(photo by Christian Svanes Kolding)
a photo of John Cassarino (photo courtesy of Christian Svanes Kolding)
When I moved to Carroll Gardens almost thirty years ago, there were still many senior citizens living on my block. On sunny days, many would sit on their stoop in folding chairs, ready for a little chat. In the winter, they would sit by the window, waving at me as I walked by. After my children were born, they took a keen interest in their health, their progress in school, and watched out for them protectively as they rode their bikes up and down the sidewalk. The elderly ladies would dispense their advice, one saying "Little children, little problems, big children, big problems" while another nodded her head in approval, as if to say "Isn't that the truth."
There was Francis, who waited by her gate in her front yard with a pack of Stella D'Oro cookies for the little ones. She has been gone for a long time now, but no matter who lives in the house after her, it will always be Francis' house to me.
Then there were the three sisters, Laura, Annette and Grace. They would walk down the block together, stop in front of my house when they saw me work in the garden and exchange some pleasantries with me. Annette passed away first, then Laura. Grace, who was the kindest, sweetest person I have ever met, followed them just a few years ago. I still miss all three.
There was also Lou. He was Laura, Annette and Grace's brother. He liked to make people believe he was a grouch, but he always had a twinkle in his eye and loved to joke.
The house that they all four grew up in belongs to others now. But again, I still refer to it as their house.
So many other elderly people on the block made us feel welcome when we first moved here in 1987. I loved their stories of the 'good old days' in South Brooklyn and happily took their advice on where to shop, how to prune our fig tree and who to hire to paint the fire escape.
I still miss them all.
The reason why I am reminiscing about them here is because Carroll Gardener Christian Svanes Kolding recently contacted me to let me know about his elderly neighbor, John Cassarino, who passed away over the Holidays. "He was known to many of those who live in the area of Union Street and Hicks Street," writes Christian
Christian wrote a beautiful tribute to John on his own site. Here is an excerpt:
Today, we said goodbye to our downstairs neighbor, John, whom we did not know too well, but, as we live in a four unit brownstone, we interacted with him quite often, and he had become a fixture in our lives.
I’ve described John as a somewhat ornery sicilian with a habit of making unusual statements. On one occasion, upon seeing me with a cane, after i had injured my knee, he remarked “he who walks with the limper learns to limp. i’m staying away from you."
Today, we learned that he was born in Pozzallo, in the province of Ragusa, on the southwestern shores of Sicily, and emigrated to the States as a child, shortly before the outbreak of World War II.
We learned that he had lived in our building since the mid-1960s. Sitting on the stoop, he once told Adriana, my wife, that he had served in the army, and said that those days were the happiest of his life.
He told her how he had worked at Bulova, making electronic clocks at a factory in Queens.
His parents died forty years ago, and since then, he lived alone and never changed their bedroom. It remains untouched to this day.You can continue reading more of Christian's tribute to John here.
As Christian put it so beautifully, John's passing represents the loss of "another embodiment of its italian identity, the kind of resident who once broadly defined Carroll Gardens but whose presence is slowly fading from view."
Thank you so much for sharing this beautiful remembrance with all of us, Christian.