Chapter V - Philadelphia
Once again I was on another train. This time our destination was Philadelphia. We arrived in Philadelphia when it was dark.
I was not impressed with what I saw. We were in the poor section where there were narrow cobblestone streets, dark alleys and small houses. That night we slept in a second rate lodging.
Next morning everything looked hopeful. Guiseppe began looking for a place to live. He found a place in an alley. There were four families living there and each family had three rooms. The other three families were Jewish immigrants.
The day after we arrived was Thanksgiving Day. My brother told me it was chicken day because of all the chickens and turkeys that were getting killed. I did not believe it was the day to celebrate the killing of the chickens but I accepted my brother's words because he knew more about holidays in America than I did.
The day after Thanksgiving he took my sister and me shopping for clothes. It was the end of November and we needed everything - coats, dresses, hats and shoes. After that was accomplished the next step was to find a job for Emilia and myself. Guiseppe bought an Italian newspaper and searched the help wanted column. He took my sister and myself to a cigar factory where we secured a job. My work was very tedious. It did not include making cigars or cigarettes but consisted of stripping the hard part of the tobacco leaves. The wages were meager, $3.50 a week for 55 hours of work. Those were hard times. Most of the immigrants who had come to seek a new beginning in America found themselves under sweatshop conditions.
With this little amount of money my sister and I had to pay back our brother for the expense of the clothes and the voyage. The amount to pay back for each of us was $52.00. This seemed like an enormous sum for girls earning as little as we did.
Our living conditions were far from ideal but we were able to live. Our home consisted of three rooms. On the first floor was a kitchen that served as dining and living room. On the second floor was the bedroom my brother and his wife shared with their two children and on the third floor was Emilia's and my bedroom. The house was heated by a kitchen coal stove and no heat ever reached the third floor.
State Street in Philadelphia was a very commercialized street and very bizarre. Many merchants had a barker at the entrance of their stores and they would entice prospective customers to come in. Sometimes they would grab people by the arm to bring them inside. Twice a day I would pass this street going and coming from work. On the curb there were pushcarts with fruits and vegetables. I had never seen a banana or a grapefruit. I loved the bananas but the grapefruit left a bitter taste in my mouth. It was too sour for me.
There was no refrigeration then so provisions had to be bought every day. State Street was very convenient.
Routine was set for us in this land of opportunity. It meant working ten hours a day, coming home, reading an Italian newspaper, IL Progresso, and going to an occasional movie which cost five cents. That was our chief entertainment. There was another place that had a vaudeville show plus a film but that cost ten cents. The film was usually a cowboy picture. I loved going out on those nights.
One Sunday morning while my brother and sister were attending church I stayed home to prepare dinner. Two fellows came to the door. I asked them what they were looking for. One of them said, "Does Guiseppe Saporito live here?"
I answered, "Who are you?"
They said they were cousins of his wife and had come to visit. I invited them in but they declined. I told them he was at church with my sister. They decided to go and meet Guiseppe and Emilia at church. I thought that they would never find the church since they were new in the area but they left.
They came back after I had just gotten back from purchasing more food. I knew my brother would want them to eat with us and, lo and behold, my brother was with them! I was amazed. To have found my brother these fellows must be pretty smart!
After dinner Guiseppe wanted to show them Fairmount Park, a beautiful park in Philadelphia. I was invited to go along but I declined because I felt my duty was to be with my sister when her boyfriend called. I was taking over my sister-in-law's responsibility because she was working in New Jersey. She was working on a farm picking strawberries.
My sister and I joined her in July picking other fruits and vegetables. We picked blackberries in August. We were migrant workers and living conditions were deplorable, but I enjoyed that work that summer. Being young everything savored of adventure. I liked to shuffle my bare feet in the warm sandy soil. I liked the fresh air and chasing fireflies when it got dark. I liked to bathe in a ditch of water in the hot afternoons with other women workers. The experience of picking blackberries reminded me of Italy and how I used to pick blackberries so I could eat them fresh from the bushes.
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