Submitted by: Annette Pensabene Marten
Ancestor / Family Name: Vincenzo Parrinello
Ancestral Town: Marsala, TP, SIC
Why is it that after a loved one passes, we realize there are so many questions we could have asked them about their lives? In preparing for an invitational, one-woman art exhibit at the Garibaldi Meucci Museum on Staten Island, I decided to dedicate the show to my Italian heritage. A wedding photograph of my mother’s parents was soon to become my painting. In gazing into their eyes, I wondered about their lives together.
When my uncle died, a small treasure was given to me: a log book entitled, Marina Mercantile Italiana, an Italian Merchant Marine registration book belonging to my grandfather, Vincenzo “Papa”. It was in my possession for many years before an Italian speaking friend graciously translated its contents. A wealth of information was bestowed upon me. The first page reads: Parrinello, Vincenzo, son of Vincenzo and Tito, Agata, born in Marsala on November 25, 1883, residing in Marsala and registered with the seafarers of the Maritime Department of Trapani as a porter with registration number 16664.
Particular Marks: None
His embarkation pass stated that there were no impediments to his traveling abroad. With his paternal consent, he was issued a passport allowing him to work on ships sailing to any destination. The booklet contains 72 numbered pages and was issued on June 26,1896 in Trapani bearing a port captain’s signature.
According to the ship’s log , he was newly enlisted as a porter leaving from Marsala on June 27, 1896. That makes him only thirteen years old. I was told that Papa came to America as a young boy and worked in the galley as a cook. It was surprising to learn that he was classified as a porter.
For six years, Vincenzo sailed the high seas, mostly the Mediterranean. As a merchant marine Papa sailed back and forth from his homeland, in Sicily, navigating to many parts of the world. Leaving most often from Marsala, his ports of call included Syracuse, Malta, Genoa, as well as Glouster, Plymouth and a few ports in Canada. His last destination was New York City on June 19, 1902 where he finally settled.
This log book containing names of the ships he called home for months at a time, along with captains’ signatures, and the dates of embarkation and disembarkation, has endured the test of time. The penmanship is very hard to decipher but nevertheless, I am so excited to be able to go back in time taking this journey with my grandfather. Like so many sailors from Italy, he became a longshoreman loading and unloading cargo. My uncles followed in his footsteps, also choosing to be stevedores.
Another keepsake, the sepia toned wedding photo, raises the questions of when he married my grandmother “Mama”, Anna LiVigni, and how they met. What I do know I have from memories of living on Union Street. When I was born in 1943, my parents, Joseph Pensabene and Ida Parrinello lived in a three-story brownstone across the street from the 76th Precinct in Carroll Gardens, now an upscale section of Brooklyn’s Red Hook. Their building was right next door to an Italian bakery. The smell of freshly baked bread still reminds me of when I was a little girl, and how I always ate only the soft inside of the loaf.
Papa loved America, the “land of opportunity” yet he never wanted the responsibility of owning his own house. Their second floor apartment had very large railroad rooms with a tiny bathroom and kitchen. Also, in the dining room, there stood a coal-burning stove that got quite hot. In the bedroom, Mama’s collection of religious statues with votive flickering candles were lined up on the bureau which reflected in the bedroom mirror.
Mama had long hair combed back into a bun. I received two or three pennies for combing her hair into what was called ‘a rat’, a long, soft roller attached with bobby pins to form a popular hair style at the time. Two or three cents was just enough to buy penny candies from the barber shop on the corner.
My love for seafood began at an early age because of Papa’s appetite for fish. My father took great pleasure in seeing me eating his favorite food. I can only imagine how much fish he consumed as a sailor . While he ate, he kept all the bones in the side of his mouth and didn’t discard them until the end of the meal. Every bite of fish I ate was carefully inspected for bones.
As the family grew, a decision was made to leave the old neighborhood and my parents purchased a one family house. Papa, Mama, and my bachelor uncle, Paul (my mother’s brother) also moved in with us in the Marine Park section of Brooklyn. They left the old neighborhood for the Marine Park area of Brooklyn to live together as one big happy family with my parents, sister, brother and I. They helped my parents pay the mortgage.
But all was not rosy! Papa drank way too much vino, a habit probably acquired at sea. The gallon of Gallo burgundy wine, sitting on the dinner table caused much arguing. “Guinea stinkers”, the name given to the cigars he loved but wasn’t permitted to smoke in the house, were the cause for many more angry outbursts.
Yet, in spite of a few bad habits, my fond memories persist. In the morning before school he always did something extra for breakfast. He would sprinkle sugar on cut-up pink grapefruit and he dipped slices of leftover Italian bread into sugared water and heated them in the oven. He delighted us with a treat whenever the Bungalow Bar or Good Humor ice-cream truck came down the street.
My guess on his temperament is that life at sea was quite difficult, and he acquired feisty habits to live on the high seas enduring nature’s everchanging moods. With us, he was a gentle, kind and loving grandfather. I only wish I had asked him more about his life, his hopes and his dreams.
cell 646 541 634
Annette Pensabene Marten