Danielle Cuff and Linda Cuff

Recorded February 6, 2021 Archived February 2, 2021 46:18 minutes
0:00 / 0:00
Id: atl004357


Danielle Cuff (30) asks her mother Linda Cuff (71) to reflect on growing up in East Harlem in the 1950s as part of an Italian family, going to college during the Women's Liberation and Anti-War movements, and having a successful career while raising a family.

Subject Log / Time Code

LC recalls her childhood in East Harlem, and being raised by a single mother with lots of extended family around. LC remembers moving to the Bronx in high school, going to Broadway shows, and having family formerly tied to the mafia.
LC discusses her family being from southern Italy and having certain beliefs outside of Catholicism such as "Malocchio" or the evil eye. LC speaks about her uncle being a healer and recalls him curing her of sickness in childhood. LC speaks about her family history in Italy and her grandparents.
LC recalls her grandfather coming to the United States and having his name changed from Vincenzo to James. LC remembers her family smoking, and taking her on walks in her stroller around the coal furnace in the basement as a kid and thinking nothing of it. LC speaks about her mother being brave and tough.
LC speaks about going to CCNY and NYU, studying political philosophy, and being part of the anti-war and Women’s Liberation movements. LC remembers leading demonstrations and getting course credit for it. LC remembers going for her Master’s degree in City Organizational Politics, and her career taking off with her first job at NYU admissions and financial aid, getting paid per enrolled student.
LC remembers her first day teaching and having a student jump out the window onto scaffolding to scare her. LC and DC speak about keeping the family's New York roots even after moving to Atlanta.
LC remembers becoming the director of a school early on and eventually being a school commissioner in Georgia. LC reflects on wanting her children to stay out of business and follow their passions.
LC remembers being pregnant with DC’s brother Robert before having difficulties getting pregnant again, and then becoming pregnant with twins and facing other challenges. LC remembers DC screaming and being feisty, earning her the nickname “little mafia” from her grandmother.
LC speaks about her political values and how it translated into caring for her students and seeing them succeed. LC speaks about ethics and group decision-making playing a large part in their successful career.
LC shares what she feels was the most important goal for her in life: being a good mother above all. LC expresses pride for DC and notes that she is just like her Italian grandmother. LC speaks about DC facing more difficulties and overcoming learning disabilities as a child. LC speaks about raising twins and trying to make sure they were treated as individuals.
DC speaks about taking time during the pandemic to reconsider things. LC reflects on living alone again as they face the pandemic. DC speaks about her mother becoming a millionaire and having a rags-to-riches story. They close with love and gratitude.


  • Danielle Cuff
  • Linda Cuff

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00:00 My name is my name is Danielle cuff. I'm 30 years old. Today is February 6th 2021 or we're in Atlanta Georgia. And I'm with my mom and my name is gay Linda cuff or let me cuff. I'm 71 in Atlanta, Georgia. And I'm with my daughter Danielle. So this is exciting. I just want to talk to you about our family. Okay, so I was born in what's called The East Harlem or Spanish Harlem and

00:41 I grew up with a single mom and my dad left when I was born. I never knew him and I lived in a brownstone.

00:53 With lots of cousins around so I never really felt the lone Italian family big Italian family. The whole neighborhood was either Italian and Spanish. My best friend was Spanish. So I felt very comfortable in the neighborhood early on I think it was dangerous, but I didn't feel like it was dangerous and my mother didn't think it was dangerous. So I go out to the store late at night as I got older. I thought it was a little crazy but

01:24 All the time so it was different and you just knew how to walk to the subway and but then I when I was about 16, I started dating and my boyfriend got chased after he dropped me off. So I talked to my mother and we decided that maybe it was time to move somewhere else. I kind of regret it because when we moved I wasn't around the family as much so argumentative to the Bronx and

01:54 But it was a long trip to high school and there wasn't as much of a community, but my family stayed close, so I was always

02:07 In a gifted program in in Manhattan, so we as a group we would go from one school to another school to another school depending on when they got the money for the gifted program and I was in a special high school program and I had to take a train all the way down town and you go by yourself and get on the subway. That's why I don't take Subways anymore. This was like these here 60s, but it was a great experience in the high school because we were I was part of a theater group and I got to see all the Broadway shows for like a dollar. So this one club we got to go to all the Broadway shows. I always was very active the New York city. So the city was my playground. I did Museum

