Reconnect with the ancestors in an ancient Italian village
My grandfather, Joseph Apruzzese, was born in 1893 and emigrated to America when he was 16. He would tell us stories of his village, on the hill overlooking the Adriatic Sea, called Vico del Gargano. His son Michel, my father, always regretted never having gone to Italy to see his father’s village.
A year after my father’s death, I came to Italy to see my daughter, who had moved to near Genoa two years ago with her Italian husband. Aided by his fluency in Italian and shifting gears, we drove the winding road of the coastal highway, off the typical tourist trail, into the rolling hills of the Gargano mountains. Vico, located in Puglia on the spur of the Italian boot, is famous for its production of olive oil and is believed to have been founded in the 900s. Vico is nicknamed the “village of love” because its patron saint is Saint Valentine, which was chosen to protect citrus groves during the winter month of February.
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Words cannot express the feeling of being in my grandfather’s old village.
I wore my father’s favorite hat and felt his spirit with me as I walked along the winding cobblestone streets of my grandfather’s hometown. I wanted to soak up the feeling of history, tradition and heritage.
The old town, from the outside, looked the same as when my grandfather lived there. Inside the castle’s stone walls, the buildings have retained their historic integrity on the outside with modern renovations inside. Most have been converted into private residences or bed and breakfasts. Cafes, shops and churches line the narrow streets.
I found the small apartment where my grandfather was born and imagined his parents and their three sons, Giuseppe, Vincenzo and Pasquale, living in the probable one-bedroom apartment. I lit candles for my father and grandfather in the 14th century church where we thought my grandfather was baptized. I walked down the hill to the old spring-fed fountain surrounded by woods. I ran my fingers over the tiles of the well where my great-grandmother washed the laundry.
Coincidence or universal synchronicity, it was the feast of Saint Michael, my father’s name. It was very moving to imagine my grandfather as a boy, perhaps walking in the religious procession through the streets of the old town where I was walking now. The inexplicable energy to bring my father’s spirit back to its roots on his namesake’s feast day could not be denied.
It was not my first visit to Vico. Years ago I had reconnected with cousins in the area. This visit was rather an opportunity to go back in time with my father and my grandfather. I slowed down and absorbed the vibe of just being there. I wrote down my feelings in a journal and remembered my grandfather and the stories he used to tell. I showed my dad (via his hat) the places his dad had walked and played in the days before he came to America with a borrowed $50 in his pocket.
Grandfather had worked in the coal mines, served in World War I, then became a plasterer in Cleveland, where he met my Sicilian grandmother, and my father and aunt were born. Later, the family moved to the valley outside Los Angeles, where Grandfather built a ranch of fig, plum and olive trees. It was my first house. In Vico, looking out over the olive groves to the sea, inhaling the scent of citrus fruits and hearing the language of my ancestors, I felt a return to my roots.