What’s new and happening today — planting gardens, organic food, chickens in the back yard — that’s what we did! Our whole back yard was basically one big garden. We grew up on kale. We grew fields and fields of kale — everybody did. We harvested it, and we froze it in old Wonder Bread bags so we had it for the winter. We virtually ate kale every single day of the year.
At 103 Pine Street, which they bought in 1965, the Rebelo family made use of every square foot of earth. As Vinnie remembers it,
No grass in the back yard. The back yard was specifically for FOOD. Kale, cabbage, peas, peppers… corn. I remember it so vividly. I can still see the corn stalks in the backyard, and the peas growin up… shucking the corn, shelling the peas so my mom and my grandma could make dinner. Cucumbers get yellow, they’re gonna go bad. Have to give some away… a lot of our neighbours didn’t have gardens: we’d leave them on doorsteps. We couldn’t eat it all.
The front yard did have “flowers and stuff,” but the lawn was part of the food production process too:
In summer time, we’d water it late evening, especially on a Saturday, and that night when it got to be dark we’d be out with a flashlight catching worms. My sisters were fantastic at it. On a Sunday we’d all walk down to the harbour with our branches and line and hooks, and we’d catch 30, 40, 50 little perches. My mother and grandmother would clean em and scale them and we’d have a fish fry and we’d have fish for a week!
Vinnie’s father, Manuel, brought the family from the Azores to Kingston in 1963.
The first job that he worked was at Douglas Library, when they were building the stacks underground, digging that all out by hand! He’d walk to work … leave at 6, he’d be home 630 or 7… after dinner he’d work in the workshop till 9 at night. Sundays were a special day especially in the summertime. We’d go to church and then we’d hoof it down and get our fishing lines in. Dad would come along. He’s the one that would get us the fishing poles, shave them down.
The Rebelo family did have to outsource some of their food needs. They couldn’t grow grapes or hot peppers in Kingston, so like most of the Portuguese and Azorean families in town (not to mention the Italians) they bought those from Quattrocchi’s for the year’s supply of wine and hot pepper sauce. And they didn’t have room for a pig on Pine Street. In the Azorean community, pig butchering and preserving was a collective and highly planned process. In the spring, each family would go out to a farm north of town and choose a pig. And in the fall, each family would slaughter their pig on a different weekend, so that everybody could help with the butchering, preserving, and eating.
Every fall, every weekend, till past Thanksgiving, 8 or 10 families, each one of us would slaughter a pig. Everybody’d have their peppers ready and their wine ready. We had to go get it, 300 pounds, bring it home. It took 6 or 8 or 10 guys: after they killed it, they’d pierce the heart, and my grandmother’d be there with a big pot to catch the blood for blood sausage. Nothing was wasted. You’d clean the pig, take the hair off. Then they’d bring it back home and start butchering… we did that in the garage. Every single piece of the pig was used, except maybe the bladder. Kidneys, livers, hoofs, snouts, ears, tail. The intestines were for chorizo sausage… we’d use the peppers, the wine, and we’d make 200-300 links of sausage. We’d make bacon, use the head to make soup. We’d put the pork in clay containers, with salt, pig skin on top, in the basement. As you needed it, you took it out. That lasted you the whole winter.
Vinnie says that there aren’t many photographs of his childhood because they were a luxury. He thinks there were photos of confirmations and baptisms, and he remembers people took photos of themselves with their cars: “it symbolizes… if you’ve got a car, you’ve made it.” Getting a car was a big event for Vinnie’s family, and the car in fact outlived Vinnie’s father. So even though I had to borrow the photo from the internet, we’ll close with Vinnie’s happy memories of his family on the way back from the farm with their pig.
The first car we got, 1970 — we’d been here for 7 years — he bought a 1968 baby blue Chevrolet Biscayne Station wagon. He painted it dark green. He needed a vehicle in order to get the pig! It was a big machine, a beast: 8 cylinder, 4 gallons to the mile typa thing. There was no problem putting a 350 pound pig in the back; my mother and father in the front; and sisters and me in the back, facing out.
Happy Thanksgiving everyone!
— Laura Murray