By Beagan Wilcox
Rosa Morrone has
two twists of fate to thank for bringing her to New York City more
than 45 years ago. The first came in the form of Gabriele Morrone.
The second came in the form of the Cristoforo Columbo.
At the same time, Gabriele Morrone, who had left Roccapiemonte for New York City when he was 14, returned home to marry. But when he arrived, he found that his original bride-to-be had made other arrangements. Gabriele's eyes turned to Rosa and the two were quickly married.
Rosa, against her
wishes, sailed for New York a month earlier than planned. She had hoped
to leave in July, on the Andrea Doria. Instead, Rosa sailed with the
Cristoforo Colombo and arrived in New York City's Port Authority on
June 20, 1956. The following month, the Andrea Doria collided with
another boat on a foggy July night southeast of Nantucket, killing
seven children and twelve grandchildren later, Rosa, 66, is still the
belle of the bakery. She is a small compact woman with short, fiery
red hair, brown eyes and a deep voice that booms when customers and
friends enter the store. Rosa peppers her heavily accented English
with exclamations from her southern dialect, which is slightly rougher
sounding than standard Italian. True to the dialects of the Salerno
region, Rosa drops the ends of words both in Italian and English. Napoli
"Napol," famiglia becomes "famil."
used to be divided according to Italian regions and dialects. Rev.
Rofrano remembers that in his youth, Northern Italians lived mostly
between East 104th and 106th Streets. Calabrian dialects could be heard
between East 106th and 108th Streets. Sicilians dominated East 107th
Street. Neapolitans and "Salernitani" (people from Salerno)
lived between East 108th and 116th Streets.
Most of the Italians abandoned the neighborhood. When Gabriele and Rosa Morrone opened their bakery in 1958, there were 20 other bakeries in the neighborhood, most of them Italian. Now Morrone's is the only Italian bakery left in East Harlem.
A year ago, it appeared
that Morrone's might also become a memory. On October 10, 2000, Gabriele
Morrone, a severe diabetic, ended up in the hospital. Then, nine days
later, the arch of the bakery's aging brick oven collapsed. The bakery
closed down unexpectedly. Gabriele would not return to work. He later
had part of his lower right leg amputated and now spends most of his
days at home.
Under the persistent
pressure of neighbors and friends who were not happy about switching
to soulless supermarket bread, Anthony decided to put in a new oven
and to completely renovate the store. Mostly though, the decision was
influenced by his parents, "I knew my parents would love to see
this place keep going," he said.
Amid the endless ebb and flow of people coming and going in East Harlem, one thing is certain. Rosa is not about to pick up and leave, not after crossing the Atlantic and living and working on East 116th Street for nearly 45 years. "Everybody moved. They think that I'm the one, that I gotta move. Everybody went. But I'm still here. They wanted me to go, but I said, 'No, I'm not going nowhere.'"
The Statue of Liberty NY
Saint Anthony in Harlem
Morrone Bakery after been renovated 2004