After half a century I thought I knew who I was. I was a daughter, a sister, a wife and mother. I knew who I looked like and where my personality traits came from, or so I thought. In January of 2018 that all changed. Through the process of researching my family tree I uncovered a secret about who I was. A secret that has turned my world upside down. A secret that has forced me to reexamine who I am.
I have told parts of my story to many close friends and family. “Oh, you should write a book,” they said. “This sounds like a made for TV movie'” they would remark. I wasn’t sure I was capable to writing a novel. I am a fifth grade teacher, not a writer. I have never necessarily enjoyed writing and I do not keep a journal. However, many years ago while researching my family tree, I told my Uncle Jimmy that I wanted to write a book about the story of our family. He was so thrilled and excited. He encouraged me and always asked me how it was going.
I loved hearing stories about my family. The story of my grandparents coming to America from Italy and creating a new life. I was mesmerized by how they made a life for themselves and their children in country where they didn’t know the language but still carried their hopes and dreams for a better life.
My mother would tell me how when my grandfather came over on the boat from Italy that he didn’t have any money in his pockets. He didn’t realize that it would cost money to enter the United States. While waiting in line he became nervous that he would be turned away. Then, just like that a fellow immigrant gave him the $20 he needed. That man’s act of generosity would stay with my grandfather for the rest of his life.
“Did you write that book yet?” Uncle Jimmy would ask every time I saw him. “Not yet,” I would reply. I was busy working full-time and raising two boys. How would I find the time to write a book? I began to write the story of my grandparents but it didn’t come easy. I realize now that it was difficult because it wasn’t my story. Although I knew my grandparents story and had heard it many times, it wasn’t my story. What I didn’t realize at the time, but do now, is that it was my own story that I needed to tell.
After my mother Caroline passed away suddenly eleven years ago, I had a strong desire to write down all of the stories so they would not be lost forever. My mother came from a big Italian family of which she was very proud. There were aunts, uncles and cousins, many whom I never even met. To begin, I started researching the names on our family tree. My uncle Jimmy became my mentor. As my mother’s older brother, he knew the stories as well. He loved telling them and I loved hearing them. Stories have a way of keeping those we have lost alive in our hearts and our minds.
Sadly, my Uncle Jimmy passed away recently, just over a week shy of his 92nd birthday. While mourning our loss and celebrating his life, the topic of storytelling came up often. My uncle loved to talk and he loved to tell stories. He and my mother and their family lived above the Italian restaurant their parents owned, DeSantis’ Restaurant. The restaurant was an extension of their family. The waitresses took care of my my mother and uncle in-between waiting on tables. The patrons were neighbors and friends. During WWII my grandfather gave away free meals to service men and women who stopped by the restaurant. My uncle loved listening to the stories from military personnel who came from all over the globe to his parents’ restaurant and he would retell those stories his entire life.
I keep hearing my uncle’s voice in my head, “When are you going to write that story?” I think now is a good time. I am still busy working full-time as a teacher and raising two boys who are now teenagers, but as my uncle would have said, “I’m not getting any younger.” I have also found writing to be a form of expression that suits me now. It is something new I have learned about myself. It has surprised me and yet it makes sense.
I find comfort in reading stories whether fiction or non-fiction about people who are going through similar trials and tribulations. Throughout my search to discover who I am I have found reading about other people’s stories not only helpful but comforting. I do believe I can help others who may be either going through something similar or just people trying to navigate themselves and their place in this world.
So, it is fitting that I begin this journey on what would be my Uncle Jimmy’s 92nd birthday. He inspired me to not only tell the story of our family, but the story of me. I honor him with these words and with this journey. He would not want me to sit by the sidelines of life. He would want me to live it, tell my story to help and inspire others.
So thank you for joining me on this journey. I will write and periodically share my story. The frequency of my writing is yet to be determined. I encourage comments and questions. I have learned a lot while researching my family tree and more recently where my ancestors come from. I am willing to help others who also may be searching.
I am Searching for Me and trying to figure out who I am. I am attempting to reconcile what I knew about myself with new information recently discovered. How do I define myself moving forward with this new knowledge? I think only time will tell. What I do know is that I appreciate you joining me on this journey. It is through the love and support of family, friends and friends who are like family that make this journey possible.
Good company in a journey makes the way seem shorter. — Izaak Walton
Uncle Jimmy giving me away at at my wedding July 31, 1999.