I come from a large family, on both my mother's and my father's side. We're Italian, 100%, and big families are what we do. I think, however, my family is a bit unique. I am close with mom's side in the traditional way in that she has a lot of siblings and I therefore have a lot of first cousins. We're far flung across the USA, but social media makes it a lot easier to keep up with everyone. On my dad's side, I have one aunt and one cousin but a massive and ever expanding extended family, the majority of whom live in Italy. I can name cousins and some second cousins on my mom's side but not like I can on my dad's.
My dad's dad passed when I was seven. He died from Lung cancer, the main reason I hate that disease with a fire in my very soul. He was young - only 63 and still very much full of life. My sister and I were the apple of his eye and I often wonder if after we moved to California from New York, he gave up a bit in his battle against cancer. The year before he passed, he went on a “world tour” to say goodbye to his remaining siblings in Brazil and Italy. My dad and aunt accompanied him to Italy. I was only six and half and my dad traveled often for work, so I don’t think I was aware of why he was gone. My grandfather passed in February 1996. A year and a half after he passed, my parents took me and my sister to visit our Italian family. I still remember feeling at home that first trip, even though I was only 8. I had visited since before with my parents when I was a baby, but have no memories of that, other than pictures. Each time I've come back, that place has pulled on me more and more.
My dad's remaining aunts adore him. They always have. I'm sure it's a combination of who he is and of how he resembles his father, both in looks and in character. Years ago, a recording was found of my grandfather and other relatives singing and upon listening, my great-aunt burst into tears. Granted, she cries at a lot of things. My grandfather was her older brother and she’s suffered a lot of heartache in her 80 years. Most immigrants of my grandfather's generation didn't look back when they left their country of origin. From the time my dad was six up until his death, my grandfather made a habit of coming back. My second cousins knew him almost as well as I did and as we grew older, I was able to reminisce about him with them, despite our language barrier. When we go to Italy, we stay in the house my grandfather passed down to his kids and it's nearly the same now as it was when he stayed here last. We were there for Christmas last week and I remarked to my aunt, who was there for the first time in 22 years, that it felt like a time capsule. She agreed.
I’ve been back often enough to recognize the roads from the main city out to our little town. We have a routine when we go and we even know some people in the local shops. I’ve made it a resolution for 2017 (hush I know the stigma of resolutions) to finally dedicate myself to properly learning Italian so that I don’t have to rely on my dad for translations. I don’t ever want to stop going and I want to explore more and more of the country as I grow older. I want to be there when new family members are born or married into. I would like to think that it’s what my grandfather would want. I wish like crazy that I could have gone with him at least once, just to see him there with his sisters. I sit there and drink in old stories about him and my dad when he was young. Family runs deep for me because despite the language barrier and the distance, I feel the connection to these people deep inside me and I will cling tightly to them for as long as I live.