Category Archives: Memories

A Love Story and a Wedding

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Once my dad decided that the USA was a nice place to settle down, he sent word home that he was coming back to get married! Since my mom had lost her mother when she was 9 years old, my father’s mother took over that role for her. She took her shopping for everything – mainly the favors and the fabric for her wedding dress. The wedding was going to take place the day after Christmas and the dress had to be designed to fit the season. They decided that it was going to be made of pizzo di lana or wool lace. They chose the fabric and a tea length design to go with the fashions of the times. The seamstress made an incredible gown, that even today, is still in wonderful condition. This dress is definitely an heirloom and a treasure. My mother told me that before sewing the hem, the dress needed to be hung for several days so that the weight of it would settle and the hem could be made straight. One of my mom’s friends was a professional model in Milan, and her wedding gift to my mom was the veil! They went to a very exquisite boutique on the infamous Via Montenapoleone in Milan for the headpiece. Sadly, the veil did not made it through the years. The stays became rusted and ruined the fabric covering the corona.

A few weeks before the wedding, as was the custom, the bride and the groom would make the rounds of their guests and bring the confetti or favors. Because my dad was coming home only two days before the wedding, he wouldn’t be able to go with my mom to make these visits. My uncle ended up going with her instead. Even though she appreciated that he was escorting her, she wished that it had been her fiancé.

The day my father was expected to arrive home was a very foggy and gloomy December day. He would be arriving from Milan by train to their little town of Ispra. My mom wanted to surprise my dad by meeting him at the train station, but it was so foggy that she had a hard time seeing anything. Every person she passed, she stared at them hoping that it would be my father. None of them were, and she went back home forlorn and sad.

That afternoon, my father’s sister came running to her house announcing that my dad had finally arrived!  Why he didn’t go down to her home himself, I don’t know, but maybe that’s just the way things were done back them!

They spent Christmas Eve and Christmas Day together and all the final preparations for the wedding were made. My father had brought back some vacuum sealed cold cuts from America that were given to him by some friends that owned a salami factory in San Francisco. Vacuum sealing was a new concept at that time, and everyone was so impressed that these cold cuts had come all the way from America. (It’s funny how, at that time, anything that came from America was the best – and now we know that when it comes to cold cuts, Italian products are so much better!). Little finger sandwiches were made with these American delicacies for the wedding feast!

On the day of the wedding, my dad went to my mom’s house with the wedding bouquet. He and my mom walked to the church with their entire entourage of family and friends following behind them. The walk was not far, but the path was all cobblestoned. That didn’t seem to bother my mom as she wore her silk high heeled shoes. She said it was a good thing it wasn’t raining that day, or her shoes would have been ruined!

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During the wedding ceremony, my mom took off her engagement ring and presented it to the Madonna as she had promised when my dad had gone off to America. He had come back, they had gotten married, and now she was going to keep her promise. To this day, on the feast of the Madonna, when they parade the statue through the town, her ring is still there. My mom’s best friend looks for it every year and reports back to my mom!

The reception took place at the villa where my grandmother lived. They had finger foods, champagne, and a beautiful wedding cake (a gift from the town baker, a good friend of my dad’s). They posed for some gorgeous wedding photos and this album has become a beautiful (and rare) treasure to have.

After the reception, the newlyweds took off to begin their honeymoon. The first night was spent in Milan at the Hotel Principe di Savoia.When I went to Milan a few years ago, I was surprised to find out that my hotel was across the street from this very hotel that my parents had stayed at so many years ago. I had to go in to see it and it was still as beautiful and stately as I’m sure it was back in 1955. Before retiring for the night, they had made arrangements to go see a show – Walter Chiari at the Teatro Nuovo . They took the metro and stayed out enjoying their special night. The next morning, they were woken up by the maid because they were still sleeping at 11 am! They were probably so exhausted from all the preparations and excitement of the days before.

