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May 13, 2011     Post-Gazette
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POST-GAZETTE, MAY 13, 2011 Page 13 ,.# U(IFI, ) )[l .... ' O/"/ O by John Christoforo A Nostalgic Remembrance Front row: My mother Anne, uncles Nick, Gino and Paul. Back row: Nanna and Babbononno: Jenny Ceruolo-Contini, Michael Contini. Circa 1920. May 15 marks the 20 th anniversary of Nanna and BabbononnoI!t Since that begin- ning, I have written 52 stories per year, times 20 years, which equals 1,040 stories about being Italian and Italian American. Pardon me ff I pat myself on the back just a little, but as I reflect back, I see how I've developed as a writer, but more importantly, how we've advanced in American society since our people first arrived on American shores. I had written educational materials, out of necessity, when I was a member of the Apprenticeship and Journeyman Division of the Department of Industrial Arts and Voca- tional Education of the Boston Public Schools, but I had never put the pen to work outside of academia. All of that changed on in the 70s, on a Monday afternoon at the Musicians' Union, when it was located on St. Botolph Street in Boston's Back Bay. Mondays were historically the meeting days for local union musicians. They would gather at the union hall, hang out, schmooze with the band lead- ers and contractors, book in future work and socialize with fellow musicians. The then president, Sam Marcus, came up to me one day, and asked ff I knew a man named Arthur Medoff. I replied that I knew of him, but didn't know him personally. Sam mentioned that he had passed away. I gave Sam my condo- lences, but he explained that the reason he told me of Medoffs demise was due to his column in the Boston Musicians' Union magazine, Interlude. Sam went on to say that Arthur Medoff penned a column for the magazine called "A La Breve" (Short and Sweet), a monthly com- mentary on the local musicians and where they were playing and with whom. I replied that I was a reader of his column, but then asked what he, Sam, wanted of me. He then blurted out, "I thought you might like to take over his column." Explaining to Sam that I had only written educational materials for the Boston Schools didn't deter him. He added, "If you can write, you can write." I consid- ered this as a challenge and took over the "A La Breve" column. I had conversations with Dad and Uncle Nick about the direction of my future writ- ing, and they assured me that I would de- velop a following if I penned stories about Bos- ton in its heyday, the '30s, '40s and '50s, when there were dozens of nightclubs with live music, as well as restaurants, dinner the- aters, and hotel function rooms. Listening to what they had to say, I began to put together a social commentary that included who played where, with whom and for what band lead- ers. Soon the column became very popular but future presidents didn't look on my popu- larity as well as did Sam Marcus. As time went on, a couple of union leaders were fear- ful of my popularity and put stumbling blocks in my way when it came to the column. This proved frustrating, but I continued. I had met Pam Donnaruma, the publisher/ editor of the Post-Gazette sometime in the late '80s, when we were both part of a fledgling new OSIA lodge, The Greater Boston Renais- sance Lodge. After a lodge meeting one night, Dean Saluti introduced me to Pam, and told her about my writing capabilities. From that point on, Pam and I discussed the possibility of my developing a column for her newspa- per. I thought about the possibility for a while, but didn't know what to consider for a for- mat. With the musicians' union magazine, at least I knew my reading audience, and being a musician myself, knew what direc- tion to head with monthly commentaries. I at first thought, "Why would the readers of the Post-Gazette care about the lives of local musicians?" Frustrated, I had a conversa- tion with my father. He mentioned that the Post-Gazette was the voice for the Italian and Italian American communities in Mas- sachusetts. He added, "Your grandfather (Babbononno) used to read to you from the paper when you were a kid and it was in Italian ... don't you remember; it was called La Gazetta?" He then added, "If you put together a column, consider your roots and write about growing up Italian American. Forget about the music end of things, the reading audience for this paper is composed of thousands of people who are part of an Italian American culture." I thought about what Dad had said and then starting searching my memory banks for stories I heard or things I experienced grow- ing up in an extended Italian family. When I spoke to Dad again, he told me that the stories about his and my mother's genera- tion growing up as the first born in America combined with the stories of my grandpar- ents and their struggles as immigrants, along with my formative years thrown in, might just be of interest to a reading audience, be- cause readers of the Post-Gazette just may identify with the generations of my family. At that point, it all began to come together. I decided on using the titles we kids used to refer to my grandparents, "Nanna and Babbononno," as the name of the column. From there, I decided to write about the tri- als and tribulations of their generation com- ing to America, somewhere between 1880 and 1930, their children (my folk's genera- tion) and their chilflren's children (my gen- eration). From that starting point, it all came together and this column was born. Neither Nanna nor Babbononno was around to read the column after it was in- cluded on a weekly basis in the paper. My Dad passed away unexpectedly later that