Log In

Reset Password
  • MENU
    Friday, March 01, 2024

    The Good Old Days: A lesson from the tailor shop owner in Norwich

    The Preston Bridge, close to the former Gencarelli tailor shop in Norwich. Photograph courtesy of David J. Bishop

    Once upon a time, in the city of Norwich, lived an Italian man named Charles Gencarelli. His tailor shop stood on the ground floor of the Marguerite Building.

    During the 1960s, people would drive by and see a man through the large picture window, working behind an enormous treadle Singer sewing machine. All who passed said it was an exquisite machine. They admired its glossy black finish and cast-iron base, embossed and swirled with gold ribbons that radiated royalty.

    The words painted on the window were a source of pride and promise: Gencarelli, Tailor. For this was no ordinary tailor, this tailor was known far and wide for his exceptional skills beyond the city of Norwich.

    My uncle appreciated his sewing machine and fondly called it “Mio Amico.” To him, it was more than a machine. It had made his wonderful world possible, and was like a member of his family.

    Uncle Charlie and wife Mary (Falcone) lived on Palmer Street in a large old-fashioned farmhouse. On the grounds were plenty of mushrooms and tomatoes to pick and a greenhouse that nurtured young fig trees to a ripe old age. Like the figs, a young Charles and Mary had nurtured each other and would also live to a ripe, old age. Uncle Charlie used to say that taking care of fig trees was no different than taking care of humans.

    “Humans only need one ingredient to thrive: love.”

    Even in his senior years, Charles continued to walk to work every day. Mary would pack him a simple lunch: a block of Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, a large apple, and a thermos of tea.

    All who came were offered a cup of tea and to sit and talk.

    After attending the Norwich Free Academy, I would visit my uncle as often as I could, and listen to his stories about the old country and how he learned to sew from a young age. I would sip tea as he worked, occasionally being offered the best anisette cookies. However, out of all his stories, there was one I will never forget.

    Before he began his tale, he stopped sewing and gazed out the window at the Preston Bridge. And so did I, imagining the dark waters rapidly moving on this windy, rainy day.

    His voice trembled a bit as he spoke.

    “It was a day like this…rain, wind, storm, when it happened. I was closing up shop, getting ready to go home, when a stranger knocked at my door. I had already locked up and had one more dress to complete. I was here with Mio Amico, trying to finish. I looked up and got a feeling — it was not good. Despite my feelings, I was going to get up and let him in.

    “This is when the sleeve of my shirt got caught in the needle and jammed. I could not move. The man looked around and suddenly left. As quickly as the needle came down, it suddenly lifted. Later, I heard there had been a robbery in the area. Some would say, this was only a coincidence. But I believe there is a higher power, watching over us in ways we do not understand.”

    Years later, my uncle would die in his sleep as peacefully as the day his life journey began. His mantra, a lesson to us all:

    In order to thrive, you need love…

    Concetta Falcone-Codding is a 1971 graduate of the Norwich Free Academy and the author of The Lonely Nest. You can contact at: concettafalconecodding1@gmail.com

    Comment threads are monitored for 48 hours after publication and then closed.