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Baseball was Very Good to Me

Written by Joe Russo  • September 28, 2017

Editor’s Note:  Joe Russo is a “Nortsider”, a retired teacher, and an aspiring writer. We’ve asked him to share his stories of the past and offer his perspective on the present and future of our neighborhood. His posts will appear each month under the category, “Old Times on the Northside.”




Growing up on the old Northside in the 1950’s meant playing baseball almost every day in the summer. I lived on Mary Street directly across from North High School. The neighborhood was full of kids my age looking to get outside and play catch or shag fly balls. Even if we didn’t have enough kids to play a baseball game with the full complement of players we found a way to work in the imaginary man on second base. Which of course led to many heated discussions, for example was the imaginary man fast enough to make it home on a slow rolling ground ball to right field? It was a dispute we learned to resolve without adult supervision.

The games were organized by yelling at your friend’s house from the street. “Hey Tommy, tell your brother we’re starting a game at North.” “Yeah, yeah we know, go wake up Tony. He always sleeps late,” replied Tommy. And so the message was passed on from house to house no cell phones no instant messaging just an open window and some verbal jousting. Sometimes we even found a way to play baseball with kids we didn’t like, imagine that?

It’s the summer of 2017 and times have changed. I go to the Farmers Market every Saturday morning. I often find myself taking a detour through the old neighborhood. I am curious. I know the Northside has changed but just how has it changed. When I drive by my old house on Mary Street I can see that the old baseball fields at North High are no longer there. North High School has been torn down and a complex of homes for senior citizens exists in its place. A couple of Saturdays ago I was driving home from the Farmers Market on Park Street. As I approached Washington Square Park I noticed a group of kids playing an unorganized game of soccer. The park actually had a pair of official looking soccer goals. The group was a mix of teenagers and some who looked to be under ten years of age. Everyone was madly running up and down the field having a great time. Neither goal had a goalie. I suppose they could have had imaginary goalies. I wonder if the imaginary ones made any saves. Is this the new Northside? Has soccer replaced baseball? It is a new era. I find that I cannot truly understand the emerging world around me unless I can see this world through the eyes of our youth. They are growing and developing the Syracuse of the future.


Walking North Salina

Written by Joe Russo  • August 3, 2017

Editor’s Note:  Joe Russo is a “Nortsider”, a retired teacher, and an aspiring writer. We’ve asked him to share his stories of the past and offer his perspective on the present and future of our neighborhood. His posts will appear each month under the category, “Old Times on the Northside.”


Biscotti collage


In between rain storms in May I walked North Salina Street, reminiscing and searching still for some answers. During my search, I stopped for a Gelato at Biscotti’s. This wonderful pastry shop is a new addition for me. In contemporary times this is one of the older more established businesses on North Salina, but in the 1950’s it was Zirilli’s Paint Store. Tom and Joe Zirilli ran the store during my era. Zirilli’s was founded by their Grandfather who came to America from Italy on the same boat as my Grandfather. Needless to say we bought all our paint at Zirilli’s. It was a small business but they had a larger impact on the small business community. A more significant part of their business was as a supply house to paint contractors and home remolding businesses in the area. They also sold tile, carpet, and wall paper along with all the tools and equipment to get the job done. This small business reflected the general economy in Syracuse. In a sense it was a boom town driven by large manufacturing businesses. We have all heard the old stories about the General Electric assembly line turning out thousands of black and white television sets. In addition, Carrier, Smith Corona and other manufacturing companies provided good paying jobs with good benefits, something all of America yearns for.

Fast forward to 2017 and the new economy, for which creativity, flexibility and knowing your customer are the priority. Can anything be more customer oriented than a custom made cake for your special occasion? A business like Biscotti’s requires a different kind of entrepreneur.  Managing not just the cash flow but the creative process that makes your product special as well as nurturing your staff and expanding your customer base. This is not a business that employs thousands but it does have an impact, especially in the post industrial economy.  The Northside is an incubator. It is a special combination of the old and the new.

Young people, whether they are native to Syracuse or immigrants or refugees, are the future. How will they embrace this transition? I do not have the answer. One of the reasons I have restyled this Blog is to search for answers. It is important to all of us.

