Stories Served News and Notes August 13, 2020

I am writing while thunder and flashes of lightning usher in the dawn. The storm will pass through soon leaving a fresh wash from the humidity (I hope). In the meantime the low rumble and steady patter of rain provide perfect morning music. 

I just came home after a week at my favorite place—Davis Park, a Fire Island beach community. The beach is the place to revive and create memories with family and friends. Read about the origins of my beach obsessions in   The Beach Loving Legacy of Nelly Truglio  

Stories Served Events: 

*August 19th, 12:00 pm Rotary Club in Smithtown                                

I will be live (properly masked and distant) talking about Hug Everyone You Know and writing with perseverance.

*August 20th, 7 pm Sayville Library virtual presentation The Author’s Journey Towards Being Published. 

I will be on a panel talking about Hug Everyone You Know along with Theresa Dodaro, author of The Tin Box Trilogy, and Valerie Nifora, author of I Asked the Wind. This program uses Zoom online. To sign up for this program, go to https://bit.ly/2DtbF88. You will be emailed an access link the day before the program.

Reminders

I am available for in-person and remote Zoom style book club meetings. Personally signed Hug Everyone You Know books are available for a reduced price. Click here!

Attention TEACHERS

I have several school writing workshops for grades 1-8. You can read about them HERE. Contact me to set up dates and request further details. 

Also stay tuned for my professional development on-line course Journal On! A Teacher’s Journaling Practice.   

That’s it!
Be well. Be Safe. Be Smart.
Register to vote

 

 

Antoinette Truglio Martin is the author of Hug Everyone You Know: A Year of Community, Courage, and Cancer. The memoir is a wimpy patient’s journey through her first year of breast cancer treatment.

 

 

The Beach Loving Legacy of Nelly Truglio

This painting portrays Coney Island, 1889. Coney Island was and is Brooklyn’s seaside mecca. The beach offered relief from the city’s heat and congestion. From the way people dressed, it is hard to imagine any measurable bits of relief. Hats, shoes, high neck collars and long sleeves could not invite more than a stroll while sweating. I feel a bit of sadness for their restrictions. The clothing and social taboos restrict the joys of the sun, sand, and surf. Imagine the scolding the children had to endure for damp hems and gritty stockings.
My great-grandma, Nelly Truglio, loved being around the water. Aunt Tosca, her youngest child, remembers traveling on the BMT with her mother and older brother Alfred to Coney Island in the 1930s. By then, there was a boardwalk, ice cream, and hot dog stands, rides, and attractions. But the Truglio trio was there for the beach and ocean. They went just about every summer day, even if the weather was not beach perfect. The children played in the sand and swam in the surf while their mother stood guard cooling in the wash of the waves.
Great Grandma must have believed the beach as the best playground for her children and herself, a woman who actively sought out joy in her every day. Aunt Tosca said, “Mama packed towels, a blanket, lunch, and an umbrella. We left home right after breakfast and got a spot near the water so we could keep an eye on our stuff. Mama didn’t swim but enjoyed every minute being in the water and watching us play and swim. She wore a modest swimsuit and always carried an umbrella over her head because she did not want to get tan. After our morning swim, we ate lunch on the blanket. Mama made us lay down and rest so as not to get a cramp when swimming in the afternoon. Later in the day, we’d pack up and buy a frozen custard before riding the subway back home.” Aunt Tosca holds these images as her most cherished childhood memories.
During the forties and into the early fifties, my mother took the same BMT train to Coney Island with her girlfriends to spend the day sitting on sandy towels and cooling in the ocean. My dad was fortunate to have a summer home, The Country House, in Copiague on Long Island. He, his sisters, and cousins swam the canal and paddled or puttered a small boat into the low tide beaches of the Great South Bay to fish, clam, and play. Just like Great Grandma and her children, they all came home sunkissed and happy.
The beach and sunseeker legacy continued through my generation. My childhood home was in Sayville on the Great South Bay. Like my dad, I clammed, fished, and played on the bay. Instead of the subway taking me to the ocean shore, I rode my bicycle to Port O’Call to catch the ferry to Barrett Beach on Fire Island. Like my mom, I met friends and swam in the surf all day. I would eat the salami sandwich I brought for lunch and buy an ice cream cone before returning home on the ferry.
When my daughters were little, I’d pack them and the beach paraphernalia I could carry and ride the ferry to Barret during the weekdays. The fares were cheap, and I could not juggle the kids and operate our boat without my husband. Like Great Grandma, the days did not have to be beach perfect. Overcast and wild winds on the ocean were just as glorious. My girls had to rest for thirty minutes after eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches before going back to the surf, just like Aunt Tosca, Uncle Al, my dad, and his posse and me and my crew of siblings and cousins did as kids. As a responsible adult, I realized this rule enabled the parents to sit down and relax before resuming the surf watch on the water’s edge.
Although 800 miles down the coast, my grandchildren have honed their beach-loving legacy and bloomed into proper beach-bums. My daughter and son-in-law carry on the belief the shore is the best playground for their children. Great Grandma would have been proud.
These days, the ocean and bay remain part of my backyard. Fire Island is a boat ride or a ferry excursion across the bay. The beach is my place to appreciate, slow down, and just be. I find relief from my pressing anxieties and believe, like my great-grandma, that this is the best playground for my family and myself.

