No I didn’t go home per se but rather took a very personal trip with my mom to our family’s hometown, Mirabella Eclano, Italia.
I had never been before and my mother had been only once….Over 60 Years Ago! About 11 years ago I tried to find it and go but I wasn’t successful which in the end I am sooo glad it did’t come to fruitition before because the experience wouldn’t have been the same at all without my mom or if done in a different month than September.
Before we even went I learned a lot about my family. The most eye opening was that when she came the first time, when she was a kid she came by boat with her parents and sisters…crossing the Atlantic Ocean! A hoy mate, a transatlantic ship! If I’d ever even considered that obviously they didn’t fly as much back then this wouldn’t have been such huge deal but in our modern world this thought didn’t even occur to me…it took them 4 days and some sea sickness followed by train rides to get to a tiny town in central Southern Italy! Hot damn, cool!
It was literally a pilgrimage to town as we jumped from bus, to bus, to bus to get there (blame it on my for not renting a car…from Roma) but I think I preferred it this way instead of a quicker way… Also I could rest after some long overnight flights. Italy you must know is small because from Rome to here in car it is only 3.5 hours!)
This trip was planned by me as I’ve always wanted to know where I come from (a dream trip to know my Italian roots) and I invited my mom because it seemed right to go with her, the Italian. I quickly learned when we arrived that this trip was not for me but was actually for my mom, the one who speaks Italian, knows the relatives, knows our history and knows the place. So instead of it being my trip I quickly became a passenger living happily alongside her learning and absorbing it all (I don’t speak Italian but as usual Spanish got me by pretty well).
It was amazing to hear her speak Italian (although not being used to it she tired from speaking – normal) and learn that she has a very local accent, one that people picked up on immediately. She wasn’t too fond of it but I was very proud of her’s because It meant she was local and had colloquial terms…something I was jealous of since in Spanish I have no specific accent (plenty of colloquial words though) meaning I am not from somewhere definitive…she is lucky to have this, trust me!
She has the connections…relatives galore, tons who live in this small town and that I never knew existed; ones she hadn’t seen since she was just a kid or others like me she had never met. It was great to meet them all, so many cousins it was amazing. There were plenty of American Italians who I did know there too so that was great because they unlike my mother frequently visit the hometown (some nearly every year) and know even more people. In this true small Italian town, almost everyone is family or knows you, even the owner of our rental was somehow related to the family..ha ha … good friends of a cousin I believe…nearly family, right ha ha ha. There was also just one real restaurant, one pastry shop, one bank and a closed pool all complimented with eat (drink) your heart out pizza joints and bars lol!
Italian families are quite different (similar to Latin America) from American families, Italians preserve the old and try to keep everyone together. Family is family…as I met my fourth or fifth cousins for the first time and was treated like I belonged and am family! This side of keeping everyone together – connected – being family really rings true for me. What an amazing experience! In America we have (for most families) just aunts/uncles, first cousins and maaaybe second cousins. When I say old I mean it, the Italian’s carry photos with them of those who have past on, quick to give you then from their wallet/purse to remember. (Something I saw at funerals growing up but never quite understood until I witnessed it here). Others hold the past with photos and a candle to always keep the relative in their thoughts in their homes. This was special for me to witness, the culture I have always longed for, a place I belong to because I have Italian blood. Plus that was all that seemed to matter there, it didn’t bother them that you grew up in America and it was your first time there, not at all…you are still Italian and you are still Famiglia!
The best relative we reconnected/met with was by far found on our last day in the next town over literally asking one person to the next on the one town street (ok, it is a bit bigger now) for the address of the last remaining relatives on my grandfathers side of the family! We had a phone number we called but it didn’t work out (later we learned it was the wife who had answered) so determined we just walked and asked around town…literally. When we got to the antique shop my mom almost forgot to ask (probably distracted by the antiques…) but I reminded her and this was the jackpot…there were 3 Michele (Miguel in English) in town and we somehow narrowed it down and were directed a few houses down on the opposite side of the street…ha ha with the shopkeeper down the street directing us by waving us from house to house we made it….and indeed there he was!. A Very cool moment as my mother approached and was warmly greeted with a hug and immediate recognition…he even knew her name after all these years having met only once before. She didn’t recognize him at first but thank god he did so quickly as from there we went down a short (few hours) stroll down memory lane into our past. (My mom seeing a photo of her grandfather for the first time).
Every day was nearly just as magical as the previous as we strolled through town and more stories were revealed or my mother recognized a building in town, etc. Unfortunately we only stayed 4 days for a local festival which was also quite the treat before heading on to more adventures elsewhere in Italy.
It was also sheer joy to see my aunt on the other side of the world so happy via Facetime each night when we found a wifi spot and gave her a call to recount the day and encounters with relatives. She couldn’t make it this trip but understood and was perfectly happy living it through us! She also (being the older more social sister) helped get all the contacts we didn’t have and made sure we saw this and that relative…she still chats with many and remembers even more of that year long trip ages ago. All she wanted was for us to all meet….and of course photos of everyone! ❤️
The festival, for which I had to change my flight for (really I had to buy a whole new ticket and leave a week earlier!!!), was actually pretty cool. All the changes, extra cost, lost time in Sri Lanka 😭, etc were quickly forgotten about once I saw my mom and the whole cultural immersion (what I love) was surrounding my day and night.
The whole festival lasts a few weeks, every night vendors set up shop, the carnival games light up, concerts are held and fireworks go off with the only tourists being from the local towns. The festa felt huge (it was not as I heard that previous years more people had attended on the streets and then I later saw a massive one in another town) probably due to the shape of the town on a ridge (like most Italian towns in the area they occupied just the tops of hills…intriguing one to visit and see what surprises lie at the top) and well the size…small town! To me it seemed perfect. The main attraction for the Festa was the Virgin Mary which is carried through town. Many towns do this with Saints, Mary or other religious figures but here they don’t just carry her they build a tower, or ‘il carro’ as they call it, out of wheat, tie some huge oxen to it (9), add some ropes and teeter totter her through the whole town slowly! Of course this seems the main event but actually being the religious country it is a week later when she is down from the tower and carried back (we missed this part). The best spots were when ‘il carro’ went down hills or around curves and the best spot to watch/participate was below it. The ropes help stabilize the teetering tower directed by a maestro from inside the tower yelling at them and some how it all works out lol. It has only fallen once in however many years (a lot… since my mom also recalls following it barefoot hoping doing so would cure her cold when she was a kid lol). On hills and curves you really saw it teeter and regain balance with long lines of people pulling on the ropes…and if on street level below when this happens you really feel like it is coming down on you…runy
I really enjoyed the visit and I’m very happy to have shared it with my mom. Hearing and being a part of real Italian conversation sparked something in me. I have avoided learning the language because it is so similar to Español but after visiting I might just have to return and dive in and learn it…besides I learned a lot of words on this trip and well it is very similar to Spanish it should be a quick addition…humm I know living there would be quite different since I was around when everyone visits but hey I have Famiglia there…!
What do you think, should I go back and learn?