In All Those Old Familiar Places – Mom

The day I left New Jersey, I went back to my mom’s old neighborhood to visit “all those old familiar places.” I took her with me, a small urn of ashes, to spread near her childhood home. When I told her I would make this trip as she lay in a hospital bed, she told me, “You do not need to worry about that.” I did not worry—not at all—it was my honor and privilege to do so. Much like those final days, sitting in her room, I could not have been anywhere else. These things called me to do it. Maybe not entirely for my mom, but for my healing and attempts to still be with her.

The first place I went was to the house, 183 North Park Street, East Orange. My cousin, Lisa (Lariccia) Hartigan, had just been there a few days before, but when we were there, we were not sure this was their house. You can read more about that adventure in the post, MOM’S OLD NEIGHBORHOOD. Now I knew this had been my mother’s home. I intended to put her ashes at the tree off to the left, but first, I had some investigative work to do. I wanted to feel as if I was with the people who once lived here and whom I love and miss so much. As a result, I was in no hurry, nor am I today as I document my experience.

To start my investigation, I went to the back of the house to try to get a clear view. Most of the family pictures were taken from this vantage point. The problem is with the fence, it was hard to get a good angle, but this was another moment in my life when I looked to the heavens and thanked God for Google, Google Earth this time. I was able to capture the following screenshots from there. The image is not great, and it is from a few years ago. The new homeowner has been kinder to the property, but still, you can get the overall layout, from which we can match it to the old photos.

I know it is hard to make out, but please notice the back door and its position. There is also a window to the left of it that you will also see in several family photos from when my mother was a child. I also took care to try to capture the side of the house and some of the window locations. These will be evident in a number of the photos I am blessed to have in my possession.

The Google Earth pic of the garage lacks the definition necessary to match it to the photos. The roofline is different. I am assuming it was replaced, and it is also a shame that these images were captured when the homeowner had so much clutter in the yard making it even harder to pull out the clarity of the garage. Still, there were also many family photos taken in front of this beauty. It seems my grandfather, Henry Larriccia, liked to pile the family on the hood of his car, probably after church, and take a photo. They are quite lovely, as you will see.

Before I show you those pictures, I want to explain more of my adventures of the day. I had arranged a video conference call with my mother’s two cousins (mine too 😊) on the Bennetto side, Joanie and Roni. I planned to show the house to them, and they were going to share with me a few secrets of the neighborhood. After all, their father, Alexander Bennetto, my grandmother Elizabeth’s brother, was raised in this home, and they had many happy memories from inside the walls of 183.

I learned that the lot to the right of their home used to be an apartment building. My grandmother Elizabeth’s parents, Frank and Mary Monica Bennetto, used to live on the bottom floor; and Uncle Nick and Aunt Mary Larriccia and their son Leonard were in the upper unit. Neither Joanie or Roni are sure the relation of Uncle Nick. If he was a brother to my grandfather Henry (or Henny as he was affectionately called) Larriccia, or if he might have been Henny’s uncle, we are unsure.

The building that stood to the left also housed a little shop in the front, Joe Raymond’s. Roni tells me she loved this place because, “It was filled with all sorts of little pieces of junk–or you might call them ‘trinkets,’ and I love that stuff.” She went on to say that she would stop into Joe’s shop, and many times he would give her a little something “that he probably couldn’t sell anyway.”

When Joanie described the location of the building next door, she said there was a little alleyway, and then there was the apartment house that housed our extended family. Sure enough, there’s still a gate to that open area. I will show you pictures of what I believe might be the backyard of that apartment as well. It seems much photography was taken behind these homes.

Joanie helped walk with me to her family home. It’s just a few blocks from my mother’s house.  Joanie lived here as a baby with her mother and father, Alexander and Mary Bennetto. They moved to Bloomfield, New Jersey, before my mom was born in 1943.

Another fun place was Edith’s Diner. It would have been across the street at the corner of Dodd and North Park Street—it is now replaced with this apartment with an address of 392 Dodd Street. My mother’s house would have been somewhere behind the tree on the left side of the structure.

