Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Nan's Two Birthdays

Giovanna Cuccia & family on s/w corner of 75 St & Ave A in 1906
My grandmother Nan Rode’s four-room railroad flat faced York Avenue in the front and a backyard in the rear. Leaning out her front window, I could watch my world pass by. Leaning out the rear window, I could see Yorkville as it was long ago. In the backyard was an old two-story house surrounded by five-story brick tenements. The house, built around 1890, looked like it had fallen out of the sky and plopped onto a stray witch. Somehow, it had escaped the tenement explosion in Yorkville in the first two decades of the 1900s, a frenzy primarily triggered by speculation about the underground IRT subway coming to 86th Street and then proceeding farther north. (The speculation, of course, ultimately proved true.) As buildings rose around it, the old house, with its worn porch and crooked chimney, just sat there. I enjoyed this relic from the past and imagined it there in June 1906, when my grandmother was born in her family’s apartment only eight blocks away, at 1403 Avenue A. Above is a photo of my great-grandmother, Giovanna Cuccia, with family members sitting in front of their fruit stand at the southwest corner of 75th Street and Avenue A (later named York Avenue in honor of Sargent Alvin York, a World War I hero). Giovanna, third from right, is eight months pregnant with my grandmother.

It looks like a normal old photo, but it led to a bona fide miracle: the month after it was taken, Nan was born and she had two birthdays, July 23rd and July 28th. I learned this astounding fact at age 10 when I went to my grandmother’s house to see what was up.
Nan & me 1955


“Hi, Nan.”
“That's it?”
“I said hi.”
“Where’s my ‘Happy Birthday?’”
“I wished you a happy birthday on the 23rd and made you a card. It’s right there on top of the TV.”
“Today is my birthday, too.”
Involuntarily, my head started shaking. I was used to my grandmother’s inquisitions but I didn’t understand this one.

“Nan, I don't get it.”

She explained.

Nan was delivered in her family’s apartment by Saveria Palermo, a midwife from Yorkville, on July 23rd, 1906. But Saveria was lazy, and when she filled out the Board of Health birth certificates the following Monday, July 30th, she used the same date, Saturday, July 28th, for all the babies she had delivered that week. That’s why Nan had two birthdays, July 23rd and July 28th.
Lazy Midwife filled this out

Neither Giovanna nor my great-grandfather, Antonino Cuccia, knew English, so they never fixed the certificate. But they always celebrated Anne’s – Nan’s --birthday twice. She was the baby in the family and a spoiled brat. She told me this with pride.

Anna Cuccia, 1913, Communion at St. Monica's


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If you enjoy my stories please  check out my memoir, "I Hate the Dallas Cowboys - tales of a scrappy New York boyhood." Available at Logos Book Store or online at Amazon or Barnes and Noble.

The book has 109 Amazon five star reviews out of 109 total reviews posted. We're pitching a perfect game. My old world echoes TV's "The Wonder Years" ~ just add taverns, subways and Checker cabs.  

You can also purchase my photography portfolio, "River to River - New York Scenes From a Bicycle" on Amazon.

This Thursday, July 30th, I'm telling a story at Walter Michael DeForest's show at Ryan's Daughter, 350 East 85th St. @ 6pm. 


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