A Blogger Searching for a Muse

Written by Joe Russo  • May 25, 2017

Editor’s Note:  Joe Russo is a “Nortsider”, a retired teacher, and an aspiring writer. We’ve asked him to share his stories of the past and offer his perspective on the present and future of our neighborhood. His posts will appear each month under the category, “Old Times on the Northside.”

Joe Childhood Collage

I became a Blogger during the summer of 2012. While attending my usual Friday night Salsa dance, a chance meeting with Emma Voigt led to a conversation about the Northside. Emma was working with Northside UP and arranged a meeting between Dominic Robinson, Stasya Erickson, Jonathan Link-Logan and others. They were all young, energetic and focused on making the Northside a vital and interesting neighborhood. Some of the stories I told that day became blogs published on the Northside UP website. Regular readers of my Blog may remember blogs titled “Community and the Farmers Market”, “Fastest Hands on the Northside” and “The Feast of the Seven Fishes”. I wrote the Blog monthly through the summer of 2015.

The circumstances changed that summer; Northside UP, energized by its success on the Northside and encouraged by CenterState CEO, tried to bring some of their wonderful ideas to other neighborhoods in Syracuse. They moved their office to a more central location downtown. As a writer I struggled. Not because Northside UP had moved or broadened its focus, but because I was questioning the relevancy of my writing.

Everything I wrote was about the past. More than anything it was about my childhood. I enjoyed reliving all those wonderful experiences and writing every blog. I began to think that the Northside I was writing about didn’t exist anymore. I wondered, what is life like today for an eight year old or a ten year old growing up on the Northside? Where do young people on the Northside go after school, for fun or just to hang out?

In my time we had the Northside CYO where one could find everything from checkers to woodshop. The Cozy Retreat was a fun soda fountain style hang out. Where does a teenager get a part-time, after school job today?

Writing my blog this time around I hope to answer some of these questions. I wonder if some of you reading this blog might have a suggestion. Is there someone out there you think I could talk to or an organization I might contact and get up to speed with the Northside youth of today? Please leave a comment on this post and I’ll reach out to you.

Once a Pompeian, Always a Pompeian

Written by Joe Russo  • January 19, 2017

Editor’s Note:  Joe Russo is a “Nortsider”, a retired teacher, and an aspiring writer. We’ve asked him to share his stories of the past and offer his perspective on the present and future of our neighborhood. His posts will appear each month under the category, “Old Times on the Northside.”


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Photo credits: Our Lady of Pompei/St.Peter Church

“Pompei is having a reunion this year. Do you want to be on the committee?” asked Joey Nigro. I didn’t respond as I thought about it. “It’s going to be big”, she continued. I shrugged it off and insisted I was too busy. “Keep me posted on the developments”, I replied. It would be interesting to see some of the old timers. It is the part of my life that I am most nostalgic about. But I really didn’t have the time to be on another committee.

Every time a conversation about the old Northside begins the wishful thinking starts. Wouldn’t it be great if we could go back to the 1950’s and 1960’s. A double dip ice cream cone was only 12 cents and Our Lady of Pompei was the cultural center of Syracuse. It wasn’t just a neighborhood church with a neighborhood school, Pompei had the Pompeian Players. Why was that so special, well, you would have to know something about the old Northside to understand that.

In 1949 Father Charles Borgognoi was assigned to Our Lady of Pompei parish.  The old Northside, a working class neighborhood, was within walking distance of a manufacturing sector now known as Franklin Square (this is where they made everything from automotive parts and ball bearings to washing machines). The Northside was all about family, big families with lots of children. Father Charles assignment was to give the kids something positive to do, something to keep them off the streets and out of trouble.

How about a Broadway play? Not a stripped down version but a full blown version complete with original costumes and stage props. In 1950 it was just a dream. By 1960 it was the most successful theatrical group in upstate New York. They played to an audience of thousands downtown at the RKO Keith’s Theater. To sell out every evening performance plus the matinees was not unusual. If you were a Pompeian Player you were one of the cool kids.

The reunion could be a chance to capture some the old magic. On October 8, 2016  a combination reunion and fund raiser for Our Lady of Pompei school was held at LeMoyne College. This little school has been around since 1926. To find a way to celebrate 90 years of history is not an easy task. Lucy Paris and the reunion committee did it in a wonderful way. Because not only must they reflect on the past but also give us a vision for the future.

