Mauro Mastrapasqua, fondly known as Grandad to all, was a five foot two inch, red-headed southern Italian with a fiery sense of humor. Full of life and love, he came to America in 1926 as a wide-eyed young boy with a passion for his new home. Grandad lived until the ripe-old age of ninety, working every single day to make a better life for his family. We have built Grandad’s Gravy™ to carry on the legacy of a man for whom God truly “broke the mold” – a legacy of values, knowledge and wisdom that can only be achieved through a lifetime of experience.
He was filled with so much energy and life. He touched everyone he met; he could “charm the pants off a snake”; he was a spark; he was loud; he was funny; he loved to dance with the ladies; he was the star of the show. He would stand for nothing less than being the center of attention.
Nothing was more important to Grandad than his family. He was an immigrant from a small coastal town north of Bari, Italy. He came through Ellis Island with his parents and siblings in 1926. He loved this country. He was an American above anything else and never took his freedom for granted. More specifically, New York was his home; Brooklyn to be exact. As he got older, we always tried to get him to move south. He would always say: “Yeah, I’m going to move south alright. South Brooklyn!!” He had quite a wit and never missed a trick.
He was a very simple man who raised three children with his beautiful wife Mary in a house that he built with his own two hands in Bensonhurst. He only had an eighth grade education, and as a result, put more emphasis on educating his children than anything else. Two of his three children received Ph.D.s.
He was a self-made businessman and entrepreneur who was able to adapt to the times. He started as an Ice Man, with his own horse, carriage, and route. As technology changed with the advent of refrigerators, he moved into the heating oil business. I once asked him why he went into the oil business. He said to me, “I saw an opportunity. What did I know about fixing oil burners? Nothing. I taught myself with the help of my nephew as a business partner.” He had good common sense. He owned real estate – seizing upon opportunities that he saw. When it came time to sell a piece of property, he always loved to play the banker – he would draft the mortgage himself. He believed in saving and building wealth slowly. He would always say: “Pennies make nickels, nickels make dimes, dimes make quarters, and quarters make dollars.” Very wise indeed.
He loved to garden – and believe it or not, he had two yards in Brooklyn, one on each side of his house. The backside of his house butted up against the subway. He had a planting bed along the entire eight foot subway wall where he grew fig trees, cherry tomatoes, plum tomatoes, and he even had a lemon tree and an orange tree. I remember many summers as a kid playing baseball with my cousins in his yard – we would each grab a cherry tomato ripe off the vine and pop it in our mouths before we would pitch the ball (trying to imitate a pitcher with a wad of chew!). I’ll never forget what it was like to have that tomato burst in my mouth – there has never been, nor will there ever be, a more delicious cherry tomato.
Some of my best memories as a child were at his Brooklyn home during the holidays. There were tons of people, many children, more relatives than I ever knew I had. The house was filled with the most wonderful smells. The women were cooking in the kitchen and the men were sitting around the table talking, laughing, and yelling (very loudly of course). Everyone who arrived at the door had a dessert in tow from one of the local Italian bakeries – treats that I still long for during the holidays. There was always a dessert table – cakes, pies, pastries, and cookies, each one more delicious then the last.
As kids, we would sneak food from the dessert table before dinner. And when dinner started, it lasted for hours. A Thanksgiving dinner would consist of American AND Italian traditions – turkey, dressing, sweet potatoes, white potatoes, vegetables AND lasagna, gravy (red sauce) with meatballs, antipasti, sausage and peppers, stuffed calamari, escarole, and on and on… The meal would last for five hours. In reality it was a lunch and dinner combined, you just never left the table.
This very brief snapshot of Grandad hardly does justice to a man so rich with tradition, family, food and life, but hopefully gives you a sense of how much he meant to his grandson who is his namesake. He had a deep sense of right and wrong and a steadfast belief that you always help those in need, especially family. He always helped, never taking anything for himself.
Grandad is still the star of the show at Grandad’s Gravy™. While we miss him terribly, he inspires us every single day by filling our hearts with the love and traditions that he held so dear. We hope you let us share those traditions with you.