fh'st year of my column, 1991, but Mom would survive until November of 2007, and devour every word I wrote. She had to, she was my mother, and that's what mothers do. Over the years, I've received tons of encouragement from readers and have con- tinued to pen what I feel they can identify with. I've also received a bit criticism, but that's to be expected, too. My first column told the story of Babbononno coming to America, a set of circumstances that was different than most immigrants ex- perienced. I then added in how Nanna came here and how she and Babbononno met, married and raised a family in their adopted land. When I discovered that the column had caught on, I just continued to write stories about Mike and Jenny Contini (Nanna and Babbononno) their brothers and sisters, chil- dren and grandchildren and life in America with an Italian slant. As I said, that began 20 years ago. Back then, I wrote stories long hand and delivered the pages to the newspa- per. As time passed, I used a computer and dropped off the software containing the sto- ries. Now, I email my columns from home. Things have changed, and it's now" that easy. I've met many of you over the years and have received much encouragement. God willing, I plan to continue writing Nanna and Babbononno as long as you will let me. In closing, I assure you that what I do is a labor of love for the family I came from and the heritage they have graced me with, so ... I HUMBLY THANK YOU FOR 20 YEARS OF SUPPORT AND MAY GOD BLES. AMER!C,A. The Socially Set (Continued from Page 7) their very worthy cause -- to preserve Roosevelt's Val-Kill cottage in Hyde Park, New York and enhance its visi - tors' experience. Val-Kill is the only National Historic site dedicated to an Ameri- can First Lady," said Chobee Hoy, President of Chobee Hoy Associates Real Estate, Inc. For more info contact Tommie Watson at 617-365- 6788, or visit www.honoring eleanorroosevelt.org. ....... The Red Sox "Pitch In For Kids Poker Benefit" takes place on Wednesday, June I st at Ned Devine's in the Upper Rotunda of Faneuil Hall Marketplace near the Government Cen- ter, from 6 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. We are told that card sharks will have a chance to play Texas Hold'em poker with a score of Boston Red Sox and sports team celeb- rities during the benefit for the Tim Wakefield-Jason Varitek-Jerod Mayo-Capital Grille-supported Pitching in for Kids Foundation(PIFK). The evening includes a cocktail reception; silent and live auctions; entertain- ment and "a wall-to-wall buf- fet from award-winning res- taurants." PIFK, co-founded by Carol Troxell and Sara Youngelson, enhances the lives of children across New England and supports orga- nizations such as the Ron Burton, Sr. Training Village. The poker tourney kicks off the "PIFK Celebrity Golf Classic" set for the Granite Links Golf Course in Quincy the next day on Thursday, June 2. For complete details, call 617-367-3322 or visit w w w. pitc hingin f orkids, org. ....... The famed Concord spokesman for individual- ism and self-reliance, Ralph Waldo Emerson, once wrote: "When I go into a good gar- den, I think, if it were mine, I should never go out of it." This year the Concord Museum is celebrating 22 years of "going into good gar- dens." The "22 "a Annual Con- cord Garden Tour" takes place on two days, Friday and Saturday, June 3 and 4, rain or shine. The Museum's Guild of Volunteers has organized this pre-eminent tour, an unequalled opportunity both to share in the delights of beautiful and historic pri- vate gardens in Concord and to support the Museum's Education Programs, which annually serve 7,000 stu- dents from all over Massa- chusetts and the nation. The Museum's Garden Tour has become a New England tradition for garden lovers from near and far. Each of the seven private gardens reflects the indi- vidual interests and pas- sions of the owners and their families and will inspire both new gardeners design- ing their first perennial bed and accomplished landscap- ers with acres of garden rooms. This year, the tour in- cludes a Cotswold Cottage- style garden, a serene, river- view garden, the garden of one of Concord's late 18 t"- century houses, a hillside garden with a terraced se- ries of garden beds, a profes- sional chef's vegetable and herb garden, and much more. The tour of Concord-area gardens is self-guided and self-paced, beginning each day at 9 a.m. and continu- ing until 4 p.m. No photog- raphy is allowed. Garden-goers should ar- rive at the Museum to pick up their maps prior to start- ing out. Tickets are good for either or both days, but each garden may only be visited once. For more information, call 978-369-9763 or visit www. concordmuseum, org. Enjoy t. (Be sure to visit Hilda Morrill's gardening Web site, www.bostongardens.com. In addition to events covered and reported by the columnist, Socially Set" is compiled from various other sources such as news and press re- leases, PRNewswire services, etc.) ST. JUDE AND ST. ANTHONY NOVENA May the Sacred Heart of Jesus be adored, glorified, loved and preserved throughout the world now and for- ever. Sacred Heart of Jesus pray for us. St. Jude, worker of miracles, pray for us. St. Jude, help of the hopeless, pray for us. St. Anthony, most loving protector and wonder worker, pray for us. Say this prayer 9 times a day and by the 8th day your prayer will be answered. It has never been known to fail. Publication must be promised. My prayers have been answ,r,'l Favor received. LM.D. -- FOR YOU WHO APPRECIATE THE FINEST -- THE MUSIC FOR ALL OCCASIONS 781-648-5678 K 3  Fully Insured Lic #017936 Mechanical Heating & Air Conditioning Sales, Service & Installation Ken Shallow 617.593.6211 kenskjs @ aoi.com