can't you see the sunshine….

March 1, 1878 March 1, 2017

Look what I forgot to do this year.  Honor my Grandparents.  The folks who made our lives in Italy possible.  I feel badly that this has happened.  I think it is because I feel so far removed from our life in Italy.  Most of my time is consumed with caring for the two of us and the very minor role of making decisions about our condo being remodeled.   (Basketball might have consumed some time too)  Perhaps when we are in our own place, with all our things out and about I will think more often about living there.  Anyway, here is the story.

This is an updated version that some of you might have read before.  We were able to  ‘live the dream of Italy’ full time because of my grandparents. On my grandfather’s birthday, I like to remind others of him and all the folks, who either by choice or not, immigrated to America and helped to make it into a strong country.  If you are interested in more than my story I urge you to watch the series on PBS  While I don’t think that my grandparents had the same type of experience that happened in big American cities I think they had some of those experiences.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017 is the anniversary of my grandfather (nonno), Antonio Iaccarino’s birth. He was born in mille otto cento settantotto or 1878 so he would be 139 years old. His parents were Ferdinando and Maria D’Esposito Iaccarino. Besides my grandfather, I know they also had 2 daughters, one, Concetta, (my Zia or aunt) who was 4 years younger than my nonno and another that I never met, Josephine who lived in Connecticut.

In 2003 I began researching my grandparents’ lives so that I could apply to become an Italian citizen. In the process of this research I have learned some things which have brought me closer to my nonno who I never met. He died before I was born. I always think of him when I hear the Simon and Garfunkle song that starts “I left my home and my family when I was no more than a boy, in the company of strangers…” My nonno was only 12 when he joined the merchant marines (Marina Mercantile Italiana). Whether he joined willing or unwilling I don’t know. I do know that at that time he and his family were living in a room or rooms in this house in Meta, Italy.


I have found this house because very dear friends, Tonino and Carmella Romano spent hours researching old town zoning records. It seems as if the town fathers in Meta like to rename and renumber streets all the time.  Only the Romano’s  tenacity helped me to find this place.

So my nonno went to sea. He signed on as a mozzo (a cabin boy). Fortunately, his seaman’s book is still in our family. The entries are handwritten in script that I can’t always read and understand. (Someday perhaps…) So far, I know he was promoted, learned great skills that he would use later in life and four languages besides his native Italian. From the log I can tell that he returned to and left Italy a good bit. Stamps in his book show that some of the places he went to were Greece, Liverpool, England, Marseilles, France, and Odessa, on the Black Sea. Can you imagine sending off your 12 year old son and for the next 19 years only seeing him periodically? And he comes back with stories of places he has been to and things he has seen. This is the view leaving the port of Naples that I am guessing is relatively unchanged even today.


He did not always leave from Naples. Meta, the town south of Naples, where he lived was at the time a fairly large port and had a ship building facility. Today it is not. It is a small town with a nice sandy beach and a bedroom community for surrounding towns like Sorrento.


Even though Sorrento and Positano have been popular tourist destinations since the late 1800s prosperity did not arrive until after World War II. Before that, a large number of people of all age groups emigrated from the area to the United States and South America. But our family name, a very common one still remains in the area.

From my nonno I think I have inherited my interest in other languages besides my native tongue. I do hold it against him that he did not allow Italian to be spoken in their house in America. My cousins have told me that he would scold my grandmother (nonna) if he caught her chatting with her friends in Italian (after they moved to America). He would say “We are Americans now, we will speak American”. (Italian men do so love to declare, dictate and proclaim, don’t they?) So my father never really spoke Italian. He never passed that on to me.

I also know, that from my nonno, the spirit of travel and adventure passed directly to my father and then to me. My passport is never locked up in a safety deposit box. I like to have it near me so if the opportunity to travel arises I can just go. And I have a very cooperative and loving husband. After I finally got my Italian citizenship he didn’t mind when I packed us up and moved us to Italy.

Recently, I was part of a conversation about ‘how many folks knew the name of a cousin of one of the their grandparents.’  On my mother’s side of the family I could say that I knew the name and I have a picture of the woman, sitting with my great grandmother (and her chickens!).  On my father’s side, I don’t even know the names of all his brothers and sisters.  And as his children die that information will be lost or much harder to find.  The point that I took from this discussion was that in a very short period of time this knowledge of family is lost.

Now I am climbing on my soapbox.  The story of my grandparents’ migration is because of choices that they made, a story of a fairly easy journey with a very happy outcome.  Everyday, here in Europe, we see stories of families being forced to flee because of war.  Their journey is not easy.  Their greeting is not with open arms.  Time will tell how their migrations will end.  Time will tell how many of them will remember or know the name of their own cousin, much less the names of previous generations.  I urge everyone of you reading this to examine your attitudes and thoughts about the current migrant crisis.  Do some research and remember how America was built on the backs of immigrants.  Immigrants who just might have been your relatives.  Remember the ‘Golden Rule’ that many of us learned as a child.  Wonder that if your ancestor had not have made a migration you might be not be enjoying the freedoms and comforts that you have now.