Edith’s was basically across the street from my mom’s house. I tried to find a picture of it, by chance, on Google images. No such luck—and the county records are difficult to search. When I tried to find the ownership trail of my mother’s family home, the online public records only went back to the early 1990s.

Edith’s Diner contains another gem of some family history. It turns out that my Aunt Georgeanne (Cobb) Larriccia’s mother worked here, and it is at this location that my Uncle Hank, my mother’s brother Henry Larriccia, met his bride, my Aunt Georgeanne. Good gravy, would I have loved to be a fly on the wall in those days.

Kittycorner to the location of Edith’s Diner, was a Mo Bergonzi’s (sp) appliance store at 400 Dodd Street. Smiling Babies Daycare is there now. Roni tells me they use to have an RCA dog, Nipper, out front. I went through several Google images, unsure what this version looked like, but I found the one below, which was atop an appliance store in Baltimore, MD.

My mother’s cousins also told me of several places along Dodd Street.  It was hard to keep up on the directions, or the locations, along the street so that I will give this my best shot. I believe to the left of the daycare on Dodd on the image below was a movie theater. Joanie tells me that my grandmother Elizabeth took her to her first movie there.

Near it was Georgia’s Market. My grandmother, Nanny Elizabeth, worked here for a time. It may also be where she shopped frequently. Please also notice the Orange Bus Garage on the very left of the image below. If that was located there when my mother grew up in this neighborhood, her Uncle Rocco probably worked there. 

If we head back west on Dodd, traveling to the right and then passing North Park Street and what used to be Edith’s Diner to the north, we would soon come to Alford’s, this was the salon Joanie and Roni’s father owned. He, like my grandfather, was a trained barber, but Alexander Bennetto decided to care for women’s hair. A wise business decision as it is more lucrative then men’s cuts.

If you notice, I have also highlighted Whitney Houston Academy. The school was called Eli Whitney when my mother was younger. Whitney Houston grew up in the area, a few decades after my mother, and the school was renamed after Ms. Houston’s death.

I also noticed, in one of our family photos, a business in the background. The original picture is of my father and I, around 1968. The image to the right is what this building currently houses—a sub-shop and a laundromat. The address is 186 North Park Street, but I wanted to know what it used to be—what was there when my mother lived there.

I zoomed into the signs in the back. The name of the place is ?TTO’S—OTTO’S, but what is it. I could not quite make out any of the other words, but I knew I recognized that emblem on the side from somewhere, and I had an inkling it was a paint brand. Then it hit me, Benjamin Moore. Thanking God for Google once again, I found this was their logo around the 1970s. Knowing this other information, you can almost see other parts of the image like the triangle with the M.

As promised, here are some more of the family pictures. I love both these pictures so much. In truth, I love all these pictures so much, but these two shots have my mother, her brother, Hank, or in those days, Henny, and then my grandmother Elizabeth. The one to the left is taken sometime in 1943 or so as my mother is a baby. I love my Uncle Hank’s face in this one. He seems less than thrilled about all of this, unlike the shot on the right. In this one, he is projecting the face of confidence, and my mother, on the other hand, a bit more apprehensive. You can also notice some of the tale-tell signs of the backyard from the garage lines to the siding on the house.

Same with these images. For the first time, I realized that the picture above to the right and the one below to the left were taken on the same day. Both have been on the wall of my home for more than a decade and never take note of it before. Happier faces here with dad in the pic, my grandfather, Henry (or Henny to the family) Larriccia.

It is so great to see my mom so young, as the photo to the right–to see all of them so young. My Uncle Hank does not seem happy (again) to be featured in another pic with his baby sister in the mix. I assume this is taken in front of the back door, but I do not recognize the framing to the right in other pictures.

How do you like the kid’s faces in the photograph to the left? Oh my gosh, both my mom and my Uncle Hank are tapping their expressive Italian side. The woman in both these pictures is my great grandmother, Mary Monica Bennetto. The baby she is holding in the picture to the right is my mother’s cousin Joanie. I am unsure where the image to the left was taken, but I think the picture to the right was taken behind Joe Raymond’s shop, in the apartment, my great grandmother and father lived. Please notice the trellis above. If that is their backyard, that window behind Joanie’s backside just might be to the kitchen of my mother’s childhood home.

