Tag Archives: nostalgia

Aunt Claire was born November 13, 1923

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Imagine the world she came into… barely any plastic, no televisions or computers.   My Aunt was born in Elmira NY, to an Italian immigrant family, ninety years ago today!

My grandfather, Joseph, was eleven when he came to this country.  He  worked in the coal mines of Northeastern Pennsylvania as a young person.  My Grandmother, Rose Tress, changed from the Italian  Teresi, lived in Elmira, NY.

Aunt Claire was the second child and second daughter.  Madeline was one year older.  The picture of my aunts was in an old newspaper. I unearthed it from  clippings my aunt accumulated over the years.

I hope to write  about each photograph, but for now I will focus on two:  the one of Aunt Claire and Aunt Melia in Atlantic City and the one of Aunt Claire and I in matching Easter Coats.  My Great Aunt Carmella (Melia) Tress (see blog Not Just An Old Lady in an Apron) and Aunt Claire went to many outings like the one pictured. They were well-dressed women, always making sure the purse, shoes, and jewelry matched. I recall they both checked their lipstick  before they left the house and that they dabbed a little Avon Cotillion behind their ear lobes.

Aunt Claire and I were photographed in matching coats in the 1960s. I was thrilled to be her twin in that coat. As a child, she took me downtown every Saturday to shop. She bought me many outfits and I looked quite chic in many childhood pictures. Our Saturdays, sometimes with Aunt Melia and Aunt Madeline, usually ended with a piece of pie or a  turkey club at the Newberry’s counter or the Iszards Tea Room.

While shopping, we often saw people Aunt Claire knew. They stopped and chatted, there was no buzz from the cellphone to interrupt, just a calm conversation that always ended with Aunt Claire saying: “If you are out and about, stop over to 801 and have a cup of coffee with us.”

I found it sweet when talking to the head nurse about Aunt Claire last week, she relayed a recent conversation:

“So what would you like for your 90th birthday Claire?” asked Kelly.

“A sausage sandwich with onions and peppers.”

We celebrated Aunt Claire’s 90 years last Saturday with a pretty cake.  When my siblings, their partners, my Mom, and my nephew walked into the lovely day room at the nursing facility, Aunt Claire’s eyes welled up with tears.  She told me today she never expected that but it was so nice to see everyone.  Aunt Claire also said she really enjoyed the sausage sandwich, it had been a while since she had one.


Matching Easter Coats photograph 1965
Matching Easter Coats
Aunt Claire and Aunt Melia 1948
Aunt Claire and Aunt Melia 1948

Aunt Carmella Tress…not just an old lady in an apron

Aunt Carmella Tress, not just an old lady in an apron

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The toast is warm and my Aunt Melia invites me to sit down in the little breakfast nook she set up for us. It overlooks my  grandmother’s garden: roses, poppies, and plants along the viaduct.  We wait for the water that will fill the orange ceramic kettle.   Aunt Melia fusses over girly things like the fragrant orchid corsages she buys for Easter Sunday.  One day I went with my grandmother and Aunt Melia to the podiatrist.  Before the cab arrived, she nestled her hat into her hair with bobby pins and splashed sweet perfume on her wrists as she yelled down the apartment steps to my grandmother, “Coming Rose.”
A frail woman, sick from heart disease in her last years, placing the parsley strategically on the serving plate, she began to fade as my childhood waned. In 1971, when I was ten, Aunt Melia collapsed on her living room floor. Grandma surmised she came to a quick end as she reached to turn off the Late Night Show with Johnny Carson.

40 years later, I look at my Aunt Claire’s old newspaper clippings and photographs, and I see evidence of the artistic life Melia lived.

Aunt Melia or Carmella Tress (Teresi) was my paternal grandmother’s younger sister and our lives crossed paths for ten years. My aunt was born in 1895. Aunt Claire, her niece, filled me in on most of Carmella’s life and the ephemera makes it real. According to Aunt Claire, my grandmother, Rose, insisted Carmella get voice training. They were cousins of the famous soprano, Nina Morgana, Enrico Caruso’s student. Nina Morgana sang roles at the Metropolitan Opera where Carmella was invited to sing; her father, Anthony Teresi would not let her go.

Aunt Claire told me that Carmella went to Elmira College. There is a note on a newspaper photograph in the accompanying slide show that states Carmella Teresi studied with Mrs. Ray Herrick. The librarian at Elmira College, Mark Woodhouse, answered an inquiry about Carmella and said they had no records of her enrollment.  However,  Clara Herrick taught at Elmira College then.

The newspaper clipping entitled Local Singer in Florida includes  a note that says my Aunt possessed a coloratura soprano voice. There are other clippings about this, citing that 10,000 people attended this Easter Sunrise service in Miami.

In addition to being a songstress, I know Aunt Melia worked at Artistic Greetings in Elmira NY. At Artistic Greetings she hand painted cards. She lived above my Grandfather Castellino’s store and visited her brother, Joseph Tress, in Florida. I do not know if she worked at Artistic when the 1940 US Census (available on the Internet) listed her as a worker.

One of my last memories of Aunt Melia was driving along NY Route 54 between Hammondsport and Penn Yan, my mother was at the wheel and it was a warm, rain drenched day. The greenery was popping out against the backdrop  of monochromatic grey.

