People of Chelsea: Sonny Lepore

(The following is one in a series of sneak peeks at the upcoming People of Chelsea additions by Photographer Darlene DeVita. The new work will ultimately appear on the fence of the Chelsea Public Library (CPL) this fall in a collaboration between the People of Chelsea project and the CPL.)

By Darlene DeVita

We spent close to two hours talking with Sonny. My husband gets his hair cut in his home barbershop and comes home with his stories every time.  I have many but can’t begin to write them all down, we’d have the whole Record!

Sonny was born and raised in Chelsea and lived in the house he’s in now, for 65 years, on Webster, across from our building.   His mother Louise was born here and is Sicilian, she lived on Winnisimmet St.  And his father Melinto lived in the back of the barbershop on Broadway.  It’s still a barbershop. And Sonny’s father’s father, was a barber.

Sonny’s grandfather Serafino came over from Italy, and he built the shop. It was called the Modern. He remembers as a kid the front window, with the name in porcelain lettering, “Modern Barbershop.”

Here’s just one of the many stories he shared. “My grandfather on my mother’s side, Giuseppi born in Sicily had a pushcart, sold tomatoes, etc.  He used to go into town where the freight cars used to come in with the produce.  He’d grab the tomatoes that were green, which you probably could get for next to nothing. Down in his basement he used to have racks on the wall.  I’m surprised that the place never burned down, he had a stove, and I think he’d make it 200 degrees. He had the green tomatoes all on the shelf. And the green tomatoes would turn red. Then he would sell them.

All the Italians had wine cellars. And that was a big thing with them, who made the best wine? I’m probably in my teens. And when I’d go visit my grandfather, we’d go down to the cellar and taste the wine.

And then we used to go to; his name was Paul, they called him the King of the bananas and had a wine cellar, which was always an argument. His wine, my wine, your wine. And they used to come out of there sometimes pickled!

My grandfather had a farm in the backyard. He raised chickens. He had pigs.  It was a two-family house with a store in front.”

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