The past was there in full force. Three hundred fifty alumnae paid $100 each to celebrate Pompei. Present were some colorful individuals: Rita Barrone, the Nesci brothers, Joey Ciminio, the Falcone brothers even the President of LeMoyne College, Linda LaMura, is a Pompeian. The past was quickly brushed aside for the future. Bill Salomone our master of ceremonies promised humor, performances by some of the original Pompeian Players and nostalgia.

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Features from the “Once a Pompeian” program

Our program guide is a reflection of the past. Bill Salomone asked us to flip through the program guide until we found the loose photo that was tucked away in each booklet. Everyone had a photo of a child currently attending Our Lady of Pompei School. The new students at Our Lady of Pompei were also New Americans. The students are from immigrant families but not from Italy or Germany they are from Asia and Africa. A group of Asian and African students quickly assembled on stage to sing songs from one of the Broadway plays performed by the Pompeian players. When they finished Bill Salomone spoke in a quiet reassuring voice. “They are the reason we are here tonight. These students are carrying on a tradition that started in 1926 and we are here to support them.”

For some reason the angelic voices of children brings a tear to my eyes. The singing of the young students aroused a standing ovation and I could see around me many a teary eye. Compared to my story the Northside is writing a very different story, but it is a compelling story.

No one can really foretell the future. Children, especially bright eyed enthusiastic children, give us hope for the future. The Northside is an incubator of ideas. “Will we ever get along?” is a question we all have.  The answer may be percolating right now on the Northside.  Regrettably I never did join the reunion committee.  I want to be part of the story whether I am living or writing the story. All these young northsiders need is support. They have the energy and will to turn a reunion into a rebirth.

When Politics Was Personal

Written by Joe Russo  • March 17, 2016

Editor’s Note:  Joe Russo is a “Nortsider”, a retired teacher, and an aspiring writer. We’ve asked him to share his stories of the past and offer his perspective on the present and future of our neighborhood. His posts will appear each month under the category, “Old Times on the Northside.”

joe banner

One of the things I loved about the old Northside was that everyone knew everyone. Even when it came to politics the person running for office was the father or the son of someone very familiar. This was of course before social media. Eye contact and an actual conversation with the person sitting next to you were considered normal. I had lunch a couple weeks ago with Nick Pirro at the Franklin Grill on North Salina Street. It didn’t take long to start talking about the old Northside of the 1950’s and 1960’s. Nick first started out talking about spending time at the Cozy Retreat, everybody’s favorite hangout.

Nick lived on McBride Street just a block up the hill from Our Lady of Pompei School. One of the rights of passage for the Northside was that the older kids in the neighborhood walked the younger kids to school. Nick lived a couple of doors away from Joey DiMento. Joey’s older brother Louie was on the Safety Patrol and had to get to school early. Nick’s Mom informed him that he would have to walk young Joey to school. Nick of course complained and resisted but it was the 1950’s and when Momma told you to do something, you did it.

I wanted to hear about Nick’s early days in politics first as a County Supervisor, then as a Legislator and ultimately as the Onondaga County Executive. When Nick first began thinking about his campaign he sought advice about coming up with a memento he could leave with potential voters. Tarky Lombardi, an early mentor, recommended he put his name on a pot holder and hand them out. Not photos or pamphlets listing positions and accomplishments but a kitchen item. Well this was the northside, a neighborhood where most of the family time was spent in the kitchen. And right there hanging on the wall was a pot holder with Nick Pirro’s name on it. Nothing in the kitchen smelled or tasted better than Momma’s sauce. If you’re looking for positive thoughts being associated with a candidate’s name, then there really is nothing better than a pot of bubbling sauce under a pot holder with your name on it.

Walking through a neighborhood has its joys and its perils. During one of his reelection campaigns Nick came to a two story house with a dark hallway leading to a stairway that went to the second floor. He knocked on the door and gave out a holler to announce his arrival. Suddenly, he sensed something moving in the shadows. It was a dog moving quickly with malintent. Nick wasn’t able to exit quickly enough and close the door. The dog had his pant leg clinched in his teeth. The canine’s owner slowly came outside. And as he watched Nick struggle to shake the dog off his leg the owner dryly said, “don’t worry he doesn’t bite.” He, apparently, was not at all concerned that his dog’s teeth were locked on another man’s pants.

