betty created a change in the atmosphere of our home..  She was always impeccably dressed.  She reminded me of Spring Byington whom I saw on TV when I was a little girl.  Since Mom considered the TV a second babysitter, I had many happy hours from the age of 3 onward watching all the sitcoms that have since become TV classics.  My overall memory of Aunt Betty and Spring Byington merged over the years.  I remember the carefully coiffed silvery white hair, the full ballerina skirts of the late 1950s dresses, conservative appearance and cheerful way of speaking.  Tonight, as I looked at the series Spring Byington was in, called “Spring Bride”, I think that is the show I remember since it had a long run through the late 1950s and followed the “I Love Lucy” show.  Mom and I watched Lucy regularly.  Lucy, Ricky, Fred and Ethel were part of my play world when I wasn’t occupied with dolls.   In addition to reminding me of a famous actress, Aunt Betty brought with her a sense of focus, calm and authority I did not feel when Mom was around.  She had a way with children that fascinated me.  I think that is why Dad consistently wanted her to be our babysitter.

One very clear memory I have is when she had to feed my brother.  He was getting used to being in a high chair.  We were having reheated meatloaf, peas and mashed potatoes.  My brother looked from the high chair and pointed to the food.  Aunt Betty told him he was going to have a little and to be patient.  She mashed up the meatloaf and mashed potatoes and then fed him from a little spoon.  She made a game out of eating so that he’d pay attention.  The spoon became an airplane sailing down to the high chair.  He found it great fun and ate everything that night.  I thought Aunt Betty would have been a great school teacher.  She had a way about her that made you pay attention because you wanted to not because you had to.

There was also something very old fashioned, very proper in Aunt Betty’s presence.  When I think about it now, she was a link to the past, to Caltanissetta, Sicily where she was born.  There was a very real difference to her that I sensed but could not articulate as a child.  She reminded me of other first generation women from Italy who were widows.  It was a sense of being proper and understated.  Yet Dad never told me Aunt Betty was widowed at an early age.  I only knew her as my Aunt and my Grandpa Al’s sister.  She was somebody’s daughter, too.  But since Dad never, ever spoke of his paternal grandparents that remained a mystery.  Until now, that is.  I do not have a complete profile of Aunt Betty since it is proving difficult to retrieve information on her married years.  Yet I do not want to hold up her story anymore.  So we’ll take a trip through the years that we do have some information about and see where it leads.


Resources for Spring Byington

“December Bride”

Complete episode with Desi Arnaz

part 1

part 2

This video includes commercials.  You get a real feeling of what it was like to watch TV in the late 1950s.

Spring Byington Bio at Wikipedia:


To email subscribers of this blog re: “Autumn in Peekskill” posting

By mistake I published an earlier version of the blog posting “Autumn in Peekskill” that contained spelling errors and text that has since been edited out.  I had meant to click the Save Draft button.  Instead I clicked the Publish button.  If you got the earlier version by email please, please, please discard it and read the final version here

This is so embarrassing but I hope you understand.

Autumn in Peekskill, November 7th, 2015

I enjoyed a visit to Peekskill today that was a long time in coming!  My cousin John and his wife Debbie live there.   John’s Grandfather Ben was the brother of my paternal Grandmother Blanche.  We are second cousins.

The town preserves a feeling and look of the past, John and Debbie explained, by very strict requirements for any new buildings going up.  They must conform to a certain height so that they blend in with the existing buildings in town, some of which are more than 100 years old.

Here are the photos that offer a little peek into the charming town Peekskill is.  Thank you John and Debbie for sharing the afternoon with me.

The trip from Grand Central Station on the Metro North line takes about 1 hour and 15 minutes to Peekskill.  The train passes through many towns that still have the names given by the Dutch settlers who settled in New York.  The trees in the distance showed the last phases of Autumn’s beautiful show of color.

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A in Walk Bay Ridge, Autumn 2015: Thinking through the next chapter in the family history

The story of my paternal ancestors is in no way complete.  In fact I do not believe the process of documenting one’s family history is ever completed.  It just so happens, though, that everyday life has a way of scattering efforts at certain times.  Rather than fight the flow of events I find letting things proceed day-to-day is the best course.  As much as I would like to post here more regularly, that is not always possible.

