view of Salandra, Matera, Basilicata, Italy by Antonio DiPersia

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Astoria Stories

Just after Uncle Nick married Aunt Mary, he bought one half of a brick duplex at 33-48 29th Street in Astoria, Queens, New York.  The house had four separate apartments, one large one and 3 smaller ones.  Nick’s sister’s Helen and Diana, and his mother, Pasquarosa, also moved in to the house with him.  Since "Nonna" Pasquarosa lived there, it was the natural gathering place for all the members of the Ambruso clan.  However, it also remained the focal point of family gatherings for years after her death.  Astoria is the source of many memories.  Everyone in the family has their own remembrances of the place.
My personal memories are from when I was a young boy, so they are a bit fuzzy.  I do remember the echoes in the cold hallway with a marble floor.  I remember skinny Aunt Helen crushing me with her hug, even though I outweighed her.   I remember the smell of spaghetti dinners served on saw horse tables in the basement; with the food sent down from the kitchen by a dumb waiter.   I remember the atmosphere being very, very Italian, quite different from my own home with a fully Americanized mother and a Dutch-English father. 

All of us have memories of Astoria.  Here’s one sent by Millie Saraco Osuna:
“When my cousins and I were little we used to spend our vacations at Uncle Nick´s place in Astoria. He owned the building, so we had use of the whole place. On sunny summer days we played to our heart´s content in the long driveway and small back yard.  Grandma Esther (Nonna) was sent out with all her mending and to keep an eye on us. Aunt Helen, that angel fallen from Heaven, was very careful to keep us well fed and well nourished. At midmorning (10 am) she would blow her little whistle and we all would run to the kitchen window where she would lower a basket with a rope containing six glasses of “juice of the day” and a snack.  Aunt Helen provided a different juice each day. We loved it. Then we could play for the rest of the morning.  At noon she would blow her whistle again and we all ran into the house, washed our hands and sat down to a succulent lunch.  In the afternoon a snack basket lowering, similar to the morning ritual, took place at exactly four o’ clock.  This time we had a glass of milk and another snack.   Some of Aunt Helen’s healthy food rituals were not as much fun.  After supper we all had to line up for a large tablespoon of cod liver oil.  Aunt Helen would hold our nose, pour the oil down our throat and Uncle Nick was standing right behind with a slice of orange.  Esther Iula was the worse one.  Uncle Nick had to chase her all over the house and bring her to the kitchen where Aunt Helen was patiently waiting with the spoon.”

I encourage you to use the comments section following this post to tell about your own experiences of Astoria.  Or just send me an e-mail and I’ll write it up on the blog.


  1. Thank you so much for the story. I loved it. Made me feel like I was there.

    -Dave Casteline (bin John Casteline, bin John Casteline, bin... uhhh help here Dad?

  2. Hi it’s your cousin Debbie Trail Giffone, Rose Trail Graziadei daughter. I was showing my mother Aunt Helen’s story and she told me that I was born in Uncle Nick’s house! She told me that my father, Mark Trail and her were visiting and her water broke. She gave birth to me in Aunt Diane’s room and Aunt Helen delivered me with Aunt Diane’s help❤️ She told me that they told her to go home and rest for a week. I just found this out after all these years! On my birth certificate it says Flushing Hospital, I never questioned it. Now I know why Aunt Helen would always rock me and sing 🎶 You Are My Sunshine My Only Sunshine.. You make me Happy When Skys Are Gray.. You’ll Never Know Dear How Much I Love You.. Please Don’t Take My Sunshine Away❤️❤️
    I also found out that Aunt Helen had the same medical problems that I have. I miss her and loved her very much🙏🏻❤️