This essay is dedicated to my Great Grandmother, Angelina “Nelly” Truglio. Her birthday is today, August 7th. I do not remember her well, but I do remember her broad smile, jolly laugh, and bright floral housedresses. Aunt Tosca honors her mama’s memory by retelling the happiness and love her mother created out of simple pleasures and grace.

Antoinette Truglio Martin is the author of Hug Everyone You Know: A Year of Community, Courage, and Cancer. The memoir is a wimpy patient’s journey through her first year of breast cancer treatment.

July 2020 Recap

Welcome

to Stories Served Around The Table July 2020 Recap. The pandemic remains the topic of conversation. Everywhere, everyone must wear masks and keep a distance while going to and from essential errands. Recognizing neighbors in masks has become a skill set. I still find it hard to greet with a head nod, and elbow tapping friends is not satisfying.

I am sorry to report that there is only one blog posting for July.

An Absent Note

I needed to take a blog hiatus to tackle foundations for writing projects and wrestle with personal exigencies and clutter. The big crisis occurred when my dad’s tender heart stopped and needed emergency attention and repair. Scary. Horribly scary. Investigating, processing, and coordinating with doctors, my sisters, and Mom took juggling mastery. Communication was especially tricky with COVID-19 and visiting constraints. Thankfully, positive energies, medical science and expertise, family’s resources, Dad’s resolve, and Mom’s insistence that he was not allowed to leave just yet pulled Everyone through. Dad is doing well—very well, where it is difficult for him to “take it easy” (his normal state).

My other little personal fires have settled into manageable camps. I am back from my hiatus, ready to focus.

Here are the highlights

*Journal On! A Writer’s Daily Workbook is in editing. It’ll be a companion to Journal On! A Writer’s Daily Workshops for children of all ages.

*My application to BOCES Arts-in-Education as a visiting author in the schools is coming along. I will be offering several Stories Served Workshops for elementary to middle school students and teachers. You can click here to view my information flyer.  Contact me for remote and in-person options.

*I am enrolled in Creating Online Classes and Blended Learning through the Teacher’s Center of the Western Hamptons. Learning to teach online is essential for these times.

*Stephanie Larkin’s, of Red Penguin BooksMarketing Your Book-Level 1 course completed. Wow! This class was chock-full of non-scary step-by-step strategies I can actually do.

*Editing continues on Daily Bread. My beta-readers were so essential in pulling this story together. Heartfelt thanks go out to my parents, who provided the Sicilian dialect and manners’ nuances and details. Marie Yervasi, Westhampton Beach Children’s Librarian and Programmer offered insightful comments and suggestions.

*Thank you, My Everyone, for helping me decide on the Stories Served logo. Just about all votes led to this final choice.

* I’ll be back with weekly coffee shares and other writerly postings next week.

*Stay tuned for freebie giveaways coming up in August.

Upcoming Events

*August 20th, 7 pm Sayville Library virtual presentation The Author’s Journey Towards Being Publish.

I will be on a panel talking about Hug Everyone You Know along with Theresa Dodaro, author of The Tin Box Trilogy, and Valerie Nifora, author of I Asked the Wind. This program uses Zoom online. To sign up for this program, go to https://bit.ly/2DtbF88. You will be emailed an access link the day before the program.

*August 19th, 12:00 pm Rotary Club in Smithtown 

I will be live (properly masked and distant) talking about Hug Everyone You Know and perseverance with writing.