“Katherine,” said Aunt Melia to my mom, “this is one of the most beautiful places in the country, and it is right here.”

I thought Aunt Melia never made it beyond New York and Florida, however, there are pictures and postcards that show   Carmella took many trips including one  to California. Many were with my adopted Aunt, Margaret Riebel. In addition  I do know that Aunt Melia and Aunt Margaret were members of the Catholic Daughters of America, often gathering things to send abroad to missions.

Back in 1970s, children went to calling hours and funerals, even though we were ten and younger. My first meeting with death and the Catholic rituals around it, the solemn waking hours, the prayer before the corpse, and the last car ride to the cemetery.  One night soon after,  my four siblings and I gathered in my grandmother’s kitchen, and I thought, in my ten-year old brain, “Aunt Melia really didn’t die, she is just in the other room, and that is why Grandma called us in here.” My denial met with a small sum of money, “a little remembrance” said Grandma.

Continue reading Aunt Carmella Tress…not just an old lady in an apron

my old cat Tazz

I picked Tazz up in 1993 at an animal shelter, he stood a day away from euthanasia.   I lived alone, several miles from my work and life community and I wanted a cat to keep me company.  Tazz has gone through everything with me. Always present with affection and purrs.  He is so old that before my aunt died in 1995, she made a figurine replica of him, which I still display.

At first, I was not sure our relationship could work.  I put him in time out more than once when he climbed up a fabric wall hanging and was unreachable.  I started reading cat books and the vet said to speak his language. When I needed him to behave , such as, stop clawing at the furniture, I began hissing and soon he began growing out of his kitten phase.

Tazz ruined three rugs, a couch, and annoyed the heck out of our dogs, two of which he outlived.  In the last three years, he spent much of his time sleeping with his wife, Honey Bunny.  I am sad to write I have taken for granted that Tazz would always be here. 

So, last week, when he started a rapid decline with only 1/4 of his kidneys functioning, I wanted to do whatever I could to keep him around longer.  He is on blood pressure medicine, potassium supplements, and periodic subcutaneous fluids.  It sounds ridiculous, how can I do this for an animal that has lived long when people suffer without health care.  I know I am not alone.  According to Jon Markman on moneycentral.msn , “Americans lavish $36 billion a year on pampered pets.” 

The only answer is that this little warm bundle of fur is always happy to see me and he is the only creature that was part of my everyday life in 1993 that is still part of my everyday life.  Perhaps it is nostalgia that is motivating me to fuss and just the need to say a proper goodbye.


treasure hunts

the barnIn 2007 I began a vacation during a cold April. I shop for antiques and  I told my colleagues that before the bats arrived to nest in the barn, “I was going on a treasure hunt in there.”  Maybe, hidden, lay some object worth my next 50 years of expenses. 

On a Saturday, crisp and sunny, I started digging through boxes.  I found  letters written on thin pieces of paper. They were handwritten to Hib?   Hib, I did not know that person but some letters were addressed to Barbara. Barbara was my friend and as her family called her, Hib. I knew her well and loved her. I was crushed the day she died in 2000 at the age of 81, a bag of fresh picked beans in her hand, she collapsed 5 feet from her husband’s buried ashes and the place where she went to talk with him. Often placing a stone on a plate above his ashes. When she passed, she left things behind. I found more of the letters, I brought them into the house.     

That night, I read the story of  Barbara’s family: they lived in Worcester, Massachusetts during World War II; her mother took sick during the war with something, and it was cancer. They suspected her mother knew. The letters were written to Barbara from her father and brother. Barbara was a teacher in the early 1940s and then went to France as a volunteer for the Red Cross.     

Her parents loved her, it flowed out of the father’s letters; her brother had a fierce determination to stay positive despite the war; and by the last letter, not only had the mother passed, but so had the father.  Reading them felt like travelling in time to the center of Barbara’s narrative.  Holding those letters, peering into the lives of people long gone, I drifted to  my time with Barbara.  

In a letter to a sister named Marnie and dated September 27, 1949, Dick Ballou wrote these lines about the “fun and tugging”pulling things apart at the family home, 81, they called it.   

“We cleaned down from top to bottom, readying stuff for the movers…And one could wish that we were doing it all to refurbish it for Charlies and Eva (their parents) to return to enjoy through a decade of the peace and quiet they so well knew how to cultivate and appreciate.”  

The last line so eloquent, gave me the roots of Barbara’s statement in the late 1990s.  On a warm, late August Sunday we sat outside and she gave us a run down of what  people were doing, running here and computing there.  Barbara concluded, “You know when I was growing up my father proclaimed it a good Sunday if we read the New York Times all afternoon and enjoyed one of my mother’s dinners.” 

 I gave the letters to her daughter. I wanted to keep their magic, for the times when I needed to think positive and keep things in perspective. I saw a friend and co-worker, John, one day while I  copied them. He asked me about the letters. A few days later, the letters about to be delivered, John arrived with a shoe box full of treasures for me. Vintage post cards and stamps from the 1900s…something to keep, he said, and enjoy.  I found my treasures   that spring, they just were not what I expected. 


Pristine...looking down the foot bridge from Cornell...circa 1900