Tags: Easter, famiglia, family, Italy, Itri, love of family, memories, photographs, religion, traditions
Easter 1957 – There I am on left wearing a dress I still remember because I loved it so much – blue and white soft stripes!
Typical Easter fare sold in stores in Italy – huge chocolate eggs wrapped in glossy foil colors – the eggs are hollow and filled with small toys!
Easter Sunday passagiata in Sperlonga
Easter flowers for Padre Pio, Itri, Italy
Easter Egg Hunt, Melbourne
Tags: cooking, economy, famiglia, family, family history, food, gardening, Italy, Itri, memories, preserves, ramblings
The headlines have been full of ugly scenarios describing TEOTWAWKI – the end of the world as we know it. It’s no longer merely a Fox News or survivalist mentality pushing the meme on blogs. Recent tragedies in Japan and war news in Libya are added to the fuel of the economy not recovering the way the current US Administration would like us to believe. I have no desire to get into the politics of why or how or even who is to blame – seems there is more than enough of all that to go around the world many times over crisscrossing each other on each round! But my basic budget realities tell me the economy is certainly not improving in my household. I have a decided shortfall beginning to appear each time I go the gas station and the grocery store is not helping. What I felt in the wallet is now beginning to be talked about on all the news channels as well as liberal and conservative blogs alike. Food is getting more expensive, the weather is not helping, and the wars and natural disasters both have drastically affected food availability as well as cost.
So like many I have started a garden – much like the Victory Gardens of WWII. Our family laughs a lot that Valentino is a reincarnation of his grandfather Valentino who was the master gardener to beat all gardeners! He was “blessed” with a piece of land that consisted mostly of poorly placed rocks all over the side of the mountain. For whatever family reason that piece was left to him, he chose to do what we now laughingly refer to as “Given lemons, make lemonade!’ He would laboriously till each small plot of dirt between the rocks – all by hand. One certainly could not have used a tractor around all the rocks even if he was able to afford to own or run one! Because he worked each plot separately he was able to compost and till until each little spot became a wonderful raised garden plot. His yield of vegetables to feed his family became the stuff of legend that the old timers who knew him then still talk about today!
So with this in our thoughts, Valentino and I now set about making our garden. We have ample room to both have two fair sized plots – one is 6 by 28 and the other is 12 by 30 feet. In addition we have set pots and other containers everywhere we can fit them.
On our fence we hung aluminum rain gutter fastened into a window box contraption for strawberries and radishes.
The planters at the base of our grape arbor shelter chamomile as well as the grape plants.
Now we are anxiously awaiting the results of all our work – I have been tracking the expense and at this point if we see a 50% germination and crop yield, we will at the minimum break even financially for our first season! This is pretty remarkable considering the expense of buying soil and cow manure our first time out here in addition to some containers to grow in and fences! I have also started a compost heap so that we can perhaps avoid the expense of more dirt. Our future plans are to raise the beds with side boards so that it becomes easier to control the soil content and avoid some of the washout effect of rains here in Florida. We plan on saving many of our seeds to defray that expense also.
One thing for sure – my impatience (a bad trait to be sure) is showing! I cannot wait for the first salad made totally of our own produce! This being strawberry time in Florida, I decided to indulge my impatience just a bit – yesterday was spent in wicked pleasure making homemade strawberry jam and lemon marmalade (from our homegrown lemons!). The tree is still full of lemons but also ready to bring more!
The family pronounced the jam-making a complete success, opening bottles this morning to spread on toast with their espresso!
Italian Bietola Cicoria Collard Greens and Celery Comfrey Zucchini
Italian Fava Italian Loquats Rucola Tomatoes
Tags: ancestors, Carnival of Genealogy, famiglia, family, family history, Itri, love of family, memories, Women of March, WWII
All of this month most of the genealogy bloggers have been following prompts to write about the women in their lives. March is headlined as 31 days of Women. Due to some circumstances in my offline life I have not stayed on task day by day but today it’s the day we write about timelines for one of the women in our lives. Both my mother and mother in love were young women during WWII. Both were raising young children but in decidedly different circumstances.
