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Photo of Dad on LBI Boardwalk Worth More Than 1,000 Words

By GLORIA C. ENDRES | Jun 12, 2019
Courtesy of: Gloria C. Endres The author’s father, Nick Cipollini, bottle feeds son Daniel on the Beach Haven boardwalk in 1941.

Long Beach Island — Browsing recently through an old photograph album, I came across a unique black and white photo of my father, Nick Cipollini. He is sitting on a wooden bench anchored to a boardwalk. There is a low wooden railing behind the bench and behind that, a parking lot. He is wearing a button-down, short-sleeved shirt and khaki pants. The sun is shining on the right side of his face. A lock of his thin hair is blowing in the wind as he bottle feeds a baby in his arms while smiling sweetly at a Kodak Brownie Box camera.

This old photograph connects special memories in family history, the history of LBI, and the world. The baby in the picture was my twin brother, Daniel. It was taken in the summer after we were born. That means the year was 1941, 78 years ago and close to five months before the attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7. World War II was already raging in Europe, and Franklin D. Roosevelt was president. Irving Berlin had already revised his 1918 signature song, “God Bless America,” in the run-up to the war in 1938.  Dad’s photo was a sweet scene in the calm before two storms: America’s entrance into war and a devastating hurricane.

Another timely clue is the view of that parking lot over Daddy’s shoulder. It is filled with what we would now call vintage cars from the 1930s. The Great Depression was winding down. Even though there was a rail line then, I am guessing that Daddy took us down in his Ford. No seat belts, of course. And, of course, no air conditioning, just wide-open windows.

Daddy’s hair is blown by a sea breeze as he sits facing the Atlantic Ocean. His bench is screwed to a boardwalk, which ran for blocks along the oceanside beach in Beach Haven. That same boardwalk would be destroyed three years later, along with many Long Beach Island homes, hotels and the Causeway, by the Category 2 Great Atlantic Hurricane of September 1944.

Daddy had once sailed that same Atlantic with his family as a young teen. He was born in Abruzzo, Italy in January 1900, the first-born child of Donato and Domenica Cipollini. That meant he was 41 in this photograph. He would miss the war because he was too old for the draft. Besides, he had already served in the Pennsylvania National Guard when he was just 18, five years after he landed in this country in 1913. By 1941, he was, of course, a naturalized citizen of many years.

Meanwhile, his younger, American-born brother Daniel, plus other family members, including my first cousins Joseph and Daniel Monastero, sons of Daddy’s sister Carmella, would join the armed services to defend this country. Carmella’s husband, Uncle Joe, had already served in the Army in WWI.

I can still recall Uncle Danny visiting us on his return and giving us a toy tank and two wooden toy rifles as souvenirs. (Did I mention that nothing was made of plastic then?) Of course, we played “war games” with them. At that time, Uncle Danny had no clue that his own son Robert would serve in Vietnam, and his grandson Robert Jr. would serve in the first Gulf War. I must also mention my young cousin Ricky, who served in Iraq. They all thankfully survived those conflicts, as did my dear late husband, Stanley, who was wounded in Korea. Imagine, a member of my family served in every American war of the 20th century.

By the age of 15, Daddy was already working in a tool factory in Montgomery County, Pa., where he lived in Norristown. It was the second industrial revolution, and children and young teens were allowed to work long hours for poverty wages. There were no labor unions at that time and no child labor laws to protect children from being exploited. Immigrants were especially invited to enter the country to work in those factories, mines and in construction. My paternal grandfather, Donato, who really preferred being a farmer, helped build the B&O Railroad, for example. My maternal grandparents, Giuseppe and Virginia De Sanctis, also from Abruzzo, were shoemakers.

My mother, Mary, who was born in Philadelphia in 1909, also went to work at 15, in a tailor shop. In those days public schools taught factory skills like sewing for girls and shop for boys. So once she learned tailoring, off she went to help support the family. After Mommy had us twins,  however, she quit work to take care of us full time until we started high school. Then it was back to the sweat shop, hemming pants for a uniform company.

Danny and I grew up in an extended  family in a three-story household on East Passyunk Avenue in South Philadelphia with my maternal grandparents. The two families shared expenses, household chores and maintenance. My gorgeous and incredibly talented grandmother Virginia cooked everything from scratch, from pasta to homemade sauces. Since we Catholics in those days observed meatless Fridays, seafood was a big item. She even cooked those tiny squid that Italians call calamari. I once shocked my college biology teacher by describing our kitchen sink filled with blue water as Grandmom emptied squid ink glands. I can still recall the taste of those tiny calamari tentacles cooked in her original marinara tomato gravy. Trouble is that she never trusted restaurant food unless it was homemade Italian cooking, so the most she would order on our day trips to LBI was black coffee and coconut custard pie.

The month in that photo was probably July, during summer’s heat. Factory workers were given time off during July, especially since there was no air conditioning. In any case, that sea breeze playing with Daddy’s hair was a welcome respite from hot, humid Philadelphia.

While my brother was enjoying his bottle, I was being held up by both hands by Mommy as I tried out my new white baby shoes, handmade by Grandpop, on the rough planks of that old boardwalk. Since we went to LBI practically every summer, I actually have snapshot memories of that structure. It was only a few feet off the ground with steps to the beach. Here and there were benches for people to sit. There were no amusements, but there were vendors who sold simple foods and drinks. Then all of a sudden there was nothing but splinters in the sand after September 1944.

Daddy is not wearing a bathing suit, so I guess we were down only for the day. The beautiful Victorian and Edwardian hotels, such as the original Engleside Hotel in Beach Haven, were still standing, but so many were destroyed by that powerful Atlantic storm that I really do not recollect them. My earliest memories are of staying with my mom and brother, Danny, overnight at a Beach Haven boarding house for $3 a night. Some Victorian structures do still exist, and I remember staying at one of them once with my own family, Stan and our daughter, Claire, for one of Claire’s July birthdays.

It is truly amazing how a single photograph can evoke so many memories. I can still recall holding that old cardboard box camera before color film was invented. And that beloved black and white photo of my father in one of his happiest and most relaxed moments with family by the sea is a special treasure.

Gloria C. Endres lives in Philadelphia and is a lifelong visitor to LBI.

 

 

 

 

 

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