EXCERPTS FROM THE LIFE
CATHERINE ROGLIERI PENNES
By: Lisa-Renee Pennes, PH S 105
I was born Catherine Roglieri, in 1914, in Bari, Italy. My memories of the country are few, due to the fact that only six months later, I carne to the United States of America. My mother and aunt brought me over and we arrived on Ellis Island. From the island, we moved to Kingston, New York, but only stayed there a very short time before moving to Poughkeepsie for three years.
My Mother – Maria Gemmati Roglieri
After living in Poughkeepsie for those few years, we moved to Waterbury, Connecticut because there were jobs available there. The war had now broken out and the U.S. had just become involved. My father had been to the States when he was sixteen, but he could not come over with us. By the time our immigration papers came through, the war had begun and he had to fight in Italy. So, not only was I an only child for the first fifteen years of my life, but I was without a father for the first eight years.
Me and My Mother – 1916, I Was Only Two.
Catherine Roglieri c. 1916.
My Father – Vito Roglieri
My mother worked in a plant that made parts for the war. During this time we had to follow work around. I guess we were ahead of our time with the single parent family. I
always had a babysitter because my mother was at work. We lived with my aunt and uncle for eight years, when finally the war had ended. My father then came to join us in
(At Sprat Park’s Pool)
By this time, there weren’t any jobs because the war plants and factories closed down. So, we moved back to Poughkeepsie.
My Father – In Italian Army Uniform
I remember well when they declared peace. They woke me up in the middle of the night . . . “All the soldiers are coming home.” There was a big parade and everybody was so happy. I was only a little-bit-of-a-thing then.
Then, my father went to work, but I don’t remember doing what. My mother continued to work as well - she always worked - and she was proud of that. They always kept me busy by buying me lots of books and things. So I did a lot of reading to keep me out of trouble.
Me at Three Years Old
(Since I was an only child, I had pretty much
anything I wanted while I was quite young.)
Me at Age Three
(My family could afford to have
professional photographs taken often.)
The Wall Street Crash in 1929 was a big problem for everyone and jobs were hard to find. My mother worked in a textile factory and my father started to work on construction.
Me with My Mother
(When I Made My First Holy Communion)
Me – Eighth Grade Graduation
Me with My Father
(When I was a teenager)
When I was about fourteen or fifteen years old, my twin brother and sister were born. I was in high school at this time (where Our Lady of Lourdes is now) - it was a public school. I had to quit school because my father couldn’t find work.
My Father and the Twins
It was then I learned how to sew. I made all my own clothes because we couldn’t afford to buy them . . . and I made the twins their clothes, too. But we got by.
Me and My Sister, Antoinette
(Her First Holy
My Brother and My Mother
(At our house on Bridge Street when he was a teenager)
Poughkeepsie has a lot of industry then. Smith Brothers Cough Drops, a button factory, a cigar factory, a couple of textile plants and a men’s clothing factory . . . really it was an industrial little town . . . more so then now - except for IBM. There were many kinds of jobs available, but it was rough during the Depression. And when you did get a job, it didn’t pay very much. My father worked on the railroad for 25¢ an hour, and that was laboring!
Our recreation was going to an ice cream store on lower Main Street. They also had a place where they made the ice cream there as well as a very nice store where they sold
it. It was an actual Ice Cream Parlor. Of course, everybody went there . . . it was the hang-out. They made delicious homemade candy, too.
Also for recreation, we’d take the Day liner and go to New York on a Sunday, once in a while - not too often though, because that cost money, too. We used to dance on the boat and all that. It left Poughkeepsie in the morning and came back at night, so there was something to do all the time.
Catherine Roglieri (second from right) and friends in New York
I found a job working in a lady’s lingerie factory. This is interesting ... I walked to work each day(from Bridge Street to Cherry Street) and I would come home for lunch, yet! There were trolley cars in Poughkeepsie by then, but I didn’t live on the line, so of course it wasn’t much good to me. It only ran down Main Street. It cost something to ride it ... but it wasn’t very much, though I hardly took the trolley car for anything.
I worked for Gotleib Brothers on Rose Street in Poughkeepsie then on North Hamilton Street. I worked there for ten years starting at $ 8.00 a week! I worked myself up to making $25.00 a week (I thought “Oh, that was the cat’s meow!). My mother gave me 25¢ allowance every week out of that pay. So, all the money had to go into the family, because there was no money coming in due to the Depression. We had all we could do to put food on the table. As a matter of fact, my mother owed them at least two year’s rent on the house we lived in. Plus a big food bill. You couldn’t make it . . . you barely kept your lights on and your fuel and the little food on the table. You see, we lived above a grocery store and they owned the house, too. So then we got out food and paid it off as we could.