My own mother faced the anguish of her husband being gone 38 months – much of it overseas. They were able only to communicate infrequently via letters that were always censored by authorities to prevent leaking secrets accidently. My mother had a map that she often would mark as she figured out where my dad was – he was pretty surprised she could figure any of it out considering he wasn’t able to give hints. But she would compare news from overseas with tidbits gleaned and her strong faith kept her focused tightly on praying him home!
My father in law was considered too old to serve in WWII but he had served in Africa during his Italian army days so Concetta too felt the pain of a husband gone for long periods of time. During WWII he helped the town’s folk figure places to live safely when the bombs from both sides were a constant threat. I have written before how Concetta survived the bombing and total destruction of her home. More than 65% of Itri was obliterated by the bombs before liberation came. Our family was moved to a cave on their property outside town but many families also built Indian style teepees or large lodge huts with a center pole to allow for smoke from the fire to ventilate. She not only grew her own food, she also ground own wheat for flour to bake bread and make her wonderful pasta! She scavenged for wild mushrooms, wild asparagus, and dandelions along with circoria. Her family ate well as she was so wise and attentive.
Yesterday we were supposed to choose women to represent our ancestors in movies. The obvious choice for my mother in love would be Sophia Loren. Sophia is perceived as a “sex-goddess” and a tall elegant woman. Yet as an actress, she is a chameleon who would truly understand the depth of the character and the adversity she faced in WWII with her children. My mother would be aptly portrayed by Diane Keaton. She is a vivacious energetic woman who has played many women similar to my mother. I can see her as the young wife facing working a factory job with a young baby who would later become one of the leaders in her small town as well as an accomplished poetess and homemaker.
Tags: ancestors, Carnival of Genealogy, conservator, contingency plan, famiglia, family, family history, family research, filing, genealogy, Italy, Itri, love of family, memories, organizing, photographs, research
I took off a bit of time from writing to concentrate on family and some changes we are experiencing along with some test of family loyalties through some trying times. Thankfully love for each other has triumphed in every situation we faced. During this time we have each in our own way found what matters most to us. We have each come to the realization that even as we face anger and or disappointment in one another, we can still know overwhelming love and loyalty and even respect for each other. My treasure chest is full of love for all my family and memories of all the special moments we have shared, the tears, laughter, hurts, and joys. This time has made us grow closer and more committed than ever to each other. As a parent I have been touched by the depth of feeling my sons have shown one another as they have grown. Valentino and I are proud parents as we watch each son make the decisions for where their place is to be in life. We can rest assured our sons will never lose their bonds to one another whether we are here to guide them or not. Rather now we can see that even as they may or may not agree with all decisions the others make, they support one another through good and bad ready to offer a lending hand when needed or just an ear to listen.
In the midst of this we also have been enjoying the visit of a family member from overseas. I personally had not seen this person since he was a young boy of about four or five years old. My sons had never met him. When we first met, there was instant love. I was enthralled with his precious smile and his sparkling dark eyes. I just knew our own children (not yet born) would share those same wonderful handsome good looks! Sure enough – they did! And still do! We met our nephew at the airport and immediately we recognized him in the crowd at the same instant he connected with us. The years melted away and once again the smile and dark sparkling eyes dazzled us. Now however that sweet boy is a handsome charming 6 foot plus professor. His personality fit right in to our family mix easily. His quiet strength has been a plus to us as well as his humor. He is an outsider willing to listen and not judge but he is also a beloved family member who is respected and treasured! We are his chance to practice and polish his English as my sons and I practice our broken Italian. For our granddaughters he is the charming gentleman who has captured all of their hearts. I have warned his mother I am going to find it very difficult to return him back home to her! I suspect his uncle is going to find it even more difficult than I will!
