Audio Interview Transcription

A: You got a new iPad?

Q: iPad Air. So it goes much longer. So.

A: You want to go?

Q: Yeah, you can make it official, or non-official.

A: Yeah.

Q: All right, we’re going to try to do more family.

A: Good.

Q: And it may lead into other things, but let’s see it goes.

A: Yeah.

Q: We’ll want to get it transcribed and we’ll go from there.

A: Good.

Q: So, family?

A: Family. I think, if you start at the beginning, the interesting contrast with today’s world is that I was the first child that our mother and father had that was born in the hospital.

Q: And where were you born?

A: I was born in Ludlow, Massachusetts in a big house on Lockland Avenue. We were in the Chips then[], my father was a successful grocer in town. He had a business with a partner right at the bottom of our street called Bramucci & Bermuchi. And this partner was Americo Bermuchi. And they sold groceries, and my father had a truck, a panel truck, and went out on the road once a week and sold meats that he made; his specialty was sausage, but he made prosciutto, and cap cola and all kinds of Italian specialties, especially those meats that came from his province in Italy which is Almarke[ph], which is a big state on the Adriatic[ph], probably 120 miles south of Venice. He was a tenant farmer, a family I think of 17 or 18 children, and he was number two. And as he, one of the older ones, his brother, I think, was drafted in the Italian army and got killed somewhere. But he was the cook for the family at an early age. And the mother and father worked in a field.

Q: Did you ever know your grandparents?

A: No, I’ve only seen pictures of them. And in my father’s descriptions of where he lived vis-à-vis the Patroni, the guy who actually owned the land, when we visited, probably in 1990, it was just as if my father had painted a picture. There was a house up there like a century post where you could watch the fields that they plowed and grew stuff and then turned it over to him. And the houses my father lived in—my father described it as being very special as to where he lived in the winter because the lived over the animals. So he lived over the cows. And there were packed into this relatively small house, the girls on one wing and the boys, as a matter of fact, I made a mistake when I said where I thought he lived and at that time my aunt, who I had never met before said; oh, no, he lived over here with the boys, we lived over there. We lived with the chickens and all the other stuff, he lived over the big animals. But that was the beginning. And he, in America, became very successful after a very short time.

Q: When did he come to America?

A: Nineteen fourteen. He was 17 years old. And they came, my father, his brother, and a younger sister, came because my grandfather came to them in the field one day and said there was going to be a war. There’s World War I ending in a (00:04:25) field, because they already got your brother. And they were dirt poor, had nothing. My father had been to the first grade in Italy which means he was the person that could read. And they came over here with $5 in their pocket. How they ever got to Marsea[ph], where they left, from I can’t even imagine.

Q: Now they left (00:04:58) from Lamarke[ph]?

A: To Marsea[ph], in France, over here.

Q: Wow.

A: And so he made a success of himself almost immediately. And things were going well, before the depression, those families, the Italian families that traded there would go on a tab. They didn’t have the money to pay him right there, he was running a tab, and for a long time it went well. They were successful artisans and there were would be stonemasons, plasterers, people that built things. They all built things. And my father’s business was going well, the family was in good shape. We were one of the better situated families in the town, probably …

Q: Was it mostly Italian?

A: Well, the Italians didn’t live in a section, oddly enough. The Portuguese did, the French-Canadians did. The Ukrainians did. But we always seemed to live in a mixed group. So as a boy I spoke fairly good Polish, and I understood Portuguese, and my mother spoke all those languages. And so did my father because we had those kinds of clients. But it was, we were in the chips, and things were really good economically. We had a car, a couple of trucks, and came 1938 or 9 my father’s businesses collapsed. And the bank came and sold off the store and all the goods in it and our house. And I can remember and my sisters, before they died said you’re making this up. But I can remember my father tearing the storm door off the porch during the auction in frustration. And he had a mental breakdown and had to go to a hospital for a while. My mother had to carry on. And my mother’s another story, she …

Q: Now where is she from?

A: She was from Piedmont, which is up near between Milan and Turenne, a city called Vercelli. And they came from the rice area. And Polenta and unlike the Italian/Americans here, there was no red sauce. Everything was different. There were different kinds of Italians. But she came here, they were recruited, my grandfather, my maternal grandfather, was recruited by a company called Ludlow Manufacturing, in Ludlow, Massachusetts. And they made rope. They were a Jute, they were called a Jute mill. They made rope for the big ships that were tied to the docks. Unbeknownst to the company, my grandfather was some kind of radical, whether he was an anarchist, or a syndicalist or what, but he was an outcast. The word in the family was he had to get the hell out of the town because he was making trouble in the town. He took his family to America and how they got to Naples, probably 400 miles, but he brought the family over and they were all hired to work in this Jute mill.

Q: Did they come over about the same time your father came over?

A: No, they came over earlier. I think they came over in 1910. But my mother began working in this mill at 16. And as they were courting, or when they were just first married, when she was 17 or 18, she got her hand cut off in an industrial accident. She was tending this machine and her hand got into the machine and it severed her left hand from the wrist bone to the base of the thumb. So she walked around with a ball of bone sticking out. And she would use that as a weapon against me when I got a little older. A whack from that hand – but she, nobody, my best friend did not know she had one hand.