They boarded a train that would take them to their honeymoon destination: San Remo on the Italian Coast. I haven’t heard too many stories of this part of the trip only that they visited the famous casino there and dined in the vagone ristorante on the way to San Remo.

Once home from their honeymoon, my dad had to prepare for his trip back to San Francisco. In the meantime, my mom settled her dad with her sister while she moved into the villa with my dad’s mom and younger sister. She didn’t know when she would get the Visa to come to the USA and therefore felt it would be better if she got all her ducks in a row. Little did she know it would take almost three years before she would get that Visa to come to America.

During her time in Italy, while my dad was in the USA, she continued to work. When she got home, she would help my grandmother with her sewing jobs. She shared a room with my father’s youngest sister and they became close friends. They spent time with the custodian’s sisters who were from Sardegna. Young men would pass on the road, looking at these beautiful young girls, and they would refer to my mom as the frutto proibito or the forbidden fruit! My mom missed my dad and the wait was becoming harder and harder to bear.

My dad would come home when he could, and the last time he came home before my mom was allowed to immigrate was going to be the last time. If she wasn’t granted a Visa, he wasn’t going to return to San Francisco. But in a last ditch effort, he asked a priest whom he had known his whole life for assistance. This priest knew the cardinal of Milan, Cardinal Montini. He and my dad went to Milan where they met with the Cardinal’s secretary. They came back very hopeful and were assured that things would work out shortly. Within days, my mom was summoned to the American Consulate in Genova. She was given a physical, and asked some questions as to her intent to emigrate. She was sent home and within a week, she received the notice that the Visa she desired was approved with the help of Cardinal Montini. She was on her way at last. Little did she realize that this same Cardinal Montini would become Pope Paul VI! She still has the letter from the Cardinal granting her the wish she so desired!

She packed a giant trunk and filled it with her dowry. She had linens, tea sets, clothes, and a Madonna that used to be in her bedroom. The mirror on the back of the Madonna was the only thing that broke on the long voyage to San Francisco. Seven years of bad luck definitely did not follow her, though!

My Dad and America!

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The story of how my family came to the USA is a bit convoluted – but which immigration saga isn’t? The twists and turns of how things turned out are what makes these stories so fascinating. The crazy, and sometimes funny adventures that occurred during the actual immigration, are truly gems in my eyes. They are treasures that I want to remember forever and to pass on to my children. So here goes my story:

It all started out with my paternal grandfather and his brother. These two young boys from the early 1900’s had dreams of coming to America! My uncle came first (around 1905) and somehow found his way to San Francisco. The story goes that he made the voyage in a crate, but who knows how much of that is really true! Perhaps he was a stowaway? Again, who knows! All we know is that he settled in San Francisco and ended up owning a very prosperous restaurant. This SF uncle would eventually become our connection to the USA. My grandfather, on the other hand, came a bit later to enlist in World War I as an American! He probably saw that as his ticket to residency. Here’s a picture of my grandfather in his uniform.

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Even though my grandfather enlisted in World War I in 1917, he never saw battle. At the end of the war, he went back to Italy and got married to my grandmother. It’s not clear if they were already sweethearts or not but that’s why, perhaps, he went back. They married in 1920 and had their first child, my aunt, in 1922. In July of 1926, my dad came along. When my dad was 4 months old, my grandfather decided to bring his family to the USA. They sailed from Genova aboard the Conte Rosso – my grandmother, my grandfather, my aunt and my dad. Here they are posing for their portrait!

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They settled in Milford, NH. My grandfather ran a granite yard there. They stayed for 4 years, during which time my uncle was born (automatically making him an American citizen – this will become important later in the story!). My grandmother tried to endure life in America for her husband’s sake, but she really didn’t like it here. To please her, my grandfather decided to return to Italy with his family in tow. Here they are on their return to Italy (this time there are 3 children):

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They settled in Ispra where my dad stayed until he immigrated in 1955. According to records I discovered on Ancestry, my grandfather returned one more time to the USA in 1930. No one knows why and I guess we never will. I don’t know how long he stayed, but he was back before my aunt was born in 1933! My grandfather died at the young age of 51 from meningitis, leaving behind his family during the height of World War II. Because he died during the War, during a time when everyone was concentrating on the pure act of survival, many of his stories died along with him. Even my dad, who was 15 at the time of his father’s death, didn’t know much of his father’s life. I’ve found, that sadly, the old folks didn’t talk much about their lives and the younger generation didn’t feel it was important to ask. Nowadays, these stories would be so precious to have and to be able to pass down to future generations.

