I remember walking down the streets in Albanella and knowing that my grandfather, my great-grandparents, my great-great grandparents, and even my great-great-great grandparents had walked down the same streets. The people who passed by looked like me. I met my mother’s first cousins and I walked through my great-grandfather’s house. I walked on the side street made of stone where a bus had once pulled up, bringing gifts from my grandfather in America to his family in Italy. After almost twenty years of researching, I had returned to the country of my ancestors.
In Caserta, my husband and I entered the home where his grandmother had been born and where his great-grandmother had died. We sat at the table with his grandmother’s cousin, Anna, and her grandchildren and looked through years of family photos. With the help of my mother’s cousin, Francesco, who had graciously driven us to Caserta and who was now interpreting for us, I was able to fill in the blank spaces in my research. We were able to see the rooms where my husband’s grandmother had played as a child and the street where his great-grandfather had owned a grocery store.
In Salerno, I met my grandfather’s half-sister, Teresa, in a nursing home. My grandfather had died when I was ten months old and he had left Italy years before his half-sister had been born, and yet, she and I shared the same given name, the same name that her own grandmother had been known by.
In Capaccio, we stayed in Francesco’s home. His sister, Ida, who lived down the road, made a dinner for my husband and me and then her children and grandchildren came to meet us. In Rome, I met another sister of theirs, Lena, and her daughter, another Teresa. I sat at their kitchen table with only the few words that I knew in Italian to help us communicate. I laid out the family tree and photos between us, and I pointed to names that were the same in Italian as they were in English . . . those names unified us. Those names made us family.
Yes, we also saw the Coliseum in Rome, the Ruins of Pompeii, the little cafés among the winding cobblestone streets of Sorrento, and the unbelievable beauty of the Amalfi Coast. But the most precious memories of that trip were the times we spent with our families and finding out that even though the years and the miles had separated us, our traditions still bound us together. All those years of research and my extensive imagination did not prepare me for this experience. This could have been my country. These could have been my people. This could have been my life. And it felt like home.
http://www.theresadodaro.com Author of The Tin Box Trilogy