Sylvia Shares her Story
by Cate Murway
Imagine what it would be like to have a combined family full of brothers and sisters in the Depression years. The "Star Spangled Banner" had just recently become our national anthem and the world's tallest building, the Empire State Building, was opened by President Hoover in New York. The nation elected Franklin Delano Roosevelt president.
Sylvia [Costantini] Chichilitti was the youngest born to Helen and Guiseppe “Blackie” Costantini who were both widowed and had re-married in Italy and then migrated to historic Bristol on the Delaware. Her family included Philip, dubbed “Rum” or “Romeo”; WWII Army veteran Johnny, WWII Navy Seabees veteran/ truck driver Nick [wife, Jean], Josephine Patterson and Lucy Agostine.
Rum worked in the Grundy woolen mill and Senator Joseph R. Grundy presented him with “a beautiful gold vase” when he married Virginia Romano. Johnny and Sylvia’s sisters worked there as well. According to Sylvia, “Josephine worked everywhere”. Her late sister had a job at the book factory, at Barker & Williamson, the Manhattan Soap Works and at Estee Lauder. “She was 90 years old and still looking for a job.”
Sylvia lost her mother to a stroke when she was just ten years old.
Her father worked in the federal program, the Works Progress Administration [WPA], and he was left to raise them alone. They carried on with great courage and determination.
A coal stove warmed their first floor. “We kept the coal in the cellar”.
Her father would shake the ashes from the stove in the morning to retrieve the unused coal.
When she was a little girl, her mother had heated bricks in the stove, then wrapped them to use by her feet so she could sleep at night. Memories of her mother are few but she vividly recalls her making homemade macaroni and gnocchi for them.
Joblessness and poverty found their way into the town. Money was scarce because of the depression, so people did what they could to stay happy.
A particularly special treat was when their father would take them on the train to shop on Market Street in downtown Philadelphia. They even had the opportunity to see the very young Frank Sinatra at the lavishly decorated Earle Theatre.
They were lured by "Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows!" as they listened to one of the most popular radio shows in history on their battery-powered radio. She remembers the summer heat in an era with no air-conditioning, just fans. They had an outhouse in the back yard, and a wringer washing machine and a huge ice box in the kitchen. Mr. DeVenti delivered the ice. Mari’s Bakery on Dorrance Street delivered the Italian bread. She didn’t even realize there was a depression at the time. Her family was poor, but she honestly didn’t know the difference. She was just a kid growing up like she thought everyone else did.
Her parents spoke no English and Sylvia can speak Italian to this day. One positive for her while growing up was that when her father was beckoned to school due to her misbehavior, her sister would go also to translate. Fortunately, Sylvia was a favored little sister and Josephine would “soften” the story.
When Mr. Costantini lost his job at the WPA, her sisters and he worked on King’s Farm, earning just a nickel a basket for the string beans they picked. A truck drove them from the Mutual Aid building to the farm. With a little money in their overalls, they purchased their provisions from Mazzanti’s Market but “my father kept a bill down there.”
Their lifestyle was frugal. They were a working family and the pleasures were few and simple.
“We always had enough to eat but sometimes not many choices.
Sylvia made it sound like there were just two…‘take it or leave it!’
Their chickens were fresh. She would pluck the feathers and clean out the guts, and then help boil the chicken for dinner. “I swallowed the warm eggs whole.”
She proudly resides in the same uniform brick row home in which she was born.
“Everybody was in the same boat. We all were poor.”
Sylvia has no pictures of herself as a child. “Who had money for pictures back then?”
She never had a birthday party but her father always remembered her special day with a cake.
Her sisters fixed her hair and she remembers wearing black and white saddle shoes and skirts.
She wanted horseback riding pants and her father bought her three pairs of jodhpurs.
“We didn’t have many clothes. No silk stockings. We wore socks.”
John Girotti’s grandfather, Mr. Delf sold the shoes at his store on Pond Street for $2.00 or $3.00 a pair. Her favorite color has always been purple and she recalls doing embroidery on scarves and pillow cases and eating $.03 ice cream cones from the O’Boyle’s truck.
The good old days always seem better in retrospect than they most likely did at the time, but life nonetheless, was much simpler then. The children enjoyed their unstructured idyllic summers.
They played hopscotch and jacks, but no bikes. “My father didn’t like us to ride bikes. So, we used to sneak it.” Mr. Mannocchi rented bicycles from his shop for $.10 an hour. “We played baseball in the middle of the street. There were no cars then.”
