I remember my grandmother very well. She was a very loving and generous person. She was always the one to tell me stories and get me interested in my heritage.
Mildred Natale was born on February 20, 1917 in Hoboken, New Jersey, to Steven and Elizabeth Tronolone. She was the oldest of seven children. She had five sisters: Elizabeth, Josephine, Jeanie, Gloria, and Rita; and one brother: Richard. She helped out significantly in taking care of her younger siblings and in her parents' work. Later in life, she moved to Staten Island with her parents, and worked in her father's restaurant. She later worked for Frank Lenzo, with whom she fell in love and married in 1947. She had two children, Maryann and Daniel, my father. After her husband Frank died in 1951, she took over the Park Diner and ran it until 1969. For ten more years, she worked as a nurses aide until her retirement in 1979.
She lived on Staten Island until her death on July 12, 1992.
From my records, I would say that Steven Natale was born on April 25, 1893 in Caserta, a small city just North of Naples. His parents were Joseph Natale and Carmella Coppola. I do not know his proper given name or when he came to the United States. He could have possibly come in 1899, although other sources say not until later. On arrival, he joined his brother Joseph in his restaurant business in Teenich, New Jersey. He married Elizabeth Tronolone sometime in the very early twentieth century. He had seven children: Mildred, Elizabeth, Josephine, Jeanie, Gloria, Rita, and Richard.
The 1920 census shows him working as a cook in a restaurant. I interpret the census to also say that he was self-employed, and therefore, probably owned the restaurant. Apparently, his business was adversely affected by the Depression. He moved his family to Staten Island in 1931 and worked as a chef in several restaurants and opening his own later. While he could not be called a very successful businessman, he was a wonderful person and family man. The testimonies of his children best demonstrate his generosity:
...During the Second World War, [Steven Natale] had a restaurant across from a Coast Guard base. As you can guess, the meals were on the house for the servicemen. [Steven and Elizabeth] would take them to their home on Sundays, holidays, or whenever the boys had time off or felt lonely...
...[Steven Natale] was the sweetest man you ever want to meet. He reminded me of Santa Claus, white wavy hair, round rosy cheeks, and a round belly...He gave way so many free dinners to those who couldn't afford much...When we were very young, we often found pennies and nickels in our shoes when we awoke...
Steven Natale apparently had diabetes throughout much of his life (relatives say that he often hid candy bars from his wife in his coat pockets). Towards the end of his life, he had a stroke, which left his face slightly contorted. Steven Natale and his wife, Elizabeth, returned to Italy in September, 1964 and stayed until the following April. He died on May 5, 1970.