When my dad’s younger brother (the one born in America) turned 18, he was asked to come back to the USA to serve his military duty. I think he did his military duty  up in Alaska, but unfortunately, I’m not really sure of the details. I believe this was during the Korean War. After his military stint, he decided to try his luck in San Francisco (remember, they had an uncle there who owned a restaurant). My dad’s brother met his future wife and settled in SF, never returning to Italy.

Now back to Italy and my dad! My dad was a successful soccer player but he was getting older, and knowing that he couldn’t play soccer forever, he was searching for a change in his life. Italy was still depressed and trying to recover from the devastations of war. There wasn’t much in the way of jobs, and things were not looking too prosperous. He was already engaged to my mom and asked her, if he were to go to America, would she follow? Being young and in love, my mom told him that she would follow him wherever he went! He presented her with an engagement ring and told her he would go to America to scope things out. He promised he’d come back to marry her. And if things were good, he’d bring her back with him to the USA. My mom made a promise to the Virgin Mary that if he truly came back for her, she would give her ring to the Madonna! But she also gave him a one year ultimatum – she wouldn’t wait longer than one year! Back then, men came to America and never went back! My dad decided that he wanted to go to San Francisco, since he had a brother and an uncle already there. My dad left Genoa aboard the Andrea Doria in March of 1955.  My mom, my father’s aunt, and two of his best friends went to see him off. One of his friends was so upset to see him go, that he ran after the ship as far as he could go.

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Upon boarding the ship, my dad felt great! He said the ship was so much fun – he played cards and ate and drank to his heart’s content. As soon as it exited the Straits of Gibralter, though, things took a turn for the worse. My dad ended up getting so sea sick that he wasn’t able to get out of his bunk for the entire 2 weeks of voyage to New York. During this time, he wrote letters to my mom telling her that he wished he could die.

Upon setting foot on shore in New York, he immediately felt better – and hungry! I’m sure he ate something right away, but he also shared a fellow passengers’ yummy Italian treats! I’m not sure how long he spent in New York, but he needed to take a cross-country train to Oakland/San Francisco. He was under the impression that the train he boarded in New York would take him all the way – whoops! No one told him that he would have to change trains in Chicago. When the train stopped in Chicago, he had to scramble to find out where he needed to go for his connection. Not speaking English, he was definitely quite confused. Luckily for him, a member of the Armed Services came to his aid and directed him to where he needed to go. He made the connection and continued his journey to Oakland/San Francisco, where he was united with his brother.

Upon arriving, he lived in a small basement apartment in the same building as his brother. He wrote at least three letters a week to my mom telling her how much he missed her and loved her. They would occasionally make dates for a phone call, a complicated and, often times, frustrating experience. There were very few telephones in their little home town in Italy, and whenever my mom knew that my dad would try to call her because he had made a date with her in his letters, she had to find herself at that location. The place that she chose was the new “supermarket” in town. The owners of this market were probably just as excited as she was whenever she went over to receive the call from America! They quickly became close to this young woman who’s boyfriend was so far away. The calls themselves were difficult because most of the time the connection was so poor that all they could really say to each other was how much they loved and missed each other. When my mom sees the communication nowadays, and sees how I chat to my cousins in Italy via Skype, Face Time, etc. she just shakes her head and says how nice it would have been if she would have been able to have that during those years that her and my dad were apart.