That’s it!
Be well. Be Safe. Be Smart.
Register to vote

 

 

Antoinette Truglio Martin is the author of Hug Everyone You Know: A Year of Community, Courage, and Cancer. The memoir is a wimpy patient’s journey through her first year of breast cancer treatment.

 

 

An Absent Note

Please excuse Antoinette from the blog and commenting responsibilities over these last few weeks. She will be back in mid-August.

Antoinette needs to step back, re-plan the blog and website, spend time taking care of family matters, and focus-focus-focus on several writing projects that need her attention and juggling expertise. She also hopes to get some beach time and sailing in as well.

Antoinette wishes her Everyone well.

Be safe. Be smart. Register to vote and be informed.

Sign,

Antoinette’s Practical Persona

 

 

 

Antoinette Truglio Martin is the author of Hug Everyone You Know: A Year of Community, Courage, and Cancer. The memoir is a wimpy patient’s journey through her first year of breast cancer treatment.

 

 

June 2020 Recap

Welcome to Stories Served Around The Table June 2020 Recap. Summer is bursting out all over. The foxgloves and hydrangeas took over the side yard, the raised beds hold a bounty of vegetable promises, and the catboat launched (rigging awaits). Schools in my area officially closed remote learning classes for the summer. Graduation parades and drive-in style ceremonies mark the milestones. My home on Long Island is beginning to return from COVID-19 restrictions. A few hiccups have popped up, but overall the slow, careful reopening looks hopeful. Check out the June blog postings. I started to post Daily Bread features that include recipes, historical issues, and my writing process. I hope you like it. Please share to spread the joy. I would love to know your impressions.

A New Beginning in a New World
June 2020 Coffee Share 
Working for the Dream 
A Tiger in the Yard 
Writing Protagonist Right

During the COVID-19 shelter-in-place orders, I polished and produced Journal On! Thoughts Gleaned While Quarantined for teachers to present thematic journaling prompts to their students. I hope that the exercises inspire joy and a daily journaling habit. There is a small stash to give away to teachers and parents who are looking for writing resources. I only asked for a $2 fee to cover the mailing cost and honest comments and suggestions. A free PDF version is also available. If interested, please email me at storiesserved@mail.com.

Journal On! A to Z Writing Prompts is another work in progress. I plan to offer this theme as a school workshop by September. Once the regional BOCES Arts in Education program opens, I can register as a visiting author, but at this point, one must be flexible. I may have to develop that virtual presence after all.

In other writing news, beta readers are reviewing Daily Bread. I included my parents. Although it is not a good idea to rely on close family members for literary critique, my folks caught inaccuracies and clarity points from the Sicilian translations and terminologies appropriate for the time—a priceless resource. The more objective readers are coming back with glowing feedback, so the book is on the right path. No luck, however, in capturing an agent’s attention.

I continue to fuss with a logo for Stories Served Around the Table. Here are the top two.

 

I could use some feedback. What do you think? Thank you, My Everyone, for indulging me. Please feel free to comment (kindly) and share to Your Everyone.

That’s it! Thanks for reading and listening. Have a good week, Everyone. Make it great.

Big thank yous go out to Ecelic Ali for keeping the Weekend Coffee Share up and running.

Be well. Be safe.

Register to vote.

                     
  ?      ?

 

Antoinette Truglio Martin is the author of Hug Everyone You Know: A Year of Community, Courage, and Cancer. The memoir is a wimpy patient’s journey through her first year of breast cancer treatment.

 

 

Writing Protagonist Right Coffee Share

Good morning, Everyone. It’s a beautiful day in my neighborhood. Lots of stuff going on which I will get to later, but this week I have been plagued with a writer’s dilemma. Grab your coffee. I am going to prattle through. 

Now that my novel, Daily Bread, is complete, an issue concerning the age-based categorization nags. The publishing world for children’s work dictates general guidelines to identify the readership market. There are four major categories—picture books, chapter books, middle-grade, and young adult (YA). These categories can fall into fiction and non-fiction realms and carry the recognizable genres, such as fantasy, mystery, and historical fiction.

