Friday, March 6, 2015

Europe on the chest #sol15

With the snow day yesterday, I watched a family video.

My maternal roots extend back to Pellaro, Reggio Calabria, Italy. Our family emigrated "from the other side" at the turn of the century. Year by year, more family members sailed to New York from southern Italy. They lived with one another. They ate with one another. They raised children together. I grew up in the house my mother grew up in on a street in Philadelphia where four of the houses were close-knit, extended family. Everything was noisy and crowded and...everyone was together. All the time.

As my mother says, "we thought everyone grew up this way."

In 1992, my cousin, Fred, videotaped a conversation of the senior family members. At the time, our Beppa, 92 years old, sits at the end of the table. Beppa is an Italian derivation for Josephine (Beppo would be the male equivalent). Throughout the video, she breaks off bits of cake and listens to others. Towards the end, which I think I was able to bookmark in the link--Quattrone Family Get-Together 1992--Beppa becomes the focus of the conversation by about the 21 minute-mark. Mostly in Italian. It is just wonderful to watch the joy and love and respect of one another.  Some of the men are in their 70s, an aunt is 69, and the rest are young. And the young sit back and listen.

They ask her questions about Ellis Island--which she can't remember anymore--and she struggles through remembering the names of some of the family members she left behind in Italy so long ago. The years will do that to us. 

What I love about my family is how much they always respected and valued their roots. It wasn't as if they woke up everyday with Europe on their chest but my family always knew where it came from and I think--hope--we still honor our roots today as much as my mentors and models did.

Yesterday, I uploaded the video to YouTube so more of the family can enjoy it. Fred mailed it to me last week. He dug it out after experiencing the great fun of contributing to a family blog. I started one at the start of February--Homemade Ravioli--for family members to share the old stories--keep the old stories alive. It has also been a beautiful way to share photographs.

But back to the of the things that struck me yesterday was how much Italian was spoken around the family as I grew up--and I learned so little of it myself. What a regret! 

It moved me--so much--just to see the people in the video alive again on my screen. It made me regret I didn't see them more, and that I wasn't there for this recording. That little woman at the end of the table, Beppa, lived to be 101. Even though she emigrated here as a farm girl in 1928, she only ever spoke Italian--or very broken English at best--and we all adored her while he had her. That I do know. None of us will ever feel counted short on showing her our love--as you can see if you watch a few moments of the video--and that is as it should be.

For all of us.

from A Dictionary of Victorian Slang (1909)
Europe on the chest (Army). Home-sickness. Used chiefly by soldiers in India, who commit offenses sometimes to be sent home.


  1. I can picture your family- gathered and laughing and hugging and rejoicing. It makes me miss mine!

  2. Sounds so much like my family! So much love!

  3. I loved this slice - clearly, yours was a family of unbounded love and the capacity to value connections. Your family reminds me of my husband's family - sitting around the table with them was such a delight.

  4. Thanks for sharing the video with us. I love how, during the few moments I watched, there were several conversations going on at once. That's how family conversations should be! Very cool.

  5. I hope you share this post with your family! Writing is such a great way to capture family memories before they're lost forever.