My little sister was a big surprise in our family. One could say she is and always will be our greatest blessing, one that, however, my parents were not planning on. This meant that from the time she was born our vacations had to be… ahem. Cheaper. So, every year between 1973 and 1981 (and beyond, 1981 was my last summer with them) my family spent our summer vacations in the house built by my grandfather in the village in Italy where my dad was born and his family originated in. While enjoying the scenery and the tranquillity of the place among a few sight-seeing trips, we used to go visit his uncles and aunts, now quite old (some even approaching the century mark). My grandparents had about a dozen siblings combined, most of which lived a very long life, and at the time, while I was bored to tears visiting with old people with no teeth… or fake teeth, I reveled in the fact that my dad truly enjoyed spending time with people who knew his family intimately well and could remind him of all the things he cared about and grew up with. Because he had left the area when he was only six years old, he felt like this was the time to get to know his family and meet his many, many cousins. Seriously, my dad has cousins out to wazoo. My sisters and I used to go play outside, the farms were fun for kids, and even if most of the relatives we visited didn’t have farm animals, just to be able to climb trees or just breathe in the clean mountain air was something I will never forget.
The surprise in all of this is how important going to visit my great-aunts and uncles would become for me and my sisters, most especially my grandma’s sisters. The time we spent with them and the impressions they left on us would turn out to be monumental because it gave us a strong sense of who we are and where we come from. It made us feel part of something, perpetual and solid, roots to the past that spring and move forward to something bigger than the world we live in. I credit those visits if I have learned to appreciate and understand myself more and more as I grow older.
It’s been forty years, and yet I remember vividly the faces and accents of my grandma’s sisters, just as I remember the flower gardens my grandma meticulously kept. Every saturday on our weekly visit, she would bring me to the barn where she kept the baby rabbits and she let me feed the chickens and get the freshly laid eggs. This does not mean I don’t have fond memories of my mom’s parents or even my grandpa, but my Nonna Rina… I always felt a special connection. And, boy, could she cook!
This lesson on family unity and tradition instilled in me in my younger days is most likely the main source for my strong attachment to family in general. I am planning to take my boys to Italy next year (he’s hoping I can save as much money as possible because it won’t be cheap!) to visit my parents as they are getting up in age themselves. My dad will be 85 years old next month and my mom will be 79 in January. I especially want Nicky to spend time with my mom and dad not only because they have a special bond, but because I want time to cherish their lives as much as possible and enjoy every minute I have with them. I know only too well things can change on a dime and life is not promised. My husband has already lost his parents. Most of my friends that had children around the same time and with the same diagnosis as Nicky have already lost their children. Chances are in the next few years I will regret not taking this chance when I had the opportunity to.
Cherish your loved ones, as they are not here forever.
Love & Light,