The content and delivery of the story determine the readability and target audience. Picture books drive the story with illustrations and can be read aloud, ushering the love for language and reading. Chapter books invite fledgling readers to independently tackle books as they develop comprehension, imagery skills, and deepen appreciation for books. Middle-grade novels invite more complicated social and emotional stakes. Readers experience the beginnings of personal autonomy within their immediate world and family circle. Chapter book protagonists are usually eight or nine years old, and middle-grade readers expect their heroes to be eleven or twelve years old. Unlike YA, there is no profanity or romantic plots that go beyond a middle-grade crush and first kiss. YA novels contain the nitty-gritty of teens fitting into a grown-up world.

Categorizing Daily Bread along the readership guidelines has vexed me. Daily Bread unfolds through the eyes of Lily Taglia, a nine-year-old girl living in the Little Italy tenement neighborhood on Mott Street in 1911. She straddles between little girl safety and restrictions and big kid responsibilities and status. Although Lily is almost as tall as her twelve-year-old sister, Margaret, she is defined as a child because of her playful spirit and innocence.

I wrote this middle-grade novel with the younger protagonist instead of Margaret’s because Lily’s emergence from a little kid to a big kid was more authentic for the era. I am responsible for keeping facts real despite the fictional narrative. Immigrant children of the early 20th century were burdened with adult responsibilities and experiences before they were emotionally and physically ready. Lily held onto secrets that piled up, suddenly noticed hardships and conflicts that threatened home, and eventually took on responsibilities that turned out to be harder than they looked. Margaret was already a master of chores and wise in the way of their world that earned her parents’ confidence and trust. Margaret’s growth and transitions added to the story, but Lily’s journey was much more dramatic. The proverbial doors opened, and light bulbs lit as Lily learned to navigate and accept big kid responsibilities in a great big world.

Daily Bread’s social, historical, and emotional themes may be too complicated for chapter book readers. Originally I wrote Lily as an eight-years-old but recently gave her an added year to appease the protagonist guidelines for middle-grade readers. I wrote it in third person rather than first, giving me the avenues to create a more obtuse world for the characters with sensory details an eight/nine-year-old may miss. I believe this provided middle-grade readers a rich reading experience despite the hero’s tender age. It is also giving me space to continue Lily’s and her friends’ stories since the series, The Mott Street Kids, continue to play out in my head and live in outlines on paper. I like my little hero. She deserves her story, and readers deserve to know her.

I’d appreciate any comments and suggestions from fellow readers and writers.

That’s it! Thanks for reading and listening. Have a good week, Everyone. Make it great.

Big thank yous go out to Ecelic Ali for keeping the Weekend Coffee Share up and running.

Be well. Be safe.

Register to vote.  

 


Antoinette Truglio Martin is the author of Hug Everyone You Know: A Year of Community, Courage, and Cancer. The memoir is a wimpy patient’s journey through her first year of breast cancer treatment.

A Tiger In The Yard Coffee Share

Good morning, Everyone. It is a summer-y June morning here in Sayville Long Island. The birds are having a conference chirp session this early morning. Although they sound like a substantial chatty flock, they don’t frequent the backyard feeder nearly as much as expected. Hershey, the cat, stalks the yard in his tiger persona. I saved a little sparrow he brought into the house during the week. The frightened bird fluttered into a corner while I scolded Hershey. I caught the poor thing and brought it outside. It was a little shaken but undamaged. It flew away to my sister-in-law’s yard (behind my house) where it is safe from the tiger-want-to be, and there is an abundant menu of seeds in feeders. 

 If we were having coffee together, I would tell you I have been cooking and planning for next week. Matt and I are going on an adventure. My sister and brother-in-law bought a boat—a big boat. They found a floating home where they can travel and fish. It is like living in an RV where the waterways are the roads and the marinas and sheltered coves are the campgrounds. The maiden voyage will be from the eastern shore of Maryland to Sayville Long Island—a five or six-day exploratory trip. I’m very excited to get on the water. Matt and I had never done a trip like this, nor my sister and brother-in-law. It will be an adventure! I have meals prepped and frozen, dramamine tucked in my bag, and a supply of sunscreen, pens, and hand sanitizer packed. Just getting out of town for a while is exciting. 

 If we were having coffee together, I would report that I participated in my town’s peaceful protest in supporting the Black Lives Matter campaign. About 1,500 people, donning masks, marched from Gillette Park to the bay and back again. Young High School alumni organized it. I am proud to say that my bubble of a community showed solidarity and peace for all peoples. Hope was palatable. 