On another occasion Nick stepped up to the front door of a prospective voter, rang the doorbell, and leaned against a post holding up a small roof. As he waited the post moved and the roof tilted downward. Suddenly the door opened and there was the homeowner looking at Nick. Nick nervously held on to the post while waiting for the worst possible outcome. The homeowner, however, said, “Oh, don’t worry about it. It’s been like that for a while.” Together they secured the post and the roof and Nick asked for the man’s vote.

Nick’s ability to maintain relationships in an environment where things often did not go as planned carried over to his day-to-day job first as a county supervisor, then as a legislator. After being elected the first thing Nick did was meet with all the department heads of city agencies. His purpose was to build a relationship before any problems popped up. As any old time Northsider will tell you one never knows where or when problems will happen. But if you remain calm solutions will find you. Sounds like a recipe for success.

Rome is Like a Lasagna

Written by Joe Russo  • January 21, 2016

Editor’s Note:  Joe Russo is a “Nortsider”, a retired teacher, and an aspiring writer. We’ve asked him to share his stories of the past and offer his perspective on the present and future of our neighborhood. His posts will appear each month under the category, “Old Times on the Northside.”


Snapshots from Italy

“Where are your ancestors from?” she said with a beautiful smile and a slight accent. “From Sicily” I replied. “Do you know of Mount Etna?” I asked. “Of course, Sicilia, I am from the south also.” I was checking in at an Italian Bed and Breakfast just south of Rome. Actually it is called an “Agriturismo.” An “Agriturismo” is much more than what we call a Bed and Breakfast. The woman was escorting my wife and me to our room at Corte in Fiori. It is in the Province of Lazio just south of Rome. This is my second trip to Italy but it promised to be a better look at the everyday life and culture my ancestors talked about with such affection. “Are you from an Italian community?” she asked. “Well, I’m from America,” I said thinking she misunderstood me. “No, I mean where you live are there other Americans of Italian origin?” “Oh, now I understand,” was my reply.

She was trying to find common ground. Italians living in our homeland and Italians from the northside are very proud of their culture. Even though my ancestors immigrated to America almost 100 years ago a link could be found between today and yesterday. The message from our Italian host was that Italian culture is timeless and without borders.

Five days later we were traveling to Rome. Our tour guide Tazatianna was bringing us to “Ara Pacis Augustae,” the Altar of Augustan Peace. Before going to the city of Rome our group visited Etruscan, Medieval and Renaissance archaeological sites. Tazatianna was explaining how the 2,000-year-old Ara Pacis was found beneath twelve feet of silt. It was in the flood plain of the Tiber River.  This is why “in Roma there are no subways” Tazatianna said. Her explanation continued complete with expressive hand gestures, “Roma is like a lasagna with many layers of interesting ingredients,” she explained. “When the archeologists find remains from the Renaissance, they dig further and find artifacts from the medieval period, then further down are the Etruscans.” Italy is multicultural in a different way. This culture has evolved over thousands of years. In America we don’t have buildings and gargoyles made of limestone to teach us the lessons of the past.

The northside is our archaeological site. Over the past 200 years a variety of ethnic, religious and cultural groups have emigrated to the northside. The Irish laborers dug the ditch that would become the canal with a pick and a shovel. The German brew masters plied their craft on the old northside and left behind crumbling brick buildings. The Italian bakeries still practice their craft. Not as many as in the past, but their brick-lined ovens still produce a crust that cannot be duplicated by super market bakers.  When I look back on our recent trip it seems to me that the vacant German breweries are similar to the Roman ruins found at Ostia Antica.

One could say that the northside is like lasagna. The northside is multi-layered, multicultural and open to interpretation. We cannot ask those who  once lived  in Ostica Antica some 2,000 years ago which was their favorite store for fresh fruit, or what was their favorite stage performance at the local amphitheater. Old time northsiders aren’t around to tell us about their favorite local jazz group playing at Sorrento’s or whether they preferred the Pilsner or the Bock beers from a local brewery. But we have our imagination to fill in the blanks; while another layer is being added to that lasagna right now as a new wave of immigrants’ add their cultures to a northside mosaic that keeps evolving.

