Interview with Frank J. Tedeschi
Broome County Oral History Project
Interview with: Frank J. Tedeschi
Interviewed by: Nettie Politylo
Date of interview: 31 January 1978
Nettie: This is Nettie Politylo, interviewer, talking to Frank J. Tedeschi of 327 Hill Ave., Endicott, NY on Jan. 31, 1978. Well, Frank, will you start with some of the recollections when your mother and dad came from Italy and reasons for coming for coming here?
Frank: Ok, my dad, Joseph, came from Albrobello which is the province of body Italy back in 1908—back to New York City, of course, and went to a small community called West Winfield, near Utica, New York. And there upon hearing about the Endicott Johnson factories there, they came to Endicott where he got a job in Endicott Johnson in the early 1900s. Prior to that, he married my mother who had come from Italy about one year after he did and they had their first child in West Winfield near Utica, my sister, Florence. She was approximately year old when they moved to Endicott. After being in EJ for number of years they opened up their first business on front of Oak Hill Ave. and at that time was called Green St. which is now known as Watson Blvd in 1907 er—1917. From there they moved to Odell Ave, 215 Odell Ave., had a store there and then they bought the property where it stands now—corner of Odell Ave. and Watson Blvd. 101 Odell Ave, that was back in 1919, has been there ever since. My dad had his trial and tribulations same as any immigrant at that time—not knowing the language—and few miss and miss—some of them stories being kind of in the rough—awful time can't get started in this country. The family grew, they grew with the business, of course. In 1946 he retired. At that time I took over with my sister, Florence as a partner. He was a partner, also, but he was an inactive partner, he is what you call today a silent partner in the business. Now I can stop there—you want something else—
Nettie: Now, tell us what you said about trial and tribulations—some of trials he had when he first came to Endicott Johnson, here in Endicott.
Frank: Of course, not knowing the language they were picked on by some of the colleagues called the big Irish people at that time. They picked on the Italians, Poles, Russians, Slavs and they used them as a kicking stick, you might say, for doing all the dirty jobs and got credit for them. He had three or four different jobs and finally decided he'd go into business for himself. One particular instance, he said he was going to bite one of the fellow's nose off, because he bugged him so much, he wasn't going to get violent to the degree where he was going to hurt him physically just to bite his nose. One particular instance. Just that time were many instances but I can't remember all of them, of course, it's hard to say. Meanwhile, he started a business, kind of hard for him he didn't know the language very sparingly at that time. Most of the people on the North Side were either from the Italian extraction, Slavish [Slavic], Polish or Greek. He got so he could speak a little of each language he picked up as he went along—having got by. He raised a family of ten kids—5 boys and 5 girls. I'm the oldest of the boys and the other brother of mine is in business also, in Vestal Center, my brother Marty. The time he retired he wasn't feeling too well, that's the reason why he got out of the business. He liked the business, he enjoyed meeting the people, talking to the people. And it's a pity that sometimes people don't appreciate what you do for them especially when they're in business because many many people took advantage of them. The details, of course, are too long and complicated to go into now, something like that. [to wife] —want to talk? (laughing).
Nettie: You are doing well—
Frank: Now since my sister and I took over the business in 1946, of course, the old time type of business we changed to a degree because my dad opened the store 7 o'clock every morning—closed at 9 o'clock at night—closed Friday night at midnight—closed Saturday at midnight—Sunday up to 1 or 2 o'clock in the afternoon. When we took over we closed early—we closed Sundays and holidays. We don't have that type of business. We feel it's not worthwhile sacrificing life. They had the business, they enjoyed it they worked, they enjoyed taking care of the people they knew as friends. Now our type of business today is also different what it was years ago, where it was strictly Italian, of course, now we take care of to specialities—to groups of people like Greek, Armenian, Lebanese, all types of people, Chinese, Italian, English—
Nettie: Frank, can I interrupt right now? I know that's the thing I found interesting when I was in your store—I noticed you had so many different things in your store—I looked all over for a special kind of wheat and I found it in your store? What other things do you have in your store that the Armenians, Greek—specialty kind of things?