Q: Really?

A: Because she would hold it behind her all the time. And there are many, many pictures of her. And it meant a lot to her to have that hand off. But those were the days when that company was a notorious anti-union, anti-people company. They had had history in Kentucky with killing people who were on strike. And they hired the goons and the …

Q: What was the name of the company again?

A: Ludlow Manufacturing. They moved out of that place in Ludlow and a company called Indian Motorcycle, which was the big motorcycle company before Harley Davidson, they moved in there. And I know among motorcycle aficionados an Indian is a hell of a motorcycle. They built in there for a while, I don’t know if they still build them. Anyways, we lost everything and went from the top of the hill, literally, to the bottom. And I, my father I think at that time was in the hospital. And my mother, with four of us, found the house that we could rent. And I remember we rented it for $25.

Q: And how old were you during this?

A: I was six, five or – six. And we moved into a house with a dirt floor in the basement. No central heating. And a kerosene stove in what was called the dining room, and we had a wood burning stove where we burned coal in it sometimes in the kitchen for both cooking and heat. And the memory I have is during the winter we had a terrible cold winter in 1946/47. I used to go to bed with a brick that was heated in the oven, wrapped in cloth, they put it in the bed 15 or 20 minutes before I got it. And I’d wake up with whatever drippage came up from my nose frozen in my nose. And my father and mother’s room would have ice on the French doors. That’s how cold it was. And my father, when he finally got out of the hospital went to work for WPA. He built the project, they built a disposal plant, a sewage plant. And even later, much later, when I came home from the, on leave from the Air Force, he would take me to this place to show me what he had built.

Q: Great.

A: He was really proud of it. He was a hardworking man. As the war began he went to work in a defense, in a factory, making valves for submarines and ships, a place called Chapman Valve, which we had subsequently learned was part of the Manhattan Project. It was unknown to me, but he worked as a, he worked with a sledgehammer, and they would take these big valves out of a form that had sand all over it. I don’t know why. But he would knock the sand off. So he would come home with five pounds of face in his face, his hair, and every single night he would take a bath and my mother would wash his back, and he would get out and there would be, I can still remember the sand in the tub.

Q: Amazing. Now how did they meet? How did your parents meet? Do you know?

A: Those two families somehow bumped into one another at the beginning of his stay. I think he first stopped with his brother in Norwalk, Connecticut, for some reason, I don’t know why. But they settled in a place called North Wilbraham, where there was a group of people from the same province. And there were also these people from Piedmont there, but it was almost like you had a foreign country between Piedmont, and in my case, with a different language. But he met her there and they married very soon after that.

Q: He was young.

A: He was 21 and she was probably 17. And my uncle, his brother, was illiterate. He couldn’t read or right. And he went to work in a Monsanto plant. And I told this story later, many times when I was just a secretary around the country about the changing nature of work. He worked as a sweeper, for Monsanto, and he worked for 35 years. Retired from there. He owned a house, a car, a tractor. He raised four children. And he was a sweeper. And those kinds of jobs have disappeared because they have been progressively pushed down in value and outsourced. But in those days work was work and you got paid for it.

Q: Interesting.

A: But he, there’s a graphic story that I remember, his lack of reading was so basic, he had a bunch of boys, and one of them at 17 or 18 joined the army. And was a war hero, he had two or three bronze stars, he was wounded a couple of times, and then he got killed in the Battle of the Bulge. I remember it was the middle of the winter, and my uncle came to the front door with a piece of paper in his hand. And he didn’t say much, he just asked my father to read it. And my father said, Alto Immorte, your son is dead. He took the telegram, put it in his pocket and went home. And it was, by the time he died he was 19, and all of his records was destroyed in a fire at the VA in St. Louis, but we got letters from his commander, you know, that he was a real hero. And there’s a little street named after him in Ludlow, Massachusetts -- Bramucci Street with a gold star on it.

Q: That’s amazing.

A: But, you know, those were people who accepted tragedy. To my uncle and to my father, their son, and my father’s nephew, who was his favorite, by the way, they did what they had to do. And there’s no ifs ands or buts about it. So I grew up in that kind of a setting, we were on welfare, and I remember having …

Q: Your brothers and sisters?

A: And older sister, but there are five years between us. She was 15 years older than I was. My brother, who is still alive, was ten years older than I am. And my second sister was five years older than me. My two sisters are dead, but my brother is still a live, but he is …

Q: You were the baby of the family?

A: I was the baby, and I was treated like that, and there was never a time when I was in any way disciplined, or hit. People treated me with a great deal of respect. And I once told my father that I thought he hit me once and he said; you’re crazy, I’d never hit you, I never would hit you.

Q: Mom didn’t use her hand? (Laugh)

A: Well, she – we’ll just let that one go. She beat the crap out of me a couple of times.

Q: (Laugh)

A: But I was always under the covers and she would hit me as I would lay in the bed, whacking me on the head with her fist. So we moved into these, I went to school, the first grade, there. I walked to school, walked home, and had lunch every day at home. And I was one of the kids that, you know, upon reflection, I was one of the poorer kids because we were on welfare. We had clothes, and we had, I remember these big vats of lard with a yellow dye, it was butter or margarine that they made then. And to make it look like butter you but the mix in there to make it yellow. And I did well in school. I was always in the Busy Bees, that was a top grade for reading, and I always got a lot of attention paid to me by the teachers. And my peak was the first two years, and then I got to be a wise guy.

