On the day President John F. Kennedy was assassinated, in 1963, Kathy Salamone was an eighth-grade student in a Catholic school in New Jersey. A high school boy in a different building, but on the same campus, ran to break the shocking news. The president had been shot.
Like most Americans, Salamone and her family grieved.
“I think everyone liked President Kennedy. He represented such promise and hope to the country,” Salamone said this week as she talked about the memoir she recently self-published.
Titled “Sown in Silk City: A Life Rooted in Paterson, New Jersey,” the book is available on Amazon in print and e-book versions.
“Those of us in my generation remember where they were when President Kennedy was killed the same way, for this younger generation, everybody remembers where they were on 9-11. I recount that experience in my life when I learned of that assassination. I think that is certainly something everybody can relate to as that kind of watershed moment,” she said.
Salamone, a New Jersey native who moved to Millsboro a few years ago with her husband, John, who died three years ago, was looking for what she called “activities of interest.” After enrolling in a memoir writing class, she found she enjoyed penning “vignettes about life.”
She was assigned 100 and 150-word essays and, once the class ended, chose a few, thinking, “I could say a lot more about this.”
“They seemed to be right there just waiting for me to find them. Before I knew it, I had a number of them pulled together. I just kept going and going and I finally got to the point where I thought, ‘I want to publish these.’ A lot of the subject matter relates to my growing up in 1950s and ’60s in an Italian household in Paterson, N.J., and traces our family heritage. Both sets of grandparents came here in the late 1890s. It’s just the classic immigrant story of my grandparents, both sets of grandparents, coming to the states for a better life and they created two grand families. The Conti side of my family has nine children and on the Canger side, it was 12,” she said. Canger was her mother’s maiden name.
Her paternal grandfather was 19 when he arrived in the United States and her maternal grandparents were in their 20s “with little money in their pockets,” she said.
“Family was the most important thing growing up. I had my parents. I had my grandparents, although I was pretty much a child when my grandparents died. I had my brothers. I had two aunts who lived upstairs from us and I had other aunts and uncles and cousins and it was this great, grand family. There were so many of us. It was a wonderful thing to have that kind of close-knit family where cousins and aunts and uncles would drop by and say hi. There was never a phone call made to make an appointment. It was a nuclear family to the 10th degree. It was big,” she said.
When her parents married in 1941, her Italian upbringing was “set in sauce, so to speak,” she wrote in a press release promoting the book that features titles including “Make Mine al Dente” and “Summer in the City.”
“I grew up in a loving household where life centered around family and food. My early life became the easiest thing in the world to write about it. I have a file of other vignettes I hope to publish in another collection. What started in a four-week memoir writing class at the Rehoboth Beach Historical Society became a steady stream of vignettes written over the last four years … When I read about a memoir writing course in Rehoboth, I registered right away,” she said.
After an in-class assignment, given by Rae Tyson of the Osher Lifelong Learning Center at the University of Delaware, she said her writing “took off,” with encouragement of the instructor. But Tyson wasn’t the first one to notice her ability. Her sixth-grade teacher, too, remarked about it.
“At first, it was compositions in grammar school, then in high school, the school newspaper, and the yearbook. In college, I studied English literature and then earned my master’s degree,” she said.
Another challenge was to write a six-word memoir and the result was, “Road trip. Itching powder. Despicable brother.”
It was based on an “incident on a family road trip when I was 6,” she said.
“My older brother’s prank still lingers deep in my memory. I finally forgave him, but only about twenty years ago,” she said.
During her career, Salamone said, she worked as associate editor of a trade publication, wrote and edited employee publications, created and completed marketing plans and managed internal and external communications at a multi-national health care company and at two hospitals in New Jersey. As she was raising three children, she volunteered to write for local organizations and freelanced.
Memoirs attract readers because they are interested in seeing what factors and life experiences have shaped the author, Salamone said.
Her husband, John, would have enjoyed the book, she said, and was alive when she started it.
“He read two or three of the vignettes but he didn’t get to read all of the ones I published. I wished he could have. There is a good deal more that I would like to tell in terms of my later teen years, becoming a young adult, adulthood. I have quite a bit of life to share,” she said.
“I’m happy to say I have had a rich life. I may not have been rich financially over the years. There were good years and bad years during the time my husband I were married but there was a richness that gave me a full life.”