Frank: The kind of wheat, I believe you wanted, was cracked wheat—called bulgur—OK—then we have buckwheat groats, also which for the Russian, Polish people, Slavic people, which not many people handling it in the area. Some of the other items that the Lebanese use is—mixture called—falafel which is a mixture of ground fava beans and spices—then there's the—tahini which is ground sesame oil and then there's the Greek shortening—called minerva—funny name for it—Greek shortening—came from Greece—special wild onions called—volvoí packed in oil and vinegar is Greek. For the Lebanese, also, we have the Lebanese spices called—mahaleb and za’atar—two special spices they’re always looking for. And pine nuts, of course, are the Greek and Italian—of course, they are going international now—pignoli nuts come from Spain. Some of the other foods, of course, are Greek cheeses—and and the Lebanese cheeses—are special cheeses in themselves. The Greek cheese is packed in brine—some of them—Lebanese cheese are a basket cheese—Russian cheese used at Easter time—used to put in their baskets to be blessed—yeah—ok—some of the other items I, of course, imported Italian foods that we have—which hard to find—the St. John bread, we used to call—dried bananas at one time, carobs—we call—real name—are from Portugal—3 or 4 varieties of figs—Turkish figs, Greek figs, California figs—dried form or string form—then we have a variety of many other foods such as dried garbanzo lentils, things like that are dried legumes.
Mrs. Tedeschi: Greek pastries too.
Frank: Yeah, of course, the Greek pastry—which are the phyllo leaves from the prepared Greek pastry, which is called tiropita, spanakopita. We have the dessert, the sweet stuff, baklava which is very delicious. We also have a variety of Far Eastern breads—leavened breads which is called ma’arouk—then we have sesame bread which is flat leavened bread which is Lebanese and Armenian type of bread—then we have the folded dough—folded dough used for pizzas. These are some of the items we have. We have some others, of course.
Nettie: Sounds interesting! I didn’t realize you had that many.
Frank: We have all types of imported kind of candy, spumoni, terrone—we have chocolates. We have imported cherries and brandy, butter cakes which are called qatayef—brandy or rum.
Nettie: I didn’t realize you had all that.
Frank: We also carry a variety of porcelain goods such as demitasse cups and sets (demitasse) and we have large spaghetti bowls of all sizes, have different type vegetable strainers, meat choppers and sausage makers for home use.
Nettie: What are some of your recollections of the Italian People? You know, some of the customs—that would be interesting—
Frank: As far as the eating habits are concerned?
Nettie: Well, eating habits, maybe some of your customs—holidays—
Frank: Well your Christmas Eve customs in the Italian line are the fact they have to eat, or not have to—but the custom to eat 21 different types of food. In other words—mostly non-meat items, Christmas Eve. Usually they have 7 or 8 or 9 varieties of fish, cooked different ways, different kinds of vegetables, nuts, cheeses, different kinds of wines, beverages of all kinds, of course, to get loaded—have to have alkaseltzer (Laughing). Of course, the traditional Italian fish which is a dried codfish, baccalà which comes whole, which it comes boneless or skinless which has to be freshened soaked day or two, soaked 3-4 days with the bone in—then there's a Swedish stockfish, also is original Italian dish mostly for people from Calabria—lower Italy—Calabria, town which is on lower end of the boot of Italy, they eat that fish—it is very expensive this time of year—$6.50 a pound—that what they asked for two weeks ago.
Nettie: Is it a salty fish?
Frank: Very strong aroma—some people call disastrous—has a very distinct odor to it. Those all traditional—people fish—that they eat—want. Also, there are English pilchard, called—aringa—which is a smoked dry sardine which is also a traditional type of fish and the dry smoked herring—(put a jug of wine) after you eat a couple fish which you would be thirsty. Something, like the Russian people have their pickled salt herring - the Italian people have their dry smoked herring called aringa. Of course, the Italian spaghetti sauces, numerous different kinds of spaghetti sauces with the Italian seasonings and cheeses from Italy, called romano pecorino—
Nettie: What was that?
Frank: Romano pecorino—which mean—made from sheep's milk—pecorino means sheep's milk—pecora means, means “sheep” in Italian. Now the people in northern Italy which are the Piedmonti's people, citizens of northern Italy they use the parmigiano cheese—parmesano—is strictly from cow's milk. They don't like the sharp violent cheese—that cheese is mostly for white sauces and cream sauces—types of spaghetti—made from piselli—for example use butter, use parmesano cheese, but to make piselli fettuccelle use romano cheese.
Nettie: Never heard of those—that sounds good—though—
Frank: Different types. And of course we have the variety of Italian olives—some consider Italian, some consider Greek, we used to have them in barrels, now they come in plaster tubs, about 30-40 each—they have a flavor of their own, don't compare with the ripe olive different taste to them—there is a Sicilian type, there is a Greek type.
Nettie: Is that right? I didn't realize that.
Frank: There are varieties of olives—those we specialize in them, also. Now the other strictly Italian food that we find in our place which I don't believe, of course, the English and American people, well I haven't seen the Russian or Slovak person buy, that's cornmeal—used for cornmeal mush, polenta—that's called in Italian.
Nettie: I think I had that in Spain.