Grandma Doesn’t Speak English

Written by Joe Russo  • December 3, 2015

Editor’s Note:  Joe Russo is a “Nortsider”, a retired teacher, and an aspiring writer. We’ve asked him to share his stories of the past and offer his perspective on the present and future of our neighborhood. His posts will appear each month under the category, “Old Times on the Northside.”

Grandma post

I have just returned from a wonderful trip to Italy. The trip gave me a chance to experience Italian culture and practice my Italian language skills. Both my mother and my father were fluent in the Italian language. My mother was born in Sicily and came to America when she was 7 years old. My father was born in the USA but everyone in his family spoke only Italian at home. My father never learned English until he went to school. Like many northsiders from my generation we did not learn to speak the Italian language. Our parents believed that the route to a better life started with speaking English well. I was always fascinated by my relatives who spoke Italian. It seemed I never had the time or the opportunity to learn.

The long flight back to Syracuse gave me a chance to reflect on my earliest attempts to learn Italian. Back in the days of summer when I went to Schiller Park every day, I ate lunch with my Grandmother. I remember my Aunt Antoinette asking, “How did you talk to Grandma?” “What do you mean?” I replied. “Grandma did not speak English and you do not speak Italian. How did you talk to each other?” she implored. At first I didn’t remember. Then as I reached back into my memory I recalled doing things like turning on the water faucet and saying “aqua.” Yes, Grandma didn’t speak English but we found a way to communicate.

On my trip to Italy I had to find a way to communicate. I took a couple of beginner conversational Italian courses with Frank Ricciardiello at Oasis. Frank is an old northsider, a good guy to learn from and a very good teacher. At first things seemed to be going well but I lacked confidence. When I said, “Buongiorno” the Italians smiled and replied “Molto Bene, e tu?” “These are just a couple of words but we understand each other,” I thought to myself. The big test would be when we were out on our own. On our visit to Ostia Antica we looked back in time at a city that was once an Etruscan seaport and then a Roman center of commerce.  After this wonderful tour that took us back in time more than 2,000 years we went to the modern city of Ostia for some wine and a wonderful meal. With a group of six we stopped at an unassuming Trattoria with large windows and a beautiful view. Our server was gracious but did not speak English. The test was about to begin. It quickly became obvious that I was not only going to have to translate for my wife and myself but for others in the group as well.

We sat at the table and looked over the menu. I first looked for familiar words. “Let’s see,” I thought to myself, “il pollo that’s chicken, l’aqua minerale is drinking water for the table, il polpo is octopus.” Once again I thought to myself, “no one is going to order octopus.” As we went around the table everyone was able to order what looked like a great meal. I helped with a few words here and there to make sure the waitress got the order right. And then much to my surprise one couple said they were really interested in the Baby Octopus with red wine sauce. “Oh no,” I thought, “I hope nothing goes wrong with this order.”

As you probably imagined something did go wrong. The fellow who ordered the Baby Octopus said, “I don’t think I can take all those little eyes looking back at me. I’m going to have to order something else.” The pressure is on. I have to figure out how to say we’d like to send the Octpus back and order something else without insulting anyone, not in English, but in Italian! I nervously got the attention of the waitress and began a conversation partly in English, partly in Italian and mostly with hand gestures and sign language. Somehow we got the message across and the waitress returned with a replacement entrée and a smile.

I felt satisfied that I had passed my Italian test with the help of both my Grandmothers. Knowing a few words and understanding a few hand gestures helped.  I gained confidence being able to communicate in Italian with my Grandmother while growing up on the old northside. Grandma helped me order a meal some 60 years later in Italia. Thank you Grandma, “Io ti amo”.

The Back Yard Cookout: Northside Style

Written by Joe Russo  • September 24, 2015

Editor’s Note:  Joe Russo is a “Nortsider,” a retired teacher, and an aspiring writer. We’ve asked him to share his stories of the past and offer his perspective on the present and future of our neighborhood. His posts will appear each month under the category, “Old Times on the Northside.”


Family gatherings create my strongest memories. Among the earliest of my recollections were the backyard cookouts. Grandpa Emmi’s house on Grumbach Ave was adjacent to Schiller Park. It was a large back yard by city standards. Every trip to Grandpa’s house was an adventure. The garden was cultivated to grow not only tomatoes but also a diverse variety of vegetables. Fruit trees and a grape arbor complimented garden. It seemed like every plant in Grandpa’s backyard produced something to eat.

