In 1989, with the proceeds of my husband’s $800 bonus check, I went with my mother to Italy. We stayed in Rome for a week, and then we took a quick trip to Sersale, a small town in Calabria where my grandfather was born, and we stayed there just 24 hours.
The trip to Calabria was a whirlwind to me, a sleepless 8 hour overnight train ride from Rome to Catanzaro (where four of us laid down together, my cousin Patrizia, my mother, myself and with his feet in my face, a young Calabrian man who actually slept). Upon arriving in Catanzaro, we sat outside for 2 hours waiting for a bus in predawn chill, and then finally arriving, the opportunity of a lifetime, I met relatives who had not been seen face to face for over 70 years.
My grandfather was the oldest of six children, and the only one to emigrate to the USA. When I visited his home town that day in 1989, shortly after he died, I was able to meet two of his siblings; his sister, Angelina, who was his best buddy in youth, and Antonio, affectionately known as Zio Totò, the second to the youngest.
My day in Sersale was a blur. I knew very little Italian, so little, in fact that I did not realize that my cousins weren’t speaking Italian, they were speaking dialect. My teenaged cousin Patrizia, acted as interpreter. This is not an easy job for anyone, so lots was lost as she was also trying to catch up with her favorite cousins that lived there.
As we sat in Antonio’s house, it was explained to me that his father, Francesco Torchia, my great grandfather, had built it. It was the “Casa Torchia” and there was an implication that I, too, had some sort of ownership of it, being a Torchia myself. As I ate from a giant bowl of delicious pasta, I noticed that Antonio had twinkling green eyes. They were the exact color that my sister’s were. He was the first person I’d met in the family with that eye color. And then he laughed; which made me cry. He laughed just like my grandfather! Mind you, he had not seen my grandfather since he was 3 years old, over 75 years before. It was stunning, I still marvel at how they could possibly both have that same silly laugh.
He took us to his garden, which was just starting as it was early spring. He led us to a hut which he proudly proclaimed was his own design. He had built the little house there by himself. Inside were seeds that he had conserved, and tools. And this is how I like to remember him.
Zio toto era la persona che mi ha colpito di più nel mio primo viaggio in Italia. Era buono e gentile e si assomigliava mio nonno molto. I suoi occhi brillavano, e la sua risata era quella di una persona senza rimpianti. Era orgoglioso della capanna che ha fatto nel suo giardino pieno di vita che ci ha mostrato. Non lo scordero’ mai piu.
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