Mom & Dad in Cimarelli's bar, Detroit

[Comments by my mother]

Within the first couple of years of our marriage, Jerry wanted to introduce me to his many aunts, uncles, and cousins in Detroit. I wasn't eager, from what I knew of his family. His mother, my landlady prior to marriage, had zero domestic skills. Nor did she make up for it with charm! I never saw her chatting with friends on the telephone or on the porch over a glass of chianti. She was quare and solid; the word "peasant" immediately comes to mind. Although she had been in this country since early in the century and raised a family of five Americans, "Ma" never learned to speak English. Jerry’s father, Sam, who was mercurial and dashing (I learned later), wasn't on speaking terms with his son, so I hadn't met him. I learned later he was regarded as "the black sheep of the family."


At any rate, this reluctant but dutiful wife got in our new little 1948 two-toned beige and brown Nash 400 (reputed to get 400 miles to the gallon of gas) coupe and, on an appointed weekend, we headed to the Big City.


Astonishment! These Italians lived lives on a par with my own Dutch family. The aunts and uncles occupied solid and immaculate two-story brick houses in Detroit proper, most with a front porch and garage in back. Floors were dark-stained wood on the main floor, partially covered with Axminster or Wilton patterned wool rugs. There were dark horsehair sofas, lace curtains, heavy crucifixes. Lace tablecloths covered large dark dining room tables. Meals were sit-down at regular hours, all family members in attendance! Women tended to hover in the kitchen or at the table ready to spring into action should dad or brother need something from the kitchen. (In my own family no-one lifted a fork until Mother was seated and lifted hers, so I did think this behavior slightly Dark Ages.) Daughters cleaned the house meticulously every week, sons were polite and respectful toward parents. The aunts were slightly austere, reserved, and feared! If the married daughters used contraceptives, they surely didn't tell their mothers! (The Pill didn't arrive until the early 60s, but 1950s women could be fitted for an unreliable diaphragm.) The uncles worked in auto factories. They were dons in their own homes, telling stories from the head of the table in a mixture of Italian and English. To this day, the sound of Italian voices causes a rush of warmth in my heart. These folk had all come from Sicily early in the 20th century, bringing their sweethearts from Trapani, Palermo or elsewhere with them, or choosing one of their ilk after arrival. There was not a Mafia member among them. Despite the respect and obedience of the cousins at home, they were attractive, bright, and quick and could be devilish and fun. They were beginning to break away, marry, and move slightly farther out. Their homes were tidy and small at that time, but their work ethic and inventive minds would propel them.


In this 1950 photo we were at a bar owned by Jerry's cousin Al Cimarelli and his wife, Jenny. See the "modern" shape of the bar and the chrome barstools. The seats were surely upholstered in dark red vinyl!


Attending a PSA (Photographic Society of America) convention in Detroit the following year with photographer friends from Grand Rapids, we heard a lecture by Olga Irish, a Brooklyn portrait photographer. She chose me from the audience to come on stage and be used to demonstrate her lighting techniques – fully dressed of course. The next day the Detroit Free Press carried an article about the convention with a large photo of me posing, and all hell broke loose. One of the cousins was appointed to phone Jerry to enquire about my being in Detroit without him, staying in a hotel, not phoning them, etc., etc., all a bad thing in the eyes of these very decent, family-oriented relatives. Jerry wasn't exercising control. I lost favor fast.



  • carol 8y

    Isn't it funny how we take things for granted as kids?

    I often wish for a time machine, just to go back & examine all the undoubtably cool things & people I never paid much attention to, growing up. To see those things new & fresh would be so cool - thank goodness for photograhy - it's the next best thing to a time machine, I guess......
  • Joey Harrison PRO 8y

    They divorced when I was an infant, and my dad died in December 2005.
  • ltdanbassett PRO 8y

    Ok. longshot. I was nosing around flickr and this photo surfaced with mention of Al Cimarelli. Don't know how many Al Cimarelli's there were in Detoit in 1950 but I wonder if this is the family that lived on Montrose in Detroit off 7Mile near Evergreen. The Al I am familiar with played accordion at night at Topinka's Country House on 7Mile in NW Detroit. If so, do you know where the Cimarelli kids are today? That would be: Maria, Ann, Bobby, a much older brother and a sister in age between Ann and Maria.
  • Susan Harrison 8y

    I didn't get to know the cousins well, but I don't recall our Al playing the accordion. I only knew him as a bar owner.
  • ltdanbassett PRO 8y

    Thanks Chalet. Love your attention to detail in descriptions of the times. UR a true artist -- and you passed it on. Great work by Mom and son. Those vintage photos would make a great book. Especially with the memoirs.
    One more question please. Was Al rather fair (northern Italian) and Jenny dark (Sicilian)? And did she have a lazy eye?
  • Susan Harrison 8y

    Your kind comments are much appreciated! Al Cimarelli was actually the husband of Jerry's cousin Jenny, a Sicialian, so that part fits. She was quite dark, petite and simply adorable, with "big" hair. I don't remember a lazy eye though. Possibly different people! Al wasn't really fair. And photos of him at a young age show a receeding hairline already. I believe they had one son at the time I knew them. They had also moved out of Detroit proper to a country location to the west. I'm sure it's been long ago swallowed by city. I hope you tune in now and then; at some point I'll write about and show photos of the cousins.
  • ltdanbassett PRO 8y

    Yes, I'll be watching and continuing to explore your gold mine.
  • dublin37 8y

    love, love, love the details of your history. What a beautiful couple. Did you say, they got divorced? They look so dang happy. I hope both found love later.
  • Al Canterbury PRO 7y

    a great period in life
  • jmcritchie 7y

    These are wonderful documents - words and pictures - of a time that is fast fading away. Bravo, Mom that you have gone to such effort to share it with us. Young people today seem all too cut off from their family history and that is a real shame. My family is Italian on my mother's side and Scottish/English on my father's. My father passed away in 1981 and when my mother passed in 1999, the only things I really wanted were their scrapbooks and picture albums.
  • Miss History 7y

    what an attractive couple! It sort of reminds me of an early version of my own parents, just replace the Dutch with Polish...
  • ams11 7y

    wonderful narrative!
  • ~ Liberty Images PRO 6y

    A NASH! *swoon*

    Your parents look like matinee idols, only happier (though back then, many of the stars actually did seem and in some cases *were* happy...). And the story! Oh, they're all wonderful and warm and charming.
  • * monica 6y

  • Rusell Johnson 6y

    This is one of the coolest couple shots I've seen!
  • Happyshooter / Joe M PRO 6y

    Great photo of your parents! I though this was a celebrity shot. I may have to fave this photo if you don't mind.
  • nancy PRO 6y

    WONDERFUL write up. I hope they had a good number of solid years before the divorce...the pictures make them look so happy and fun!
  • Tomabcde 5y

    Oh my goodness. Wonderful. I find myself commenting on each one because I simply have to. What a great story. Thank you.
  • marco marella PRO 5y

    bella gente, bella storia!
  • lotta gale PRO 4y

    * gasp * so gorgeous, such energy!
21 faves
Taken on June 26, 2005
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