It wasn't that Grandma was a miser or anything like that, but it was her way of showing me the value of money. For example – she had customers who bought the paper from her every day, but couldn't always get to the store. So, “Gram,” who always called me “Big Boy,” would have me deliver the paper to their homes, some as far away as Herman Melville's house at 114th Street, near the Hudson River. (No, I never saw him there.)
If I had delivered the papers as a regular paperboy, I would have made twice as much money, plus tips. But Gram was splitting her profit with me, so there was less to go around.
I did other chores around the store, too. I was always a kid who liked to stay up late, so when the store closed at 11, I would go down in the cellar and bring up cases of warm beer and soda and restock the coolers, so there would be a full complement of cold drinks for sale the next day. My perk for doing that wasn't money, but full access to the goodies before I went upstairs to bed.
I'd sit in a booth with a comic book, a bottle of Nehi grape soda and a Devil Dog. Later, when Gram had one of the first television sets installed up in a corner of the store, I'd forego the comic book and watch Broadway Open House and the original Tonight Show. That's where I got my love of the visual medium and paid attention to all the commercials. Little did I know that somebody I would be writing and producing them!
Since I was used to staying up late, and my birthday was on a Saturday night, and the New Year began the next day on Sunday, I stayed up and listened as Guy Lombardo's orchestra played on the radio.
The fifties would see lots of changes in the world at large, and in my world. It would be the decade of nuclear testing, cold war and the Korean “conflict.” Closer to home, it would be the decade when I got my first two wheeler, a shiny chrome Shelby with streamers on the handlebars, push-button horn and even a battery-powered headlight. I would fly through the streets, expanding my world from the local movie theater to all of Troy. I even ventured north to Pleasantdale, and caught the eyes of girls I'd only imagined before – girls with blonde curls, like my cousin Coke's German wife, and freckled girls with flaming hair the color of Rhonda Fleming's.
By the end of the decade, I'd be graduating from high school and facing a future of technological wonders, unimaginable back in those days of rabbit ears and test patterns. There's more to tell about the Caserta and Campobasso families, and the changes that affected every family in Little Italy and beyond, and I'll be sharing those stories in the future.