One enticing fact is that he shares a deep love of family history. His long term plans include writing about a particular part of the family history. He began to talk about the trials and dead-ends of attempting to find information on the distant relatives. He knew I had already written of more recent family and he also knew I had worked on the family genealogy. What he didn’t know was how much more information I had accumulated in the last few years. As I began bringing out workbook after workbook and file after file, he was in amazement over all the information laid out. It covered the entire pool table – and filled many folders on my laptop! But the best part was that suddenly I was being forced to do what should have been done already. And if he wasn’t enough encouragement a phone call from another relative in Rhode Island was the final prodding I needed. It was time to actually name and label and date as many of the digital images as possible and fit them to their “proper owners” on the family tree. Every trip to far flung relatives meant I gained more scanned copies of old photos or digital images I made of them with my camera. Needless to say there is not a photo for all of the twelve hundred plus people but it felt like double that number as I have been working on them diligently for over a month using every spare moment. For some family members it meant cropping their face out of a group photo. For still others it meant dating them through many photos showing them as they changed over the years of their lives. It also meant labeling all the digital images of the villages and towns and churches and schools and even the old family homes when possible. There are even photos of the streets where family members lived over 200 years ago. I may not be able to prove which house belonged to them but thanks to information on birth certificates I was able to ascertain streets!
So this brings me to today’s treasure chest moment. My treasure chest has become my laptop. Everywhere I go it comes along for the trip. Blessed with a 6 hour battery life, I can steal many moments no matter where I am to work on the photo project. My laptop wallpaper is a replica of an antique print of the family village in Italy. Somehow I find that relaxing as I flip through files and folders saved across my desktop. As I have worked I also made certain to save frequent updates to my portable hard drive. At this point although I am not finished I have also burned CDs to send home to Italy with our nephew and to mail to Rhode Island to another cousin! Let me use this opportunity to once again admonish you all to make backups of all your work. If my laptop crashes, I would be one unhappy woman to have lost all of my hard work! It is not enough to save work only for myself. If a hurricane or other natural disaster were to destroy our home, I would risk losing all of my research. Knowing that copies have been sent to reside with other family members is double insurance against such a loss!
Tags: ancestors, Carnival of Genealogy, famiglia, family, family history, Itri, love of family, memories, photographs
Right after WWII, the family was much too poor to afford random photos so very few exist of Valentino as a very young child. But this is of he and his Papa standing near an old vehicle out near their home.
This expression is one I often still see on his face of intensity and questioning. Almost anticipation of what is to come next. What I love in this photo is the smile on his father’s face. Everyone remembers him as so serious but the hand to his son’s shoulder and smile speak volumes of love and pride to me.
Tags: ancestors, Carnival of Genealogy, famiglia, family history, genealogy, Italy, Itri, love of family, memories, Peace, WWII
Liberation Day is celebrated in Italy on April 25th. This is a day to remember being liberated at the end of WWII. There are wonderful parades in all the small towns as well as the major ones all throughout Italy. We enjoyed watching the parades in Cavezzo, a small town not far from Carpi and Modena in the Emilia-Romagna Region.
Sadly this year saw demonstrations turned nasty even in Rome – people the world over are frustrated with their governments, but let’s not forget that Liberation Day is to commemorate the sacrifices made on behalf of freedom-loving people suffering through WWII. Don’t toss that off lightly because we are unhappy now. Rather let us all remember and appreciate the awful prices our ancestors paid to give us life and for the hope of future generations. I have written before about Valentino’s family and the horrors they went through. I often wonder how they managed. I too often suspect we of this generation would not have the strength of spirit or heart to face those challenges now. How would those who live in 40 and 50 floor apartment buildings manage without electricity to run elevators? How would all those city dwellers manage to grow food without yards? It was a different time, granted. Yet we need to consider how very brave and daring they were – how self-sustaining and independent they were, willing to meet all challenges to bring about the end of the war. They often prayed it would be the war to end all wars. Sadly there are those who are only too willing to forget that. I don’t claim to know the answers to end war or to broker peace. But I do want to say thank you for those ancestors who did play a part to bring about Liberation for Europe (and Asia later) and pray we never become insensitive to their sacrifices on all our behalves!
This memorial stands outside the Church of the Annunziata in the center of Itri. The inscription reads:
To her heroes of all the wars all who come of the cross without waiting for the resurrection.
So too we offer prayers for all those of all the towns of Europe and everywhere!
