Monday, March 3, 2014

Florentine memories

When I was 14, in 1960, my mother thought it would be a good idea to send me to Italy to meet the Italian side of my family.  She was a southerner, (born and raised in east Tennessee) and family bloodlines and heritage were very important to her. I was thrilled to be able to go and so began my life long love affair with Italy.

I had the great fortune to land with a family whose father was from the same area of Italy as my father, the Veneto. Franco and Beppe (my cousin) were childhood friends and it was through this connection that I was sent to this family in Florence.  The mother, Vanna, had been from Florence for many generations.  I spent 3 months in Italy that summer.  I think because I was so young and so impressionable, my memories of that time are some of the clearest memories that remain in the forefront of my addled mind.

Fast forward to this week end.  After many years, I took a leap of faith, Googled the family, and was reconnected with the oldest daughter,  Alessandra, who is now a guide in Florence.  My sense of anticipation of reconnecting with Alessandra was met with an equal sense of dread, that she wouldn't remember me, that my memories of my attachment to the family were overblown, that my fantasy would turn out to be an adult reality of irrelevance. Interstingly the Stoic One was persistent with telling me to follow up. I finally sent the email and got an immediate response.  Of course, she said, she remembered me.  I was part of the family and she had missed me. My sense of relief and gratitude at her reaction is indescribable.  I felt once again "at home" here.

This week end, we went off to visit Florence to look for some household items and we had dinner with Alessandra and Remo.  Alessandra's brother had put all of the family photos on a web site, and we went through them together.  Strange how satisfying and dissatifying a photo can be.  I saw Vanna's smiling face, but all I wanted to do was reach through the computer, hug her, tell her that I landed in Italy and I was stilly studying my verbs.  Maybe she knows, but probably not. I also found out that a young boy I dated quite seriously as a teen ager had died 15 years ago of cancer. It is so strange to grieve for someone in the past.  After I married, I did not keep up with the young man, and frankly, had not thought of him for many years.  Why did the knowledge of his death affect me at such a deep level?

Later in the week, I received a letter from an old friend, not quite a boyfriend, but one of those men in my life that I could have followed on to another path.  He too, like me, is retired.  I have received yearly Christmas letters from him, (I think this is truly an American thing) and I had not gotten his card this year because of our move.  I sent him a Happy New Year card, and he responded with that sense of relief that one has when you find out that the person isn't dead, only misplaced in the contact file. More memories coming over me, of choices, roads not followed, sliding doors of trains not taken.  Il destino.


  1. Great story Susan. It reminds me of one that my girlfriend tells of going back to Sicily after many, many years to an area where her Grandfather was the Mayor. She connected with a cousin whom she had never met and my friend was apprehensive that she would land in a place where no one would remember her. Lo and behold, when she lands, not only is her cousin there to meet her but half the town came out to welcome her. She spent two weeks there and didn't have to pay for a single meal or take a single cab ride - the town "honored" her through it all. She was flabbergasted to say the least. This is why people fall in love with Italy and the Italians!

  2. You are so right Melanie. That is why we put up with them. They are so darn charming!

  3. Wonderful story and so happy that you and your Italian "family" re-connected.

  4. Mary Ann, thank you for your comments. It is such a pleasure to reconnect especially with Italian families who seem to always take joy in the ones who return.