I’ve come to the realization that as compelling as the search for the past is, the family historian must never, ever feel so driven by the search that it becomes a job in itself.  There should never be this sense of such urgency that it’s impossible to put things down and let them rest for awhile.  This pursuit of knowledge and the creation of the narrative is fascinating and is best done when the it’s not necessary to watch the clock.  I’m finding this very true as I review the marriage certificates for three of my paternal Grandfather’s sisters and census records for another.  Of the four sisters I have some distant, dream like memories of two of them.  One sister I never met but knew her son and Grandson as a child.  Then there is another sister who disappears after the 1940 Federal Census without a trace.

I’m not one to create a posting based solely on factual evidence.  I need time to process the information and let it work its way through my mind and heart.  It’s like making an introduction and then getting to know that person and their life.  It takes time.

One way to prepare for this next phase is through what I call “puttering around”.  I go out for a walk or do something leisurely in the house.  Yet in the background this information is slowly piecing itself together.  This morning I took a walk through Bay Ridge.  I’ve got a new Android camera phone that takes beautiful photos.  I thought I’d share this walk with you.  When I came home I decided that of the four sisters Bettina Torregrossa will be the first sister I craft a series of postings for.  I felt something of her with me as I took this walk.  Memories of the times she came to babysit for my parents are starting to rise up from long ago.

An early morning walk in Bay Ridge, November 3, 2015

I took this walk down 74th Street from Ridge Boulevard down to Shore Road.  My parents lived near here during the early years of their marriage.

Many of the homeowners in Bay Ridge combined Harvest Home and Halloween themes for decorating their stoops and entrances.

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The Golden Anniversary Photo of Rosario and Liboria Torregrossa

The Golden Anniversary Photo of Rosario and Liboria Torregrossa, 1945.

Relationship Notes

Betty Ann Torregrossa Falletta is the daughter of Dr. Ermete and Anna (nee Rossi) Torregrossa. Her Grandfather, Rosario Torregrossa, was a younger brother of my Great Grandfather Francesco Torregrossa.

Rosario and Liboria (nee Scarlatti) Torregrossa were Betty Ann’s paternal Grandparents.

Betty Ann is my Second Cousin 1x removed.

I’m happy to say that since posting the photo we’re getting help from another Granddaughter of Rosario and Liboria.  Paula Rodriguez Huber is reviewing the photo and helping out with the process of making corrections and identifying the people in the photo.  Her parents were Richard and Florence (nee Torregrossa) Rodriguez.


Last year Betty Ann and I began work on the series of postings about her branch of the Torregrossa and Rossi families. During one session held at her apartment, she showed me a photo of the 50th Wedding Anniversary Dinner of her grandparents, Rosario and Liboria Torregrossa.

I was overcome by so many emotions when I saw the original photo. The moment was better than anything I had hoped for when it came to seeing photos of my paternal ancestors. This photo commemorated a happy event in the Torregrossa family. Gathered together were many descendants of Alfonso and Benedetta (nee Di Francisco) Torregrossa. Everyone was well dressed and Betty Ann was able to identify several of the guests. It was a moment where I felt the flow of time was working towards connecting the many branches of the family together after decades of separation. In this photo were also members of the Tortorici family whom I’ve also been blessed to connect with through the family history project.

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Get-together with Bill Frank Tortorici, Diane and Dina Marie 10-10-15

Get-together at Colandrea New Corner Restaurant 10-10-15.  Left to right:  Bill, Diane, Dina Marie.

Last Saturday, October 10th, 2015, Bill Frank Tortorici hosted a get together for his sister Dina Marie, his girlfriend Diane and me at Colandrea New Corner Restaurant in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. It was our second get-together this year.  We met for the first time in April after a stunning series of discoveries made through Ancestry and FindAGrave.  For the first time after decades of separation between the descendants of the  Tortorici, Frank and Torregrossa families came together.

Bill and Dina Marie’s grandmother, Angelina Torregrossa Tortorici, was my Second Great Aunt.  Bill and Dina Marie are my Second Cousins.

Bill suggested this get together late in August and I looked forward to seeing my newly discovered cousins again. I also was happy Diane would be there, too.  She and Bill complement each other very well.

It was wonderful to share a delicious Italian meal at New Corner. It is an old school restaurant complete with booths, wood paneling and oil paintings with scenes of Italy.  I enjoyed seeing photos of Dina Marie’s vacation to New England  and Arizona.  Bill and Diane had gone on a cruise and also shared stories about their trip along with photos.  I’m glad I have this photo as a memento of our get-together.  We were so into our meal and conversation that  nobody thought to ask the waiter to take a photo with all of us in the picture!  In fact, we were enjoying ourselves so much we didn’t even realize that almost 2 hours had passed since we entered the restaurant.

