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.”
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.)
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.”
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.