Cousins, laughter and adventure attracted me to the backyard on Grumbach Ave. I remember that whenever we walked into the garden to marvel at the vegetables we could hear Grandpa raising his voice, warning us about the perils of stepping on one of his hand nurtured plants. He would distract us with something that smelled and tasted delightful, finocchio(fennel). The “finnocch” grew like a weed at the edge of the garden. It was irresistibly attractive. It smelled and tasted like licorice. The herb seemed to have a calming effect on the cousins and myself. The large man with the booming voice became the grandfather with the big smile and the nurturing laugh.

The family is not as tightly knit as it once was. Cousins have moved to California, Connecticut, Colorado, the Netherlands and Virginia. Regular and frequent gatherings just have not been possible. Over the years a cousin or an aunt will organize a get together and we all come with a smile and a plate of food. We all say this happens too infrequently and we should do it more often. But busy lives and growing children often take us in a different direction.

Just a “couple two tree”(a northside expression) weeks ago my brother came home from California for a visit. It has been a while and I felt something special was necessary to welcome Armand home. I decided to host a backyard barbeque just as my cousin Theresa did last year. I received a Bocce ball set for Christmas and this would be the perfect time to try it out. We never did play Bocce. Conversation and laughter seemed more important. My backyard doesn’t stand up to Grandpa’s. I have too many trees and lots of shade, not ideal for growing tomatoes. I tried to grow finocchio but the neighborhood deer got to it first. I wonder if it had the same calming effect.

Almost everyone showed up to celebrate. My brother enjoyed being the guest of honor. My cousins and aunts brought laughter and food. Somehow I forgot to take even one picture. But I wondered to myself, had we managed to create that same old fashioned feeling of family that I remembered from Grumbach Ave. The family has changed significantly over the years. Marriage has brought in new members. Not only are most of my family members not Italian but most have not grown up on the northside. As I stood in the kitchen between platters of barbecued chicken and pans of eggplant parmigiana my Aunt Jenny shouted out over the merriment, “Joey, where do you keep the muppeens?” “Over here by the refrigerator”, I replied. At this moment I knew the family still had a connection to the old northside. Without even thinking about it Aunt Jen brought the spirit of the old northside to our gathering. Everyone was pitching in to make this memory a lasting one.

My Sister the Artist

Written by Joe Russo  • August 27, 2015

Editor’s Note:  Joe Russo is a “Nortsider,” a retired teacher, and an aspiring writer. We’ve asked him to share his stories of the past and offer his perspective on the present and future of our neighborhood. His posts will appear each month under the category, “Old Times on the Northside.”

My sister, Maria, is an artist. She is not a painter or a sculptor. However, like so many members of my family, she creates art in her everyday life. My father made wood carvings. My grandfather made wine. PJ my Cousin Annie’s son works in pen and ink. His sensitive portrait of his grandfather, my Uncle Sam, will bring a tear to the eye of anyone who knew Uncle Sam.

PJ's drawing of Uncle Sam and my cousin Annie.

PJ’s drawing of Uncle Sam and my cousin Annie.

My cousin Rhea lives in Cazenovia and she goes for walks with her camera. She comes back with beautiful colorful works of art.

An example of cousin Rhea's work.

An example of cousin Rhea’s work.


Maria expresses her art in a different way. She lives in the Netherlands and I remember a visit from a number of years ago. She wanted to make a special Thai chicken recipe with peanut sauce. As Maria went through a list of ingredients she needed to make this special food it became clear that a trip to the grocery store would be necessary. I impatiently said, “They have that peanut sauce in the Asian food aisle.” My sister replied, “No way! I’m not using some prepared sauce, it won’t even come close to the flavor I need.” So, we picked up all the ingredients mostly at the Real Food Co-op. And then I watched her make the sauce.

She didn’t use a recipe. The ingredients and method came right from her heart. It involved much tasting and mixing. She explained each step in a way that made me feel that this was not just a meal, but a life experience. I believe that anyone who tasted that sauce would have agreed, it was a work of art.

