by Linda (Giannotti) Del Bene (Connecticut, USA)
My father made a couple of trips back to Italy and Gagliato in the late 80′s and by then I was married with 2 children. Each time he wanted me to come with him and it hurt so much for me not to be able to go with him. But it was exciting to sit with him when he came back home to look at all the pictures he took and hear the stories of his experiences. On his last trip, he had become ill while there and he had to return early, only to be gone from us a year later. His experiences that he shared with me and this “unfinished” visit fed my desire to visit Italy, especially Gagliato.
My first trip to Italy, I dedicated to my father. It was my desire to “finish” the trip for him and, more importantly, for he and I to spiritually share this trip together. I wanted to be alone with him, wanting no one to intrude on this “spiritual journey”. My quest was to see Gagliato through his eyes; walk the streets he walked as a boy growing up there and as a man returning many years later; to see where it all began – where I began and to find, with simply an old, faded photograph, the very first house Nannu built in Gagliato.
Arriving in Soverato, a city I often heard my family, especially my father, talk about, I was filled with emotion. I descended from my train and stepped onto the platform where so many, many years ago, my father, as a small boy, carried luggage to earn money. Not even yet in Gagliato, I was walking in his footsteps!
Up above Soverato, on this clear September day, I could make out the faint mountain-side towns, knowing that one of them was Gagliato. So I boarded the little blue bus in Soverato to embark on my journey up an old, winding hillside road; the road my father, as a young boy, traversed daily to the Soverato train station. Suddenly, as the road levelled, a small sign on the right-hand side of the road, beneath a bending tree, announced my arrival in Gagliato, and for a moment I was struck with awe and disbelief that I was really here; that Gagliato did indeed exist.
Stepping from the bus, an amazing hush met me and the absence of people except for a few men. The view up Via Regina Margherita was vacant, sunny, strange; and yet, I knew it. Walking up that “famed” street, I saw the palazzo Nannu later built for the family; the palazzo where my family still resided. Looking across the valley on my left, I saw the little, years-old vacant house that was the very first house Nannu built; the little house I heard so much about growing up. What a tremendous feeling it was for me to put my hand on the wall of that little house; to walk on the very ground where it all began; to feel my father smiling down on me.
It is the stories and traditions and language that was an integral part of my upbringing that makes me value my ethnicity. To keep our culture and traditions alive, it is important to share our stories with our children and grandchildren. It should provide them with a sense of their selves set the spark to further research their roots and, perhaps, visiting the very place where the stories originated.
I do not speak Gagliatese nor understand it too much anymore. I speak Italian fluently enough to function quite easily in Italy and for the year I lived there. However, the Gagliatese dialect is part of our history, is special and should be kept alive.
And so, in closing, my upbringing such as it was, leaves only a slight language barrier that separates me from Gagliato, nothing more.
Ti Amo Papa!