I was poor when I was young.

In money only. Not in love. How could anyone be lacking in love who was part of a gigantic Italian family!

The interesting thing about being impoverished when I was young is that I did not know I was poor. At an early age, a person does not know what has not been experienced. Since I had nothing, I missed nothing!

I really did not realize there was a bigger and better world out there till I was older. I sensed some lived better in high school. But the impact really came in college. Were my eyes opened! But that story is for another day.

Today I want to reflect on some childhood poverty experiences, for want of a better description. None really bad. All good.

Winters were brutal here in the north country! They still are. Children going to school had to be warmly dressed. There were no school buses when I went to school. You trudged through snow, sleet and rain to get to school. Many was the day we arrived at school soaking wet and sat thru the day in such condition. It is surprising we survived! Apparently germs were not as prevelant then as they are now!

Anyhow I was in the first grade. During winters in those days parents dressed their children in heavy warm jackets with hoods. And leggins! Leggins are the culptit here!

Leggins were like overalls. I am not sure that last word is spelled correctly. However…..leggins were heavily padded to cover legs and body. And ward off the cold! Which they did. They were so heavy they had to be removed when inside a building or you would literally sweat away!

All this should be placed in proper time perspective. It is still the Depression and pre World War II.

My parents bought me a winter outfit. Jacket and leggins. And so attired I was sent off to school.

When I arrived, I could not remove the leggins. I had no pants on underneath. My parents could only afford leggins. Not leggins and pants!

The school nurse sent me home. I stayed home for 2 weeks until my parents acquired enough money to buy me a pair of pants to wear under the leggins. And then I returned to school!

Sheets! Pillowcases! Those wonderful things we sleep on!

There was a bakery 2 blocks away. Rintrona’s. My grandmother would take me with her when she went to the bakery. Not to buy. We never bought. There was never enough money to make a purchase.

The Rintronas who owned the bakery would save certain items for my grandmother.

One was the bags that the flour came in. These sacks carried 50 or 100 pounds of flour. I assume they were made of cotton. They were normally thrown out by the baker after being emptied. However in this instance they were saved for my grandmother. She would take them home, break them apart, wash them and then sew them into sheets and pillowcases! She provided all six families in that 3 story building with sheets and pillowcases so made!

I can still recall their feeling. So soft. I used to enjoy running my fingers over the material. It felt so good!

That wasn’t all we received from the Rintronas!

Rintrona obviously made Italian bread. The loafs were machine cut into slices and then wrapped. The ends of the loaf were not wrapped with the rest of the bread for sale. They were discarded. Yes, thrown away!

However the bakery saved the ends for my grandmother. We used to go periodically and pick up huge brown paper bags full of ends.

And all 6 families benefitted! The ends were our daily bread. My grandmother used to also let some of the ends sit for awhile and harden. Those were then used to make bread crumbs. A very important commodity in an Italian hosehold where meatballs were a staple. For the unaware, a proper meatball is made with bread crumbs.

And now comes chicken feet!

Back then was not like now! There were no gigantic super markets where one could buy a whole cooked chicken. Instead there were chicken stores!

I must be perverse in some fashion. I enjoyed going to the chicken store.

I would generally go with my mother. Again what an experience!

Chickens everywhere! In crates! Cackling loud and clear! Sawdust on the floor! The workers in long while coats like doctors!

The game/purchase played out as follows. A chicken was ordered. One selected, after approval by the purchaser of course. The head was cut off. Chopped off is a better description. The chicken was then dunked in hot water to soften the feathers. Then the whole chicken was drawn through some sort of a sleeve on the wall which removed most of the feathers. The feet were cut off. The chicken cut open and the heart and gizzards removed. Then the cleaned chicken was provided to the purchaser.

The legs, heart and gizzards were discarded. That is unless someone wanted them. And that is why my mother was there. She would get a bagful of feet, hearts and gizzards free to take home.

The chicken feet were used to make soup. You have not lived till you have tasted boiled chicken feet! I cannot describe the oh so good taste of sucking the skin and very minimal flesh off the toes and other bones! And there is nothing like boiled chicken hearts! The gizzards I never liked. Too hard and no taste.

I have not seen cooked chicken feet in any fashion in well over 60 years.

Those were the days! And they were OK! In fact, they were grand!

3 comments on “

  1. I really enjoyed meeting you a couple of weeks ago and wish it had been under different circumstances. Thanks for all your blogs highlighting the way things use to be growing up in a large Italian Family in Utica. It really has helped re-enforce my decision to move here and my husband’s to return after 25 years. Thanks for sharing all the stories

  2. I really enjoyed reading this blog because you are most likely writing about my Grandma Rintrona. I was only 4 or 5 when she died but my mother told me so many wonderful stories about her kindness. Thanks for the post and the memories!

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