 If we were having coffee together, I would say that my Journal On! Thoughts Gleaned While Quarantined workbook is now in booklet form. I plan to offer them as giveaways for teachers. If I get a good response, I plan to produce the Journal On! A-Z prompts as a workbook. I posted, Working for the Dream– a brief history about child labor and attempted reforms during the early 20th century. This issue played out in Daily Bread, my middle-grade historical fiction novel.  Presently, Daily Bread is in the hands of beta readers. My parents are taking part and have provided valuable input concerning Sicilian slang, spelling, and clarity of detailed information. In the meantime, agent rejection form letters appear in my email box at a steady rate. I engaged in a few Zoom writer’s workshops this week. They were informative and confirmed I am on the right path. I just haven’t found the right fit yet. The pandemic has created a downsizing shift in the publishing industry. It looks like publishing houses will be making policy and acquiring changes for the long term. I will just have to keep trying. 

That’s it! Have a good week, Everyone. Make it great.

Big thank yous go out to Ecelic Ali for keeping the Weekend Coffee Share up and running.

Be well. Be safe.

Register to vote.  

 


Antoinette Truglio Martin is the author of Hug Everyone You Know: A Year of Community, Courage, and Cancer. The memoir is a wimpy patient’s journey through her first year of breast cancer treatment.

Working for the Dream

Daily Bread takes place in the Lower East Side of Manhattan Island, 1911. Tenement neighborhoods burst with immigrants. Hand and horse-drawn carts and the new-fangled assembly lined motor cars rumbled in the streets harmonizing with the lilts of different languages. Factories sprung up, spitting out goods such as food, clothing, home products, accessories, and so forth. 

The operations of these factories did not place safety as a top priority. The machines’ belchings clogged the air, and the noise muffled orders and instructions. Immigrant men were cheap laborers, women cheaper, but the children were a bargain.

photo by Lewis Hines National Archives

In 1910 the United States had two million children under the age of 14 working 12 to 18 hours a day, six days a week. Many of the urban children were immigrants or children of immigrants living on the edge. Uneducated, underfed, and poorly nurtured, the youngsters put in long hours keeping pistons cranking, spools spinning, and cogs whirring. Small children could fit into tight spots to operate or quickly repair. Bloody accidents happened every day.

Reformists of the Progressive Movement recognized that a generation of uneducated, hungry, and sick children dimmed America’s progress into the new century. Education, health, and labor movements quaked through the establishment. The National Child Labor Committee had proposed legislation for minimum age requirements, limit hours for working children, and mandated that kids stay in school until age fourteen.

Although laws passed, enforcement was sporadic at best. It was easy to hide small child workers during cursory inspections. Truant offices could not be bothered hauling in the street schleppers or young newsies when petty thieves and troublemakers who skip school took their attention. Bribery probably kept the illegal exploitations under the radar. It was easy to not miss the 12-year-old girls who suddenly did not show up in crowded classrooms. They simply disappeared into the factories.

photo by History.com

I incorporated child labor as a subplot in my story, Daily Bread. Work played an important role for immigrant families to survive their arrivals and move out of the tenement slums into their American dream. In the story, Papa shaped-up as a longshoreman each morning and took extra shifts, but work was dangerous and never steady. Mama stretched the earnings to house and feed a growing family and took in piecework to save for a home of their own with air to breathe and a plot to grow a garden. The dream darkened when work was scarce. Able-bodied Margaret, the oldest sister, could work in a factory for a wage like her friend. But Margaret had a different dream.

I based the scenario on my grandmother’s history. She had to quit school at age 13. It did not matter that she liked school, admired her teachers, and was very good at math. The family’s attitude did not value educating girls. It was not practical. A young girl’s youth was more useful in earning a wage rather than learning in a classroom. 

As a young girl, Grandma worked in a loud garment factory ten to fifteen hours a day for a paltry pay—a regret she echoed throughout her lifetime. Her sisters, except the youngest, followed her lead. Grandma told of her sadness the first day she took her favorite sister, Lily, by the hand into the dress factory. Lily, tall and pretty, just turned thirteen and would not finish the eighth grade.

“I felt like someone punched me in the stomach when I brought the kid into that life.”

As much as my grandmother hated the job, she and her sisters worked during important labor reforms that shaped the American working force. They held offices in the International Ladies Garment Workers’ Union, demanded fair pay, safe working conditions, and benefits, and added their voices to vote. Grandma worked most of her life. She was widowed too early and had to return to the garment factories to support her family.  She was not a happy person—she let her wounds fester into anger. Although her life was not what she had dreamed of, my grandmother’s work and tenacity paved a life with more choices for her children and proved herself as a self-sufficient woman. She lived a true American story. 

