i always believed in fairy tales, until one day it seemed my fairy tale was over, but now I realize it has only just begun.
It’s rather interesting how the universe works. Here I am, it’s December 27th of 2015 on a Sunday, my internet tabs are filled with “how to pack lightly for study abroad,” “Italian verbs and their conjugations,” a google doc my roommate made of all the places we plan to see, and a Facebook messenger chat with my cousin Valeria who lives in Vasto, Italy. Most of my life was spent explaining to people that YES! I am Italian – don’t let the reddish-toned hair, pale skin, and blue eyes fool you. Usually, I have to go in depth explaining to people where my family is from and that I do have family that still live in Italy! For years though I couldn’t put any faces to the people in Italy that I spoke about. When you think about it you sort of just imagine a bunch of people that look just like you, only with much darker hair and probably darker skin, fluent in Italian, and a lot of nonna’s asking people if you’ve had enough to eat.
Until recently, my view of my Italian family was that of a distant fairy tale. My long lost relatives that we always spoke of and knew nothing about! How fascinating! Until quite recently, I had dreams of studying abroad in India, prior to that I studied the Japanese language for a year, and even prior to that I was actually an Art major! Art-Therapy to be precise. I’ve come to terms with, after being in college for almost a full three years now (wow), that things change, and it’s O.K. Now as an international studies major, concentration in global health and human rights, and an anthropology minor, i’m studying the Italian language again (after not paying attention enough in high school), and about to embark on an amazing study abroad journey to la bella città di Roma! The beautiful city of Rome!
Once this was decided I realized: WAIT (in my head my mom-mom repeatedly yelling ASPETTA in her Abruzzese dialect crosses my mind) I have family in Vasto, two hours outside of Rome on the eastern coast, who I know nothing about. After many phone calls to my mom-mom, a bunch of scrap paper scrawled on trying to get down everyone’s name and who they were related to, searching everyone on Facebook, asking my roommate “does this person look like they could be related to me?” I finally decided I would make an ancestry account. I even bought the full version, but I deleted it before the free trial ran out and before my account was charged. I discovered so much about my family: who was in the war, who was related to who, how many brothers and sisters everyone had (think about 6-10 siblings each), and most importantly built my mom-moms family tree from the roots to discover – absolutely nothing. Our issue the entire time was that we had no idea what anyone’s married surname was. I was searching for Falone, Naglieri, Lemme, etc. All of the surnames of the Italians in my immediate family. Naglieri being my great-grandmother’s maiden name, I was positive I would find somebody. In my many searches of names on Facebook, I came across a Facebook group called “Naglieri Genealogy,” and of course immediately requested to join. It was a group filled with people I by chance was distantly related to through marriages, but no one really by blood. I posted in my butchered Italian but mostly in English if anyone knew the names of my relatives? All of the names would run together at this point and I frequently had to check back to my ancestry account to remember who was related to who again. I mean really, how many Saverio’s can we have in one family? No one could give me the answers I was looking for until one day I was looking through an old photo album at my mom-mom’s house.
(la mia famiglia in Vasto about 1990)
She pointed to the one image I was intrigued by. “You see, here’s me, and your pop-pop, this is Valeria’s mother, she’s the little girl in the photo, and this is Saverio, (oh, so that was Saverio), Nicola and Anna and the two boys are their children Luca and Davide!” Oh wow, I felt as though I struck gold, I asked her if I could take the photo and as soon as I was home I was uploading that old film photograph directly to the Naglieri Genealogy Facebook page. By the next day, A very nice elderly man said he knew one of the men in the back of the photograph, he said some words I didn’t know in Italian and needed google translate for, and finally said that he knows the owner of the restaurant Cigno Bianco. My family’s restaurant! I practically squealed with excitement, but I didn’t want to wake my summer roommate who was letting me sleep on her futon all summer. It was around 1 am when I received this message and I quickly responded. “Do you know my aunt’s last name!?” Was she my aunt? Second cousin? Let’s face it, once you get past second cousins, does anyone understand how it works? His response was shortly after and in Italian “I believe her last name is D’Adamo.” And that was it. I immediately searched and found everyone! This was one of the more exciting moments of my life, I was so happy to have finally found them. In mostly google translated Italian, I messaged all of my Italian relatives and added them as friends. This was the beginning of my crazy fairy tale.
Pretty soon I found other cousins, all second cousins once or twice removed, but still blood related. Some of them let me write in my grammatically incorrect Italian, helping me out throughout my fall semester and by giving words of encouragement before my final exams. In bocca al lupo! We shared family traditions, which all turned out to be similar. Such as, fish on Christmas eve, eating Panettone for desert and on Christmas morning, and chatting around the dinner table telling stories for hours. The most magical part for me though was letting my mom-mom read their Italian messages on Facebook and being wished a very special Buon Natale from her relatives. Seeing her face light up like that was the most important moment.
And now, I wait. I have a month home of packing, and travel planning, and visa applying, and more before I depart on this journey. I plan on visiting Vasto and reuniting with my long lost family.
Ci Vediamo I say to them. We will see each other.