Chapter XXIV - Italy
The next stop after leaving the frontier town was at the station of Torino, Italy, a major industrial city in northern Italy. The passengers that were to proceed on were not allowed to descend from the train. Vendors with pushcarts were offering vittles, big long sandwiches of Italian bread with meat or cheese, fruit cakes and other provisions. We bought two of the sandwiches, some fruits and mineral water. The Europeans are big consumers of mineral water.
More passengers got aboard and the train started again. Our next stop was Rome but it would be many hours before we reached Rome. After supper I walked the corridor many times back and forth, forth and back, hoping to be tired enough to be able to sleep. I tried to make myself as comfortable as I could and tried and tried to sleep. It was impossible. The train's noise kept reverberating in my brain. However, even a bad night comes to an end with the light of dawn and the promise that the train would soon stop.
I began to absorb the sweet delight of being on Italian soil, the country of my birth. I listened to the train conductor announcing the names of the cities at the stations we were passing. It gave me an idea of how far we still had to travel. I was fascinated by the beauty of the countryside and the last few hours passed on the wings of the wind.
Here I was now in Rome! As the train stopped I marveled that I had come all the way from America, passed over the Atlantic Ocean, gone through France and had seen the beautiful awesome Alps.
I had imagined the Alps to be a ridge of mountains and then you were on the other side of the ridge. However, once you passed a group there were many more. My imagination was staggered trying to absorb the reality of such majestic beauty. Wherever you looked there were peaks and valleys and a lake miles long. The peaks of the mountain were shining with snow and, in the sunshine, were reflected in the lake. A trickle of water from the melting snow found its way down the crevices of the mountains feeding the lake. People in bathing suits were bathing in the lake and relaxing in the sun. But here I was in Rome, the Eternal City!
We got off the train and proceeded to a bank in the station to exchange some money into Italian currency. Then my husband and I walked out of the station to look at the Eternal City, a city we were seeing for the first time. We also wanted to find a restaurant for a late breakfast since we had to go back again to the train for another three-hour trip to Naples. There we would take another train to Avellino, our hometown.
Finally the train trips were over and we arrived at our destination! We looked around trying to recapture the remembrances of my childhood. Forty-one years bring many changes in us without our realizing it. It also brings changes in the environment.
I had the feeling that I was there for the first time. I realized that when I left I was seeing with the eyes of a child and now I was an adult. Forty-one years was a long span of one's life to be away. There was one thing I could not do. I could not roll back the years and start where I had left.
After the first bewilderment, I began to be oriented. My husband suggested that we not go down the road to go to his family because he knew of a short cut that he had taken many times as a young boy and he wanted to retrace his steps. It was not a good choice because the terrain had briers and rocks. We arrived scratched, dusty and in a sweat.
My husband's brother lived in his father's house with wife and children and an unmarried sister. My husband had wanted to keep the day of our arrival a secret so he could surprise his family. However, they were on the lookout for us and when we were about one block in the distance from his house his brother saw us. Actually we were two strangers, a man and a woman, but he surmised who we were.
This brother of my husband was only three years old when he left Italy, but he came to meet us with tears shining in his eyes. He said, "You are Nicola and this is Maria," and he hugged us both. The three of us walked to the house chatting happily. There was so much to talk about. His wife and sister were hugging and kissing us, too.
After awhile he told us that the whole family had traveled from Milan to be there when we arrived. They had been there staying with in-laws for three days waiting for us to arrive. Everyone wanted to be first. The joy of the reunion is difficult to describe. They wanted to know everything about us and we had a lot to ask them. Actually we had to get acquainted.
The next few days were very busy. We had to go to several places. My husband wanted to visit his parents' graves. His father had requested that he be buried in an outside grave since he liked fresh air. He claimed that at night he would come out of his grave and go and eat the fruit on the farm! My brother-in-law had placed an electric light on his grave, a light that burned night and day so that he could find his way back from his night's forage.
I wanted to look the town over and visit the churches I had attended as a child. I wanted to visit my mother's grave. I also wanted to see the house I had lived in which was now occupied by the widow of my half brother. She had two children, a boy and a girl, and the boy had already married. When I had left, my half brother was a baby two years old.
When one arrives from America, the word gets around fast. The day we arrived, a lady, barefoot and poorly dressed, came to the house. The minute she saw me she threw her arms round me in an embrace and called me aunt. I was flabbergasted! I didn't have the slightest idea who she was since I didn't have a niece of her age in Italy. I said, "You must be mistaken. I am not your aunt."
Then she told me she lived in a nearby town and she gave me her name and the name of her brother in America. She said she was American born but she could not come to America because her husband had fought in the Italian army and she was considered an Italian citizen. I felt sorry for the woman and told her I would do what I could when I returned to America. She asked me to get in touch with her brother and tell him to write. Because of the war she was destitute and she wanted him to help her. I told her to give me his address, and I would go and see him when I returned home. This I did upon my return.
The next day a beautiful young girl came and asked for me. The first thing she did was to call me aunt and embraced me. I responded to her embrace and felt a warm feeling in my body. She indeed was my niece who lived in my father's house with her mother. She said, "I came to invite you to our house."
I answered, "Yes, I intend to come today because your house was also mine when I lived in Italy and I did want to see you and your mother." I never had seen my sister-in-law. She was the wife of my half brother who was only two years old when I left Italy. One day was not enough. We needed more time to get acquainted and my sister-in-law insisted that we should come again the next day and have dinner with them. I could see that she was poor and had raised her children without her husband. My half brother had died in an accident. I reflected that when I did not know them they were just a name, but now that I had seen them they became part of my life, because of blood ties. They were loveable people, my people. My sister-in-law directed her daughter to make a gift for me with her own hands so I would have a remembrance of them. She was an expert in embroidery so she made a pillowcase for my sofa with an embroidered horse and bridle. I was very touched and promised to keep in touch.
I visited a cousin of mine who was a young man when I left. Now he was old and rejoiced that he had a very nice family. He had given a good education to his children and they had good positions.
Everyone was very wonderful to us. They made us feel like one of them and very much at home.
We visited a shrine that I would not have missed for anything, because of the rich memory of the past. As a child we had to walk, up the mountain, but now with modern transportation we reached the shrine by bus. One who has gone up a mountain by motorized means can appreciate the anxiety of the ride, but I would not have visited my town of birth without visiting the shrine. The devotion displayed by the pilgrims infused in me a new appreciation of my faith.
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