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You’ve heard of “The American Dream.” You may strive for it, you may represent it, you may not understand it and therefore it may not be important to you. By definition, “The American Dream is the ideal by which equality of opportunity is available to any American, allowing the highest aspirations and goals to be achieved.

As a young girl of four Italian immigrant grandparents, my future was crafted at a very early age. My paternal grandparents came to America from Sicily at age 21, settling in Brooklyn, NY. My grandfather Philip Vullo learned a trade, he was a furrier in the fur district in NYC (7th Ave in the high 20’s). My grandmother Santina stayed at home with the 4 children, my Dad was born in 1920.

Dad, at age 18 was drafted into the army as a medic in WWII, and served overseas at Okinawa, where he was severely injured. He spent 1 ½ years transferring from hospital to hospital recovering with many injuries to his body. With a Purple Heart and Medal of Honor, he finally came home, and began an apprenticeship in the fur industry. He eventually landed at House of Black Diamond, noted for the most prestigious and high-quality mink and fur garments one could buy. Soon after his return, he met my Mom at a Knights of Columbus dance, still on crutches, yet was able to sweep her off her feet.

My Dad - a hero

Mom was the last of 5 children, 4 brothers first. Grandpa Simone also migrated to Brooklyn from the Abruzzia region of Italy with his bride, Trusiana. Julio was a tailor and had a small yet successful dry cleaning/tailor shop on 13th Avenue in Bensonhurst, while Trusiana cared for the 5 children and cooked their favorite Northern Italian recipes, like polenta, chicken piccata, Sunday sauce and stuffed zucchini flowers.

Julio & Trusiana Simone

Philip and Santina Vullo Also, Uncle Tony and Aunt Jo

My Mom and Dad were married in 1950, remained in Brooklyn. Mom worked as an executive assistant for the President of McCreary’s Department Store, which was located on 34th St. between Madison & Fifth Ave. Mom was quite sophisticated for her time as a first generation female and in some ways she was a maverick. She loved sports, played tennis, went bowling, enjoyed horseback riding, fashion and travel. She had an incredible eye for beauty and fine things, loved the theater and the opera. She was very conscious of stressing education and exposed us to culture, museums, and NYC attractions and offerings.

My parents soon started a family; we were 2 boys and 3 girls, me being smack in the middle. Peter (first son in an Italian family) then Lisa (first daughter – peaches & cream), Janet (me), then Thomas (yay, another son) and then Maria, (the baby of the family.) We had a very simple life, grew up in Bensonhurst/Dyker Heights in an all-attached home with 3 bedrooms and 1 bathroom (NOT 1 1/2 bathrooms). We were happy, played games (Monopoly, Life, Stratego, Boggle) with each other, played sports with our friends in our alleyway during the nice weather months – punch ball, slap ball, stick ball, dodge ball and stoop ball, my favorite. We sat around in the living room with the one TV in the house and enjoyed the classics, “I Love Lucy”, “The Honeymooners”, “Lost in Space”, “Get Smart”, “The Ed Sullivan Show”, “Carol Burnett” and much more. We visited Grandma and Grandpa Vullo every Sunday, dinner was at 2PM where we met up with our cousins to play house and dress up after dinner. Grandma would always make pizza at about 7P as an evening snack and treat. We all attended the local public elementary school and then went to Catholic high schools. Life was good, although simple, yet we always ate well, had memorable times with family and friends, went on one driving vacation every year in August and had occasion parties and holiday gatherings.

Let’s get back to “The American Dream.” The one thing I am most proud of is “where I came from and where I am now.” Vince and I both came from humble beginnings, homes of Italian traditions, love, family and friends, simple living, not a lot of stuff or stimulation outside the home. We both have advanced degrees, have had satisfying careers, own three lovely homes and continue to enjoy international travel, celebrations with family and friends and the glories of life. We both enjoy boating, playing tennis, pickleball, and try to live a healthy lifestyle incorporating the gym about 4x/week. We love living on the North Shore of Long Island, remain active in our clubs, enjoy our village for restaurants and bars, and take advantage of living on the water. Our home is over 130 years old, is a classic grand colonial overlooking Huntington Bay of the Long Island Sound.

Huntington Bay - "Bella Vista"

NYC is someplace we spend exciting days and nights experiencing culture, the theater, the amazing array of restaurants and sports and concerts at MSG. Our 2 bedroom 2 bath apartment is located very conveniently in Midtown, minutes out of the Midtown Tunnel. Our newest acquisition is in Naples Florida, where we will spend most of the Winter enjoying beautiful weather in a community that offers wonderful opportunity for play, fun, healthy living and new friends to be made. Golf is in our future, for sure!

Vince and I have two sons, Matthew (33) and JonPeter (29) and we hope to continue to spend quality family time together. They both graduated from the University of Miami in Florida, loved living there but are living in NYC (JP) and Jersey City (Matt.) They have grown up very different than Vince and I, so “The American Dream” concept is foreign to them. This current generation has a different perspective on life, focusing more on balance between work, friends and family. They are a fun-loving, party happy generation who live a full life with less emphasis on accumulating assets and possessions, rather enjoying much travel, exotic experiences, foodie moments and relationship development.

“The American Dream” still exists, particularly for the diverse people that have started a life in our country - working hard, getting educated, becoming citizens and creating a good life for themselves and their families. America was built on diversity; that will always be. I’m proud of my Italian heritage and the decision of my grandparents to come to America, through Ellis Island and beginning a life dedicated to family while seizing the opportunities that existed in our beautiful country. The “American Dream” is still alive.


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janet vitiello
janet vitiello
Feb 17
Rated 5 out of 5 stars.

Love the American Dream.

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