I was born in Newark, NJ. I didn't go far,
I now live in Bloomfield. But in many ways my Newark NJ is a continent
away from where I am now but a place to which I retreat mentally
when my current life becomes overwhelming. It is my safe haven,
I was born in Columbus Hospital (NOT Medical Center!) in October,
1951. My two siblings were also born there. My brother, Gerald,
in July, 1954 and my sister Mary Ellen (by then we had moved to
Bloomfield but were Newarkers and North Warders at heart) in September,
Newark has always been, and will always be, an integral part of
my life. My most cherished, happy, family memories involve Newark.
Even as an adult, Newark (especially Branch Brook Park at Cherry
Blossom time and St. Lucy's during the Feast of St. Gerard) played
a very important part in my life.
My earliest memories are of living on Summer Avenue (107 to be exact)
and going to St. Lucy's school (firs grade) and church on a regular
basis. I also attended kindergarten in Newark (Franklin School I
believe) but for the one year I was there and for all of its religious
importance in my life to this day, St. Lucy's is the school I remember
My first grade teacher was Sr. Angelina. I won a prize in class
for something. It was a plastic pink cross which had special meaning
for me and which I kept as a cherished memento of my childhood for
years. I gave it to my then boyfriend/fiance/husband to keep in
the glove box of his car to keep him safe. We've been divorced over
7 years now and how I wish I had that little cross back.
I still have vivid memories of first grade at St. Lucy's and especially
my first communion day. Every time I smell fresh carnations or see
bouquets I swear I am transported to the convent courtyard adjoining
the church, waiting on line to process into the church for the mass
and our first holy communion. May 3, 1958 I believe was the date.
I also remember the lunchroom and being allowed to go into the main
courtyard (as it was called then and prior to my first communion)
during lunchtime on the first day of the Feast of St. Gerard. The
area might have changed physically, but the few times I am present
for the feast I am transported back to the way it was in 1957/1958.
Even when we moved to Bloomfield, Newark played an enormous and
important part in the lives of my family. Each and every Saturday
we traveled back to Newark, Seventh Avenue I believe, for our weekly
shopping. There was the butcher we visited (I distinctly remember
the smell of provolone, the sight of the huge hunks of cheeses hung
from the ceiling in the window, and the smell and taste of the oil
cured olives in a huge barrel which I loved even as a child.) We
also visited the local bakery, Garside perhaps?, for bread for the
week. I looked forward to those visits each week. On the way back
to Bloomfield (America as I thought of it at the time, and North
Newark was my beloved Italy) we all inhaled one loaf of still-warm
We lived on Summer Avenue, 107 to be exact. My grandmother lived
a few houses down (I don't recall that address). That house held
the best summer memories for me. There was a garden in which they
grew corn(!), strawberries, tomatoes, zucchini (I remember the 'googols'
blossoms) basil, and there was also a grape arbor. The best! "Teddy
Bear" caterpillars were my pets, and I loved picking and chewing
on the tart curlicues which eventually, if left alone, would turn
into bunches of grapes.
My grandmother, a widow of many decades, married for the second
time at age 65 (OLD by our standards!) and her new husband made
wine in his basement. I distinctly remember visiting the 'wine cellar'
with Joe...the dark, dank, fermented grapey smell and the taste
of newly pressed wine...too many decades later the memories and
feelings came flooding back to me when I visited wineries in Northern
California on my honeymoon. All good, warm, heart-tugging memories
of one of the best times of my life.
The Feast of St. Gerard also played a large part in my life and
that of my family. My mother and her family was from Caposele, the
paese of St. Gerard. My brother was named Gerald, and St. Gerard
of course was his patron saint. Even after we moved out of Newark,
we were there every Sunday for dinner with my grandmother on Summer
Avenue, and in October we all congregated at the little second floor
apartment on Summer Avenue, even the contingent from Brooklyn, NY,
to attend the feast and walk in the procession. Decades later, as
a middle-aged woman, when I once again walked briefly in a procession
due to the physical limitations of my parents, I saw familiar faces
and heard a familiar and beloved dialect and I was transported to
one of the happiest times of my life.
Branch Brook Park also played an integral part in my early childhood.
My fondest memories include summer nights with my father playing
catch with me (I still have a pretty good eye and catch very well
"for a girl" - at least my nephew is impressed!) after
which we'd visit a local soda fountain. The smell of a malted can
bring me back in a heartbeat, in addition to picking up one of those
little pink balls my father and I tossed around. Then, of course,
there are memories of Easter Sundays and the traditional visit to
the Cherry Blossoms, a tradition which endured long after we moved
out of Newark. In pictures and my mind's eye I see us all among
the cherry blossoms and dressed to the 9's: me, my mother and younger
sister dressed in matching outfits with the requisite Easter bonnets,
gloves and paten leather shoes. Dad and my brother both in suits,
ties and hats. Mom and we girls wore the corsages dad and my brother
purchased earlier in the day before going to Mass and they both
had their carnation boutonnieres. Even as an adult while working
in Newark, each spring demanded I drive home through the park during
Cherry Blossom time. There's nothing like it for reveling in springtime
and triggering memories of a happier time.
Sadly, this springtime found me gazing at the cherry blossoms
out of the 6th floor window of Clara Maas Medical Center. My father
spent his last few days in the ICU with my mother and me by his
side. I watched the trees bloom and fade from that window as my
father's life came to an end.
My father, Rocco Banda, passed away in the early hours of May 19,
2005, ironically just steps away from a place that was very special
to us and an enduring source of many happy childhood memories.