While in their mid-20’s, in search of financial opportunity, our grandfather, Federico (Fred) D’Arcangelo and his brother, Giovanni (John), traveled from Italy to South America. In 1917, they turned their sights north to the United States, where they settled, raised families (total of 11 children) and thrived. Fred and John enlisted in the U.S. Army and became citizens. Following the military, they were attracted to New Jersey where many of their ‘paesans’ lived, ultimately setting stakes in the Vailsburg section of Newark. After working at the Westinghouse Company, the brothers who were entrepreneurs at heart, pooled their money, purchased a jitney passenger bus and acquired a license to operate on South Orange Avenue; thus, The D’Arcangelo Bus Company was born, operating for generations until sold during the 1990’s.
Grandma, our matriarch, Catherine “Kate” D’Elia, who was born in America, married Fred when she was 18 years old, after moving from West Virginia, where her father was a coal miner. John married Lena Tamburri and the two couples lived in side-by-side apartments in their four-family home on Abbotsford Avenue that they had built with their earnings. Like themselves, their children grew up together. Fred passed away in 1949, John in 1943. Sisters-in-law, Kate and Lena, loved and admired each other – never an angry word was spoken.
Everyone loves and believes their grandmother is the greatest. Our family is no exception, however, our Grandma was truly special. Her family was her life and she would do whatever was needed for their well-being. She kept everything spotless. When you walked into her kitchen there would be something cooking on the stove, oven-fresh baked goods cooling on the counter. Often, you would find her making clothing repairs on her sewing machine for her grandchildren.
Weekends and holidays we would all gather at “Grandma’s House.” It was pretty amazing that the apartments that Fred and John had built, each with two bedrooms, living room, dining room and kitchen had room enough to raise seven children and ultimately accommodate their seven spouses and nineteen grandchildren!
The tradition of our famous D’Arcangelo Easter Brunch started over 70 years ago. We would all go to early Mass and then immediately to Grandma’s to share delicious food and be together. Kate and Lena would fill the table with Italian delicacies and other traditional foods. One memorable Easter tradition was the boiled egg-cracking contest. As the family grew, we needed to implement “shifts” at the Easter table to make sure everyone had a seat at the table. At times, 80+ family members would partake!
As it became evident that our Easter feast was outgrowing our beloved family home, we decided to rent a local hall to accommodate our growing numbers and allow our Easter tradition to continue. These days, almost 100 family members and friends show up each Easter – everyone bringing food, admiration and love to share. To quote Russ, the oldest of the D’Arcangelo children, “There are no invitations – nor menu planning when the Easter Brunch rolls around.” Nevertheless, the hall is always full, lovingly reminiscent of the Italian specialties we shared in the old days from the kitchens of Kate and Lena. We’ve added some new traditions as well for our youngest generation; the great-grandchildren enjoy a visit from the Easter Bunny (usually played by one of the grandkids) and also take their turn at the “Easter Egg Piñata” to hopefully win some delicious Easter candies.
I often think of how life would be different if Fred and John had not made their voyage, but I know wherever we landed, Grandma’s love would bring us together.