They made their own fun and played simple games like jump rope, and just hanging out with friends until dark was common. They were outside a lot.
Movies were hot and she went to the Bristol Grand cinema for the special children's shows on Saturday mornings. There were 10-cent movies in this era when even the smallest towns had their own theatre.
She loved the water. She and her friends snuck down to swim in the Delaware, “where the Harbor Lights is now”, that they had coined the “muddyucci”. Sylvia could see the Landreth sisters playing tennis in their back yard. Her dad said, “If you drown, don’t come home here.”
She often took the ferry ride from the wharf to the Burlington Island for just a penny and they would swim there and also at Silver Lake.
Sylvia wasn’t permitted to go to dances. She danced outside with her friends, Sadie Scancella and Nina Zak, to the music of their own singing voices.
Her father never drove a car, but his friend, Mr. Accardi would drive them to Seaside to spend the day at the beach. He often spoke of the San Benedetto Ocean in Italy.
She remembers walking to the Bristol Cemetery with the Robert W. Bracken Post Jr. Drum and Bugle Corps in the Memorial Day parade to honor the veterans. The Corps director, Arthur Straccio, Sr. wanted her to ‘twirl the baton” with them, but her seemingly very strict father said no. Raising his daughters as a widowed parent may possibly have been the hardest thing Mr. Costantini ever had to do.
Sylvia completed eighth grade at St. Ann School and took her first job as an electronics technician at Barker & Williamson on Canal Street. “Everyone was poor around here. I had to work.”
She worked in both of the soap and book factories, Minnesota Mining, and performed her “Rosie” work as a riveter at Kaiser-Fleetwings. “I didn’t know what I was doing…. I just riveted.” Her job packing tea at the National Tea Packing Company in the Grundy Industrial Complex earned her just $.50 an hour. “The most I ever made was $1.56 at 3M.”
She always knew the Michael and Angeline [Tufil] Chichilitti family
but actually met her husband, the love of her life, David Augustine “Chic” Chichilitti while they were both working at Barker & Williamson. They were married in September 1954 in St. Ann Church by Father Peter. Her beautiful wedding gown was from Silverman’s in Philadelphia.
Dave was an identical twin, born 15 minutes before his brother, Jonathan, (wife, Jean [Horn]), the eighth and ninth of the eleven children all born on Dorrance Street.
When they were dating, they sometimes went to watch movies in the Mayfair Theatre in Trenton. David let her choose a wedding band at a nearby jeweler. “He kept asking me ‘do you like this one?’ I loved them all.” He used the money he won playing Bingo to buy her the ring.
They certainly were a lucky couple! Sylvia won two jitterbugging contests.
“I used to like all kinds of music, like Glenn Miller.” The jitterbug was the rave dance and she won the contests at the Barker & Williamson picnic, and at the Rohm & Haas picnics on Maple Beach. Her prize was a set of frying pans.
Dave had started working at Barker & Williamson when he was only twelve. His later careers included the Traffic and Safety Manager for the Borough after he worked at the Bristol Sewer and Transportation Department. He also was a bobbin packer at the Joseph R. Grundy Mills and he worked at the Landreth Seed Company.
He was the Trustee and [5 times] President of the Italian Fifth Ward Mutual Aid and a member of the Moose Lodge. They both enjoyed the Italian festivals and loved attending pantomime shows and parties together. Sylvia belonged to the Auxiliary. The memories make her smile.
They have two sons, Drexel University College of Medicine adjunct instructor / former BHS School Board president David Joseph, BHS ’75 [Laura]
and Joseph Michael, BHS ’83 [Patricia], proprietor of “Chic's Plumbing & Heating”.
They were blessed with four grandchildren, Alexa, David, Erica and Joseph. Now there are two more treasures in the great grandchildren, Lilly and Emma Grace.
Sylvia misses David. Wooden letters declaring “Family Is…” hangs on her living room wall.
Family is everything for Sylvia, but she allots time for her personal social network that includes bingo and card games of Poker and Spades with her friends. Bristol is….home.
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Josephine Mariani Patterson, 90, of Lawrence Township, passed away on Friday January 18, 2013 at RWJ University Hospital at Hamilton. Born in Bristol, PA, she resided in Bristol most of her life before moving to the Lawrence area for the past six years. Daughter of the late Phillip and Elena Felio Mariani; wife of the late Leo Patterson; and sister of the late Lucy, Phillip, Romeo, and John, she is survived by her daughter, Diane and her husband, Tony; one son, James and his wife, Cathey; her sister, Sylvia; four grandchildren, Michele and her husband, James, Georgette and her husband, Daniel, James, and Michael; and one great-grandson, Danny. Relatives and friends may call on Thursday evening, Jan. 24, 2013, from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Buklad Memorial Home, 2141 South Broad St. in Hamilton. Services will be held at 8 p.m. at the memorial home. In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to Deborah Heart and Lung Center, 200 Trenton Rd., Browns Mills, NJ 08015.
