From the Erie Times-News, November 13, 2003

Delianuova, Italy, daughters reunite

In this fast-paced world, we tend to spend a great deal of time looking ahead. We set our job goals for the upcoming year, we save for our children's college education and we start shopping for what we'll wear to the New Year's Eve party six weeks from now.

But every once in a while, it's important to turn around, to look back, to try to understand where you came from.

Last week, my mother, my daughter and I looked back. We looked way back. We traveled nearly 5,000 miles to the tiny village of Delianuova, Italy, the birthplace of my mother's immigrant parents, Angelo Gangemi and Francesca Costanzo Gangemi. Amid miles of silver-green olive trees and orange groves, nestled into the valley of the Aspromonte Mountains, we found Delianuova.

It was a place my mother had heard about many times as a child. My "Nana," in her broken English, would speak of the village and its people, and tell stories from her childhood.

Most memorable was Nana's description of her childhood home and how it sat among a connected line of houses on a narrow street, with one step up from the street to the front door and five steps up once the door was opened.

It became our goal to find that house, to sit on the front step that Nana's feet had crossed over many thousands of times from her birth to the day she left Delianuova as a "spinster" in her early 30s to come to America for her arranged marriage to my grandfather.

We had expected to see unspoiled landscapes, old-world structures, and a slower, more traditional way of life, and we were not disappointed. What we did not expect was the shower of warmth and kinship we experienced from the people of Delianuova.

The phone in our hotel room began to ring just hours after we checked in, announcing the arrival of about a dozen people who shared my grandparents' surnames, each conversing with my mother in the Calabrese Italian dialect Mom had learned from her parents nearly half a century ago.

My mother (Angelina Gangemi Lewis) and I, on the stoop of her childhood home
My mother (Angelina Gangemi Lewis) and I, on the stoop of her childhood home
They discussed names and dates and details of our Delianuovan ancestry, trying to establish a connection to our bloodlines. And even though no one remembered my grandparents and no direct relationship could be established, we knew from their engaging manner, the angularity of their physical features, and their outpouring of warmth that we somehow belonged.

Even those who did not share our surnames embraced us. A local man named Enzo, whom I had reached two years ago on the Internet via one of Delianuova's few computers, took us on a city and mountain tour. He unearthed church records dating back hundreds of years, and pointed us to the home he believed had been my Nana's.

It turned out he was right. Not only was my mother able to sit on the step of her mother's childhood home - a home among a connected line of houses on a narrow street, with one step up from the street to the front door and five steps up once the door was opened she touched the baptismal font where her father was baptized. She literally felt her mother's presence in the very church Nana attended each and every Sunday.

And from this two-day visit, I gained insight into where my mother's kindness and generosity and my daughter's sense of unconditional acceptance originated. I may have even discovered among the laughing, upbeat Delianuovans where I got my offbeat sense of humor.

The old adage says, "Never look back," but when it comes to your history and your roots, the more you look into the past, the more it tells you about the person you are today.

Ciao!

MONICA LEWIS writes about family life every Thursday in the Erie Times-News.