December 24, 2021
Marie Cafaro Verde passed away in Manhattan on December 24, 2021 from complications of a stroke. She was 91 years old. Marie is survived by her husband, Frank Verde, her daughter Frances Demsak (married to Gary), and her son, Anthony Verde (married to Kathleen). She was blessed with four grandchildren, Angela Arce, James Demsak, Benjamin Verde and William Verde, and two great-grandchildren, Zoey and Maverick.
Marie's son Anthony would like to share some reflections on Marie's life:
Marie Donata Cafaro, was born March 12,1930 on the 5th floor of a tenement apartment on the corner of Broome and Mulberry St in Manhattan, not a fancy "modern" hospital, as my family might say. Marie didn't know it at the time, but right up the block from where she was born, her future husband, Frank, had been born 8 months prior.
Marie was one of six children, the only sister with five brothers. In her apartment were her mother, Maria, and father, Guisseppe, the six siblings and, at times, her paternal grandparents. That would be 10 people in a two-bedroom apartment – "tight quarters" to say the least. When I asked her what it was like to live in a crowded apartment she said, "that's how it was then" and would add "we didn't have it so bad; there were neighbors with bigger families than ours. We managed."
Their apartment had a bathroom in the hallway that was shared with another family. Their rooms were heated by a single woodburning stove. She told me no one wanted to be the first person out of bed on a winter morning because you would have to add wood to the stove to get some heat going. She said it was so cold you could see your breath. Understandably, everyone wanted to stay in bed, under the covers.
Of course, in 1930 the Great Depression was just beginning so there was not a lot of money to spend for wood or coal to burn. My mother told me that her brothers would scavenge wood from shipping crates that were found around the factories on Crosby and Mercer Streets They had to be a resourceful group to figure out a way to get what they needed for those cold winter days. Story goes that Marie was a good child. She worked around the house as expected.
To entertain herself as a child she often looked out their 5th floor window. One of the windows had a fire escape that she said she would sometimes go out and play on. (She let me do this too when I was young.) On the fire escape she would breathe the fresh air and enjoy the view. One day, the 4 or 5 year old Marie was out playing on the fire escape and she slipped, and rolled down the stairs. Luckily, she didn't fall off the stairs to the sidewalk below. She landed a flight below with cuts and bruises and probably shaken and scared. She survived what could have been a fatal accident. I'm sure her mother cleaned her up and kissed her and that was that. The doctor wasn't called. That was only for real emergencies. A very dramatic event in anyone's life, but Marie showed her inherent resilience, her simple toughness. The world around her might be unpredictable, chaotic, and crazy at times, but she was going to be "low drama."
All the children in her family were expected to contribute to the good of the family. Any money or contribution you could bring home would be put to good use. Her brothers were shining shoes for a nickel a shine from the time they were six years old. Since she was a girl, Marie had different jobs. She would accompany her mother on shopping trips to act as an interpreter and to read the pushcart signs for her. They would walk up and down Mott St going to the various pushcarts to see what was available and for how much.
From a very early age, she was helping in the kitchen. All her cooking was taught by watching her mother and other family members, the techniques were ingrained in her. She has no recipes written down except for baking recipes and measured everything by eye and by tasting. If you asked her how to make something, she would offer to come over and cook it with you. She was a great cook of Italian American classics. Anyone who was lucky enough to taste her eggplant parmigiana knew it was something very special. (I've eaten eggplant in Italy, in high end NY restaurants, in friends' homes and no-one could rival the special deliciousness of her dish) All of us would like to think that we can do at least one thing very well; Marie's eggplant was one of her food super powers.
One of the stories I heard passed down about her was that when Marie was about 10 years old and her mother would leave the house, Marie would surreptitiously wash the windows – not just the inside, but the outside! Remember: they are living on the 5th floor and washing the windows meant that she would open the window, sit on the outside of the window frame, then close the window behind her, so picture half of body sitting outside the window on the 5th floor with one hand holding the bottom of the window frame and one hand cleaning the glass. This went on until someone from across the street told my grandmother what they saw. She was told not to do that again, or at least until she was a little older.
I get the impression that Marie was always a very reliable young lady; her responsibilities to her mother and family were always met. Laundry, house cleaning, cooking, shopping were all part of the daily work she would contribute to. She was a good daughter. As she grew a little older and had a group of friends, they like many others of their time, were fans of Frank Sinatra. In an uncharacteristic moment, Marie cut school and went to the Paramount Theatre in Brooklyn to see her idol Frank Sinatra sing and to swoon with the other girls. When she came home that afternoon, somehow the cat was out of the bag. Her mother was waiting for her with a frying pan in hand. I don't think the pan was actually used on her but the threat was made. This was the one and only story I ever heard of Marie going off script and putting something she wanted to do above her other responsibilities.
When my mother was in the middle of high school her mother told her that she needed more of her help. She would have to leave high school and take on more responsibilities at home and get a job. Marie didn't object and left school to be of assistance to her mother. She loved her Mom and wanted to ease her burden. Marie was an energetic teen at the time, and more house work was something she could do. She also took on work as a "factory girl" in the local textile factories. Work was something she was no stranger to. She was a doer not a dreamer and would take on more than her share of chores.
