Mandolin Memories: Paula Rodriguez Huber shares photos of her Grandfather Rosario Torregrossa’s Mandolin

Last week Betty Ann shared the memories she has of her Grandfather Rosario Torregrossa and his love of music.  We learned that he not only loved the opera but composed music for the mandolin.  Betty Ann remembers it as a lovely instrument.

Thanks to another Granddaughter, Paula Rodriguez Huber, we now have photos of this exquisite heirloom to share with the readers of this blog.

You will notice the beautiful inlaid ornamentation.  I think it is mother-of-pearl .  The mermaid and the swirling designs around her evoke images of music by the seaside in far away Sicily.  Even the pegs have a lovely sheen to them.

Betty Ann and I discussed the beauty of the mandolin and Rosario’s talents.  She does not know who taught him how to write music or play this instrument.  It is another part of the life that Benedetta and Alfonso Torregrossa, along with their children, had in Caltanisetta, Resuttano, Sicily before they came to the United States.  The mandolin and Rosario’s compositions provide an insight into a level of refinement and educational achievements the family had before they left everything behind in the Old Country.

Paula has told me she also has some of Rosario’s records and sheet music.  Betty Ann also has some sheet music which I have photographed and will share in the next posting.  Like the mandolin,  Rosario’s handwritten sheet music is a work of art.

The Mandolin of Rosario Torregrossa

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Acknowledgement

Thanks to Paula Rodriguez Huber for taking the mandolin from the wall where it was displayed and photographing it for us.

Mandolin Memories: Betty Ann remembers her Grandfather, Rosario Torregrossa

Introduction

So many blessings are coming forth from all the work done on the Family Tree at Ancestry.  Not only is there a wealth of vital records, Federal and New York State Census entries, Directory listings but now the opportunity to meet living descendants who once interacted with those have have passed on.

Within the retelling of family stories, anecdotes and the sharing of memories the beloved departed come to life once more. Sometimes the information adds to the portrait the official records present and at other times it may challenge it.  I think this is because each person has a different experience and different perception so when the recollections are presented we must accept them as the are.

The sharing of memories offers us a chance to create a more in-depth presentation of our family members by attaching them as stories to the profile each one has at Ancestry.  I use the word “presentation” instead of story because it is not necessary or in fact desireable to try to bend the information into a united narrative.  Rather, it is best to let each person share what they know in their own words and let the reader sense the different facets of how that relative presented him or herself.   In this way it is possible for a complex and more striking sense of who that person was to emerge. It also presents something of the narrator themselves.  It is for this reason I always attach the presentation to both the profile for the subject and the narrator as well.

Betty Ann’s memories of her Grandmother Liboria and Grandfather Rosario are vivid and full of love, warmth and affection.  In this posting, she will be our guest writer.  I hope you will enjoy this visit to the home of Rosario and Liboria.  Pull up a chair in the kitchen as from the radio the sounds of operatic music are heard as Betty Ann tells us about her Grandfather, Rosario Torregrossa.

Email from Betty Ann Torregrossa Falletta to EmilyAnn Frances May, October 14th, 2014

“When i was in graduate school, I went to a drugstore in Greenwich Village and I paid by check.  When the pharmacist saw my last name, he said that he used to have a mandolin teacher named Rosario Torregrossa a long time ago.  I told him that it was my grandfather and I was so moved, and now I think I should have asked some questions—the location, the year, etc.”

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Email from Betty Ann Torregrossa Falletta to EmilyAnn Frances May, October 16th, 2014

“Of course, I don’t remember the first time I saw or heard my grandfather’s mandolin, but I do remember it from about the time I was four or five.

“My grandparents’ apartment on  Fort Hamilton  Parkway, the only  apartment  they occupied during my lifetime, was a railroad flat on the third floor.  There were two rooms facing the street, the living room on the right and my grandfather’s music room on the left. HIs music room had a long desk near the window. While sitting at the desk, he was either tuning or playing his mandolin or writing and/or copying music with a scratchy pen he kept dipping into an inkpot.