Q: So first and second grade were pretty good?

A: I was a star. I was a little – the twinkles from the stars were on my head, then I got to be a little devilish, and I would get A’s and I would get C’s, and my mother would come to school and the teacher would say; I don’t know what’s wrong with him, all he has to do is try. And I’d try for a while, and I’d let it go again, and I’d be right on the verge of the honors and all that stuff. Anyways.

Q: So you went to school in Ludlow all the way through?

A: No, I went to Ludlow till the 5th grade then we moved because the landlord who owned the house, his son came back from the army. And he was going to live there, you know …

Q: After the war.

A: Yeah. Upon reflection I say good luck. But we had, I want to go back a little bit to the house. We had three pieces of land around the house that my father cultivated. And we grew everything imaginable, and kept it in part of the cellar so that we used it almost year round. Whatever vegetable that you could stretch out, we stretched it out. And there was no garbage. A guy would come by every two weeks and you had hung a very small pail off the clothesline. And he would come and collect it and feed his pigs. But there was no other garbage. We ate everything.

Q: Original recycling.

A: Yeah, it all went right down. While we lived in this town the, it was the practice of my father’s what they call paisains[ph], they came from the same area. They had a tradition in that area of Italy of cooperative activities. So they would buy a piglet and fatten it up. And in the winter sometime they’d call my father and he would come and slaughter it and divide it. And the family always went with him. My job was to catch the blood. My father hated to kill anything. And he killed pigs. But he did it so fast, and so humanely if you can say that, this wasn’t an option, this was food that you needed.

Q: Sure, sure.

A: So everything except the pig’s knuckles and the hair on the pig we ate. He would painstakingly, after we skinned it, he would painstakingly clean the insides of the stomach to use as the casings for sausage and other meats. It would take hours. And he would do it and then separate it and give half to one family, half to another. And I knew the respect which my father had when there was three families that owned the pig. Now there’s going to be an argument; who gets what? He cut it up, you get this, you get that, you get that. I got a nickel tip, who from a guy, my old man who said I was a good boy. He said, he’s a good boy. And we killed, in my young life then, we killed dozens of pigs and occasionally a goat, sheep, and that my father would get extra money from that. My mother saved enough to buy a lot. And we built the house by ourselves. My father called in the debts of people who were on the books and never paid him. As I said they were stonemasons and plasterers and they did most of the house to work off the debt.

Q: Interesting.

A: But that debt was a millstone around my father’s neck. It was always a symbol to him of his failure. And it never went away. He was a different person from the time when he had the store and his business and after. He was a single minded loyal, hardworking man who told the truth. And he was a gentleman in every way, and regardless of the lack of education, he read. He had opinions. I remember he gave me my first lesson in economics. I probably was 12 or so when I asked him who he was going to vote for. And he said, in broken English, Democratico .I said, well, why? He said the Republicans believe that if everything goes good at the top it will come down like a pot of coffee percolating or dripping. He said that’s not the way it works. And I mean I haven’t …

Q: That’s from way back then and it’s still the same. (Laugh)

A: It’s still the same.

Q: It’s amazing.

A: Yeah, and Roosevelt was our total hero. He adored Roosevelt. He believed that Roosevelt was the person. And I remember he was anti-Mussolini. He wasn’t a political guy, but he didn’t like Mussolini, and he called him fasciste. And it was an insulting term. So as little political sophistication that I had, he was right on the money. And when we built the house, there was always some hassling going. Some of the guys who were supposed to do a job wouldn’t show up, and they weren’t getting paid, so they’d put it on the bottom. But we got the house built, but I remember that the garage always had that siding you put on that catches the stucco, that catches the plaster on the wall, it never got done. But everything else got done. And we had a tiny house and shortly after my mother died, I was 16 when she died, and she had cancer, and was reluctant to go to the doctor because there were no female doctors. And so the tumor she had in her breasts spread to her stomach and she died at 51, which is – she looked 80 when she died. And even when she, she was a pretty woman, but she worked so hard and scrimped and saved. And was loyal. You get all the right values because there was nothing that they did that wasn’t for their children. Nothing. Everything was about taking care of the family and making sure they ate, they had clothes on, they were clean. And they didn’t lie. And they didn’t … lying, or just not telling the truth was a very big thing in my family.

Q: Your father then survived her by many years?

A: Yes. She died in ’51, he died probably 15 or 16 years later, but that’s …

Q: She died in 1951?

A: Yeah. And shortly thereafter, she died in November of ’51, and I joined the Air Force January the 4th in ’52. I was just 17.

Q: So you dropped out of high school.

A: Yeah, I dropped out of high school.

Q: Which high school?

A: Chicopee High School.

Q: Chicopee, okay.

A: I had to get my father to sign. I was a little boy, I didn’t even shave. But I knew I had to go. Because I was just hanging around and kicking over garbage cans, you know, it was no good. And it just had that instinct that I had to go. And I missed – it was a terrible loss at our house without my mother there, and I went to the Air Force and …

Q: Were your other siblings still in the house?