I’m off my soapbox now.  Little by little, with research, the help of friends and the memories of my family I learn about my grandparents. On Wednesday or when ever you think about it, please raise a glass of wine or a mug of coffee to my nonno and nonna who had the spirit and sense of adventure to try something different and create a new life for themselves. Most Americans have ancestors that emigrated. I have been lucky enough to be able to trace mine and fill in some of the blanks. If you have any interest in your own background you should try it.  You learn about the past and look what it led to for us.

Buon Compleanno Nonno!  And thank you from all of my heart!

late february 2016 026

The Grandparents in the late 1940s.

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Although Elizabetta was not our cat, Ben and I both still mourn her death.  She died at home, Covivole,  peacefully on Tuesday, December 27, 2016 with John and Richard by her side.


Elizabetta first came into our lives on our very first morning in Tuscany, in September, 2007.  Siena, (the Lucky Dog, who moved with us to Tuscany) and I opened the door to the terrace and there sat Elizabetta.  “Hey, how you doing?  I live here!  Are John and Richard here?”  Siena, who could be very snooty, snotty and snobby leveled one of her deadly stares at me as if to say  “A CAT?????? No one said anything about A CAT!!!!!  MAKE IT GO AWAY!  I’ll start barking soon.”   I suggested that Siena just wait quietly while I discussed things with this cat.  So, I had a firm discussion with an unknown black cat.  Suggesting that she find somewhere else to hang out.  She wandered off.  Siena and I continued on with our lives.  I emailed John and Richard.  No, they knew nothing about a cat.  I emailed the woman who had rented before us.  No, she knew nothing about a cat.  I asked Ida, (our neighbor then and again years later).  No, she knew nothing about a cat.   The unknown black cat would appear every now and then but made no further attempts to join our happy home.   Siena was happy that the matter had been settled to her satisfaction.

Fast forward a few years.  It is spring and Richard is there, making his once every few months visit, to prune the garden or help out however we needed it.  Up strolls the unknown black cat.  Tears are streaming down Richard’s face.  “This is our cat!  This is Elizabetta”   “Well, this is the cat that I asked you about when we first moved in”  I replied.  “the one that no one knew anything about.”  Then Richard went on to explain that when the woman who lived there before us moved, she took Elizabetta to other friends who lived about 40 miles away.  Elizabetta stayed there a while and then disappeared.  Since it was 40 miles away John and Richard never considered that Elizabetta could have made the journey back.  That is why they had denied all knowledge of a cat.  Of course, I immediately felt bad that Elizabetta had shown up at her home only to be greeted by a DOG! And to have it suggested to her, to hit the road, after having traveled 40 miles through the hilly Tuscan countryside.   Ben and I agreed that we would look out for Elizabetta from then on.  And we did.

Richard also explained that Elizabetta and her brother Max had come to them as tiny kittens from Sorrento.  From the property where Richard occasionally consulted and decorated.  The property that Richard and I believe that my grandmother lived on.

Elizabetta was very independent.  Often disappearing for weeks at a time as other families would return for the season to their nearby properties.  She must have developed a real network and regularly checked on various properties to see who was there.  (I guess if we had equipped her with a body cam we could have rented her out as a ‘security patrol’.)

I stopped worrying about Elizabetta eating regularly one summer day when I saw her hunting skills.  I was sitting on the terrace and heard a rustling sound in the bushes.  I went over to look and there is Elizabetta bent over a carcass like a lion over its kill, ripping it a part, a bit of the poor animal’s tail hanging from her mouth.  I just backed away and left her to it.  An hour or two later more rustling occurred and another little animal met its fate.  Then finally Elizabetta waddled across the terrace.  Her stomach so full it was swinging and almost grazing the ground as she walked.  I knew then that if she showed up at the door and asked for food I should have something to give her.  Otherwise, she could manage just fine, thank you.

Elizabetta was very social.  Always greeting any guests that we had.   The summer that Chino, the cat of George and Jules, stayed with us, she made every effort to hang out with him.  Chino, was British and since he did not know Elizabetta’s family would only give her a passing nod.  He liked to flaunt that he could figure out how to open the screen and come into the house and Elizabetta could not.  I suspect that Elizabetta could but just didn’t want to.  When Nerone arrived, I swear, Elizabetta got her ‘dog language’ tapes and brushed up.  She would sit on the table, look directly at him and out would come this very soft, refined “arf”.  Well, we all know Nerone would have nothing to do with a cat.  And was very worried when either Ben or I would do something with her.  So even though Elizabetta made an effort, Nerone would have nothing to do with it.


This December,  staying at Covivole,  as our time in Tuscany came to an end,  Elizabetta was with us almost every night.  Enjoying the fire, having dinner with us, sleeping on the bed with us.  She had a very visible tumor.  We knew we might not see her again.  And now she is gone.  Buried next to her brother, Maximillian who died very young.  Next to the ‘Lucky Dog’ Siena and Nerone, the ‘Good Dog’.   Having her there with us helped complete the circle of our time in Italy.  She had been there to greet us on our first morning and years later she was there seeing us off on our last morning in Tuscany.  She will be missed by many and thought of fondly.