My father went to work as a dishwasher in his uncle’s restaurant and slowly learned the workings of the restaurant business. My dad went from the pampered life of an athlete to being a dishwasher! He never complained and took the blisters and sores as a badge of honor. He realized that the USA presented a lot of opportunities, and so he decided that he liked it and would bring his future wife here. Vowing never to set foot on a ship again, he saved fervently for a flight back home. Air travel was super expensive in those days and he had to work and save for months in order to afford the trip. But after only 3 months of being here, he sent word that he was coming home to marry his sweetheart. Plans were made and a wedding was planned for the day after Christmas 1955.

Surprises with Google Maps

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Ispra’s town square from Google Maps

If you’ve never tried it, looking at the street view on Google maps is loads of fun. I’ve used it, of course, to check out my own home but also to look at potential hotels and other places to visit. The fun thing about it is that sometimes you can see cars, people, and animals that are familiar to you – they just happened to be around when the google car drove by mapping out the street.

 

A few days ago, I decided to “Google walk” down the streets of my parents’ home town in Ispra, on Lago Maggiore. I know the town pretty well so it was fun seeing all the old places that are so familiar to me. While I was “walking” in front of my aunt’s home, I noticed a car with two women standing outside. One of those women was my aunt and it brought such a smile to my face. You see, my aunt passed away a couple of years ago, and seeing her once more was such a blessing. She was always a really fun loving woman, full of life. The expression on her face as the funny-looking google car was driving down her street taking pictures was absolutely priceless! Her and her friend were looking at it like it was “una bestia rara” – a rare beast! (I love that expression – it’s so fitting!).

Try it sometime, you’ll love it! Especially when you discover little gems like I did! What a special treat!

Book Review: More Than A Soldier

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More Than a Soldier

 

A few weeks ago, I posted a spotlight of the book More Than A Soldier by D.M. Annechino.

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At that time, I had not read the book yet. Reading the excerpt, I was anxious to actually read the entire story – it sounded so fascinating. I’m happy to report that I just finished reading it (and I read it in record speed)! It was excellent! The writing style was such that you felt like you were experiencing all the emotions that Army Ranger Angelo Di Marco did while he was fighting in combat as well as trying to survive as a fugitive from the Nazis. His heartaches at losing his fellow Army Rangers, and his worries for his own survival and those of his comrades, were so real that the words touched my heart. This is an amazing story of determination, strength, courage and hope – as well as devastation and desperation. It’s also a story of love – the love that he felt for his family and for his fellow servicemen. The bonds that connected him to everyone, including those kind Italians that helped him survive, were so strong and beautiful. Knowing that this is a true story is all the more poignant and meaningful. I’m so glad that Angelo decided to share this amazing story before he passed away, as it is a story not to be forgotten. I can highly recommend this book as a great historical account of World War II – I very much enjoyed the humanity of this story.

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Risotto with Chives

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As I’m trying to watch my carb intake, I don’t eat much rice…but every once in a while, a good creamy risotto is such comfort food!

Ingredients:

1 cup Arborio rice

1 cup diced yellow onion

1/2 c. white wine

3 to 4 cups chicken broth, warmed

1 c. grated parmesan cheese

2 T. butter

Truffle oil or truffle salt

I package chives, minced

2 T. parsley, minced

Directions:

Heat some olive oil in a pot. Add the onions and sauté until translucent. Add the rice and sauté a few minutes. Pour in the wine and stir constantly until the wine evaporates. Add the broth, one scoop at a time, and cook until the broth is incorporated. Continue in this manner until the rice is tender.

Add in the parsley, chives, butter, and parmesan cheese. Stir for a while and add some pepper and either the truffle salt or the truffle oil. Stir and serve.

Top with some more Parmesan cheese, if desired.

La Macedonia di Frutta

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Nothing reminds me more of the summers I spent in Italy as a young girl than La Macedonia! My aunt used to prepare for me a HUGE bowl of this delicious fruit salad, with all the freshest summer fruits she could find. She used to stare in awe as I finished off a whole bowl of it. “How can such a tiny thing eat so much Macedonia?”, she’d wonder.

