Chapter 1 – Finding The Key

The door to my Grandfather’s house

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Many things
have changed my life.
They affected what I did
from that point forward.

Only a very few people
and even fewer events
have changed my past,
changed the way in which
I perceive myself.

Italy, the place of
my father’s birth,
was one.

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The Imbrogno Family Farm in Calabria

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It took one generation of olive trees,
a dozen generations of fig trees,
hundreds of generations of fennel
and at least four generations of Italians
to bring me here.
I have always known
that my roots were in this soil
but, I never knew how deep.

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On the hill overlooking the family farm

 

 

 

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As idyllic as this land seems,
it is a fierce task master.
Generations of Italians

and, of my family
have entered into partnership
with the land.

Some did so by choice,
some by legacy.
Some knew what would be demanded of them,
some found out by hard experience
that this beautiful land
demands total and absolute commitment to it
if you wish to live with and from it.

It may not seem so
on a soft spring day,
with the smell of wild fennel
permeating the air but,
to seek survival so close to this soil
is a life and death struggle.

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A Christmas gathering in my grandparent’s basement

The men
born into this struggle
both grew strong and,
became damaged by it.

They became the task masters
to their sons, daughters and wives
that the land was to them.

This explains many things
about my father, my grandfather,
and me.

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Great grandpa Napoli’s passport

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The struggle of this demanding relationship with the land
and, within the families that worked it|
went on for hundreds of years.

Then, my family and, thousands like them,
were driven off by economics, politics and,
an impartial landscape
which could do nothing on its own
to prevent this from happening.

My grandfather, Eugenio,
immigrated first in 1929.
My grandmother, Caterina,
with sons Louie, Eduardo
and Dulio, my father,
followed four years later.

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The seashore at Paola

We often heard my grandmother talk longingly
about vacations at the seashore.
It was a day’s donkey-cart ride away.
We visited the seashore
and understood
her love for that place.

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A storm looms over the Tyranean Sea

But unexpectedly,
her beloved seashore
became a daunting sea,
thousands of miles of it,
which had to be crossed,
… alone,
her first time away from home,
with three young children,
in the belly of a ship.

It wasn’t only the men
who grew strong
from their relationship
with the land.

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Then,
the mountains
were gone.

The sea
was replaced
by Lake Erie.

The village
became a suburb.

And they settled
in Lorain, Ohio,
just west of Cleveland.

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My Grandfather at his gas station, 12:50 in the afternoon

Just west of Cleveland,
in Lorain, Ohio …
that is where our family’s
ancient bargain with the land
came to an end.

At the age of four,
my father had become
the first generation to be free
from the old legacy,
free to find his own path.

But no one ever told him.
My grandfather couldn’t tell him.
He didn’t know himself.

The ancient lessons
my grandfather learned as a boy
immigrated  to America with him.

They were needed
to build a new life,
first working at the steel mill
and later,
starting his own gas station
which he and his sons built
with their own hands.

The legacy
of almost blind determination
planted in him by his father
and his father’s father before,
was transplanted to his new life
in America and,
into his children.

So, despite the chance to find his own path,
despite his hidden gentler side,
for my father,
the old legacy
was quietly replaced with the new,
and life went on.

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My father, alone, on a bench, at my sister’s house

That is how my father’s legacy came to be.
Like my grandfather,
he too gave all of his time,
in fact his entire life,
to his family and to his work.

It was just like the old country
but without the land.

He took no time for himself,
not for friends, not for hobbies,
not even to find some occasional respite
from the burdens of his present, and of his past.

It was a noble loneliness for him
and often, for those close to him.

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The Imbrogno family gas station, in Lorain Ohio


Thus too, my legacy came to be.
I enjoyed the richness of having grown up
with that incredibly strong generation
With a foot in both worlds.

But in return there was a price.
I had to share their wounds.
As with previous generations,
the task master was passed on again
… this time to me.

Although,
as with previous generations,
every time it is passed on,
it is passed on a little more gently.

I always knew,
but now,
standing here
in front of my grandfather’s house,
I better understand where our legacy came from.

My father left before he could remember this place.
I am just now finding it,
hoping desperately
that it is not too late
for both of us
to come to terms
with our present
and our past.

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The Key to my Grandfather’s house

So here I stand,
in front of my grandfather’s house,
reaching deep inside,
growing roots.
Suddenly I feel something solid
in the soft earth below my feet.
I dig and find an old key,
six inches long,
over half of its diameter rusted away.
In one more generation
the rust would have consumed it.
It is the key to my grandfather’s house.
So I grab it
and realize
it is not too late.

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The End of Chapter One _________________________________


Now please …

Proceed to Chapter 2,
“Exploring the House,”
by clicking on the keyhole,



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or you can …

 

GO BACK OR FORWARD A CHAPTER …

 Chapter 1 – Finding the Key

Chapter 2 – Exploring the House

Chapter 3 – The House Goes Dark

Final Chapter, Which Way Home? 

 

7 Comments

  1. What an enticing introduction! I’m looking forward to reading Chapter 2 later today. The act of faith these immigrants made was (and is) astounding–faith that something will be there for them and faith they can make something more.

  2. What an enticing introduction! I’m looking forward to reading Chapter 2 later today. The act of faith these immigrants made was (and is) astounding–faith that something will be there for them and faith they can make something more.

  3. Amazing articulation of a beautiful story

  4. I really enjoyed your story. I correspond with Loretta regularly.
    I know many of your family dating back to Michele & Pete Napoli who
    lived a few houses from me in Cleveland. I am sorry to hear of Ed’s
    passing.

  5. I’ve just read you and am so touched by your words.

  6. David, I’ve always been warmed and comforted by your touching recollections. Thank you for sharing these precious memories with the world. They are a treasured heirloom.

  7. I loved seeing photos of your father and the Lorain gas station. In some small part of my mind/memory I remember the place. Could it be?

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