A: My two sisters were in the house, my bother wasn’t. My brother got married, but he came back too because he, he came back with his first wife, and they had bought a trailer, and they had attached a trailer to our house in Chicopee Falls, and the water and electricity came from our house. And they lived there. And my sisters, by that time, had been married, although there’s one little story. My middle sister, Doris, went with the same guy from the junior high school. He went into the navy, he sent her his pay, she banked it, went to work, dropped out of school also. And when he came home and they got married I gave up my room and moved to an attic upstairs. And my father told his new son in law to ask me if I would do that. And I said I absolutely would. And they attached a long string, so I had a light, and it was cold as hell up there, but I’d been used to that from when I was younger. But then they built the house, my father helped them, and they moved out and so it was only my father and me. And he was lonesome. And he once said to me, when I came home on leave, he said; do you know any nice ladies that would marry me? And I said; pop, I don’t. He said; well, you have a lot of friends, why don’t you ask them if they know any nice lady that would come live with me and marry me? And I told him before I left I said I don’t know anybody. He then, unbeknownst to me, wrote to his sister in Italy asking her the same question. Is there anybody around there that would be a suitable wife for me? And she said; as a matter of fact, yes. There’s a lady here who just lost her husband. She’s a seamstress in one of the shops, in the little shops in town. And he sent for her. And I remember the scandal, according to my sisters, because when she got home from the airport one of my brother in laws drove to Logan and picked her up. When she got to Chicopee Falls, to our house, my father took her by the hand and brought her into the bedroom and closed the door. (Laugh)

Q: (Laugh) One of the first mail order brides.

A: No ifs, ands or buts. And years later …

Q: How old was he?

A: Well, let’s see, this is probably 1953 or ’54, so he had to be … oh, probably 50, or 52, he was still a young man, you know? And my sisters were appalled. Oh, they were just appalled. They couldn’t say enough against it. Years later, because we brought that woman, my stepmother’s daughters over, and she’s still here, she lives near Boston. And I once said to her; how did your mother feel about that? When my father got her here he took her by the hand took her to the bedroom? She said she understood. She understood. And she said that was the best years of her life. Your father treated her like a queen. And my sisters didn’t understand that. They were Americanized and they didn’t realize. My father wasn’t Americanized. So I had a stepmother, and the first time I came home she was in the house, she spoke no English, none. And my Italian at that time was, I had forgotten it all. We had an incident, my father was working, and apparently she asked me a question and I threw down my clothes, I thought she said; do you have any dirty clothes? And after that she goes into her room and closes the door. When I got home my father says; what happened? What do you mean? She asked you what you wanted for breakfast and you threw down a bunch a dirty clothes.

Q: (Laugh)

A: I said; pop, I’m really sorry, I didn’t know. I apologized to her. But she was very loyal and my father took ill also with cancer, he died at 67, I think, and the cancer just ravished him. He ended up a bag of bones. I don’t know how they couldn’t afford to go to the, they never went to the doctor or anything.

Q: Yeah.

A: And I came home from the Air Force and my father was still alive, I came home in ’56. I worked, I got a job in a shotgun factory as a power miller.

Q: Near Chicopee Falls?

A: Yeah, in Chicopee Falls. There was a monument there called MacArthur’s Ball. It was Douglas MacArthur’s father’s, he was a general also, he lived in town for a brief time and they have a ball there. The factory is right off that street. And I was a power miller. I worked on the part of the shotgun that the shell comes out of when you pump it. And I ended up with three pounds of slivers in both hands. If I’d slap somebody, they’d die. And I saw an ad in the papers that the factory down at the bottom of the hill was looking for somebody. It was a rubber factory that made tires. U.S. Rubber. And I went to work there on the second shift. Let me backtrack. As a kid I had to work, so at 10 or 11 I began picking vegetables at various farms, beans.

Q: After school and weekends?

A: Yeah. And during the summer. And whatever I got paid I would give my mother and she would save it. I caddied a lot at a local golf course. And when I got to be 14 I went to work on tobacco farms, I was too young even with papers, you had to be 15. I lied about my age.

Q: And these were all in Massachusetts.

A: These were in Connecticut. A truck would come by at 5:30 and pick us up. We’d go by truck to these farms that were owned by the Consolidated Cigar Company. And there were huge feels that were now developments, malls.

Q: And now what part of Connecticut? Is this all in the …

A: North.

Q: Northeast quadron?

A: Right across the border from Massachusetts. A little south of a town called Enfield.

Q: Oh, Enfield, sure. Not too far from Hartford.

A: It kind of gets small, but it was kind of in north central Connecticut. And there was these huge expanses of shade grown tobacco. They used leafs from this tobacco to provide the wrappers for White Owls and Roytans and cigars that were popular at that time. And the heat underneath those nets, if it was 85 outside it was 100 under there. And the work, it was hard work. At first we would sucker, which is breaking off the growths that came between the main leafs and the stem, you would have these grouts that would suck out the stuff that would go into the leaf, what you wanted was a big leaf. So we did that first. And then we began to pick. You’d take the tobacco, the first four leafs from the bottom, and you put them in a pile and then you go to the next one, and the next one, and the next one, and then you’d drag these containers, it was like a sled that was like a box. And you filled that up and took it out. And filled it up and took it out. And that was the work, at 55 cents an hour. And I decided to upgrade. And, again, the guy asked me if I was 16, and I said, yes, I was 16, I had papers, he never asked me for the papers. The first day on the – this was a different kind of tobacco field – this tobacco field, when it was ripe, you were given a hatchet. And you’d grab the bottom of the tobacco plant, and you chopped it, and it fell, and you kept chopping, and chopping, and chopping. And then you came with a lathe about that big, that had a metal prong in it. And you’d stick this thing through the biggest part of the stalk, and you’d run it down this lathe. And fill it up and leave it. And fill it up and leave it. And then the truck would come by that had these racks.

