I never knew my mother's mother, my grandmother. She left Finland as, I guess,an 18-year-old traveling with an aunt so I was told and arrived in New York about 1912. She intended to return to her home in Turku after a year or two, but then World War I broke out and she never saw her mother again. I've often tried to imagine her on board that ship that left for the New World.
All the stories about her come from my mother of course, and she only heard them and half remembered them from her mother's storytelling. She was a religious woman, or as I suspect, a deeply superstitious woman. I know that she used to read tea leaves (or whatever the Finnish equivalent was) for her friends, all young Finnish girls living in New York. Sometime around 1915 or 16 she must have been in the Roseland Ballroom in Harlem, a dance club which I understand is still in operation. There she met a handsome Italian man, also a newly arrived immigrant who had faltering English. He was Raffaele, my grandfather. They married and had four children, my mother being the second, born in Hell's Kitchen in 1919.
At the age of 2 the family moved to East 56th st. and then E. 58th street where they lived for the next 50 years. My grandmother died young, around the age of 54 in 1948, before my birth. Of the many stories I have heard about her one was about her gullibility. She was a good-hearted woman who never believed humans could do ill. One day a shyster spotted her outside the Plaza Hotel where her husband worked 5 stories underground as a "fireman" that is, coalworker. He was selling her "insurance" or something like that and she said to him "I must ask my husband who is at work downstairs right now." The shyster said "Oh, I'll go down and ask him." As soon as my grandfather saw this guy he nearly took his head off, knowing instantly he was a con man. The man went back upstairs to my grandmother and said "he says okay." She gave him the money and he said he would bring the contract around to her house. It was a lot of money! Of course there was no contract--she was ripped off! My grandfather didn't have the heart to be angry because she was crying uncontrollably.