P.A.H.H. logo

Out of the Balkans

Part 2: Jason's Journey, Recollections and Celebrations

Chapter 4:


My memories of my Papou are of warmth, fun, and adventure. Papou, Leonardo Perna, known as "Louie," was not my blood grandfather. Anything he was not able to claim by virtue of blood, he won with the love and affection only a grandfather can give.

Papou was widower of four or more years by the time I was old enough to remember him in my life. He lived with us in the house that his wife, Eleni, had purchased in 1920.

On Saturday and Sunday mornings, my sister and I would steal into Papou's small bedroom on the second floor of our-three story brownstone in Brooklyn and crawl into his bed. We giggled under the covers while he pretended sleep. In a few minutes we were a raucous threesome, his fingers tickling our tummies and necks.

Leonardo was born on 12 March 1890, in Avellino, Italy. He was perhaps five feet, six inches tall, quiet, soft-spoken, hardworking, and unassuming. Slender in his youth, he developed a thick middle as he aged. His short hair and quick, wide- eyed smile made his appearance boyish. He spoke his native Italian, and broken English and Greek with care and thought.

Trained as a tailor in Italy, Leonardo immigrated to the United States when he was sixteen. He arrived at Ellis Island aboard the ship Sicily on 13 June 1906, and for reasons unknown, made his way to Chicago, where he worked in a dry cleaning establishment that allowed him to pursue his trade. It was there that he met my grandmother, Eleni. They were married in Chicago late in 1915 or early in 1916, shortly after she had been widowed for the second time.

The backyard and basement of our brownstone on Ovington Avenue in Bay Ridge was Leonardo's realm. The small city garden, measuring twenty by fifty feet, had a paved center area covered by a grapevine trellis - like those found in the gardens of Italy. Surrounding the trellised section were a small vegetable plot and ample planting areas for roses, azaleas, gladioli, and spring bulbs. And, there was a fig tree. A photo of Papou, Nitsa, and me was taken in the garden in 1938.

Papou was a loving grandfather. He never scolded or punished us. His arms were always a place of refuge and his generosity was unending. When he married Adela, his second wife, we did not understand why he had to leave our home. His frequent visits, our expeditions with him, and our many feasts in his new home made his absence bearable.

Helpful Links

[Skip the navigation links: Jump to the Citation Guidelines.]

Navigation Links

[Skip the citation guidelines: Jump to the Bottom of the Page.]

Citation Guidelines

(This is the bottom of the page.)