Q: Right.

A: And you’d put these things into the rack, and it would go into the burner. Well, the first day out on the truck I fell under the truck. I was, you know, holding on like you’d see a guy on the garbage truck holding on? I was holding on that way and somehow I slipped. And I fell, and one of the back tires went over my foot. And I remember getting twisted around.

Q: This is why when Timmy Landers ran over your foot, you didn’t move, you didn’t scream. (Laugh)

A: It was an old story. It was the same foot by the way?

Q: Yeah.

A: And I remember it was my first day on the job I came home with a cast on my foot. The owner of the place was worried shitless that I would make trouble. And I remember getting some worker’s compensation, I think I got $15 a week for four weeks. Well, that was my year of work that year. My mother said; why did you have to get hurt? They were amazed that I fell under the truck. I ended up going to the Shriner’s Hospital, which is a charity. And got a cast put on. So I was big hero then, I’d walk around with a cast. Well, that was all my years in high school, I worked somewhere during the summer and sometimes after school. And the money I made one year I remember my mother used it to get my teeth fixed. Really romantic stuff, you know. Go get your cavities and all that stuff. But in the Air Force I was a, I started out being a photographer. But I couldn’t take the sudden movements in a fast moving plane. I would lose my stomach. So I quickly was grounded and …

Q: Where were you stationed? Where was this?

A: I took basic in New York at Samson Air Force Base, an old navy base in Geneva, New York, in the middle of winter. And was assigned to Oberlin Air Force Base in northwest Florida where I served four years. And I became a lab technician in a photo lab. I ran a number of processing machines.

Q: This is before the Korean War.

A: During.

Q: It was during the Korean War.

A: And I ran these machines, anything from gun camera film, because it was a proving ground command, there was a lot of shooting simulated targets and stuff. And actually we did some small military production films in 35 millimeter. And I ran that lab too. I was a general guy in the nightshift, so I slept through all the inspections. And I learned that in order not to have the inspecting sergeant pounding his shoes to wake me up, I have to make the bed perfectly, and lie on it, on my back, with my hands crossed over my chest. And the bed was perfectly tight. And I wouldn’t move until that inspection was over. But they would leave me alone then. But if it was sloppy they’d wake you up. But I went through a lot of that, I missed a lot of KP, but I got out of the service …

Q: This is like ’56?

A: Yeah. And you heard that I went to work in these notorious places. And I only wanted to go to school or do something besides just this factory stuff. I had a friend from the Air Force who was in New York who went to NYU. We had a course in motion picture production. But I didn’t have any money. So I tried to get a job in a film processing company. They had a waiting list about $7 miles long, and they were, this was during the height of, you show up for work and they’d hire you. So I went to work in B. Altman, which was a Fifth Avenue store selling rugs. I didn’t know anything about rugs. I had one suit, I had a grey flannel suit, and two pair of pants.

Q: Where did you live in New York?

A: We lived …

Q: When you got out of the Air Force you first went back home, did some factory work, then came to New York City.

A: I lived on 17th Street off Seventh Avenue, near Barney’s. And the question was; who really was the tenant in our apartment? The roaches? Or me and my friend? But we managed. I went to work every day and did pretty well selling rugs. One day I left to come home, the store was on the corner of 34th Street and Fifth Avenue. And there was a union guy handing out leaflets. And I stopped and spoke with him. I was always pro-Union. I didn’t know why, but I was. And they next day I came into work and I got fired.

Q: Because they saw you talking to him?

A: They saw me talking to this guy and they didn’t say why, you know. They said; we don’t need you anymore. At that time I was a subscriber to the New Republic magazine, which I still am. And I saw an ad, a little ad in there, saying if you’re interested in helping hard working, underpaid people in the apparel industry, call this number. I did. It turned out to be the ILGWU, the International League of the Garment Workers Union.

Q: Show how old are you at this point?

A: Twenty-one. Twenty-two.

Q: Already having four years in the Air Force.

A: Yeah. And I went there and was interviewed by five old men with heavy European accents; one Italian and the rest of them Jewish. And all of them sort of, well, they were all a brand of anti-communist socialists. They were democratic socialists. If you equated who they were they were menchavichs[h] in Russia in the Revolution. They lost. They tried to establish a parliament and all that. And the communists had the guns, so they won. But they asked me all kinds of questions and the next thing you know I got a letter from them that I was accepted into their training academy, called the Training Institute. And I met the person who would be my mentor for the rest of my life there, Gus Tyler. And he brought me into the school and there was about 24 or 25 of us from various walks of life, not many from the industry. They needed, they did this, the union did, because they were basically a union of women. And the women had responsibilities at home, and they wanted to evolve into leaders. And so we were brought in to be leaders of those workers. And I met a whole bunch of people and was introduced to a whole different body of ideas, which was extremely stimulating. We had top flight visiting lecturers in economics, in world affairs, in the economics of the garment industry, all of that. And then we were sent out, that was for three months, and we were sent out to the field to organize. The first three months I was sent to Virginia where it was very difficult, but not really dangerous there. I came back …

Q: Now you organized, you were actually going to places recruiting for the union?

