Tuesday, January 24, 2017


It was the end of a long boat trip to Italy and then back again to her adopted home, and Grandma Frances had a trunk filled with luggage, or so it seemed. She had just returned from a dedication of an orphanage in her name and a visit to her hometown near Naples. It got me to thinking and remembering an incident when I was very young.

If I could journey beyond my time, I would be willing to be brave enough to take the voyage from my ancestor's hometowns and venture to America. Why? Just a peek to feel the idea of coming to America, to see for the first time the Statue of Liberty, to feel what it was like to see the shores of America for the first time. After all, this was the land of opportunity, the streets were paved in gold, while in Italy the war-ravaged land was being rebuilt, families were reuniting for the first time in the recovery of post-war Italy.

It seems so contradictory to travel to a land called; ‘America' knowing that Amerigo Vespucci was the explorer, a fellow Italian who they named two continents after, yet the arrivals from Italy faced prejudice and hatred, suspicion and humiliation from those who came here first, but I'm not talking about the Native Americans!

I guess it is something akin to penicillin, it grows as a mold but then is turned into something beautiful and helpful. In America, just about every city, town, and hamlet own an Italian restaurant, and it shares with Chinese restaurants, bagel shops, and sushi bars!

I often wondered what went through the mind of my grandparents on the first sighting of the cities, rolling mountains and glorious harbors, all harbors of hope, adventure and of course: uncertainty. There were the language barrier, the local customs and the fear of not being accepted into the fabric of daily life. It reminds of a story of my grandmother once so long ago. She traveled back to Italy, and on her return voyage on a ship, she had purchased a trunk load of salami, cheese, and pork products, all locally in Naples. This was illegal and customs was beginning to crack down on the undeclared imports.

The inspectors were checking luggage and with a sniffing dog, Grandma's large trunk became under suspicion. They asked her to open the trunk, and grandma asked why. To no satisfaction on her part, they refused to answer her. They asked what she had in the trunk and now she kept silent. Then the trunk was opened by customs, under a hail of Italian curse words, that nearly sunk the ship, and caused permanent ear damage to the agents, as the salami and cheeses flew overboard miles before the entry into port. To the day she died, grandma regretted the loss of such precious cargo from "Da sonnamabitches". My dad loved to tell this story whenever we would discuss how feisty grandma, the redhead was.


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