In October 1997, I entered the twentieth century late, when I purchased a computer from my friend Kim. With great excitement, my husband's encouragement, and a strong desire to document an oral family history, I started to get Mom's stories down on paper. My intention was to not let them be lost to time, and to share them with the next generation of family who, not so fortunate as I, didn't hear them firsthand from my grandmother and mother. As the work progressed it became apparent that I wanted to share these stories with the families of all Americans, many of whom shared a common thread when they or their ancestors entered New York through Ellis Island as immigrants.
My mother, Maria Marzia, the main character in this book, has been an inspiration. With due respect, this is her memoir and I took the liberty of putting her part of the story in the first person. Without her there would be no book.
When I first embarked on this journey, I didn't realize how vast Mom's memory was or how much I wanted to please her by doing this work with her. I failed to realize that we would be opening Pandora's Box. We have cried and laughed into the late hours of many nights. Although Pandora's initial action left her no choice in releasing all the ills into the world, I exercised free will and chose to omit some stories, simply out of respect for Mom and our extensive family. New knowledge brought empowerment, old faded family pictures and stories came alive with explanation, understanding, tears and sometime acceptance. Childhood questions were finally answered, and situations brought to closure.
Grandfather Giulio died when I was two years old and the few memories that I have of my very early years do not include him. But I do know from many relatives that I was very special to him. If my birth was the instrument to change hearts, and my young life the bridge from pain to love and forgiveness, then that is reason in itself for my involvement in this story.
I'm mourning once again for Grandma Vincenza, remembering mostly my love for her and her laughter. She was so special. I was blessed to have her in my life until I was thirty years old, and felt with her passing the loss of connection to my Italian heritage and a door closing on a chapter of my personal history.
As children, my sisters and I asked for stories about Italy. We were intrigued by the relatives we never met, the places we hadn't seen, and the language we weren't taught because our Neapolitan parents wanted us to be Americans.
My father, Tony, was born in America but spent much of his youth in Italy. His father, an importer of wine and other items, traveled every few years with his whole family between Italy and America. Dad grew up in the Town of San Benedetto, which is so close to Caserta and my mother's birthplace, Santa Nicola, that as a youth he played soccer with her friend's older brothers! But my parents didn't meet in Italy; they met here in Brooklyn, and that is another story.
So these are the stories I heard from my earliest childhood as Mom and Grandma told them to me. Some made me cry; others charmed me. Some still have the ability to scare me, and a few humbled me with a great respect for my ancestors, who faced adversity and survived despite the circumstances.
They arrived from Italy with dignity and their indomitable spirits. With a strong work ethic, intelligence and perseverance they became proud American citizens. They brought their stories, and shared them to keep the memory of Italy alive in their hearts, repeating them lovingly and always with laughter and tears.
ASG August 1999
To learn more about the publisher, visit Cypress House
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