This got me to thinking about how important it is to record events in writing and photos. These are valuable additions we must make to the family tree while we are living.  They are just as important as the vital records that document a person’s life.  The story of our lives is still in progress.  There may not be any census records available yet in which we appear.  For reasons of security and privacy we cannot put any vital records like our birth certificate or college diploma online.  But our family stories and photos should be organized and stored in various forms of media for safekeeping.  I think it is important enough to collect the best stories and photos in a book form since they provide insights into the times we live in.  They also offer the opportunity for future generations to “hear” us in our own words and get a sense of who we were at different times in our lives.  A print-out of the family tree or the individual profiles of the direct line ancestors can be added to such a book.  In time this becomes what I call a “Memory Book” where all the current memories are recorded and eventually enter the flow in the larger history of the family.

List of compositions by Rosario Torregrossa with details

From “The Little Composition Book of Rosario Torregrossa” we know that three compositions were sold to Victor Orthophonic Recording Company. Victor used the term “orthophonic” to describe the new technique they used to record music. This technique involved the use of microphones and electricity to record music for the first time. Prior to this recording was done accoustically, The company was sold to RCA in 1929.

The National Jukebox at the Library of Congress preserves the musical recordings of earlier decades. Records made by artists under the Victor label are available for listening. Unfortunately, as of August 2015 I have not been able to locate Rosario’s compositions in this catalog. By making this list of his compositions available I hope someone researching Victor and records made by the orthophonic process will make contact with me. We would all love to hear Rosario’s recordings.

Year composed: 1923
Place where composed: New York
Title: Serenata Senza Rimpianto
Victor Orthophonic Recording No.:
Rosario’s comments: Composto a New York al 1923.
Translation: Composed in New York in 1923.


Year composed: 1924
Place where composed: New York
Title: Tube Rose
Victor Orthophonic Recording No.: 78570C
Musical Genre: Valzer (Waltz)
Rosario’s comments: Composto a New York il 1924 e venduto alla Victor.
Translation: Composed in New York in 1924 and Sold to Victor.


Year composed: 1924
Place where composed: New York
Title: Mondo a Soqquadro-World Upside Down
Victor Orthophonic Recording No.:  Rosario did not write down the number.
Musical Genre: Valzer (Waltz)
Rosario’s comments: Composto a New York il 1924 e venduto alla Victor.
Translaction: Composed in New York in 1924 and sold to Victor.
Note: Victor was the Victor Orthophonic Recording Company.


Year composed: 1926
Place where composed: New York
Title: Soeno Orientale-Oriental Dream Quartette
Musical Genre: Tango
Rosario’s comments: Tempo di Tango.
Composto a New York nel 1926.
Translation:  Tango tempo.  Composed in New York in 1926.


Year composed: 1930
Place where composed: New York
Title: Gardenia Petales-Petali di Gardenia
Musical Genre: Valzer (Waltz)
Rosario’s comments:  Composta al 1930. New York. R. Torregrossa


Year composed: 1936
Title: Lultima Serenata
Rosario’s comments: Lirica di Rosario Torregrossa. Musica di Rosario Torregrossa.
Translation:  Lyrics and music by Rosario Torregrossa.


Year composed: 1943
Place where composed: Brooklyn
Title: Inno Religioso
Rosario’s comments: Dedicato alla Santa chiesa di Santa Rosalia. Composta Brooklyn, Aprile 1943.
Translation: Dedicated to the church of St. Rosalia. Composed in Brooklyn april of 1943.
Note: The church of St. Rosalia still stands in Brooklyn, NY on 14th Avenue and 63rd Street. In the 20th century it served the mainly Italian immigrant community of Dyker Heights. In the early 2010s it became a center of Catholic outreach to the Asian community.


Year composed: 1943
Place where composed: Brooklyn, NY
Title: Pinocchio Meditabondo-Ponocchio Meditated
Musical Genre: Valzer (Waltz)
Rosario’s comments: Scritta nei temp pericolosi della guerra.
Translation: Written in the perilous time of war.

Undated Composition
Title: Farfalla Rossa-Red Butterfly
Victor Orthophonic Recording No.: No. V12214 or v.1221H
Musical Genre: Mazurk
Rosario’s comments: Serenata Siciliana.
Venduta alla Victor Orthophonic Recording (Sold to Victor Orthophonic Recording).
Note: The compositions noted as being sold to Victor Orthophonic Recording Company were dated in the 1920s. It is possible that this compositon was also created at that time.

Further Reading

What is an Orthophonic Recording?

Victor Talking Machine Company

78rpm Record Labels-Victor

National Jukebox LOC-Library of Congress