Maria at one time lived on the Canary Islands. She lived on Tenerife the largest island of this volcanic archipelago. And she had a job, growing orchids. Orchids for export are a significant industry for the Canary Islands.  In the morning she would tend to the plants watering, nurturing, and trimming, whatever an orchid needs to flourish. In this Latin country the hours of 12 to 4 are reserved for siesta time. And what better way to enjoy this time of rest than a couple of hours of beach time at one of Tenerife’s beautiful beaches. It must have been during this time that Maria made some of the most beautiful postcards I have ever seen. Hand painted in water colors the volcanic mountains, the black beach sand and the blue green water, an unusual place for anyone but a great place for an artist.

Maria and my father in front of the Everson Museum.

Maria and my father in front of the Everson Museum.

Maria was a seamstress as well. She designed and made clothes for herself. Some of her creations were sold in Rotterdam boutiques. When she was young and traveled a lot sometimes money would just run out. In Europe open air markets flourish. She came up with a design for a shoulder bag that had universal appeal. Maria was able to haggle for a good price on the fabric she needed, then stitch together a practical and useful item that was easily sold in almost any market, especially in southern Europe.

I remember a photo of my sister holding a basket of grapes just picked from a vineyard in Sicily. I don’t have a copy of that photo but it struck a chord. I remember holding it and looking at it for several minutes just to marvel at my sister’s lifestyle. It was simple and close to the earth without bragging or flaunting. It was the life of an artist. Maria gave back more than she took. I have always admired her for her lifestyle but more so for the creative way she does everything.

A Two Family House on Mary Street

Written by Joe Russo  • July 23, 2015

Editor’s Note:  Joe Russo is a “Nortsider,” a retired teacher, and an aspiring writer. We’ve asked him to share his stories of the past and offer his perspective on the present and future of our neighborhood. His posts will appear each month under the category, “Old Times on the Northside.”

Joe image

I remember moving to a two family house on Mary Street as though it were an adventure. It was the summer before I started Kindergarten at Our Lady of Pompei School. My Mom and Dad and I lived in a small rented apartment on Highland Street. The apartment was mid-way between both Grandparents. My mother’s parents lived on Grumbach Ave and my father’s parents lived on Butternut Street. So everybody was happy. However, moving to our own house was exciting.

My Aunt Jenny and Uncle Harold Seib were buying the house together with my parents. I think it was a time when families were closer together and pooling their resources was a way to move up the economic ladder. It was a two family house but everyone was going to live on the first floor. They rented out the second floor to another family. It helped pay the mortgage. They had a plan and it worked.

As we were packing up and getting ready to move I was full of questions. Was the school close to our new house? Were there other kids in the neighborhood my age? I’m sure I drove my mom to distraction. I was not disappointed. It was a “dream come true location”. North High School was directly across the street. This was without question the coolest high school in the city. If you are not from the Northside but are familiar with the movie Grease, you’ll catch my drift it was coolsville. I was amazed just to see the guys wearing their white t-shirts backwards with the rolled up sleeves and the greased back hair. I was just an ankle biter but couldn’t wait to be a Greaser.

My mom of course wanted me to be an Ivy Leaguer. I guess college guys didn’t grease back their hair. I really wished those college types would just chillout. The greasers had to work in the car repair shops and factories whereas the Ivy Leaguers had it made in the shade. They got the downtown office gig and the white collar jobs.

All of my dreams came true on Mary Street. There were lots of kids my age and we all walked to school together, in the rain the sun or the snow. We played 3 on 3 baseball games on the lawn at North High. Of course there was always an imaginary man on one of the bases. My mom became the official pitcher. She was a good sport.

I believed Mary Street was the epicenter of the Northside. An entire world existed within walking distance from my house. The Cozy Retreat sold double dip ice cream cones for 12 cents. A loaf of bread cost 24 cents at DiLauro’s Bakery. I didn’t have a key to our house because we never locked the door. At Fisher’s Five and Dime things actually sold for 5 or 10 cents. We had less money but it seemed like we had more choices.

Our lives in that two family house can never be replicated. It was a different era. It was also a foundation. I remember the wonderful supper time chaos with everyone talking at once, loudly. I remember the humor, the stories, and how it all came together to shape an outlook on life. It nurtured a can do spirit. A spirit I believe still lives on the Northside.