Eventually, her family moved to a different apartment. She said her mother was upset that the men who made the deliveries of coal and ice (for the ice box) said they would no longer carry their heavy loads five flights up. Someone had to meet the deliveries on the 2nd floor and carry them up the rest of the way. Instead, my grandmother found an available apartment on the 2nd floor of Kenmare St. directly around the corner from where she was living. It had the bathroom inside the apartment. It had steam heat in every room – all "modern amenities" to the family. There was a catch though: they would have to serve as the building's super. They were a big family, so the labor of cleaning and maintaining the five story apartment building would be shared among them. As I said earlier, work was something they were very familiar with. Being the super would not discourage my grandmother from taking the rooms. As luck would have it, when Marie and Frank married in 1954, the apartment across the hall from my grandmother came available and she and Frank started their married life there. Ultimately, when my mother moved to her apartment on Grand Street in 2017 (with lots of objections I might add), she had lived at 57 Kenmare Street for 75 years!
Growing up with Marie as your mom was a very good thing. Our apartment was not overly crowded; my sister, Fran and I had our own bedrooms. We could always rely on delicious meals, a clean and orderly home, and a lot of attention, love and care. Marie would be home to make us lunch when we came home from grammar school. She would organize her days around making sure that we had what we needed. Vacations were planned to the Jersey Shore every summer, where my mother would join my aunts and other mothers for the summer, with fathers joining on the weekends. It was a sweet life. We didn't know how good it was. A small amount of chores were expected, but they were minimal. There were no big money problems as my father often worked two jobs to allow my mother to be with us. Our mother created a calm, clean, stable life that made it possible for Fran and I to thrive.
Over the years my mom told us about the friendships she had in her younger years, the bounds she had with neighbors that lasted her entire life. She had a friend, Angela, our next door neighbor, whom she considered more of a sister than a friend. When Angela was getting married she asked my mom if it would be possible to take some of her wedding photos in our house. Angela's apartment was nice but the rooms were a bit smaller. Of course Marie agreed and the night before Angela's wedding, my mother totally re-dressed our apartment. The bedroom and living room were fitted with her fanciest curtains and linens, the bedspread was changed to a regal looking satin cover I'd never seen before. All the furniture was polished and glowing. The apartment was ready for its close up. In her typical low key way she didn't tell Angela that she was doing any of it. When Angela arrived the next morning with the photographer she was shocked by all the effort Marie had gone through to give her wedding pictures a nice background. When Angela moved to Florida in the 1970s, Marie continued to speak to her weekly by phone.
I think in her older years, the thing our mother missed the most was the closeness of extended family and the regular contact and mutual support of good neighbors. Our door on Kenmare St was open during the day and the sound of a knock followed by footsteps of a neighbor walking through our hallway were a common occurrence. The neighbors shared a common background and were entwined in each other's lives. They chatted, drank coffee, spoke about their families, shared food and were there for one another. It's nice to have a gym, parking space and pool on the roof of your building, but it's also nice to have good neighbors who are like family around you.
Marie was lucky enough to live a long life. She got to see a lot change during that time. She wasn't a philosophical person as much as a logical person. Everything was measured by its usefulness, its effectiveness and its efficiency. She always gave herself a full schedule of things to do every day. She had kids to tend to, meals to be prepared, shopping to be done, laundry, bill paying, and an apartment to clean. She was juggling a lot of balls at once, there wasn't any time to waste. If everything worked out well she would be able to take a quick cat nap for 20 mins or so in the late afternoon, then wake up and get dinner ready.
Life wasn't all work though. One of her favorite things to do was take care of her grandchildren, especially when they were young. Bathing them, feeding them, dressing them gave her an opportunity to be uncharacteristically silly. Watching her give a sponge bath in the kitchen sink to my oldest son, Ben, while the both of them were making doggy howling sounds is one of my favorite memories of her.
When they were still younger, Marie and Frank enjoyed an annual vacation to Florida. This was a much anticipated event that was the highlight of their year. It was one of the few times she could relax and go out for meals and break up their usual routine. She would also get to visit with her friend Angela with whom they would stay whenever they visited.
Living a long life also meant she experienced the sadness of surviving all of her brothers, Sammy, Tony, Angelo, Jimmy and Freddy, and most of her friends. She soldiered on and somehow found a place to live with the sadness that will bring.
Marie's quiet strength, her capable nature, her unassuming, humble personality will be greatly missed, but will live inside of all of us who knew and loved her.
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Uncle Anthony, Loved reading through the obituary. Really felt I got to know your mother through this. A lifelong New Yorker in the heart of the city and what a life it was. Sending my condolences. Love, Christopher
My father Umilo and Marie's mother were siblings. Both my parents loved Aunt Mary and every feast of San Gennaro or St. Anthony my mother and I would take the bus from NJ and spend the weekend at Aunt Mary's. I would get to sit on the fire escape and watch the festivities. Since I only had two sisters I envied the closeness and chaos of being with a big family. Marie's brother Jimmy was my confirmation sponsor. And my sister Angelina was Marie's maid of honor and godmother to her daughter Frannie. Those trips to New York were a special part of my life and not soon forgotten. I eventually moved to New York, got a job in publishing and lived there for 47 years. We kept in touch for awhile and then sadly ties were broken. One day an Anthony Verde called me to show me his portfolio and we have kept n touch via Facebook. Thank you Anthony.
Beautiful tribute to your wonderful Mom, Anthony! So sorry for your loss.