It didn't take long for Francesco and Maria Campobasso to hear of their youngest daughter's offstage antics with Eddie Case. La via vecchio – the old way -- would never allow Esther to be in the company of a young man without a chaperon. And even with a chaperon, there would be no hand holding, no kissing, no contact of any kind.
But specifically, they didn't want this daughter anywhere near that young man. They had seen how Eddie's older brother Joe treated their older daughter Rose, and they didn't like it. They rarely visited the Campobassos, even though they lived only a few blocks away, on Liberty Street. Consequently, four-year-old Anthony Joseph Case, the Campobassos' first grandson, was practically a stranger to Francesco and Maria.
But if they had looked closer, they might have seen that their resentment against Joe wasn't justified. The problem was with their daughter Rose, although they were unable or unwilling to see it. Always a private person, Rose now rarely left her home, even to visit her mother-in-law Anna Caserta, who lived in one of the downstairs flats at the Liberty Street home.
It's strange how the same environment can affect siblings so differently. When Rose and Esther were babies, Maria and Francesco worked so hard to scrape together enough to start their business that it left them little time for their daughters. The effect on Rose was to make her more withdrawn, and so she grew up looking for a reclusive life without challenges. The effect on Esther was just the opposite – she became stronger, more independent and daring.
Even so, she had no choice but to accept the new, strict rules that her parents imposed on their errant daughter. With another year of high school ahead of her, Esther was now forbidden to engage in any after-school activities. When the last school bell rang, she was not allowed to linger and engage in the banter that sustains schoolgirls and helps them formulate a picture of the grown-up world and a way to enter it.
She was to be home immediately, with no side trips. Homework first, household chores second, and then helping out with the thousand and one details it takes to run a retail store.
The new curfew didn't sit well with a young woman as feisty as Esther. But it did give her time to plan her future. If she had anything to say about it, she would be out of the house the day after graduation.
Meanwhile, Eddie, spending his second year as a high school senior, was trying to plan his future. He knew he had the looks and the talent to entertain, but his requests to leave the nest after graduation and seek his fortune in Manhattan were vehemently opposed by his mother Anna.
In her limited command of English, she adamantly refused to consider anything but his “obligation” to work and contribute financial support to the family. There weren't many jobs available in the early thirties, and the few that were demanded long hours over a six-day week for very little money.
Eddie's sister Josie worked as a collar-attacher at the Cluett Peabody shirt factory uptown on River Street, and since the balding foreman was smitten with her, Josie turned on the Case charm and made the clownish married man promise to find her brother a job when Eddie received his CCHS diploma.
Between classes, Eddie would console himself by tracking down Esther. He knew her daily school routine better than his own, and whenever he could he used his wiles to escape from the confines of his classes and appear in Esther's.
Despite her parents' warnings not to see him, Esther cherished the rebellious rush every time Eddie appeared. Even though her lunch time preceded his, they often managed to share a few intimate conversations in the cafeteria, when she would volunteer to stay later for extra clean-up, and he would arrive early.
They even managed to sit together during an afternoon production of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, presented by a touring group of actors. Although the message of the play was lost on Eddie and Esther, the passion underscored their own.
As in the play, neither parents would have condoned the plans that the twentieth-century star-crossed lovers were hatching.
©Copyright 2009 Frank LaPosta Visco
Next: In part 8, prosperity isn't the only thing around the corner.