This video clip is from an 8mm movie, shot by Roxy Ambruso ca. 1954 at Nick and Mary Ambruso's home in Queens, NY. It was typical for the Ambruso brothers and sisters and their families to gather weekly for Sunday dinners in the early afternoon. The various branches of the family would travel by car or bus from different parts of NY and NJ to Queens each week which forged family bonds out through the extended relations. A makeshift banquet table on horses accommodated everyone in the basement where huge pots of pasta and sauce were lowered from the upstairs apartment on a dumbwaiter.
On this particular Sunday Nick, Mary, son Rocco, daughter Esther and sister Helen Ambruso were joined by Tina (Ambruso), husband Vincent Angiulli and young son Johnny; Justine (Ambruso), husband Tony Graziadei with daughters Isabella and Rose and Rose's husband Mark Trail; as well as Michael Ambruso, daughter Millie, son Roxy (mostly filming) and wife Eleanor.
This film was one of our favorites when I was growing up. We found it hilariously funny to see the family emerge from basement bulkhead and paraded for the camera. It enabled me to get a sense of relatives, many of whom I never actually got to meet. I could tell this was a family that knew how to have fun and really enjoyed each other's company. I can recall my mom narrating the film, saying things like "that was your Aunt Helen. She never left the house, that was the only time I ever saw her outside". Now in hindsight she thinks that Helen may possibly have been suffering from something like Chronic Fatigue, Crohn's Disease or the like, but in those days a lot of those conditions were unknown and uncommon. Helen remained unmarried and lived with brother Nick her whole life — first in Garfield, NJ then Queens, as he eventually married and had a family.
The tradition of extended family dinners depicted here was likely a continuation of a custom carried over from Salandra. It continued throughout my childhood, not every week but in holiday family gatherings which alternated among my mom's siblings. I recall numerous additional gatherings especially those in my Aunt Esher (Ambruso) and Uncle John Casteline's basement in Wallington, NJ. This tradition lives on today in the form of holiday get-togethers, reenforcing those extended family bonds for generations to come.
Editor's Note: I dated this film ca. 1954 based on where it fell among other footage in Roxy and Eleanor's Home Movies as well as the apparent age of Johnny Angiulli and and others. Music: Percussion Storm by Manu Dibango.