Frank: It is cooked and boiled down in water and you put a sauce over it, with homemade meatballs or homemade sausage—my wife eats the corn and I eat the sausage—but that's also a strictly Italian. In this country they used to make, you know, muffins or fritters, things like that. There's strictly polenta—which is cornmeal mush—made with rich tomato sauce. Others, are of course, you know is pasta and beans and pasta and lenticchie which is lentils, pasta and ceci ceci which is chick peas.
Nettie: All kinds of foods, I imagine you are a cook from what you are talking about—
Frank: You know, I give lot of women a lot of recipes—I never cooked any in all of my life.
Nettie: Is that right?
Frank: I know the ingredients are and how to cook them, because I've seen them cook in our house. Alright, what else should we talk about?
Mrs. Tedeschi: About hospitality—
Nettie: I would say—all these things—all this is interesting.
Mrs. Tedeschi: —the way they were.
Frank: The way they are—they are—still are—the foreign people, the people coming from Europe, we also are a nationality, are a lot more hospitable—than the people of this country are.
Nettie: Yes, yes.
Frank: You walk in a Italian home, or Slavic home or a Greek home and if they are eating dinner they will insist you sit down and eat with them, otherwise they would be insulted. If they don't have anything, middle of the afternoon, they will insist on putting on a pot of coffee, take out some cookies or cake or something.
Nettie: It's very true.
Frank: Those are things we find that the active people, the Italian people, the Slavic, the Polish people are very, very famous for. They are also, very persistent, asking you to sit and join them.
Nettie: Yes, very much so.
Mrs. Tedeschi: Yes, they are.
Frank: You know the traditions we had in the past every once in a while, I think about it. They're forgotten. The younger generation don't know anything about it.
Nettie: That's what I'd like to have—
Frank: OK—back years ago, now we’re having Palm Sunday coming and Easter Sunday with Lent, our parish priest, at that time, would go around on Palm Sunday and bless the homes with his holy water—along and his assistant and a altar boy carrying the holy container to bless the homes. That particular priest that we had here, used to stop, how he did it I don't know to this day, stop and eat everyplace he went. He usually would go around, you know, at meal times, you know at about twelve to one o'clock, everybody—sitting at the table—eat something for about five or ten minutes—then they would question him all over again—you could tell by looking at him he enjoyed it. Those are some of the traditions that are gone—we miss—and back, even days before television, before radio, before restaurants, and beer gardens we have today—it used to be more of a family affair—
Nettie: It's true.
Frank: Families used to get together and enjoy themselves—sit, talk, chat, eat and drink, play cards—that was really happy occasions to play cards when you bring a bottle of wine—the old fellows, us kids used to watch and we were chased off to bed.
Frank: But those are missing now, now everybody has got their own new world, they live in. Now I come home, as tonight, watch television for two or three hours and go to bed. That didn't happen before—before you would talk with the family, I'd visit my sister, my brother would visit me—I'd visit my dad—that type of thing—that's missing today.
Nettie: That's too bad, too.
Frank: Then the old feast days are gone—the atmosphere is gone like when they celebrate St. Joseph's or St. Anthony's or St. Cosmo’s one of those things, St. Mary's. They'd have their procession down the street. Saints, bands—5 o'clock in the morning they'd wake you up with their fireworks—ups! it's time to get started you know, then they get end up for the affair, they had at night, food, drink and everything else involved. Those are all gone. Those are what everybody misses. As I say, things have changed, the world is changing, the people changing. I like to keep those traditions—I find, right now, though in our area here especially, we've got quite an influx of immigrants that had stopped for a while—there was a period for anyone to come in—they stopped for a while—they had quotas as they were strict to have anyone come in but the last few years they lifted—ooh—we have about 50 families, have come.
Nettie: ls that right?
Frank: Between the Italians, Slavic and some of the Russians—not too many of them—not too many Russians—guess they're not letting them out. (Laughing) They're keeping them there. But there's quite a few coming in—so traditions will remain as long as these people keep coming in the European tradition—they'll bring them here. I'm glad to see that.
Nettie: I do too—I really like to see that. It's nice to be able to enjoy those things.
Frank: Well, are there any other recollections—I do remember the parades collecting and all that—it was very interesting—of course, in those days, too, if you remember—you weren’t old enough—
Frank: Back, years ago before refrigeration—remember that?
Nettie: Oh, yes, I remember.
Frank: Before the 30th—the ice boxes? We had to open up the store—my dad had, in those days, anyhow, at 6 o'clock in the morning—for the factory workers who stopped to buy their lunch meat to put between two slices of bread, so that it didn't spoil during the day. They picked their lunch in the morning—that's right—walk down the street—were no such thing as cars in those days—nobody owned cars—very few people own cars—we'd walk—see all the neighbors, talked to the women—they'd have the coffee klatsches at 6 in the morning—got their washing done at 5—everybody greeted each other, everybody knew everybody else. I don't know my next door neighbors are now. Things are entirely different. Things were a lot calmer in those days. Now anybody screams—WHO CARES!