“The narrow room also had a cot along the left wall, and if he was writing I’d sometimes lie down, but I sat up when he was playing for me. He  had long beautiful fingers and I  also remember him playing cat’s cradle with me with string wound around his fingers and instructing me which strings to pull. He had string at his desk because he used it to sew pieces of paper together to make booklets with music paper and cardboard for covers.

“He used to call me Gioia, but he was my joy, and I can still hear his laugh which often set off a little cough because of his asthma.(Some Torregrossa family members did not laugh easily, but he did with me and for me. I can’t speak for anyone else.)
“The instrument itself was quite lovely with strips of dark honey-colored wood on the rounded wooden back and on the long end of the instrument the pretty pins  he turned to get the sound right as he plucked with his fingers or the pick which was shaped somewhat like a pointed finger nail. The pick was the same material as piano keys–I later learned it was ivory.

“It’s interesting that he never tried to teach me how to play it, but the piano was my instrument and Rosario’s nephew Fred was already teaching me to play. Through a child’s eyes scale is peculiar–tall people look like giants and average-sized items look large.  I thought of my grandfather as very, very tall and the mandolin as a larger instrument than it is,in fact.
“The vibrating sound of a mandolin being played is very different from other string instruments I’ve  ever heard. I’d recognize it now if someone  played one—it was a pleasant plucking with a lot of vibrato from high to low tones. I don’t even know if it was what is called a Silcilian mandolin which  I now know has twelve strings or traditional Italian mandolin with eight strings, but now that information is available to me through my cousin Paula.

“During all the years I knew my grandfather, I don’t ever remember him taking the mandolin out of the apartment and I can’t remember him playing it when other members of the family visited. Is this just selective memory?”

(Note:  Betty Ann and Paula reconnected through the family history project.  Paula is now the custodian of the mandolin.)

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Email from Betty Ann Torregrossa Falletta to EmilyAnn Frances May, October 20th, 2014

“My grandparents’  apartment has been one my mind because my brother and I were talking about it.  He didn’t have the relationship with my grandfather I had, so I told him more memories I had of the kitchen table on Saturday afternoons during opera season.

“My grandfather was passionate about the opera, and the radio in his apartment was in the kitchen (odd place for the radio) and if I arrived when “Live from the Met” was on, his head was down on folded arms with his ear close to the radio.

“I remember the voice of the commentator during intermissions.  It was Milton Cross who had that position until the mid 1970s and his voice was memorable.  Grandpa and I would talk during intermission, but not during the opera. His favorites were Puccini operas, and in one of the poems to me there seems to be a bit of Tosca in it which I wasn’t aware of until I learned my Puccini.

“In Tosca, there’s an aria  in which Tosca expresses her jealousy by looking at the blue eyes in Mario’s Mary Magdalen painting  and Tosca asks that they be changed to dark eyes like hers (occhi azzurro  and occhi neri are the phrases in the opera). My eyes are brown, but in the poem about me, the eyes are “azzurro”–blue.

“I have no idea how much an opera subscription to the fourth ring in the Old Met cost around 1917, but Rosario had one. My father told me about this when he asked me to lower my blaring record player as I listened to a Wagner opera in my brother’s room (it became my room when he was away at school). He said that Grandpa dragged him to the opera when he was about ten years old  and he absolutely hated it. He vividly remembered that it was a Wagner opera. I never heard my father play any instrument, but I know he had  violin lessons as a child,  and probably didn’t progress well because there  was no violin in our home or grandparents apartment, and he never expressed an interest in violins or violin music.

“Since Grandma Torregrossa ( Borina) spoke little English and was always darning, sewing, or cooking, we didn’t speak much.My brother asked me the one question she always asked us in Italian if we came to the apartment. and  I didn’t remember it. The word in perfect tense and form was “Mangiasti—Have you eaten?  (What else would an Italian mother be obsessed with?) My brother spends a lot  time studying Italian, and I’d say he’s obsessed with the language.  He listens to Italian TV (RAI) and has conversations with anyone he can in Italian, and studies a lot.  I guess we all have our hobbies and obsessions.”