Since those days, I’ve always been a big fan of summer fruit salads. I like to throw whatever fresh fruit I have and mix it up with just a little bit of lemon and orange juice, and a tiny pinch of sugar. When I had my first child, in August of 1986, summer was in full bloom and it seems like I survived on Macedonia di Frutta! I lost all my pregnancy weight, plus 4 pounds, within 2 weeks of having my baby! Was it the Macedonia di Frutta or just the fact that I was a first-time mom and was so nervous I forgot to eat!

Good from Tragedy…

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On September 29, 1994,  an American family (Reg and his wife Maggie, 7-year old Nicholas and 4-year old Eleanor) were vacationing in Italy when, late on a Thursday night between Salerno and Reggio Calabria on their way to Sicily, masked bandits opened fire on their car. “There was a small car following me from close behind,” Mr. Green told reporters later. The car came up alongside their car and the masked bandits began to shout something that he and his wife did not understand. The story goes that the bandits mistook their car for that of a jeweler whom they wished to rob. Reg Green accelerated while the bandits followed and opened fire at the rear of the car where the children were sleeping in the back seat. Mr. Green kept accelerating and the bandits kept following and shooting. It was only after the gunmen had abandoned their pursuit and the Greens pulled  over did they realize that Nicholas had been shot in the head. Sadly, Nicholas passed away in Messina a few days later.

Rather than seek vengeance and blame Italy for their tragedy, the Green’s selflessly decided to donate Nicholas’ organs to allow other Italians to live. “I would have liked him to live a long time,” Maggie Green said of her son. “Now I wish the same thing for his heart.”

“Perhaps they do not realize how rare that gesture is in our country,” said Gregorio Botta, a columnist in the newspaper La Repubblica. “Perhaps they do not realize that half the children with heart ailments in Italy do not make it and die while awaiting a transplant.” Italy was filled with an emotion they had never felt when the decision to donate his organs and corneas became known. Organ transplants had been very rare in Italy, but since this generous act shown by a foreign family to the citizens of a country where their personal tragedy occurred, organ donations has tripled. The “Nicholas Effect” was born out of this horrible event. This is the title of the motivational book written by Reg Green, but mostly, it’s the movement that sharply increased awareness of the multitude of deaths around the world cause by the shortage of donated organs. As stated in the book, “it sent an electric shock through the human spirit.”

The Italian populace, inspired by this generous act, donated bells to create an everlasting sign of gratitude to Nicholas Green’s family. A moving memorial was erected in their home town of Bodega Bay, California. My friend Susan recently visited and here is her story and pictures:

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A beautiful memorial for a 7 year old boy in Bodega Bay! Nicholas Green was on vacation in Italy his family, all from Bodega Bay, when road thieves shot him. His parents lovingly donated his organs to seven Italians who were awaiting donations. The Italian community were so touched by the gesture they collected bells and sent them to his family and the Bodega Bay community erected the tower for the bells. The large center bell at the top was forged by the Papal Foundry and was blessed by Pope John Paul II. It has ‘Nicholas’ at the top and the seven Italian’s names who received the organs below it.  

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Some bells donated had been in Italian families for generations, or had been donated by churches.  There  are sticks at the base that people use to reach up to bells to ring them if the wind is not blowing

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The bell tower memorial is at the end of a short path – in wide open field because Nicholas loved playing in wide open spaces! This bell is especially touching as it depicts his giving of himself to others…

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If you are in Bodega Bay, stop by for a visit and honor this little boy’s legacy, and the love his parents showed despite tragedy.

Two men were arrested in November 1994 for the shooting:  Francesco Mesiano and Michele Iannello. They were tried, but in January 1997 they were found not guilty because Reg Green could not positively identify them. However, a year later, with no new evidence, another court with a jury convicted the pair. This decision was upheld by Italy’s supreme court in 1999 and the two are still behind bars – hopefully to stay there forever!