03:07 Broadway shows and movies and my friends were in the city. So there was a lot of Independence going around to all the good restaurants and my family was there in ahead and Uncle Louie and he was what had about seven or eight uncles and most of them in the neighborhood call Uncle Louie was a manager of a fancy restaurant on 49th Street and 7th Avenue and Broadway district and my girlfriend Evie and I on Sundays when I was about eight years old would take the First Avenue bus and we go have dinner with him this fancy restaurant. Where is this the restaurant where all the mafia would go? Well, he got the job because he was connected to the mafia but it was a legitimate job early on he was in the mafia and he got in trouble. So when he came out he was sponsored and he had to promise to have legitimate jobs, but

04:07 To not get caught to it was like parole or something. I guess. I don't nobody know from jail.

04:17 So they used to say I went to college have meant I was in jail. So when you see in The Godfather the Cuban stuff that went on a gloomy was down there and when I was born he was down there. So 1952 52 he wasn't in New York City, but I don't remember right now, but he's written up in some books and he was a very gentle person. So I don't know. I don't think you ever heard anybody but the mafia then was more into gambling and things like that getting money when the drugs well, I guess it was always by 1 but he wasn't in that part. I had two wings of the family he was

05:02 And it never buddy in the neighborhood was in it. They just did gambling and cards and things like that. But my other uncle was a cop and so we had both ends with the family like very legitimate working hard working people who own their own businesses and then we had Uncle Louie. So it was interesting. I got to meet some real interesting characters with him and my life. So I was really close to him and my Uncle Joe and my cousins were upstairs and I have my cousin Antonette many and Uncle Tony and cause of wheezing whole neighborhood was filled with cousins, but my mother and I were kind of alone in our apartment and every day we should cook and we go for I get a loaf of Italian bread.

06:02 And we had fresh bread every day and really good food. We didn't have a lot of money but we had a lot of good food at one time. She was even on welfare, but my grandpa was with us up until I was ten years old and he spoke Italian and so I kind of know Italian from that. I'm dumb. I got to hear it. And then I kind of get familiar with it. I remember the story. Can you tell me the story about when he did the evil eye. Oh, yeah. So because we come from boss Lacosta, which is southern Italy they believe although they're Catholic they believe in a lot of weird stuff in the Catholic religion and one of them is mala lo que which is somebody puts the evil eye on you. So when babies are born and even though I didn't really a hundred percent believe it I didn't let you guys go on like that's why I don't like you on social media's with your pictures when you were little I'd never let people take pictures.

07:01 So when I was about six or seven I used to play outside in the streets all the time, and I was really really sick and my grandpa was a Healer so people would send like hats and things and he would pray over them and my mother kept begging him dumalla. Lochia was her do it do it do it. He didn't want to do it. He was cursing everybody for making me sick. So I finally got on his lap and he wet his thumb and he did the name of the Father the Son and the Holy Ghost. And as soon as he started I threw up all over the floor. It was like swim and then I ran outside and play and from that day on I guess I believe that he could heal people cuz I was all better all of a sudden and some of my cousins know how to do it. You're supposed to be taught it.

07:52 When it's snowing on Christmas Eve, there's a lot of things about it and other more intellectual Italians think it's crazy, but you're known for being superstitious or so.

08:09 He was a Healer. They said he and he didn't like to do it but he grew up in a town called San Mauro Forte. I just joined a magazine from there and his town was a medieval town and it had a Jesuit church. So my grandfather was very quiet and kind and sweet and I'm reading a book now from people from that area and they all a lot of the men seem to be very gentle and my Uncle Louie was a gentle soul, too. So they were very very kind and gentle he was still in New York to block people don't know I think is that

08:50 A lot of towns move together. So if you came from that town and came to New York you find the building your town was in and you don't live there or you being the neighbor down the street. My grandpa came. I was just reading a book you left it away cuz he was in trouble with the law and 5 million or 10 million people migrated to new to America from 1880 to about 1950 from Italy and most of them were in trouble a lot of them still fruit and then they wind up killing somebody you and I was reading today that that's why a lot of Italians are short like only five because they didn't have enough protein, but my family wasn't sure my grandpa was told my uncles are all 6 one. Yeah, you share the wealth. They didn't have that over there. So I don't know but so my grandpa came with his brother.

09:49 And then his brother was in the war and he died from his grandma because some of the siblings were born to stay at a big sandwich. That was the first grandpa. So he married my grandma when she had five kids cuz her husband do for kids with my grandpa. So that's why there's two names in my family Longo and Pura the Longo's were the first father and then Puro is my grandpa. But the same mother same here. We all have the same grandma.

10:27 And my grandma was very entrepreneurial. She never had a lot of people in Italy they did that it was generally but but she didn't really came with her husband and he died and Grandpa never gave up his citizenship because he was a literate and the other funny thing about Grandpa used to say his name was Vincenzo and I would sit on the stoop in the summer. We didn't have air conditioning was really hot. So you do is sit outside and people would come by and say hey James. Hey James, and I'd say to my mother Mommy why they calling him James. His name is Vincenzo, and she said I don't know. They just don't know what his name is. But really if you look at some of the records when he came into Ellis Island, they changed his name from Vincenzo to James.

11:27 So when he worked his official name was James, I had two names but I always would ask my grandma why they call him James and he used to he took care of me sort of you he had some dementia cuz he saw my his son died in my house are there was a fire in his twenty-one-year-old son died gas stove exploded and he was the only one that has only one close to it. And that's why I'm afraid of gas. Cuz when I grew up the floor was damaged where the gas was and I knew my uncle had died and he was the youngest child and my grandpa would take me to the bar and he put me on the stool and we sit at the bar in the afternoon or heat for a while. He and I went to church every day. He was very religious. So he took me to church when I can walk and I was older and then when I was little I remember him taking me in the basement was which

12:27 I can't imagine it was healthy. It was a coal furnace and he used to walk me around the basement stroller. I guess that's why I can't breathe and my mother would want me in there cuz it was warm. So I remember to write Grandma smokes Grandpa smokes a cigar. They called them Guinea stinker standard. I had a hamster one time and she was pissed. She would always have a cigarette in her hand. She burn the hamsters. I hated cigarette smoke was always afraid to cook put the house on fire falling asleep. She smoked up until she was sixty or seventy and then she had a stomach problem and she just stopped and they said her lungs were cleaning.

13:27 You never could tell she smoked remember. Maybe she smokes cuz I remember you telling me when you were little you would sit on the bed with her and you hear gunshots outside. Oh, yeah, but she didn't think anything of it. She was never afraid of him. She just walk over people getting arrested and that people I mean she was tough. She was really much tougher than I am. She basically grew up in New York cuz she was brother when she was like two or three right? She was born. She was part of the group that got born in New York City New York City, so she was born at home with a midwife, but she was born there and then she had when she was 16. She got meningitis and she almost died because there was no way to cure it and our doctor who was our family doctor. She heard it sent her somewhere, but she lost a lot of memory of her time before she was sick.

14:27 So but anyway, so then from there I went to college and I got these jobs before school. Well, I really got into ccny when it was the toughest school to get into that was the better school, but I was really political and so we were in the anti-war movement and I started the first woman's live there and the

14:52 I will try my best friend from the neighborhood Junior join the Marines and he got killed in Vietnam. So a lot of us were losing friends from Vietnam. So we were in the anti-war movement and people were saying we were against America and we felt we were more for America cuz we didn't want people to die and my degree was political philosophy. So it was like a perfect opportunity. Sometimes I would run a demonstration at Columbia University or City College and I get an A for the course. That was pretty and yes, I have a picture of you in a rally right here to hold thousands of people. I don't know how I have the nerve to do it. I don't know if I do it now, but then I went to NYU because it was easier to finish.

15:51 My education at NYU and I worked downtown at a for-profit medical school and I go to NYU and NYU was really easy. It was like high school now, it's become so famous people think it's the better school. Did you go to school for philosophy or did you change I started as a math major that was my favorite and after the first class and they cook this boring algebraic equation on a wall switch to being a movie direct and so he wants your to do it. So I started directing and then somehow I took a course in sociology and I really thought

16:49 Political philosophy was what? I want the wealth philosophy to me was very theoretical like math and I liked that theoretical work. I didn't want to do anything mundane. I want to learn lost your thoughts. I don't know so so so then I went to NYU and I was going for my PhD in philosophy and they lost the accreditation and then I thought well I need to work. So what am I going to do? So then I started a course. I started my master's degree in.

17:29 City organizational politics. Oh my God, that was so boring. And then that's eventually what I worked at Federal Register and rules for financial aid and all of that stuff financial aid was just starting and I had an inclination to that kind of stuff. So I became really knowledgeable. I was one of the most knowledgeable people in the country is it it just started. So it just my career just took off. I was making a lot of money when I was really young and my friends were saying what I'd you get a job like that. I went from like, I don't know $10 an hour to 30,000 50,000 220,000 and really

18:12 Without any degree to justify it but financial aid was really becoming important. So what made you change out of that and be more entrepreneurial I always did that that's how I was able to buy the schools because my that's why my school's never got in trouble cuz most owners don't know financially they have to rely on other people and it's really hard so people make mistakes, but because I knew financial aid it kept me out of trouble all those years. So but you worked at a school that Dad was

18:46 Working at 2 at first job. When I was at NYU was I would enroll students and I get $35 a person and I would enroll everybody who walked in so I bought my first car my B210. I got $3,600 in cash and I went I went down on a car. So I was a good admissions person. I knew financial aid, and then I got a job when I came to Atlanta and the man taught me advertising and some other skills. So then I was able to put all the skills to you, but you guys were in Brooklyn Heights before that. Can you tell me about your house in Brooklyn Heights in Park Slope Brownstone?

19:31 On 5th Avenue. I have been teaching at Junior High School and it was so bad that my whole eighth grade didn't show up the first day and then when I started the class this guy Oswaldo came running in and he ran out the window and I thought oh my God teachers first day and the kids going to jump out the window, but there was a scaffold to me because the kids were trying to give me a hard time, but then then

20:13 He and I became good friends in all the toughest students are my pals.

20:18 So we bought a house there.

20:21 But it was too much work to renovate it. And I like Brooklyn Heights better at the time. So we were able to sell it and then we put a really pretty apartment in a nice Co-op Brooklyn and we lived there for a couple years before we came down to Atlanta. We only intended to be in Atlanta for a year or two.

20:44 It changed cuz I bought the school and it was very lucrative. And then Robert was born. I don't know. I really do think of would have been better off in New York City. I don't know cuz it seems like you're able to make more money down here. But I'm really a New Yorker. So I've always felt a little out of sync with Atlanta. I think all of you or more Atlantis than I am and it's 16 you drove in the city cuz I don't know.

21:44 Yeah, I didn't want wimps and I wanted you to feel familiar with New York and see that you don't have to have a big house to have a lot of love and people didn't have as much money, but they were happy but then I wanted to spend some time talking about how exciting it was to have twins and how when we got down here. I had Robert and I fell in love with him. So I quit my job. And so Daddy was worried cuz I was making a lot of money and he have the store and it wasn't doing well. So we convinced my boss to let Daddy go in and do the job. I worked for Crown Business Institute. They were in New York. So I opened their only Branch here. They gave me it is when Dad was before George Crown. This is the job I got coming down here and do you live?

22:44 I was interviewing for jobs and financial aid and then my boss said he would let me be director of a school if I opened one up. So that's how I learn space planning and Lease negotiation and advertising wanted to open up a chain of software stores. And he thought the first one should be in Atlanta would be easier but then these big stores opened up like Microsoft's or whatever so they were competing too much with him. So then I want you to quit & stay home with Robert. He got my boss to let him go in. So I stayed home with Robert and then the company he works for got sold and his boss Dominic was given a bunch of money. So he called me up and said will you buy it?

23:44 Cool with me because he didn't know the school. He knew that you knew marketing and financially so I was the commissioner then in Georgia for schools kill every state that crazy. I know I thought it was well, they thought I was the only person I was very friendly with the licensing person. I've always had good relationships with the licensing people cuz they know I ran legitimate schools and I didn't try to steal or anyting so they used me to close down some schools and it was said it was a Pennsylvania school and we went in and they shut it down because they were they were sending private limousines for kids to sign their loans, but it was sad because the Dad ran away to Bermuda or somewhere and then the son killed himself, LOL. That was one of the reasons I never wanted the kids.

24:44 This business is hard enough. I wanted you guys to have the choice to pick what you wanted rather than just gets stuck in a business doing what I wanted you all to go to whatever school cuz I couldn't go to whatever College I wanted to so it was important.

25:08 Then I couldn't get pregnant for a while. And I don't know then they fixed it and then it wasn't medicine for fertility. They said that I was getting pregnant with baby wasn't adhering to the womb so they gave me something to make a baby in here, but it wasn't fertility stuff. I don't know what it was some kind of hormone. And then I remember I went in and the girl got real quiet when I took the ultrasound he said what's wrong what's wrong and she said hold on and she called the doctor and they said we see two hearts and I thought oh my God, I was scared to be pregnant as it was managing two babies. I was like a little more difficult to deal with life with my grandmother had the Twins and they died. I knew my grandmother had twins and they died. I knew my mother and baby and I freaked out.

26:07 So I was real careful. I expended and I ate healthy food and I laid down and then I hemorrhaged and had to wind up in the hospital and the only way I could protect you was to lay on my back for 6 weeks because Christine was taking all the nutrients. So when is the way that we were then when they came the doctor finally said, you know, I was going to go crazy if I had to stay in the hospital any longer. I was there like 5 weeks 6 weeks. So then he said we're going to take the baby. So I said, oh great knock me out and he says no it's better for them. If you're awake. I got all my God. I got to be awake.

26:54 Well, I had to have a C-section but I wasn't as though you had a C-section. So then I knew they were going to do a C-section again, so then they say they don't have to but they always do cuz it's safer. So then they delivered you and then they delivered Christine Emery. It's on that story. They have two sets of the nurses right when they giving I guess those things that make you not pass out and all I remember is they said we got to take we could all they did was show them to me and they ran out and Leone and Grandma were out there and my mother came in and all she said about you was she was oh my God, I buy chickens bigger.

27:50 Came in and said I have sepsis and that's the night that the guy from The Muppets got sepsis and died. Whatever Zoe Jim Henson Jim Henson the same thing in the morning and I never really felt sick, but they wouldn't let me see you guys and I had to give you guys antibiotics cuz they weren't sure if I have the steps this before or after you have to live her. So for three days I couldn't hold you or text you and then Christine was a little bumpy thing. She was adorable and you were like in the

28:31 Incubator and all we could do is put your leg about 4 lb in oz to pounds or inch she was for 9 and you were to nine, which is interesting. Robert was 7-9 all of you or not.

28:46 9:22 in the morning. Everything was like a nun 922 was you and 924 was Christine?

28:56 It was really 2 minutes. But when I walked in to see you guys, I remember Christine was first and the nurse said this is the big one and I have never seen the baby is a little is Christine cuz I've never seen a preemie baby. And I said, oh my God, this is the big one and then they showed me you and I held you in a blanket and it was like the blank it was empty and I was so afraid and the lady said if you had children before I said, yeah, but so I would sit there all day and just pet you and I remember the lady he was screaming you were hungry. You were feisty and screaming. That's my grandma called you little Mafia or just as tough as nails.

29:40 And the lady said that your screams were normal and they had to start feeding you right away because you weren't taking that to you wanted to eat and they said that was really healthy. So Christine stayed in the hospital 3 weeks and you stayed in the hospital five weeks.

30:02 And I had been I have been reading and it says it's not good to have one baby with a heart monitor and not have the other one cuz you tend to pick up the other one more and I didn't want to not pick you up. So we put heart monitor some both of you and I would just lay in bed and I could watch the heart monitors going and knew you were both safe and you both had the heart monitor for a year, but they didn't think Christine needed it, but I didn't want any reason for you not to be held as much as Christian you were both in the same crib then and you talk

30:37 Enter

30:39 After a while you couldn't see the difference between you needed surgery.

30:44 You had a hernia and I remember Leone was taking helping me and we were both afraid to go down the stairs with you go to the doctor, and she said you take her and I said you take her.

30:57 We finally got downstairs and I drove you to the doctor and that was hard to see you at 11 weeks the skinny little thing. It rolled off for surgery, but then you were fine. So what what made you sorry for bothering you went back to work? Right and the old man Georgia Medical Board 9 years, you won't have to work so good. So so we had Georgia Medical I did it. Well with Robert I didn't go in I just helped started and then it was losing a lot of money and they needed my help, but I didn't want to run the school. What made you so when you went in what were they doing wrong? But everything but the marketing was the worst so I took over marketing and all I did was enroll people but I did a deal with them that they had to pay me $100 a person I brought in so I went in there a whole bunch of money from Daddy as David even

31:57 I told them they had to pay me off. Just so you can have money is Dominic was so cheap. They needed my help and I didn't want a salary. So I said just for you Dad to I was going to go in there for nothing. So I told him that it was illegal to pay per person. But since I own the school, so I would leave at 1:30 and pick you both up from school. It was when you were like third grade fourth grade. So I only worked for 4 hours a day, but then I started started liking it again and started doing the marketing and then I grew the school and then we sold it.

32:50 Is that and you mean you mean Millions for not didn't you hear but then we lost I don't know somehow we lost it all in when the stock market crashed.

33:00 But I had a hundred and fifty thousand somehow from Georgia Medical in my name. So I decided I was going to say we went to some wealth people and they said just put the money away. You don't have enough money to support 3 kids and whatever so I found a little beauty school for $60,000 in Macon and I thought I would bring it up to Atlanta. But it grew so big a p I became the largest School in Georgia go from the school to a million-dollar cuz I knew the marketing I was really good is probably one of the better people and advertising and enrolling students. I just I just want to know like what's your sale? So what makes your sales so different are so much better, but I really care about like you knew what you showed that you were on their side because

33:59 Really if I what I liked about the school is I was political. I thought money should be distributed equally amongst people and I didn't have enough money to just join a political group support myself. So in the school business I can get everybody jobs. I didn't take advantage of them. So it was a way of making a political statement while the same time I made money for my family. So I made sure the students came back. We didn't charge them. We just tried to graduate then we gave him Second Chances third chances and people all got jobs. It wasn't like a scammy school. So we just cared about the students and everybody I hired cared about the students. So I think it just worked because of that. I don't think it was any kind of special formula. It's just the students knew we cared and everybody that works for me care, you know, I had mostly black political women and men and everybody wanted to make a diff.

34:59 I know people work for you for 20 years Joe an environment and also I always let them help make decision. So we made decisions together.

35:19 And they knew it was ethical but I don't know. I don't think there's any particular talent, but I'm also I was on top of every detail which is why it was so hard. You couldn't let anything slip like the guy now, but then I want to get back to you. So what was unique about you when you were little and grandma would always yell at me because you always like to cook and so even though you were really tiny Evie said you were just like Grandma you if you had a temper baking. Oh my God, you just love cooking and I remember one time so I always let you use the oven. I taught you how to do it. You were like four and grandma would say are you crazy? Are you crazy?

36:19 But we bought you the little bake oven and you didn't like it and then I bought you the makeup table and instead of using it for makeup at 3 in the morning. You would run in the kitchen and you would get salami and mustard and bread and you put it on a plate and make it real pretty and you put the TV real low in your room. And I find you behind the makeup thing listening to TV. So I knew you liked it and then one time I remember it was Easter one of the preschools taught you how to make like a Easter Nest like a nest for bird and oh God, it tasted terrible and I remember seeing Robert. You ain't that she made it he's calling mommy is disgusting like cereal it was just so I used to let you bake and then I remember I used to bake a lot and I make corn muffins and you weren't Christine would steal them out of the oven because we deeply so I try that I sent you to whatever little cooking schools you could go to.

37:19 When you were little and you were the smartest cuz you were the only kid who could figure out the

37:25 The kitchen kitchen method have to come to you and will happens. You know, I'll really into cooking. A lot of times are not good academically, but you were so it can bind two things. You are always creative. I'm not sure if maybe going into art wouldn't have been better cuz I didn't know cooking was as hard as it is and you were telling me just recently that you that you cook 12 14 hours a day. No wonder he was on drugs. It was like crazy and I don't know that I don't know that cooking was that hard before? I think it wasn't quite the same as it was it was special that you can eat. It was more of a event now.

38:24 I don't know. I just think it's a really hard occupation and I think it's too honestly. Yeah, but you know what?

38:34 It's all marketing everything. That's why I feel pretty confident about marketing.

38:45 What is it mean when you grew up near pastry chef?