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Relationship Notes

Betty Ann Torregrossa Falletta is the daughter of Ermete and Anna (nee Rossi) Torregrossa.
Rosario and Borina (nee Scarlatti) Torregrossa were her paternal Grandparents.
Betty Ann is married to Nick Falletta.

 

Betty Ann is Second Cousin 1X Removed to EmilyAnn Frances May.
EmilyAnn is the daughter of Frank and Emily L. (nee Serrapede) Torregrossa.
Her Grandparents were Alfonso and Blanche (nee Flashenberg) Torregrossa.
EmilyAnn’s paternal Great Grandfather Francesco Torregrossa was the older brother of Rosario Torregrossa.

 

 

Meet Anna Rossi Torregrossa: Concluding Post

The 1970s

Ermete passed away April 1971.

Anna continued living at 6702 10th Avenue until she sold the house in late 1979.  Her love of sewing and crafts continued as she created toys, clothes and gifts for her children, grandchildren and great grandchildren.

Summary of the achievements of Betty Ann and Terry, children of Eremete and Anna Torregrossa

Terry works as a stockbroker.  He and his wife Annabella live in New Jersey.  They have three children:  Ermete III, Gregory and Christopher.

  • Ermete Torregrossa, III and his wife Janet are dentists. They are the parents of Jessica and Samantha.
  • Gregory and his wife Anita do not have any children. They are teachers and live in Florida.
  • Christopher works for Reuters. He and his wife Cathy are parents to Christopher, Jr., Olivia and Anthony.

Betty Ann married Nick Falletta.  Together they had their own publishing company.

From Anna’s journal entry in 2001

“I can’t believe that I am ninety years old.

“I feel I have lived more than three lifetimes–one with my family, one with my husband and our family, another in Clearbrook and having wonderful friends, and now living a more retired lifestyle enjoying my children, grandchildren, their wives and children.

“Health wise I can’t complain because I have no real problems. I am getting forgetful, but I am told I have lots of company.

“I am still able to take care of myself, shop and go places nearby, but I have to be very careful driving because if I have an accident, I’ll lose my license, and that scares me. I do keep myself busy with what I do for the Catholic Society, taking some day trips, sewing, crocheting, cooking, and reading. If I were to die now, I don’t think anyone should grieve because I was the most lucky person having two wonderful children and a family who were very good to me.  I had a good life.”

Anna celebrated her 103rd birthday on December 22nd, 2014.

 

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Acknowledgements

I want to thank Betty Ann Torregrossa Falletta for so generously sharing her memories, photos and excerpts from her Mother’s journal.

Meet Anna Rossi Torregrossa Part 8: Late 1940s through 1950s

Betty Ann’s Memories of the late 1940s through 1950s

From Betty Ann’s email to me dated December 15, 2015.  The vivid quality of her memories takes us right into this period of her family’s life.

“When we moved to 6702-10th Avenue, my father’s practice grew with his reputation as a general practitioner, obstetrician, and surgeon, and living in the house was a new experience for the four of us.

“No, my mother did not have to share her living room with patients, but she was more than happy to have family and friends who were patients come upstairs after their office visits with my dad and she enjoyed  using our living room as  the dining room for large family holiday dinners.

“My first memories have to do with growing up in that house–

-The big bedroom I shared with my brother until I was about 7 and our close relationship which is the same today as it was then.

-Going to St. Ephrem’s Elementary School and the eight-block walk each way to and from school and coming home for lunch.

-Doing my homework in the kitchen while mom was cooking even though I had a desk in the bedroom.

-Getting a black cocker spaniel puppy.

-The smell of ether before breakfast if my dad had just come home from performing surgery at  the hospital  and he had to shower and change for house calls and office hours.

-The lovelier smell of lily of the valley in May along with the purple iris and the roses in the yard.

-The sound of my mom running up or down the steps faster than anyone I’ve ever known.