Here are a few more pictures of Mary Monica, one with Frank Bennetto to the left, and then another again with Joanie to the right. Both are under that same trellis. One can almost make out lovely raised garden beds. This backyard looks beautiful, and quite possibly, it is from Mary Monica that I got my love of gardening. (It most certainly was not from my mother or my grandmother.) Since I planted some grape vines this year, I may try to create a similar trellis. I have the vision to take over my entire back yard with a garden, much like we see here.

Here are a few pictures of my grandmother, Elizabeth, who is my mom’s mother. The one to the left is with Joanie (again) in the same trellis covered backyard. These pictures with Joanie as a baby would be in the late 1930s or so before my mother was born. I wish I could make out the background. If that indeed is the garage of 183 North Park, it would be nice to see it. The one to the right is with her mother, Mary Monica, maybe headed to the church down Dodd Street or even on an adventure to NYC. Those are the sorts of questions I would like to ask them. I would also just like to stroll along with them, although, chances are, I would object to a woman’s role in those days.

Now might be an excellent place to share some fun and interesting family history about my great grandmother, Mary Monica. My mother used to tell me she was 100% Italian. That her mother, a Bennetto, and her father, a Larriccia, both had family heritage right from Italy. There are also intriguing stories with brothers getting separated at Ellis Island, and as a result, the same family having different spelling of the family name. My cousins on the Larriccia side, my Uncle Hank’s children, spell their last name Lariccia (only one R instead of two) even though my mother’s birth certificate has the two R spelling.

Since my mother claimed to be 100% Italian, I figured I was half. My father has a few things going on in his family tree, but mostly he is Scandinavian (Finnish and Norwegian) with also some Native Dakota (I believe) from his mother’s side. Therefore I am an all-around American mix with a leaning toward my Italian heritage. (I did love to cook and sew with my father’s mother and learned much from her stories too. That, however, is for another day.)

Then one day, chatting with my mom, she says, “My Canadian Indian grandma was the best Italian cook.” WHAT?!?!? Whaaaaaat? Canadian Indian grandma?!? So I said, “Mom, you had a non-Italian grandmother from Canada?” She said, “Yes.” Then I stated, “Then you are NOT 100% Italian.” Her response, in typical Carolyn Mary fashion, “It’s just easier.”

I learned more about this from Roni and Joanie. Mary Monica was from Nova Scotia. I am unsure what brought her to the states, and I know nothing of her tribe. Joanie had stated she was a Canuck Indian, and I incorrectly assumed “Canuck” was an indigenous heritage tribe like Dakota, Sioux, or Cherokee, but again thank God for Google, Canuck is simply slang for Canadian.

I have aboriginal heritage on both sides of my family, although the real lines is a bit sketchy. Honestly, I would imagine this same scenario is played out in many family trees. I also assume that if Mary Monica could pass for Italian, that route would have been easier than for folks at the turn of the last century to realize she was a beautiful indigenous person of North America.

There is still more to the Mary Monica story. It turns out that when she met Frank Benetto, his son Alexander, Joanie and Roni’s father, was already a few years old. Frank has been married earlier to a woman who had an interest in a show business career, and although I do not know all the stories, her path was a bit scandalous for the times (1897 to 1903). She took off, leaving Alexander with Frank. In those days, there was no daycare, and a man had to work to survive—this is why people got married and stayed married. So, as was customary for the times, Frank left his son Alexander with his brother’s family.

Fast forward to when Frank meets Mary Monica. They are dating, or might I say ‘courting,’ and they go to visit his brother’s family, where his son Alexander is living. Alexander comes up to Frank and calls him “pop” (as in father), and Mary Monica says, “Is this your son?” Frank, not wanting to tip this apple cart—he’s got a good thing going, says, “No.” Mary Monica presses him, “Frank if this is your son, we are taking him with us and caring for him.” Good gravy, do I love this woman. From that day forward, she raised Alexander as her own and, as I understand it, shielded him from his biological mother. My grandmother, Alexander’s sister, would be his half-sibling and is part of the reason there are eight years between the two.

