Updated: Sep 20
Last week we had a very special visitor. Annette, the daughter of my dad Gianni's first cousin Teresa, paid my folks a weekend visit from Wappingers Falls, New York: her first-ever trip to Italy. Annette’s grandfather Ascenzo (a name which means “descendend from“ or “son of”) was my dad’s uncle and I’m told he and my dad met on a few occasions. That's remarkable because, although my dad’s father Clementino and uncle Ascenzo grew up together in Scanno, Abruzzo, a devastating 1915 earthquake (article in Italian) had Ascenzo, age 20 more or less, decide to leave Italy and seek his fortune in the US. Ascenzo's younger brother Clementino remained behind, moving first to L'Aquila then to Florence with his wife Antonella and four children (Gianni amongst them) born years after Ascenzo had departed.
Half a century after Ascenzo emigrated my folks, motivated by a work opportunity and a sense of adventure, moved to New York City from Italy's northern Piedmont region. My dad soon looked up his lost uncle and cousins Teresa, Riccardo and Michael and the two branches of the Subrizi family were happily reunited. I was just a boy but have fond memories of the cugini americani showing us the ropes of Thanksgiving turkey, the Superbowl, and the televised Yule Log (!) on Christmas eve. Over the years my dad grew close to his cousin Terry (as she came to be called), who sprinkled their conversation with phrases and exclamations in dialetto abruzzese, incomprensibile to me and vaguely reminiscent of characters in The Godfather (Ascenzo was apparently still around for our first few gatherings). Teresa was tough and weathered enormous change and loss in her life. She was of course utterly devoted to family and especially her children Pat and Annette. But, though the idea was often floated, Teresa never visited Italy, perhaps because, like many children of immigrants fleeing the economic devastation of war or natural disaster, only to struggle for acceptance in a new land, she had inherited her father‘s sentiment that Italy was best left in the rearview mirror.
Last week Annette broke with that notion. Accompanied by her niece Jerri-Lynn, she braved the 9-hour flight and 2-hour not-so-high-speed rail trip turned to 4 hours, arriving in Florence on a clear night, exhausted but excited. The first thing I did was drive Annette and Jerri-Lynn to Piazzale Michelangelo, from where the sparkling view of Florence is easily taken in on brisk autumn evenings, the crowds of summer long gone.
My dad was thrilled to be reunited with his niece Annette in his Italian home. It was his turn to play host to someone arriving from a distant land, wanting to experience unfamiliar customs with a familial guide.
Thank you Annette. Next time, stay longer ☺️