Tags: ancestors, Carnival of Genealogy, famiglia, family, family history, genealogy, Italy, Itri, love of family, memories
My mother in law was one of the most incredible women I have ever known. She was raised as a simple farmer’s daughter in Italy and the family did not send her to school. She was in her seventies when she learned to read and write. She decided to learn so that she could study the bible! Incredible!
This photograph was taken only a few months before she passed away but even here, her beautiful spirit shows through! I met my mother in law 3 days after I married her son, the baby of the family – her Tesoro! But from the first day I arrived in Italy, she welcomed me with love and respect and joy. Although the family were unable to travel to the United States for the wedding, she and all of the relatives eagerly waited to greet us.She prepared a beautiful wedding reception for us in her home. The entire month she opened her home to guests from near and far who came to meet me and wish us well.
As a younger woman she assisted as one of the midwives for her area. If she sent an expectant father for the doctor, the doctor knew he was needed for an emergency. He wanted her to go to school to become an assistant but family obligations prevented that goal. Yet she learned to do many simple first aid techniques and helped where ever needed. During WWII she survived the bombing of her home and evacuation to nearby mountain caves where she cared for her family.
She never had training as a chef or nutritionist but she knew how to prepare nourishing and flavorful meals from meager supplies. She recognized which wild mushrooms were safe to eat. And she raised bountiful garden harvests of all sorts of vegetables. Her farming expertise didn’t stop with plants. During a visit to the us in Connecticut, she taught a woman in our town how to properly milk goats to yield the most milk. I knew she wanted to teach me to make cheese so before she arrived for her visit I went on a hunt for the plastic baskets to use for cheese making. Finally I bought fresh cheese that came in one such small basket and located the manufacturer on the bottom. I called the company in New York to attempt to buy a few. The gentleman listened to my story and laughed – seems the wholesaler only sold in lots of many gross at a time and I hardly needed a couple dozen. Yet he was so impressed that I would do this, he mailed me a few dozen as a gift! Concetta and I spent a happy time making fresh cheese together properly! We found local ‘ pick you own’ fruit farms and then she taught me to make jams and marmalades in addition to putting up vegetables.
During the bad times or when family were in trouble she would take them in and find ways to make do to care for everyone. She helped to raise many of the grandchildren and even great grandchildren as the need arose. Through it all she never complained. This was the meaning of famiglia! Towards the end she cared for first one elderly parent and then elderly in laws. She taught all of us what the meaning of selflessness and humility meant. She taught us love in the face of unpleasantness as well as in the face of love. She walked her faith and shared it with all of us by her deeds and actions as well as her words. Her love for family was so strong that even near the end of her life she had the presence to recognize us and share a hug, a smile, a kiss. As her son sat with her and she held his hand, once again she spoke to her Tesoro and her eyes lit with love! Famiglia! Grazie Concetta – we love you still!
Tags: Italy, Itri, memories, photographs, ramblings
It’s almost spring here in Florida and this is the time of year we normally visit overseas with family. Due to too many commitments here, we won’t be making a trip this year so I am missing Italy. For those of us who love Itri and the surrounding area, I thought a few March photographs might fill the heart for now.
Tags: Carnival of Genealogy, cooking, famiglia, family, family history, food, Italy, Itri, love of family, memories, recipes
When Concetta needed spoons for cooking she couldn’t just run to a store to buy one. Money was tight and stores weren’t always close by. So Francesco would sit after dinner with a smoke and he would whittle her one from a piece of scrap wood. With just a simple knife he managed to carve beautiful spoons. They were a perfect size for stirring the big pots of sauce for the family dinners.
Along the way Valentino ended up with two of these spoons. They were still in wonderful condition but I did not have the heart to use them. Looking at them I thought often of the wondrous meals Concetta cooked for us using anything at hand. How I loved standing at her elbow watching her and making notes on recipe cards so I would remember every step after she returned to Italy.