Daily Bread is my middle-grade historical novel set in the Lower East Side of Manhattan, 1911. The story follows eight-year-old Lily, an American-born child of Sicilian immigrants, who loves to sing out her artist heart and prove she is not a little kid. She learns that it is not easy to be a big kid in the crowded tenement neighborhood, skirting old-world traditions, tackling bigotry, disasters, and screwy bakers, and learning to cross the street by herself.

Daily Bread was inspired by one of my grandmother’s stories. As I bring Daily Bread to publication, I will share the story’s character and plot developments, the fun research adventures, and my writing process. Get comfortable and join me on the journey. You may need to get something to eat. Share your impressions and your stories. 

Antoinette Truglio Martin is the author of Hug Everyone You Know: A Year of Community, Courage, and Cancer. The memoir is a wimpy patient’s journey through her first year of breast cancer treatment.

June 2020 Coffee Share

Good morning, Everyone. Happy June. How is your world faring? The Phase Two Action Plan from the lockdown officially happens next week in my neck of the woods. Fingers crossed. My yard does not seem to be affected by the virus. Color explodes with the foxgloves and Japanese Iris blooms. Hydrangeas are not far behind. Do you have your coffee? Mine just dripped down. Let’s take a break and catch up.

If we were having coffee together, I would report that my parents finally flew into the local airport non-stop from Orlando, Florida. They wore the N95 masks my daughter sent them and came armed with hand sanitizer. Everyone is so happy and relieved to have them home. They are well—we are all well.  

 If we were having coffee together, I would add that the yard and garden are planted, fed, reseeded, and fussed over. Matt and I still have more items to cross off the Bella Vela’s, our catboat, list. Matt sports a fine layer of sanded paint these past few days while tackling the centerboard. Maybe next week, we can schedule a launch. 

If we were having coffee together, I would announce that I am putting together my Journal On! A Writer’s Daily Workbook from this past A to Z Challenge. I am moving forward in offering writers’ workshops in the schools via Zoom or in person. I prefer teaching in person, but in today’s world, flexibility is key. I just may have to get used to greeting and teaching kids over remote platforms for awhile.

If we were having coffee together, I would report that I have been blogging posts related to my middle-grade historical fiction novel, Daily Bread. It is good practice to put out essays about an upcoming book to stir some excitement and broaden the audience. The posts will continue to feature my writing process, research methods, family stories, and recipes. You can check them out here. I am also cleaning up pages on my website and Instagram. This takes so much time and careful planning. As it is, I changed my Instagram name too many times while playing around with different features, and now I can’t change anything for two weeks! Instead of it being a cooling-off period, I will probably forget I had to do something.   

If we were having coffee together, I would be remiss not to mention the heartache I’ve been feeling. The pandemic has been bad enough, but the latest show of inequality, ignorance, and the violent atrocities that fill our newsfeeds bare down. There is no way to spin any of it in a “good” light. What happened to kindness and respect, common sense, and common decency? Where is the unity that made our country great? Was it an illusion all this time? I don’t want to believe we are really this awful. 

There are no clear answers, friends. I remind myself to listen, be kind, and hold out a helping hand when I can. 

Be well. Be safe.

Register to vote.  

Have a good week, Everyone. Make it great.

 


Antoinette Truglio Martin is the author of Hug Everyone You Know: A Year of Community, Courage, and Cancer. The memoir is a wimpy patient’s journey through her first year of breast cancer treatment.

A New Beginning in a New World

A New Beginning in a New World

photo by History.com

Between 1880-1920, 34 million immigrants huddled on the decks of ships, watching the Statue of Liberty usher them into New York harbor. They had carried their few possessions, traveled across the ocean, and began a new chapter in the New World. The Lower East Side of Manhattan Island was the first homestead on American soil for most of these people. Their goal was to forge a hopeful life. 

My family’s paternal and maternal sides arrived in America between 1904 and 1910-ish, from Sicily and the shores of Naples. Italy had unified their regions and kingdoms some 40 years before. The reorganization of power had exasperated the disparities between peoples. Southern Italians and Sicilians were considered less desirable. Crippling laws, an antiquated feudal system, and oppression stifled their prospects. The lack of education and landownership, and blatant inequalities offered bleak futures.