-The sight of my dad sitting in the living room in his favorite chair between afternoon and evening office hours with his eyes closed and his left hand resting on the dog’s head.

-The sound of my mother’s sewing machine, the ever- ringing  phone.

-The freedom to play outdoors with our neighboring  friends and schoolmates, the ability to climb the back fence to visit my Aunt Flo, Uncle Richard, and cousin Anita.

-Practicing the piano every day for an hour.

-Then the fifties came and went  so fast: my brother finished high school and started college in New Orleans, I spent my four years in high school and set off to college.  My mother finally got an engagement ring and real pearls after more than twenty years of marriage.  I had my hair cut off in a stylish Audrey Hepburn -like style, the dog died, relatives began to die, my parents started sprouting some gray hairs.”

 

(To be continued.)

Meet Anna Rossi Torregrossa, Part 7: Family Life in the early 1940s

Close-up of the 1940 Federal Census entry for Doctor Torregrossa and family.

 Anna and Ermete lived at 6624 10th Avenue in Dyker Heights, Brooklyn, New York when the 1940 Federal Census was taken.  This building is a large multi-family dwelling on 10th Avenue on the corner of 67th Street.

Review of the census pages before and after the entry show that the tenants were predominantly Italian immigrants or second generation Italian-Americans.  There were also some Irish and German immigrants, as well as Americans born in New Jersey, Brooklyn and New York.  Most of the tenants listed on the same page as Dr. Torregrossa’s family had blue collar or service industry jobs.

This is apartment is the one Anna wrote about in her journal entry featured in a previous post where she was raising son Terry (4 y.o. at the time of the census) and baby Betty Ann (1 y.o. at time of the census).  Anna was 28 years old and Ermete was 33 years old.  Ermete’s practice was conducted from the living room of this apartment.

Dr. Torregrossa had a very long work week.  The census records that in the week prior to the date the census was taken in April of 1940, he worked 72 hours.

The quality of life improved once Dr. Torregrossa and Anna purchased 6702 10th Avenue.  The first floor contained his complete medical office and the family lived upstairs.  Separate entrances kept the family private in their comings and goings from the house.

Meet Anna Rossi Part 6: 1930s (continued)

How Anna met Ermete and their courtship

Betty Ann’s December 14th, 2014 email to me painted a concise picture of how her parents met, their courtship and the depth of their emotions for each other.  I am very happy to share some of the highlights here.

–Anna was working at her sister Josephine’s Curtis-Bell photo studio in Manhattan when she met Ermete Torregrossa.  Her older sister Marie was working at the phone company.  Through Marie, Anna met Emma Fasinella, another employee of the telephone company.  Anna and Emma were the same age and enjoyed going to dances and shows together.

–Ermete Torregrossa and Joe Livoti attended one of the dances where they met Anna and Emma.  They offered to take Emma and Anna home.

–Ermete eventually asked Anna out for a date.  Betty Ann wrote that this happened during a very “confusing cross-wired phone call”.

–Not every family that had a telephone at this time could afford a private line.  There was available, at a lower rate, what was called a “party line” where many families accessed phone service through the same line.  There was no privacy and others could listen in and inquire when someone was getting off the line.  This may have been the type of service that carried the call from Ermete to Anna.

–As can happen amongst friends interested in the same person, Emma was annoyed when she learned from Anna that Ermete had asked her out.  Emma was interested in him, too.  Anna’s sisters encouraged her to go on the date and not worry about Emma.

–This was the beginning of Anna and Ermete’s courtship which lasted through his remaining years in medical school and continued during his internship.

–They were “madly in love”, as Betty Ann told me, and went to every school dance together.

–Rosario and Liboria were not aware of how deeply their son was in love with Anna until one evening he suddenly burst into tears at the dinner table and left the room.  One of Ermete’s sisters followed.  She was told that Anna was very ill with pleurisy.  Ermete feared she would get TB.  Betty Ann’s email related to me the intensity of his emotions.  “He was upset, worried and very much in love,” she wrote.

–Ermete and Anna married on November 24, 1934.

 

(to be continued)