Michele Antonio Ambruso was the oldest son of Rocco Vincenzo Ambruso. He was born in Salandra on 4 June 1889. He was my grandfather. His father owned horses, so Michele learned to ride at an early age. It has been said that Rocco was the postmaster in Salandra and that Michele helped him deliver the mail on horseback to the outlying rural areas.
Michele’s sisters often told me stories of his mischievous adventures as a young man. One story described an incident where the parish priest was sitting in the pew of an empty church talking with an attractive woman of the village. They were apparently sitting very close together. When the people started coming in to church for the service, they quickly moved apart, but, to their embarrassment, the woman’s dress and the priest’s cassock were connected by a safety pin which Michele had attached by crawling under the pew. There is also the legend that Michele had bought seven inexpensive rings and was engaged to seven girls at once. Family legends: probably not exactly factual…but not totally fabricated either. Details get changed as they are passed from one generation to the next, but there is always some grain of truth in any of these legends.
Because he was an experienced horseman, he served his two years of military service (1910 to 1912) with the Italian Cavalry and was discharged with the rank of Corporal Major.
In 1909, his older sister Maria followed her husband, Pasquale Bonelli, to Garfield, New Jersey in the United States. Michele and two of his sisters decided to follow Maria to Garfield. The three siblings arrived at Ellis Island two days before Christmas, 1913. They didn't speak a word of English. Their instructions were to go by train to Passaic. I can visualize them holding a piece of paper with the word “Passaic” written on it, and carefully comparing it to the name of each station stop. That is probably why they mistakenly, got off at Passaic Park, one stop before Passaic. They had to take a taxi cab to Garfield. This must have been quite an experience for them since there were probably no taxi cabs in southern Italy in 1913. They eventually got to Harrison Avenue in Garfield. The cab driver held up three fingers, indicating a three dollar fare. My grandfather said: “Si, one…two…three” pointing to himself and his two sisters.