A: We were trying to organize a knitting factory in Roanoke. They were scared to even talk to you because they would get fired. But we had to do it. And we did it. And it meant writing leaflets and meeting people, going to their houses and trying to get them to join the union.

Q: This was ’57?

A: This was ’57. I came back, and when I got back – the union had given a couple of us extra work to do, to get paid. And we had a group of Indonesian Labor leaders, six, about a half dozen of them, and three times a week I would talk to them for an hour or so in the structure of American government. And that gave me some extra money besides the GI Bill which I was getting. Well, one of those days we were upstairs, and the session was over, and I saw this very pretty redheaded woman. And I was with a guy who was still my friend, Saul Kaufman, from New York. He said; I think I’ll ask her to the play. There was a play showing that we were going to go to, and it was by a guy named Morton Wiechenbrad[ph], who wrote a play called The Rope Dancers. And Art Carney was in, and Sorbian McKenna, and other people. It was in the … we had tickets, they invited us, and they gave us two tickets. So Saul said to me, I think I’ll ask her to go to the play. I said; no. I’m going to ask her to go to the play. And I did. And …

Q: He backed off?

A: He backed off. He was my dear friend. And his juices weren’t flowing as much as mine. So it turned out that Sue Bramucci, the woman who I’ve been married to for 55 plus years now had been recruited from the Great Book School in Annapolis called St. Johns. Their curriculum was reading 25 or 30 great books. And the director of the Training Institute used to go down there to see if he could recruit young men and women to be labor leaders. We were growing. And she was a secretary to the Dean of Admissions there, and he basically brought her up here. I think it was her first day that I saw her.

Q: Is that right? How old was she?

A: Probably a year younger than me. And she laughed at a couple of jokes that I told. And the next thing you know I was dating her. And right after that I said I’d like to marry you. Well, but I’m going away, I was reassigned on my field trip, the second, we were three months in the classroom, three months in the field, then three more months in the classroom and then in the field again. So this time I was sent to Georgia, Mississippi and North Carolina, three of the most violently anti-union states in the Union. And while I was down there we were trying to organize a factory near Laurel, Mississippi. And I went into a store on one of the streets in this small town, and there was angled parking towards the curb. And apparently I had the back wheel on the line, separating the lanes, and I got arrested for disturbing the peace and they took me to jail. And I finally got a message out, the guys knew that I was with, trying to organize this factory, knew I was in jail. And they got the unionist and the lawyer. Well, every time they lawyer would send out for me they’d move me to another little jail.

Q: Wow.

A: And I think it was on the third jail that they finally got to me and got me out. And I got transferred then to North Carolina where there was a runaway shop there, which had – on a Friday the workers who were working there, they went home for the weekend, when they came back Monday there was no factory. They had moved over the weekend to a spot near Henderson, North Carolina.

Q: They just fired everybody?

A: They didn’t say anything, they just left.

Q: Jeez.

A: They went from a union shop to another union shop. And there were several acts of violence there against …

Q: So these were all ladies’ garment workers?

A: They all lost their jobs. Of course we got them jobs in five minutes, but what they did was unconscionable. And so we were obligated to cause some trouble. We were aligned against the town, everybody in the town; the police …

Q: In Henderson?

A: Yeah. One of my friends got beaten up by a thug. We were consigned to a picket line way out on the road, and the factory was probably in a hundred yards or so off the road, we couldn’t get near the factory. What we were doing were informational picketing saying that this had been a union shop in Brookes, and the workers were abandoned, we had pictures and all that. I was on one end, my colleague was on the other end, he got beaten up. And as I remember trying to run towards him, I was scared shitless, but there were two guys who just stood there and I just said; stop beating him. But he got whacked pretty good. And that was sort of my baptism. There were other incidents, but it was very difficult. You really, there was such a pervasive fear on the part of the workers, they had no interest in talking to you because they would, because what would happen to them happened to me when I worked at B. Altman. And New York City is one thing. Henderson, North Carolina, is another.

Q: Yeah.

A: While I was on my field trip I think by then moved to Georgia. I came up to Annapolis and married Sue.

Q: This is ’57 still?

A: Fifty-seven, yes. I married Sue, it was at her house, I had to borrow her brother’s shoes, another brother’s suit. I borrowed money from her older brother to buy her a ring. And we got married in this little chapel near Annapolis. And I was driven there by friends, and they got mixed up and took me to the wrong church.

Q: (Laugh)

A: We were being married in an episcopal church, and I remember the minister, before we got married, wanted to make sure we weren’t just on the run from the Catholics and everything. He had been a friend of Sue’s mother from Alcoholics Anonymous. And he agreed to marry us. And her friends, who well-meaning and thought they knew everything, brought me to the Catholic church and nobody was there. And I said; what’s happening? And somehow they went into a restaurant and used the phone and said; oh, it’s the episcopal church. So I got there, and her mother, of course …

Q: A little late?