Esther Chichilitti passed away Thursday, Jan. 5, 2012, surrounded by her loving family. She was 81.
She was born Nov. 17, 1930 in Bristol Boro in the family home and resided there her whole life.
She was preceded in death by her parents, Michael and Angeline Tufil Chichilitti; her brothers, John (Rose), Frank (Jenny), Michael (Hazel), Cornelius, Nathaniel (Sue), and David; her sisters, Carmella Barber (Elmer), Clementine Rose (David) and Ruth Brickner (Ray); her nephews, John Chichilitti, David Rose and Raymond Brickner; as well as her loving companion of 41 years, Raymond Convil.
She is survived by her loving brother, Jonathan and his wife, Jean; her sister-in-law, Sylvia, widow of David. Aunt Esther is also survived by over 65 nephews, nieces, great-nephews and nieces and great great-nieces and nephews and many friends including Marion Kohler. She will be especially missed by her 6-year old great great-niece and BFF, Mia Rose.
Relatives and friends are invited to call starting at 9 a.m. followed by a service at 11 a.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 10 at the Molden Funeral Chapel, Inc., 133 Otter St., Bristol. Burial will follow at Bristol Cemetery.
Jonathan Chichilitti Sr. passed into eternal peace at Chandler Hall
in Newtown, June 14, 2018, surrounded by his loving family.
He was born 92 years ago, to Michael and Angeline Tufill Chichilitti in Bristol Borough.
As a young boy, he picked tomatoes and vegetables at various farms in Pa and NJ.
He started working at Landreth Seeds in Bristol, moving on to Barker and Williamson for 32 years as the head of maintenance, and ended his career at US Steel National Tube as a Sr. Millwright retiring in 1988. He joined Third District Fire Company in 1957, and was an active fire fighter for over 20 years, becoming an honorary member. He was an avid fisherman, gardener, card player, loved flea marketing with his twin, David, and bowled with his brothers in a league. He loved eating seafood, dandelion salads, and roasting pepperoni on the campfire. He was always there to lend a helping hand to his children, family and many friends, never asking for anything in return. Even though he had a limited education he had the natural ability to solve problems using his hands and mind. All you needed to do was tell him what your idea or problem was and he had a solution!
He is survived by his loving wife, Jean Horn Chichilitti; his beloved sons, Jonathan Jr. (Evonne), Michael (Linda Hall); and loving daughter, Terri Simone (Michael); his precious grandchildren, Caryn Hathaway (Joe), Jonathan Chichilitti (Melissa), Danielle Ramus (Robert), and Jesse Wolfgang (Carly Boos); and priceless great-grandchildren, Alisan, JJ, and Tyler Hathaway, Michael and Katelyn Chichilitti, CJ Roach, Juliana and Jaxon Ramus; and sisters-in- law, Riva Bradford and Sylvia Chichilitti; and many nieces and nephews. He was preceded in death by his 10 brothers and sisters, Carmella Barber (Elmer), John (Rose), Clementine Rose (David), Frank (Jenny), Mike (Hazel), Cornelius, Nathaniel (Sue), David, his identical twin, Ruth (Ray) Brickner, and Esther; his sister- in-law, Eva Templeton; and brothers-in-law, Richard Templeton, Matthew Pizzola, and Robert Bradford; and nephews, John Chichilitti, David Rose, Raymond Brickner, and Daniel Chichilitti. His family would like to thank the nursing staff at St. Mary Hospital, and the staff at Chandler Hall Hospice for their exceptional and compassionate care. Relatives and friends are invited to his funeral service at 11 a.m., Thursday, June 21, at the Wade Funeral Home,1002 Radcliffe St., Bristol Borough. Viewing hours will be from 7 to 9 p.m., Wednesday evening, and from 10 a.m. until time of service, Thursday morning. Interment will be in Sunset Memorial Park, 333 County Line Rd., Feasterville. In lieu of flowers, donations in Mr. Chichilitti’s name may be made to Third District Volunteer Fire Co., Station 14, 1141 Harrison St., Bristol, PA 19007. Wade Funeral Home, Bristol Borough www.wadefh.com