Moving down Meacham hill to Gless Avenue
by Anthony Buccino
Grandma’s farm was just about the only house on the hill;
When my grandparents moved from Passaic Avenue half way down the hill to Gless Avenue, they literally moved the house down the hill. In the 1920s or so, when the electric company decided it wanted to run power lines across Belleville, my grandparents’ house was in the path. It, and they, had to go.
According to family legend, Grandpa Domenic and Grandma Lucy sold their lot to the electric company which had no use for the actual house (or perhaps, houses) sitting on the land. My grandfather enlisted their compares, many horses and logs and somehow literally moved the building(s) to the spot in the dead end street where our family lived until 1964.
To their advantage, many of Grandma’s relatives lived within a short walk. One could always count on a cousin, aunt, uncle or countryman to be passing nearby and always ready to lend a hand, especially when it was wine tasting time.
Compares owned the few houses and most of the open land from Harrison Street to Meacham. Another paisan once owned the land that houses Holy Family school, rectory and church.
In that neighborhood, every open dirt patch became a garden and in season you could see fig and pear trees rising, six-foot tall yellow sunflowers, large dark leaves hiding cucumbers, vegetables growing everywhere and lush grapevine arbors sucking in New Jersey sunshine and practically hear the dark grapes plumping.
There, on that hill, Grandpa Domenic and Grandma Lucy lived among kin as in a village as near as could be to life among their farm folk in Laviano, Italy. The only exception was the poverty they left behind. It helped that most of the Italians in the neighborhood spoke the same dialect along and wondered at what little English their children brought home from school.
In our family history, the name of Grandpa’s first wife has been lost. She bore him at least one daughter, Assunta, then died in Italy. Grandpa married Lucy and she bore him more children before and after they came to America in 1914 or so. Susie married in 1916 at Holy Family Church, her first child was older than some of her half-siblings.
Susie settled her family in a three-room cold-water flat on the fourth floor, front, on Fifth Street in Newark, remembers her daughter Marie. A year younger than the author’s father, Cousin Marie remembers that her mother often sent her children to grandma’s house to spend time in the country wilderness that was Gless Avenue in Belleville.
Grandma’s farm was just about the only house on the hill and their green farmland stretching as far as the eye could see. Susie’s seven children thought their grandparents rich because they always “had good food to eat and there was food available all the time and they lived in a big house with a big, big yard and we could run as much as we liked and not worry about getting run over and no one seemed angry.”
Cousin Marie remembers, “when we left, we carried bags of vegetables from the garden and fruit from the trees” from Grandpa’s farm. “It was so bountiful and grandma was so loving and treated us real good.”
In her childhood Cousin Marie remembers there was only one other house on Gless Avenue. Grandma owned all the property and the farm took up the whole block. She says Grandma was loving but not a good housekeeper, preferring the outdoors, her garden and her animals.
For Sunday dinner, Grandma cut the head off a chicken and hung it to drain in the sink, then she’d cook it and serve it with fresh garden tomato gravy.
Cousin Marie drew water from one of two deep, round, stone-rimmed wells using wooden buckets held in place by a thick clothes line. A dipper was always handy for a cool drink.
Grandpa Domenic built a shed and he worked in the back yard where they grew vegetables galore and raised chickens, pigs and had a cow, too. Grandpa enjoyed those visits from Susie and her family. The children grew to love his bald head, his light but ruddy complexion and bright blue eyes. In turn, Grandpa Domenic visited them in Newark with his horse and wagon. He took them for rides around the block and gave each child a nickel before he left.
On February 4, 1929, Grandpa Domenic died of pneumonia at age 59. He left his wife and children, Connie, Dottie, Joe, Angelo and Val.
Through the Depression and long after, Grandma had rents coming in from the second floor and the house next door, but she lost her property in Nutley to back taxes.
In the beautiful village her “farm” overflowed with fresh grown food, while chickens and goats wandered about while she tended her beloved grape vines. On railings of the open-air back porch the sun dried her tomatoes, peppers, and gourds.
As soon as they were old enough, the boys went off into the Works Progress Administration, or WPA, and worked on projects in the Civilian Conservation Corps, CCC. Later, the younger boys were drafted and the oldest was rejected from service because he had been born in Italy. Meanwhile, Grandma made due on her small patch of earth on a hillside in Belleville and waited for word from her boys overseas.
From Greetings from Belleville, New Jersey, Collected writings by Anthony Buccino
Moving down Meacham hill first published Belleville-Nutley Patch on May 4, 2011
© 2011 by Anthony Buccino
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New Jersey author Anthony Buccino's stories of the 1960s, transit coverage and other writings earned four Society of Professional Journalists Excellence in Journalism awards.
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