A: Well, I was late. And her mother was; I told you so, he’s an Italian. So we got married, and I have all this borrowed stuff on me, I get two days off from the job, maybe three. I borrowed Sue’s girlfriend’s car, and we went on our honeymoon for a day. That marriage has lasted pretty well.

Q: What was Sue’s maiden name?

A: Byrne. B-Y-R-N-E. She came from a large family. Her father had died very young. He had been an engineer, a graduate of Notre Dame. Her mother was a talented and beautiful lady who battled the bottle from the time I knew her. And Sue essentially raised her younger sisters and brothers.

Q: Mm-hmm? How many did she have?

A: Three sisters, and really three brothers, but two that weren’t with her, but the girls, especially she raised, and they lived with her. And her mother would appear from time to time. When we got married her mother was on that period of being dry, very active in A.A. She was one of those visiting speakers. And very charming. And a very pretty lady. During the time I was there she even got a job in the Governor’s office because of how well regarded she was and what potential she had. But it was an interesting period of mine because I had to meet all the people that she was responsible for. And it was very difficult for her because she was only 17 or 18 and she was in charge of the girls. And her father had died, and her mother would go off on tours, and it would be the endless quibbling and battles over the social security money. And they went from place to place, to place to place. While I knew her there must’ve been four or five different places in Annapolis that they lived. And she had many more of that before then. And we, when I came back, first we lived in Queens for a little while until I got my assignment.

Q: Were you back in the classroom?

A: We were back in the classroom, and we had a graduation, and I was assigned to Local 91 of the Children’s Dressmakers Union. There were 14,500 members.

Q: All in New York City?

A: Yeah, in Manhattan. Maybe a couple out of town, meaning Brooklyn.

Q: Right. (Chuckle) Right. This is all the sewing shops down on the east side? The lower east side?

A: On the east side, they were downtown, they were uptown, they were all over. There were little shops, 20 years of workers, and then the showrooms, there were a gazillion showrooms on Seventh Avenue below 34th Street. And I was the Education Political Director. That sounded like something, right?

Q: Yeah.

A: So I had an eight page …

Q: Now is she still working for the union also?

A: Yeah.

Q: Okay.

A: But by that time she wasn’t because she was pregnant. And Lisa was born in ’58, around this time. November. She was born the day Kennedy was assassinated.

Q: The 22nd?

A: Yeah. So she was home. By that time we were living in Brooklyn, Park Slope. And we were renting a two and a half room apartment in Park Slope from a woman who was a dressmaker and one of the early women leaders in the labor union. Wrote a couple of books. Her name was Rose Pichata[ph]. And she was hard of hearing. And walked in on me taking a shower many times.

Q: (Laugh)

A: We had, Lisa was born at Brooklyn Hospital, Sue became the only patient that this doctor ever had. She wanted a natural childbirth. And she did it. And Lisa was born, and I called her mother to tell her that Sue had had a baby. And she said to me; what color is she?

Q: (Laugh)

A: No, I didn’t mean that, I meant what color is her hair?

Q: (Laugh)

A: So I told Sue, we had a good laugh about it anyways, but it was an un-evental birth, Lisa was a beautiful baby and I got into the work. And most of what I did there with my two years there with one of the most egomaniacal labor leaders in the history of egomaniacal labor leaders. He was a piece of work. He had grown up in the rough and tumble of the left/right battles in New York politics and European politics. And I edited this magazine, it was a slick magazine, and nobody had told me how to do this. But I used to type up paragraphs and just cut them out and paste them up. I remember I had a guy translating the manager’s report to the workers into Spanish. And the Spanish always ran about 100 or so words more.

Q: Right.

A: And I used to go through the dictionaries and see what, after a while I’d get the scissors out, get to where it wouldn’t go anymore and cut it off. So it could be right in the middle of the sentence. I didn’t care, nobody ever read it. Nobody ever read it.

Q: This was a magazine put out by the union?

A: Yeah. Called Our Aim. And what I really ended up doing, I was selling vacuums of what people really needed, the workers. And the union had this marvelous philosophy of being community first. You were members of the union, but you were also members of the human race and had a responsibility. And, so I … I began getting people coming in, and because they thought I was a lawyer they began bringing me their rent problems. And all of them lived in rent controlled apartments, and they were bringing in complaints about rats, and illegal increases, all kinds of stuff. And I had hundreds of cases. And I would go to the rent courts with these workers and defend them. And so I became known as Ray the Lawyer. And it was the union doing what they union should. There was a limit to what I could do on the plant floor, but I could surely give them a voice where it was important. And I just carved that out myself. And it became what all the other locals in New York we had to do. And whenever there were introductions in the, when we had meetings with the workers, I would get the biggest cheer. Because I had the most to do with helping them where they really needed help. So that was my early education. I remember the union had a resort, at Croton-On-Hudson. And sensibly it was for the members and all that for vacation. It was really for his manager and his second or third wife, it’s a beautiful place. He wanted me to do a film on Local 91 and on him. And he knew I was in the Air Force and I did motion pictures there, I did a couple of productions.