Nettie: That's right.
Frank: Before if you heard somebody yelling, you asked, “What is going on here?” So the comradeship is gone like it used to be. Now, this is what made it more interesting—seeing your neighbors—go out back—talk to them—make it interesting—get together—backyard—then you invite other neighbor—then the neighbors came over—I remember holidays—you got out—pay a visit to everybody and then you get home, you are ¾ loaded. (Laughing). Everybody has to give you a drink—all those relations are gone.
Nettie: Well, Frank, now we can go into your political life—
Frank: Well, my political life started by a fluke—really—I had no intention of ever getting involved in politics until 1956. And then again one of the village board came up with—which I thought very, very asinine idea of making the North Side—one way streets. Part being in business and being the fact we had the Fire Dept. next to the business, and the fact that our streets were narrow, I thought there isn't enough traffic to warrant one way streets. The other solution was to be—widen the streets one at a time—two at a time whenever we could afford it. Then one of the trustees came up to me and told me I was stupid—I didn't know what was going on—they were going to push it—they were going to push the one way streets. So at that time, I was head of a group of North Side Businessmen—there were roughly about 40 involved—40 Businesses. I happen to be President of the group so we went to the board meeting made—enough commotion and fussed—they forgot about the one way streets. But, directly after that, one of the fellows came home and asked me if I wanted to run for trustee—they needed somebody on the board to make a little noise occasionally. I said I was really green in politics, you know what I mean but they said I shouldn't worry about that, “we will take care of you. We'll do things for you." OK—do things.
Nettie: If you can have some help.
Frank: Right. Then I appreciated my being in the primaries, something of 60-65 votes. The following year I ran again and I was successful in being elected—I was in for 14 years.
Nettie: Is that right? I didn't realize it was that long—
Frank: In 1968—I asked my party to run for mayor—ran against astute politician Mr. Caldwell—and I was beaten and then I ran the following year again for trustee and was elected two or three times. After that I decided I had enough politics—during the years—my wife was home alone—she missed her dolly—her husband. (Laughing). So that is enough for politics - 14 years is enough for any person to be a service to the community.
Nettie: That's a long time—of course it takes you away from home too—quite a bit.
Frank: Yes, home and away from the business, I didn't mind it—it was interesting work and I was instrumental in some of the changes in Endicott—successful ones—
Nettie: Like what?
Frank: Well, I pioneered originally for the soot control—
Nettie: What was that—sud control?
Frank: Soot control—air pollution. We were successful in getting that cleaned up. Then the pressures involved in the buying of the airport, the sewage treatment plants and some of the major improvements in the village, village parks—North Side park—swimming pool—those were all under my regime. I'm not satisfied or very happy with my regime—we made some good roads—I think the village is a good place to live. Of course, right now I could find some fault with it—some of the spots not too good—I'm used to that part of it. We've always enjoyed living in the village. In fact, we originally lived next door—next door to the store—when we first got married—my wife and I—like in 1935—we lived on 107—right over top of the EJ shoe store—at that time—we had two bedrooms—after the third child we didn't have enough room so we bought a place in Endwell—home on Hoover Street. We didn't like it up there—we came back down to North Side. After two years we sold it and bought this property right here. We're very happy with the North Side—own type of people—Italian people, Slavic—
Nettie: It's right—once you've grown with your own—
Frank: It's hard to get away from. Ever since—we will be married 43 years this year.
Nettie: Is that right? Oh my goodness—
Frank: Yep—five kids—oldest boy will be 40 years old—he's in the Post Office—second boy is out of town in Saratoga, teaching school—third girl—teaching school down here—she's married with 1 ½ kids—other daughter works in Endicott Trust Co.—Binghamton branch—youngest son is in school, yet.
Nettie: Gee, you have a fine family!
Frank: Yes, five very nice children—
Nettie: Years go by fast.
Frank: Well, in a couple of years—if you know anybody who wants to buy a good business—we'll sell it to them—I've been in it for most of my life—that's been quite a few years—will retire—
Nettie: Looking forward to retire?
Frank: Take a trip to Rotebella, maybe and see where our folks came from—where our roots began—OK.
Nettie: That sounds interesting—Frank, do you have any more recollections that you would like to add to that? It’s very interesting—am really listening with awe.
Frank: Really all I could say.
Nettie: Well, this has been very enjoyable—and I want to thank you very much.