Witnessing The End Of A Family Tradition Nicholas Petron's grandfather came to the United States from Italy as a young man, to try to make it in New York City. He built a family, and a tradition of Sunday meals, around the apartment building he worked in. And then everything changed.
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Witnessing The End Of A Family Tradition

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Witnessing The End Of A Family Tradition

Witnessing The End Of A Family Tradition

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It is a Friday morning, which means it's time once again for StoryCorps. This project has been recording people who share stories about their families. And today, we'll hear from Nicholas Petron. His grandfather came from the United States from Italy as a young man to try to make it in New York City.

Mr. NICHOLAS PETRON: My maternal grandfather, Rocco Galasso, was a superintendent in an apartment building for probably 18 years of his life. And at some point, he bought the building. And so we grew up there. He would say to me, Nicholo(ph), we're going for a walk, and I would always wanted to go with grandpa.

And he would get a pastrami sandwich the size of my head, and he would buy me a hot dog and he would say, don't you tell anybody. We just go for a good walk, right? You want another hot dog? And in this building, every apartment was filled with an aunt or an uncle. And every Sunday, Rocco cooked.

So, all of his family would show up for dinner, all 30, 40 of us. And one Sunday at dinner, Rocco made it clear to us that we were all going to have to move, that the city has condemned all of these buildings to build these brand new apartments. And so we had, I think, eight months to a year to relocate.

And then one day, my mom and dad and my brother Michael and I went to Rocco's apartment for the Sunday meal. Now, we no longer lived on the first floor. Everybody else was gone. It was abandoned, except for that one apartment.

We had our meal, and at some point Rocco said to me and my brother, let's go down the stairs and put some coal in the burner. And we head down to the coal pile, and instead of grabbing the shovel, he said, pick up as much coal as you can and put it in your pocket.

So, we stuffed our overcoat with coal and our jean pockets with coal, and we went to the backyard. And there's one light on and all the other apartments are dark. And he takes a piece of coal out of his pocket, and he throws it through one of the windows and tears are streaming down his face. And he says, come on, you break the windows with me.

So my brother and I just started throwing this - we thought it was fun at the time. And we're smashing windows. And my mom and Aunt Lucy stick their heads out and go, what are you doing, pop? Stop it, stop it. But we didn't stop until all the windows were broken, except for his apartment.

At first, my reaction was they took his building away. That's what I thought it was about. But I realized much later it was about the destruction of the family, which I think he knew.

A month later, he had to leave. And never again were we ever together on a Sunday in that way.

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INSKEEP: Nicholas Petron with StoryCorps in New York City. His interview will be archived at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, along with all StoryCorps recordings. You can sign up for the podcast at npr.org.

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INSKEEP: It's NPR News.

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