Q: This is the same egomaniac?

A: Yeah.

Q: Yeah? What was his name?

A: Harry Greenberg. And I remember there was a feud going on the Local between Greenberg and one of the business agents. And this business agent turned in Greenberg to the IRS. He was claiming travel expenses. He lived like two doors down from the union office. And so there was this feud going on constantly. But we had this outing. I remember taking the train with Sue, pregnant. And I worked on this film. And when lunchtime approached Greenberg asked me to go home. Take my wife and go home. There wasn’t no room for us for lunch.

Q: Yeah.

A: Some humanitarian. So I left there and I’ll think we’ll leave this right here?

Q: Yeah.

A: I left there, and I said to my mentor, Gus Tyler; I can’t take this anymore. I’ve had it. And I was brought in to the New York office to work for a guy who ran what’s called the Eastern Region, which was then called the Eastern Out of Town Department. Out of town was; Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island and maybe Mount Vernon. And I became a general administrative assistant. And our family began to grow.

Q: Okay. That was an hour and a half. Pause?

A: I always, whenever we were on strike, I could never be rapid about it. Because I always understood that there were people we were effecting that didn’t agree. And they had families too. And I could never be rapid. I could be, I could take part, but I never felt comfortable being a one sided advocate. And thank God that the union understood that the most important thing about being a union is that you brought community to the workers. Not that you squeeze the employer for every nickel he had, but you understood. Because nobody killed the goose that laid the golden egg. You didn’t kill any geese. And people were always wanting more, when they had power they could see that they could get what they wanted. So the union was in a difficult position. That it basically designed for itself. The union in the garment industry was the arbitrator. It was legally the representative, but really we were there to arbitrate differences in the interest of the bigger issues. So one of the unique things, and this is one of the, this is my graduate work – I ended up representing the workers, the union, in disputes that occurred in like a seven state area. And we had an agreement with the employers that we equally financed what we called an impartial chairman. And he sat, every day, and he was authorized to summon you to a session. And the ruling in the contracts was that if anybody was fired they could have a hearing within 24 hours. And if there was a work stoppage the employer could summon the union. How about that? And the impartial chairman would make decisions right there that were not appealable.

Q: Interesting.

A: Right there.

Q: You got everything resolved.

A: Right away.

Q: Yeah.

A: You know, the old man, the impartial, it was Harry Lovelier. He would have a yellow pencil and a yellow pad. And we’d sit down, and he’d say; what’s this all about? And I’d give him the short version, I’d say they’d have a representative from the association, (01:19:01). Meanwhile we had worked it out before we got there. And he’d hear, you know, it would last for a little time, and he’d go into his office, and he called me in and say; you find work for him? Yeah. How about a couple of weeks pay? And I’d say, well, let him collect unemployment for a couple of weeks. And let’s say you put her back the first of October. It’s now September 3rd. And have the employer fight the unemployment.

Q: Right.

A: He issued a decision. We’d agree before, the association guy, and I ended up, he was like a father to me, he, you know, whatever I, for a while, whatever I would say he would say the employers. You going to argue with him? Because some of the union guys were the old fashioned union guys. You know, their workers were writing the map. And they said; you know, to the employer, I had to do it, I had to do it. But we kept peace that way.

Q: Much better then, huh?

A: There was no seniority. Work began to dwindle, I’d call the girls together, look, he needs this, this, this and this. Who’s going to work? And they’d say for five minutes, well, Hilda’s got her son in law coming in, and this one has got, and blah, blah, blah, and we’d work it out.

Q: It was different then.

A: I used to hear the stories about the unions in the building trades, the guy’s getting paid for not coming to work, and the bullshit that went on. I had no more sympathy for that than I would having my eyes pulled out. Because we were what kept everything in order. We were the long term guys, not the employers. It’s … it’s a very unique arrangement by very unique people who understood how they had to survive.

Q: How long did that go for?

A: Fifty years.

Q: And you were in this capacity from?

A: Fifteen years.

Q: Really? That long?

A: Yeah. You know. Multi state strikes. Mafia. Negotiations. I learned it all. And we had situations where old men were leading the union and hit in the head with a bat. Arms broken, jaws broken by these mafia figures. And it was serious. But even there I had a pretty good record of dealing with them and not being compromised. Even they understood. And once they tested you to see what your bag was, or if you had one – I’ll leave you with this, I remember, this guy was still alive now, and he was a truck man. And the truck men in this business, the Teamsters, we had them in our union. They were garment workers. And they were, again, you know, (01:23:22). We took them in, we’d rather have them in the house than not. Anyways they ended up, these truck men as the Siemen’s Sears of the contracting business. Because what they would do would be to loan somebody money who wanted to open a shop in Dumont. And there was already a shop there, he wanted to buy four machines, and he needed this and this. And the deal was I give you the money, I do your shipping for you. And you don’t argue with me about what it costs.

Q: Right.

A: And so it was the good news and the bad news. And, you know, it came out in the press as all bad news. And I said to people it’s not all bad news. They got people money in their hand and that’s why we had an industry that left New York City.

Q: Well maybe next time we sit down and talk that’s getting you from New York to New Jersey.

A: Yeah.

Q: Okay. Let me stop it again.

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