(from 2014...) My nonno, Calogero (Charles) Lardomita, emmigrated from Palermo, Sicily and my nonna, Mary Riccobuono, was from Sant’ Agata, Sicily. They were typical, hard working people who had no “safety nets,” using only what monies were earned each week. Nonna was head honcho of her household and nonno obeyed orders and worked as a fruit peddler. In nonna’s house, they spoke mostly Italian, especially when they didn’t want us kids to know what they were talking about. However, their English was plentiful and easy to understand.
Five days a week, Nonno Calogero rose in the early morning hours to go to the Northern Ohio Terminal where he would bargain for fresh produce to load up the truck. During war times, produce didn’t come easy. If he wanted oranges, he may have had to settle for potatoes. I remember potatoes at 5 cents a pound and peaches were 25 cents for 3 pounds. Nonno had a medium size truck and it would be loaded with everything from cabbage to tomatoes. The scale would hang and swing from the side and the roof was generally loaded with baskets of corn.
The southeast side of town was his route; the Fleet Avenue- Broadway area. It appeared most of his customers were Polish and I picked up on their lingo; yopka for apples and catavole for potatoes. Cabbage always seemed to be their favorite. Each day was a different route and different streets. He cautioned me not to sell too much of anything because he wanted to meet the needs of customers at the end of the route as well. My job was not only to help and sell but also to give the prices, collect the money and count the change.
I learned to drive when nonno taught me in the fruit truck. He explained the “H” on the shifting gears and taught me to slowly take my foot off the clutch so we didn’t start off like a hopping jack rabbit. Driving was rather easy because the customers lived near each other, so I never had to drive very far. On the major avenues, nonno did the driving. I handled the neighborhood streets.
At day’s end when we traveled home, nonno always stopped for a “shot and a beer,” and I had a cream soda. He always cautioned me not to tell nonna. That was our secret and so was the $20 he slipped into a secret fold in his wallet.
Having nonno and nonna in my life was a lovefest. I was nonna’s ruffiano and to my nonno, I was his trusted grandson and helper.