A person without knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots. Marcus Garvey
Every year from the time I was seven years old until I graduated from high school, I spent the entire summers in Schenectady, New York with my maternal grandparents, Carmella (Nan) and Alfredo DiCerbo. Grandpa had come over from Dugenta- a small mountain village near Naples-on the USS Calabria out of Naples in 1900 with his brother, Vincenzo. His family farmed tomatoes and grapes but Alfredo and Vincenzo wanted to find more lucrative work in America. They sold their portion of the farm to relatives and took off for the land of opportunity.
The brothers married American-born Italian women and settled across the street from one another. They were very close for their entire lives. They often spoke of longing to see their family in Dugenta. Uncle Vincenzo traveled back to Italy several times with his family but my Grandpa never did. He relied on phone calls and letters to stay in touch.
The happy memories of Grandpa DiCerbo's kindness and fun-loving nature still make me smile. I can still see him sitting on the back porch in the dark on a hot, summer night listening, to the Yankee game on the radio and spewing out his reactions in Italian. He loved his Yankees. He also loved Chester from the TV show, Gunsmoke. The vision of him standing in the living room, mimicking Chester's limp and laughing as his gold capped front tooth glistened still makes me chuckle. But my best memory is of his unbridled excitement when had receive a letter from his family with updates and pictures from the old country. He would get so excited he'd start rattling off something in Italian that I never understood. But I felt his uncontained joy.
I often wondered how difficult it must have been for him to leave his family at the age of 16 and never see them again.
For years, I longed to visit Italy myself. Mom's brother and sister, my Uncle Michael and Aunt Rose had traveled to Italy with their families and visited with the extended family several times, bringing back pictures and tales of standing in the bedroom where Grandpa was born. They were greeted with warmth and love.
On Easter Sunday, they have a tradition of opening the window and raising their glasses of homemade Strega (an Italian Liqueur), sending their blessings to their famiglia in America. Salute!
I just returned from the land of my grandfather. From 9/9-9/19, my husband Wayne and I traveled to Rome, Pompeii, The Amalfi Coast, Florence and Venice. All spectacular sites to behold. But nothing could compare to the experience of connecting with Grandpa's birthplace and the family he loved so dearly.
On Friday, September 13 ( no I?m not superstitious!) we rented a limousine from Benevenuto Limousines and a delightful interpretor named Maurizio made my dreams come true. For months before our visit, a lovely lady names Barbara helped me communicate with the family by translating letters. I visited the nieces and nephews of Grandpa DiCerbo in Dugenta and clearly , they were prepared for our visit.
We walked around what seemed like a self-contained village surrounded by fig and kiwi trees, grapevines and a few chickens wandering around in fenced-in yards. Then, we saw a lady at the window who motioned for us to use the front door. It was Marie, Grandpa's niece. She showed me the bedroom and bed where Grandpa was born.
The phone started ringing and before we knew it, we were walking down the lane to visit Vittorio and his wife who was wheel-chaired bound. By the time this visit was over, we had been served Expresso coffee and cookies and were off to visit Luigi and his wife, Maria. Within an hour 20 people had shown up at Luigi's house for nonstop hugs and chatter from every direction. Maurizio was very busy!
Then came the five-course meal:
Prosuitto and fresh bread
Pasta with tomato sauce and sides of stuffed peppers and sausage.
Roast beef that filled each plate and salad.
Fresh Fruit-nectarines, grapes and figs.
And of course white wine and lemons from the region.
I had to keep reminding my husband that refusing any food at an Italian table was not acceptable, I had grown up with these multi-course meals so I knew what to expect. Needless to say, we didn't have to eat again until the next day.
We shared stories and pictures of our families along with laughter and tears as people streamed in and out. Some were on their lunch hours.
They opened their hearts to us and showered us with gifts bottles of liqueur, baseball caps, linen table clothes, and a dozen pink roses:
If I closed my eyes, I was ten years old again, sitting around the table filled with lots of delicious food and feeling the warmth and love of the big Italian family I am blessed to be a part of. And I could see that gold-capped tooth glistening as Grandpa threw his head back and laughed while chattering on in Italian.
It doesn't get much better than this reconnecting with my roots was truly the highlight of my Italian tour.