Thursday, January 6, 2011

It Was Her New York: The Angel of 14th Street

This is the Angel of 14th Street.

Her family came from Sicily to the East Village a long time ago. This was before it was the East Village.

Then it was just 14th Street or 12th Street or Avenue A. Then it was just the new home. But when they got finished with it, it was a neighborhood.

This is in the back of the building on 12th Street. This is her great great-grandmother holding her grand-uncle.

The great-grandfather owned the butcher shop on 11th and A. The great-grandmother worked in a dress factory on the lower east side. His money went to support the family. Her money went to savings. Soon they had enough to buy the butcher shop. And then after that, they bought 173 Avenue A (now a hip restaurant), moved the butcher shop there, expanded it into a little grocery store and opened a pizzeria next door. Everyone in the family worked in those and lived upstairs on the first floor.

Her uncle behind the counter at the butcher-grocery shop.

When he was five, the Angel's dad was put in the window of the pizzeria to toss the dough. Everybody knew everybody.

Her grandfather and her dad in front of the Automat when it was still on 14th Street.

Another great-grandfather, the cobbler on 13th Street also owned his own building. He went to all the other building owners and said "We need a church for our Sicilian order."

You know that church on Avenue A and 12th Street? Mary Help of Christians. That was the doings of the great-grandfathers of the Angel of 14th Street. Every uncle, aunt, parents, kids got baptized, married, everything there. Here her grandmother and grandfather are getting married.

But things change and the A&P came in and small grocery stores stores went out. The rents at 173 Avenue A didn't cover the expenses and soon the family sold, moved, disbursed. The Angel's family moved up and out. To Stuyvesant Town. She lives there still.

I asked, one New Yorker to another, what's one thing in this apartment you have lived in almost as long as I have lived in mine, that to you is New York?

"The step stool," and she pulled it out to show the life it had lived along side of her.

And then I asked, one New Yorker to another, where she'd go if she could go anywhere. "Get me off 14th Street! Life has got to be bigger than 14th Street."

And then we laughed because we knew we lived where the rest of the world wished it did.


City Of Strangers said...

A step stool! Yes! Every freakin' place I've lived in here has had a step stool . . .

Well, isn't it amazing to know you're at the center of the world when it has always seemed too small. That always used to amaze me, when I first started going to the great centers of the (Western) world - London, Paris, New York - how they were comprised of neighborhoods, and inhabitants who'd often never left.


bucko said...

What a great interview! I'm envious of the web of connections in an area, having been in a branch of the family that went elsewhere and then branched myself. The stepstool--also envious of that. History in an object.

Laura Goggin Photography said...

Great post! I, too, am envious of the family/neighborhood roots - to be able to look at an object or place and know that your great-grandfather or great-grandmother knew it, too.

Angelina Rao said...

Yes... it is a gift that I can walk down my street and think about my parents, grandparents and great great grandparents..walking the same path.. I wonder sometimes, what they might have been thinking..or doing..Other times I touch tiles on the front entrance of "173" reminiscing and drawing from the energy feel... I can feel my tribe and I think they can feel me too.

Melanie said...

This is a lovely piece. My Dad lived for a time on 2nd Avenue & 10th Street in the early 1900' Grandfather worked on 14th Street for a time too!!It is a small world. I miss the "Old Timers"..they were a treasure who valued things beyond compare.