Please notice these pictures of me as a wee little one. I love the one to the left, the adoration I have in my eyes for my mother. It is a lovely photo, but I am not sure where it was taken. I was hoping it was from inside 183 North Park, but I cannot place the couch my mother is sitting on. However, the two to the right, I believe, are on the same couch. It appears to be the same wallpaper, and I think this is the living room of my mother’s family home.

Here are a couple of pictures from when my Minnesota grandparents, my father’s parents came to visit. The one to the left, I believe, has that same wallpaper, and could, therefore, be the dining room of 183 North Park Street. The one to the right, I am not sure. Could this be the kitchenette area of the house? I keep staring out the screen door, to the right of my Nanny Elizabeth, to see if I can make something out, but sadly nothing I can be sure of to place this room.

Before moving on, let me introduce you to everyone in the room. To the far left, the dark-haired woman in blue is my mother, Carolyn Mary. Next, the woman in Navy with the broach pin is my Nanny Elizabeth. Next to her is my grandmother on my father’s side, Elsie (?) Anderson. The gentleman beside her to the right is my grandfather, Gunnard Anderson. The gentleman next to him is my mother’s Uncle Rocco, who is my grandfather Henry Larriccia’s brother.

Now knowing the who’s who of the dining room, you can probably figure out all the women in the orange kitchen, but to be sure, the woman in front is my grandma Anderson, my mother is to the upper-left, and Nanny Elizabeth near the door. Man, the 1960s decor in this kitchen sure is groovy.

UPDATE: It turns out the “groovy” kitchen is 23 Ute Avenue in Lake Hiawatha, NJ. This was my Uncle Hank and Aunt Georgeanne’s home for many years. Even when they divorced, one or the other lived there with their three lovely daughters, Lisa, Karin, and Kris. I remember many good times there and in the pool outback. It’s good to know my Grandma Anderson was able to see that space as well, which also means my father and grandfather did too.

One other thing, before I took leave of the neighborhood, I had another piece of business, to spread some of my mother’s ashes. I had already done so at the family grave plot. You can read about that adventure in the blog post, GATES OF HEAVEN CEMETARY. In fact, my MOTHER’S EULOGY also has great stories and pictures of her family and family home.

The photograph to the left is of my father, my mother, and me, in the driveway, alongside 183 North Park Street. I am the white bundle blending into my father’s navy uniform. My mother is just beaming. What a proud mommy she is—I left some of her ashes at the tree that would be at the other end of this same driveway. The tree really might have been in front of Joe Raymond’s, but either really would have been home to her.

I then walked the little urn over to the apartment her mother moved to at 780 Springdale Avenue. This was the home I remember of Nanny’s. She had moved here soon after my mother and I moved out of 183 North Park in the late 1960s. I could get behind the privacy gate at the driveway to the little creek. I remember many times walking over this bridge to go to the grocery store with my grandmother. I tucked the little blue beauty near the base of the tree can covered it up with leaves. It took a while to hide it and I hope no one has found it, but as I now know very well, nothing stays the same, and eventually, everything goes away.

I do not know if I will ever go back. My heart would break to see 183 North Park or this apartment gone. Now that I have this document, maybe it is better just to remember it all as I found it. I know my mother is at peace, and I know I miss her, regardless of the placement of any of these things. Maybe it is best to hold all these old familiar places in my mind’s eye anyway.

I’ll be seeing you
In all the old familiar places
That this heart of mine embraces
All day and through
In that small cafe
The park across the way
The children’s carousel
The chestnut trees
The wishing well

I’ll be seeing you
In every lovely summer’s day
In everything that’s light and gay
I’ll always think of you that way

I’ll find you in the morning sun
And when the night is new
I’ll be looking at the moon
But I’ll be seeing you

I’ll be seeing you
In every lovely summer’s day
In everything that’s light and gay
I’ll always think of you that way

I’ll find you in the morning sun
And when the night is new
I’ll be looking at the moon
But I’ll be seeing you

Source: LyricFind

Songwriters: Irving Kahal / Sammy Fain

I’ll Be Seeing lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group, BMG Rights Management

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