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

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Remembering: Michael Anthony Ambruso (1889-1976), Part 2 – USA

the "Mayor of Wallington"
When my grandfather Michael got to Garfield, NJ in 1913, he started working as a laborer in the woolen mills like so many other immigrants. The loud noises and harsh smells of an industrial textile plant must have been a shocking change from riding a horse in the fresh air of the Italian countryside, the life he was used to.  He enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1918, near the end of World War 1, and was honorably discharged six months later.  His military career was short, but enough to gain him U.S. Citizenship. 
In 1920 he married Jennie Lammard, my grandmother.  Jennie was Italian-American with the emphasis on the “American”.  She was born in Brooklyn, not Italy.  She refused to let Italian be spoken in the house.  As a result, Michael spoke very little Italian except for some slang and funny expressions.  He taught me a few phrases and how to count in Italian.  I now wish I would have learned more Italian from him.  My grandfather was an emotional man.  Jennie died in 1956, but I remember seeing him shed tears for his Jennie every year, on the date of their anniversary and the date of her death.
Life was not always easy for Michael.  He and Jennie had a nice house in Garfield, but they were forced to sell it during the Great Depression.  They moved to a rental apartment in Wallington.  After his wife died, my mother cooked dinner for my grandfather every night, so he spent a lot of time at our house.   I’m happy to say that I got to know him pretty well.
From the 1940’s until he retired, Michael worked at Midwest Pipe Company.  He mentioned that he worked at the “bending table”, but it did not mean anything to me at the time.  By total coincidence, I got a summer job at the same plant just after I graduated from high school, after my grandfather had already retired.  I mostly did helper jobs like painting, cleaning or loading trucks, but there was a two week stretch when an employee was on vacation that they asked me to work on the bending table.  The bending table was used to bend large diameter pipes to a certain angle.  The pipe was filled with sand and heated in a furnace until it was red hot.  The pipe was bent using blocks and tackle and heavy ropes, but there was a lot of crashing sledge hammers and clanging metal next to a red hot metal pipe.  This was before OSHA.  One slip and a person could be badly burned.  It was hot, dangerous, dirty, backbreaking labor.  It was the hardest two weeks of work I ever experienced in my life.  I was glad when it was over.  I am amazed when I think that my grandfather Michael worked at that same horrible bending table every day for over 15 years!  He was small in stature but very strong.  I remember him swinging a sledge hammer to help break up the old sidewalk in front of our house.   He was about 70 years old at the time.

Of course, he took off his suit jacket before he swung that sledge hammer.  He was always dressed as a gentleman, in a suit, a nice tie and a hat.   People called him the "Mayor of Wallington”.  He would smile and say hello to everyone.  Almost every day, he would walk over the Market Street Bridge into Passaic.  He would stop and talk to all the Jewish merchants in the shops along the way.  Often he would come to dinner at our house with a new hat or watch and brag about the bargain he got. 

He would start his day with a large healthy breakfast.  It would always include an egg, some cereal and “prumma juice”.  It would also include a shot of sweet vermouth.  Probably because of the good breakfast  and the daily 2 to 3 mile walk, Michael remained very healthy until he died suddenly of a heart attack in 1976, at the age of 86. 
My grandfather was physically strong, hardworking and honest.  He was dedicated to his wife and family.  He knew when to laugh and when to cry.  He was always willing to help a person in need.  I have inherited many of his attributes.  I am proud to be Michael Ambruso’s grandson.

1 comment:

  1. And I am proud to be his great granddaughter! Thanks for these, Dad. It means so much to have it in writing.