Eating Like My AncestorsA 7-day experiment by Kelly Florio Kasouf
It made me realize how important women were in my particular family and how they were the glue and secret sauce to success.
My great-grandmother was one of more than enough siblings, and back in Italy during the Italo-Turkish War, the youngest and most definitely the girls, were sent off to either a convent or an orphanage. Incredible options, I know.
So Angela Acquafredda, my great-grandmother who was sent to a convent to live, stole a slew of silver candelabras from the nuns and decided to head to America… by herself… at 19.
Let that sink in.
A 19-year-old penniless single woman who could not speak English.
On November 13, 1920, Angela from Bitonto, Bari, Italy, arrived at Ellis Island on the SS New York. Her place on the ship was steerage—passenger #12.
After finding a home in Queens, she learned to speak English by paying a kid down the street 5¢ a week. She worked hard. She had pride. And until the day she died, though she wasn’t showy with her beauty, she wore a full face of makeup and set hair—she knew how to elevate her best assets.
She eventually married Michael Masciale, also from Bitonto, who ran an ice-block distribution in the Harlem section of New York, like many Italian men at the time. He was also part of the Ice Block War, but that’s another story for another time.
"Even though my dad was a larger-than-life man who dominated in the media world, the women in his family were the backbone to its success."
One of Angela’s five kids was my grandmother Sophie. After having three sons when her husband came back from war, Sophie had to play two roles: caretaker and secret breadwinner. It didn’t matter because she had the secret sauce: She wanted to work and grow. She was a beautician, but didn't stop there, and eventually owned her own establishment by the early 1960s.
One of Sophie’s three sons was my dad. He was your typical Queens kid from a first-generation Italian family. There were Sunday dinners, lawn conversations, heavy footsteps on linoleum tile, and over-elaborate Christmas Eves, but what connected him to his mother and grandmother was perseverance and the desire for more.
So is this trait genetic? Did what my great-grandmother ingrain in her blood, the secret sauce of success on the way to America, somehow get embedded into those related?
I am going to recreate my great-grandmother’s lifestyle during her voyage for one week and try to understand her hardships because, even at 38, I have become so fearful in life; I cannot imagine what she went through alone at 19. I need to know how she spent her time in steerage and what kept her going.
Having my hair cut by my grandmother was common. As was working or having a passion for more. We weren’t privileged, but because of my immigrant great-grandmother, we grew. Here. This is America.
Angela Masciale and Kelly at 6 months old, during a Sunday dinner