On one of our trips to Italy a nephew expressed deep sorrow and disappointment that he had nothing to remember his grandfather by. He had lived with Francesco for several years and loved him dearly. “Not even a stone or brick from the family farm” he exclaimed. Valentino said nothing at that time but when we planned our next trip, Valentino packed one of our two spoons. When we surprised our nephew, he was overcome with emotion. He held that spoon ever so lovingly and then made a special place in the kitchen for it to be displayed. Like us, he did not have the heart to risk using it but rather wanted it always on display as a reminder of this special couple.
But our story does not end here. Back home we went on a visit to cousins in Rhode Island. As we told the story about the spoons, one of the cousins was touched by how we shared with our nephew. So she in turn had a surprise for us. Wrapped in tissue for many years was a spoon carved by Francesco. But this one was a double affair: a large spoon on one end and a fork on the other with a foot rest in the middle of the handle! It’s perfect for spaghetti or noodles as well as the sauce. Francesco had whittled one of these for several in the family as gifts. Our cousin had tucked hers away in tissue unused for over 20 years so it was still the new white pine.
I know this spoon was meant to be used in the kitchen and maybe tossed as it became old. I am sure Francesco thought it would be replaced soon enough. Yet it holds such sweet memories and so much love, that we can’t bear to use it. It is a piece of Francesco with us still, a tangible reminder of how he loved his family. And it evokes many reminders of how much love an Italian family shares through simple every day tasks like whittling a spoon or cooking a pot of sauce!
Tags: Carnival of Genealogy, Christmas, famiglia, family, Holiday Spirit, Italy, Itri, memories, Presepi
This posting is supposed to be about other traditions such as those brought from overseas by ancestors. In our family’s instance, the tradition was brought to us by Valentino. He came from Italy where his family did not have Christmas trees until he was a teenager. Rather they used like most Italians a presepe display. Presepi are nativity sets but so much more than those we are used to here in the United States. Their displays are huge panoramas of Bethlehem! Interestingly these are often figures dressed in the garb native to the area where the owners live. For example, in Northern Italy it is not uncommon to see a more Bavarian look to figures. Napoli, where many famous and skilled artisans live and work often make the nativity figures to include famous persons. This year there are many versions of our President Obama being sold! But that is not the style Valentino grew up with!
His displays were something he and his brother would save their coins for all year long. During the Christmas season they would buy new figures to add to their growing display. He even remembers figures of Roman soldiers with swords holding a baby aloft! The first few years we set up our display, it was modest to his standards but my family loved it! By 1981 we had moved to Florida and purchased our first home. It was exciting to begin to build on our Christmas display. Valentino would set up a big sheet of plywood outside on our front porch area and he made a Bethlehem scene for our presepe. He covered the wood in sand and made ‘roads’ out of flour. He even had mountains he shaped out of chicken wire bases covered with brown burlap and stiffened with resin. We chose Fontanini figures for our nativity because of their classical Italian look and the fact they were virtually unbreakable. That was an important feature for our children’s sake! We began to fashion our own buildings too. Every evening we would take our own children outside and talk abo9ut the display with them, allowing them to touch and move figures. Soon we found neighbors and their children would come to look at our display too. Valentino would then each evening tell another part of the nativity story and share its meaning with the children. He would every day move the 3 kings closer to the stable where there was Mary and Joseph and animals – but no Babe. He would not be there be there until December 24th! That, too, is an Italian tradition. Valentino never caught his mother but she would somehow mysteriously manage to have the Babe appear in the manger each Christmas Eve without anyone seeing her!
Our display began to attract quite a bit of interest from friends and others over the years so we also made smaller version displays for our church. This too was something Valentino had experience with. His brother and several friends made a permanent display in Itri, Italy at the Sanctuario Madonna della Civita! That display is still there!
Once we moved to our current home, our display had grown too large and too valuable to leave outside. We began to make much more elaborate displays as finances allowed and we added more figures. We were most fortunate to travel to Bagna di Lucca to the Fontanini factory and we met several of the Fontanini family members. That wetted our appetites to grow our display! It became such a labor of love that we delight in sharing with neighbors, friends, coworkers each holiday season! We encouraged the tradition with our sons and each was gifted with their favorite style of Fontanini nativity sets also for when they are ready to begin their own family traditions!