Just ran across some very cool, very old family photos and thought I'd share them.
These are my great-grandparents,Calogero and Antonina Cascioppo, with the 4 oldest of their 9 children. Left to right, Uncle Gasper, Aunt Jenny, my Aunt Gracie, and my Uncle Johnny. Just the four oldest, out of nine kids. The oldest, Johnny was born in Brooklyn, NY. The rest were born in LA, lived in the Boyle Heights section of LA.
Those not pictured are my Grandma Rose, Aunt Minne (Mildred), Aunt Lilly, Uncle Pepe, and Uncle Sam – the baby, who lived in Seattle most of his life and started the Cascioppo Bros. meats which is in Ballard, and you can find their sausages at that really cool Italian market in Pike Place, DeLaurenti Specialty Food and Wine.
Calogero & Antonina died when the children were very young, and they ended up getting separated, going to different foster homes and orphanages. Grandma used to tell me that the people she lived with were very nice, but all she did was cry. She passed the time by learning to sew and crochet. She made clothes for her dolls, and later, made some of the most beutiful sweaters and hats for me. She adored me because I was the only girl...her "little doll", is what she called me.
When Johnny turned 18, he went and gathered all the kids up and raised them. That was all my grandma ever said about it, and I never asked for details. I was young and didn't realize just how unrealistic it was for an 18 year old to raise 8 siblings on his own.
It wasn't until reading The Los Angeles Sugar Ring – a book my cousin Justin wrote – that it all started to make sense (they were bootlegging and building an organized crime family).
I never met my Uncle Johnny, Uncle Gasper or my Aunt Jenny – they all died shortly before I was born. My mother used to tell me that Uncle Johnny was a gregarious and loving man. I know my Grandma missed all her siblings, especially her sister, because she talked about her to me often.
Aunt Gracie – the baby in the picture – held a special place in my heart. I used to go over to her house and spent weekends with her, and she would spoil me rotten. She was like an old, 50's movie star – she had that kind of style and eccentricity about her. I thought she was so fascinating. She lived in a pink sprawling ranch house in the hills of Encino, she drove a pink convertible Cadillac with fins on it, and she'd wear sunglasses and a chiffon scarf as she drove me around town. She taught me how to read people's fortunes, she showed me how to apply eye liner, and she would let me play with her jewelry. Looking back, I owe a great deal of my free-spirited nature, sense of style, obsession with pink, and artistic talents to the influence this amazing woman had on me.
For a while, I would visit her and my Uncle Jack, until he died, then it was just her. Prior to marying my Aunt Gracie, Jack Di Giacomo was my Aunt Jenny's husband, until her death. It was apparently a bit scandalous at the time, but that's one of the things I loved about her...she did what she wanted, and she didn't care what people thought of her.
After Uncle Jack's death, she believed he had reincarnated into a squirrel that would pay her daily visits in her back yard. She named him "Chipper". I always thought that was cool that she would just come up with something crazy like that and didn't give a fuck what anyone thought. She lived down the street from my grandma and grandpa, so I got to see her quite often. I know my Grandma loved her but she would giggle about her eccentricities, and I remember my brothers would ask me, "You like visitng her? Isn't she kind of a kook?" and I didn't give a crap, because she was so much fun to be around.
Here's to Aunt Gracie, and here's to living your best life, being true to yourself and not giving a crap what other people think of you! Here's to the free spirits - they make life interesting.
Embrace your inner-Aunt Gracie today ♥