In my teenage days, my fun was (this’ll floor you) . . . nobody had any money, everybody was in the same boat, our friends and all ... so we’d go every so often to one another’s houses and we would invite all our friends (young and old), and everybody would bring some refreshment of sorts: that was our party! We knew a couple of young guys who played musical instrument and their contribution was to play, so we would dance the whole night away – young and old together . . . and everyone had a ball. It was inexpensive, too. Mothers and fathers had a good time, and it kept the kids off the street – they knew where their kids were. Mostly everyone lived within walking distance at that time.
We also had about five theaters in Poughkeepsie when I was growing up – of course, one-by-one they all closed. It was cheap to get in. One theater gave away dishes if you went on a Tuesday night. We did have silent movies, but I was very young, though . . . mostly talkies. I remember having to walk up a big flight of stairs, and they showed nothing but Westerns. My father would take me, I was only a kid, and he would fall asleep and I’d watch the Western . . . I’d watch the movie twice (at least) before he would wake up! It only cost about 10¢ or 15¢ to go.
I remember the first car I ever rode in - a touring sedan. You had to put curtains/shades up when it rained. That was a treat. My family did not have a car . . . but when I met my husband, he had a car: a two-seater with a rumble seat! It wasn’t a new car. but that was the “cat’ s meow”.
By this time, 1916, I got married and I had a short reprieve from work. I had my first of three children in 1939. I only worked part-time in between. I always worked one way or another - I used to do alterations at home when I had the kids. Then I went to work selling lingerie. I worked at Nugent’s for ten years. That was it, two major jobs in my life: making lingerie, then selling lingerie!
My son Pat was now in college, Victor was graduating from high school, and Mary-Alice was in school. I then had the opportunity to purchase a grocery store. Steffie and I worked together in Nugent’s and they had changed management. He was giving the girls a hard time . . . he wanted “young” girls there and he didn’t want the “older” ones anymore. We were always arguing (he was real young himself). So, one day, I said to Steffie, “He makes me so mad, for 2¢ I’d tell him where to go” and I said to her, “why don’t we go into business?” She said, “Yeah, why don’t we?” And that was it!
When I came home and told my husband (Frank Pennes), “We’re gonna go into business” he said, “You’re doing what?” Our husbands put up the down payment and we ran the business from there on in. We bought the building and all. We couldn’t afford to go into the clothing business. You’ve got to have food, but you don’t have to buy clothes . . . not that much, anyway. If you had to make a choice between the two, it would be groceries.
We looked around and then when a store came up that was within our means, we took it. It was closed when we . . . so we started from scratch. There had always been a store on that corner. Trinity Variety Store (on the corner of Hooker avenue and Montgomery Street), Trinity Square.
All of the salesmen helped us out, because we didn’t know beans from potatoes. We knew ladies wear! We didn’t know groceries. The customers would come in and ask for something . . . we’d jot it down . . . that’s how we built up our stock and know what to buy. And we got clipped along the way now and then. We only had a few charge accounts for the customers . . . not a lot . . . because we couldn’t afford it. We did get stuck a couple of times that way too, but all-in-all we did alright.
We both worked there--we split the days and each week we’d change shifts: who’d work mornings and who’d work evenings. We took a day off in between. When we first went in there, we both worked full days - 7 days a week: 6 AM – 9 PM. Then later on we went from 7AM - 7PM. We both put in a lot of hours. It was a lot of work to get started . . . we had no help, you know. Nobody told us anything. We had’ to figure things out for ourselves. We’d ask a lot of questions: how to display and why; give us a leader item and things like that. I can honestly say that the salesmen were all good.
Of course, Steffie had the figuring end of the business because she worked in the credit department at Nugent’s and I had the selling end of it . . . so between the two of us, we got by. We were there a total of fourteen years. And that was the end of my working days - I retired.
Since retiring, my husband Frank passed away in 1976. I now live in my same house in Poughkeepsie and next door to my son Vic and his family. I keep quite active in the Business and Professional Women’s Club as well as my frequent trips to Atlantic City. I have five grandchildren ranging in age from age 10 to 21.
Copyright 2015, Robert F Gray