September 22, 2015
We all know what family means, don’t we? Well, maybe that word means different things to different people.
According to Dictionary.com, family means:
A. a basic social unit consisting of parents and their children, considered as a group, whether dwelling together or not.
B. a social unit consisting of one or more adults together with the children they care for.
That doesn’t sound like my Italian-American family. For us, our “family unit” consists of every single relative we ever had or our parents, grandparents and great-grandparents had. It means paesani, close friends, from the “old country” and, of course, our immediate family.
Growing up, we didn’t have friends, we had cugini, cousins. Sure, we made friends at school but as far as our parents were concerned they didn’t really matter. Only the family counted.
We went to the movies with our cousins, school with our cousins, had sleepovers only with our cousins, and our entire family would spend most of its time with each other.
Anyone older could decide what was right for us. That included my big brother Jim. I hated that.
The family would have meetings about their kids. Every time that happened, my father would have new rules for girls. I hated that too.
The children had better respect and honor everyone older than they were. Every grandparent and uncle had some say in my upbringing. And if I disrespected them I was in t-r-o-u-b-l-e!
Sometimes it was confusing and crazy. But mostly it was an ongoing party. You never knew who would stop by the house on any given day. And what food would they bring! The food was always the center of our lives.
Laughter was the common music of our home. Someone was always laughing and dancing. We would just dance at times for no reason. My father would sing and everyone would dance with him.
We always heard Italian. No one taught us to speak Italian however. They used Italian to talk about things they didn’t want us to know. When I studied Spanish I began to understand some of what my elders were saying in Italian. They were talking about us. No fair!
Our grandparents would tell us stories about “the old country.” I loved those stories. I wanted to know what it was like to be in that old country. I wanted to feel what they were feeling as they reminisced about the past. Those stories encouraged my love of learning, my wistful daydreaming of traveling the world and my fascination with being Italian.
My grandparents are gone now. So many stories are left untold. No one stops by with food anymore. Our family is so much smaller now. I miss them all. Yet through these posts my cousins join the conversation once again and we rekindle that Italian family we all shared.
My yearning for la famiglia, the family, kick-started my search for the family in Italy. I have found many of our relatives in Abruzzo and in Campania. I have spent time with them and I write to them. And I will see them again because they are as much a part of my family as everyone from our childhood.
When I see my mother’s family they serve the same food the way she cooked it. And I feel my mother, my grandmothers there with me. Their hand gestures are the same; the way they give me un abbracione, a big hug, I feel my grandmother’s arms around me.
When they tell me stories I learn more about my family and myself.
When I see my father’s family, they also serve the same pasta we only ate at Nonna’s house. They look like us too. And they have a kindness I cherish and a closeness I crave. With them I have discovered feelings about my Ricci side I did not know I was seeking, and I want more.
Through my family in Italy I have found the old famiglia. It is an unexpected gift that every one of us Italian-Americans can discover. That is why I started my business, Take Me Home Italy. I want to help other Italian-Americans like me to find a piece of their Italian souls by visiting their ancestral home and family. I want non-Italians to experience the thrill of Italian life, the beauty of the Italian countryside and the antiquity of the Italian people.
This is all a part of the Italian family. The door is always open. There is always a meal waiting for you. Come with me on this journey. You can be a part of la famiglia too.
Ciao for now!
Ciao for now!
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Ciao for Now!
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