Because my mother, Jean explained just how passionately her mother, Anna D’Angelo conveyed life in Castellammare del Golfo, from then on Sicily sounded utopian to me. Jean heard Anna’s reminiscing during the Great Depression inside an Upper Manhattan tenement apartment on 111th Street shared with six other siblings. When winter became unbearable, Anna warmed bricks in the kitchen oven before placing them in her kid’s beds so they wouldn’t turn into icicles overnight.
Anna arrived Ellis Island in 1917, a year following my grandfather’s arrival. Seeking any American opportunity twelve years later upon the 1929 crisis must’ve had my grandparents feeling their decision to immigrate was futile. Nevertheless, Anna kept her family full on Italian bread and pasta, adding butter as a rare treat. From age five, Jean was comfy in those cramped quarters where family bonding drew close ties.
I presume shattered, my grandfather left Anna for hard liquor and fast women, alongside another heartache, my grandmother’s deep longing for Sicily. Anna sat youngest, Jean on her lap, speaking Sicilian saying, “You should see where I come from.” With welled up eyes, sixty-five years later, Jean told me Anna said, “The water is aquamarine, floors are made of marble, we ate off china and drank from cut crystal.”
I sold my newish Toyota Tercel in 1994 to help gift Jean her seventieth birthday present — a trip to Sicily. Specifically to see Castellammare del Golfo (our first visit) the very same town Anna tearfully waved goodbye to in 1917.