Sunday, March 8, 2015

"Where your parents and grandparents come from is also part of who you are"

For many North Americans, and especially those of Italian descent, the desire to visit or live in Italy lies deep inside. Some of us succumb to this desire, including Canadian Maria Coletta McLean, who has written two very fine books about her experiences: My Father Came from Italy, and Summers in Supino. I am honored that she has consented to write a guest blog for me.
Supino rooftops
When I was young, I used to say that my father came from Italy, but I was born here, as if the old country didn’t affect me. It wasn’t until I grew older and wiser that I began to learn that where your parents and grandparents come from is also part of who you are. My images of Italy were based on little boxes of nougat candy, with scenes of Italy printed on them, that my father brought home at Christmas time–gifts from his customers on his delivery route for Toronto Macaroni. My opportunity to actually go to Italy came because my husband Bob was a city councilor and our city was twinning with a city in Italy and we were invited to be part of the official tour.

It started with a phone call to a cousin who lived in Rome, progressed to a quick tour of my father’s village an hour south of Rome and an introduction to other distant cousins and eventually to our buying a house in my father’s village of Supino. We bought it sight unseen, based on a cousin’s assurance that he had seen it about a decade before and it “looked pretty good although maybe it needed a little work.”   We hired strangers in the village to fix it up so we could bring my father back to the old country for the first time in 64 years. In many ways, nothing had changed in the village during that time.

Over the past twenty years, we have spent part of every summer in my father’s village of Supino, and every year, we are introduced to yet another relative through blood or marriage and perhaps we are related to the entire village.
via Condotto Vecchio

People often ask who takes care of our house when we are not there and the answer is twofold. Our neighbours across the street are the official caretakers as they have the key but everyone on the street, “Keeps an eye.” Sometimes people who’ve read my books come to Supino to find via Condotto Vecchio and walk uphill to our house, which is #10, just to take a look. As often as not, a neighbour will appear and engage them in conversation and before you know it, they’re all down at the Bar Italia having a coffee and a chat. If we happen to be in Supino but away from the house when an interested stranger comes along, the neighbours send them, or bring them, to wherever we are. As you may have surmised, everyone in the village knows everything that’s going on.

I’ve done some book tours to different cities in Canada and the United States, and two things always surprise and delight me. Supino is a small village, yet there are immigrants from Supino in cities from Dearborn, Michigan, to Moss Point Mississippi, to Aliquippa and Pittsburg and Greensburg, Pennsylvania, and from New Haven to New York. In Canada, you’ll find Supinese from Vancouver to Toronto to Halifax and most major cities in between. The other thing (the most delightful thing) is that every one of them I have met has been very much like my father: gentle, calm, kind, friendly, helpful and ordinary in the best sense of the word.
Sometimes I think of those little gift boxes of nougat that my father’s Toronto Macaroni customers gave to him at Christmas time. If only they knew that their small, but generous, gift started me on a path that took me from a young girl whose father came from Italy to a woman who has grown to love Italy.

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