November 2001. Ten years had passed since my mother’s death.
During those ten long years I had not yet opened the trunk where she had stored part of my trousseau, the antiques, handed down by the women of our family.
That morning I let myself be carried away by nostalgia and I thought it best to “air” my grandmother’s underwear.
I lifted the heavy lid and the first thing I saw was a painted wooden box. I took it and held it tightly in my hands. It was very beautiful, it had the dry, soft smell of cedar wood, but I had no idea what it contained.
I placed the box on the grey marble of the dressing table, lifted the lid and under a sheet of blue tissue paper, quite discoloured, I saw some letters tied with a tricolour satin ribbon, two pocket handkerchiefs, a fountain pen and a photo of a tombstone funerary in marble engraved with the surname of my mother’s family.
I held the letters in my hands and a myriad of thoughts crossed my mind.
I finally found the courage to open and read the letters.
I was tense, curious and excited. I immediately went to look at the sender’s signature.
The signer was my mom’s brother, that beloved brother born, lived and died in NY, whom she had never known.
I only read one letter, and not all of it, I felt like an intruder.
After having bound it, I put the package in one of the drawers of my bedside table where I already kept, religiously preserved, some small objects that belonged to my parents and uncles.
That day, a strong desire arose within me to know more about my uncle and about everything that had happened in America after my grandfather left. I immediately went to get an old album where Mom had collected her family photos.
I sat down, looked at them carefully, one by one. What was I looking for? What was I hoping for?
On their faces, in their smiles and in their eyes I was looking for help to unravel my doubts, but above all I was looking for family.
Those letters told me that there were other roots of my mom’s family across the ocean. After consulting some documents, I went in search of my uncle’s executors.
A meticulous work that vanished when I learned that these people had all been deceased for some years. Disappointment and bitterness did not make me give up, I had to continue the search.
I felt a strong call to those American roots.
One hot morning in late June, I accidentally found myself passing near the home of my friend Lina and decided to visit her, but she was not at home. An elderly neighbour suggested looking for her in the next building:
– Lucia has arrived from America, Lina is at her house.
At the American’s home I received an affectionate welcome, I knew everyone except Lucia because she had always lived in NY. After about ten minutes Lucia turns to me:
Do you know that your American relatives came looking for you and were told that none of you were alive anymore?
On hearing that sentence I snapped indignantly.
–What? All dead? Who was this idiot?
Lucia’s sister immediately intervened:
– You must not be angry with us, the civil status clerk made the mistake. You don’t live here and that poor fellow was referring to your uncles, who are all actually dead.
– I have the impression that you know many things. I have been looking for my relatives in America for years, but I have not been able to find them. Can you help me?
The two sisters and Lina in chorus nodded. Giovanna spoke for everyone:
– Lucia and I met your cousins a month before returning, they were very sorry not to have found you. Your cousin Paul is our NY doctor.
– Tell me about them, how many they are, what they are called, where do they live …
Giovanna spoke again:
– There are three Maria, Paul and Joseph and they are doctors like their father, two live in NY, one in Atlanta They are looking for you. We give you Paul’s phone number so you can talk to him. Do you speak American?
– No, but I know what to do!
I left that house with my head throbbing, I immediately got into the car. I wanted to share with my husband and my daughters what I had found out and how happy I was.
On the way to the countryside I thought about how strange fate was, I had been looking for my relatives for years, they had searched for us without finding us and now I have a telephone number with which I can communicate with them.
I don’t speak English and I asked a friend of mine who was born and raised in London for help. That same evening we called NY. Hearing my cousin Paul’s voice saying my name, and asking me how I was, thrilled me so much and I burst into tears.
I was happy to have found the remaining roots of the family. After that phone call, with my cousins overseas, an intense correspondence relationship began. One afternoon an international phone call came.
– Hi, I’m Virginia, your cousin and I’m calling from NY.
Once again I felt the same great thrill in hearing someone from my distant family.
One day I received an updated family tree from my cousin Paul with all our names. Finding ourselves again aroused in us a strong desire to meet.
Life often gives joys, but it sets the times with its own calendar, and it still hadn’t written that day. In recent years, beautiful events, but above all, not so beautiful, have prevented this from happening, but they have certainly fortified our roots ‘far away, but always close in heart’.
Virginia, Paul and Joseph (Maria left us a few years ago) are my distant family. We are linked by the roots of our ancestors and I very much hope that these roots can fly high and finally we can meet.