America held out a hand, promising freedom, liberty, and hope. Many Sicilians did not leave home all at once. They were not driven from their villages or violently persecuted as the Jews were in pogrom campaigns. Instead, the men went first. They contacted relations or acquaintances claiming to be a relative to secure their place in the American dream. Most of my family were farmers and fishermen along the seaside coasts. They adapted their strength and drive to succeed by working the docks loading and unloading goods. The men bordered in crowded tenements, slept in shifts, and worked where they could. They scrambled to make a living in a claustrophobic industrial city, sent money to their families, and saved money to bring them all to America. It was a hard life, but the opportunities were better in America than in their homeland. They learned to speak English, read newspapers, and cultivated friendships.

 My maternal great-grandfather, Stefano Di Aguanno, had kept his mother’s name (there’s a fantastic story to that) but had stepbrothers who loved him and sponsored his passage. Stefano married my great-grandmother, Francesca, two days after meeting her (from an arrangement—not passionate love). Within a year,  he left his wife and baby girl, my grandmother, to lay the foundation for life in America. Stefano was a vineyard farmer, but several years of blight and famine threatened sustainability. He had to leave.

Francesca was never keen on leaving, even though she had to live with her mother-in-law (another great story). She was deeply devoted to her mama and sister and held a passion for the earth, coming from a tenant farm family. Stefano sent money home and wrote letters longing for his family to join him. The family would be better off in the bowels of the city, working towards a brighter life. Francesca never learned to read (are you imagining the stories piling up?), so her mother-in-law read the letters and finally advised her to go to America with the baby before he found another woman. Stefano was a handsome catch—tall (over 6 feet), auburn hair, sea-blue eyes, powerful hands and back, and a playful heart. Francesca, dark, plain, and sour, had no other prospects for support. Her father would not take her back. She packed her few possessions, carried her two-year-old child aboard a ship, and staked out her space in steerage. She brought her bread, intending to eat nothing else on the two-week voyage. The sea was relentlessly rough, as it usually is in late February. Just about everyone was sick from the motions, rancid food, and contaminated water, except Francesca, who nibbled on her bread, sipped the rainwater she collected and nursed her daughter. When she arrived and settled in a Mott Street tenement in the Little Italy section of Lower East Side, she made sure her husband understood that someday she would return home. 

Back then, I think men held a realistic view and looked for solutions to their dire situations. Pioneering across an ocean to America was their answer. It took incredible grit to make it happen. The women had to have just as much courage to follow—like it or not and make it work. My great grandmother made the new world fit by forcing old world traditions into her adopted homes. She kept to people with familiar tongues, cooked to her palate, and fashioned apartments and houses to resemble her version of home. During those first years in America, she kept boxes of soil to grow herbs in front of a sunny tenement window, so the food tasted right, and the flat smelled like home. 

I knew my great-grandmother when she lived in Brooklyn. She had a small garden plot outside her back door. A prolific fig tree and stakes of tomatoes and peppers crammed into that tiny space. I think the smell of the earth, the taste of the harvest, and the feel of the dirt on her hands and knees brought her home. She lived in America for almost 75 years but never returned to her mama and sister. 

Daily Bread, extrapolates my great-grandmother’s core and experiences as the mama in the story. I took the stories my grandmother and her sisters told and my mother’s memories of Stefano to fashion the papa character. Although fictionalized, I think I captured their courage and essence in becoming part of the American story. 

Daily Bread is my middle-grade historical novel set in the Lower East Side of Manhattan, 1911. The story follows eight-year-old Lily, an American-born child of Sicilian immigrants, who loves to sing out her artist heart and prove she is not a little kid. She learns that it is not easy to be a big kid in the crowded tenement neighborhood, skirting old-world traditions, tackling bigotry, disasters, and screwy bakers, and learning to cross the street by herself.

Daily Bread was inspired by one of my grandmother’s stories. As I bring Daily Bread to publication, I will share the story’s character and plot developments, the fun research adventures, and my writing process. Get comfortable and join me on the journey. You may need to get something to eat. Share your impressions and your stories. 

Antoinette Truglio Martin is the author of Hug Everyone You Know: A Year of Community, Courage, and Cancer. The memoir is a wimpy patient’s journey through her first year of breast cancer treatment.

%d bloggers like this: