Nicolo Anthony Prato was born on October 14, 1927, in his grandfather's home in the Bronx. His father, Pasquale, often bragged that within minutes after giving birth, his wife, Agnes, would get out of bed, take the wrapped baby in her arms, and prepare a meal for the family. Philip, their first son, told his mother that he hoped the angels wouldn't take Nick the way they had taken his baby brother, Ralph. Agnes looked at her newest son and commented about the curls that were already forming in the baby's reddish brown hair.
Rats were one of the problems of raising chickens in the backyard of their Bronx home. And, as Nick often said, Bronx rats were nothing to mess with. Besides selling the eggs and manure from the chickens, Agnes worked in the garden, raised her two sons and also operated a sewing machine in a local factory. During lunch and breaks, Nick would be carried into the factory so she could nurse him. Pasquale sold vegetables and fruit from his truck. Before the holidays, Nick's dad piled his truck high with Christmas trees.
Often, while shoveling snow for the family or to earn money, Nick's bare hands would bleed. Gloves and new shoes were a luxury the family couldn't afford. Sometimes, when food was scarce, Nick and his brothers caught sparrows so their mom could add the birds to the spaghetti sauce. With three growing boys in the house, it took a lot of the little birds to make a decent meal for the family!