Monday, August 22, 2005

Ciao Cugini!

Published August 22, 2005

JD’s mom is a pure blooded Italian. Mama Rose brought her into the world the same day that Gladys Presley gave the world a baby named Elvis. Rose Martorella and Giuseppi Luzzi had two children and raised them to be the wonderful adults I call MoMaher and Uncle A. My mother in law grew up in Santa Cruz amongst a very loving Italian family, one that passed along wonderful traditions to her so that those traditions could become a part of our family. Our family has grown so much since 1990. I know her parents are smiling down from heaven because of it. The bridge that was built to Italy from America had sorrow, courage and a letter attached to it.

When Mama Rose passed away in 1990, I thought my mother in law would never recover from the loss of her mother. Since Nono had died in the 60’s, she was truly the link MoMaher had to her Italian roots.

With constant encouragement and prompting from a few of us kids, we implored MoMaher to try to find her relatives in Italy. Her father came from a large family in the Northern Italian Alps from a village called Talamona. Although her father and one of his brothers immigrated to the United States in the early 20’s, there were cousins still there in the village and other parts of Italy that she had heard about but never knew. If ever there was a time to build a bridge to the family, we knew that this was the time. Death has a way of reminding us all how precious time is.

One letter led to another and within a year, MoMaher was off to meet her Italian family. The welcome reception she received was something one would see in one of those sappy reunion movies. Relatives came out of the woodwork to meet her. Over the coming years since that first visit, she has made return trips to Italy with JD, his brother and me in tow to experience a la familia usually because of a huge family wedding. These cousins are jewels in the family crown. The heart of my mother in law is transfused with new life every time she encounters them. It warms my heart to know that they are there for her and she for them after all these years of separation. Her father never returned home after he left, probably because of the depression and the high cost of passage. He was a hard worker and a family man. His daughter would the build the bridge that he was unable to cross.

Over the last three weeks, four of the cousins (cugini) came to the USA for their first transatlantic visit. They saw California and Nevada through the eyes of their American cousins. Their trip consisted of a rather large family reunion of JD’s immediate family, as well as the American Italians and Italy cousins. Everyone in JD’s family is referred to by their Italian names (Tomasso, Patrizio, Giovanni, Giacomo, Adriano, Leonardo, Eduardo). We ate so much food! Pasta, amaro, limoncello, roasted vegetables, tiramisu and so much more filled our stomachs day and night. Our cousin Lenny from Seattle brought his accordion down and played for us all those great Italian café hits that get the whole family celebrating in song. Parlor games, late nights and bocci ball filled our days. Not a whole lot of conversation was lost in translation. The language we spoke was singularly the language of long lost family. Most Italians speak with their hands, but my husband’s family speaks with their heart.

MoMaher, JD and I took the cousins to the airport Sunday. We spent two hours saying our hearfelt goodbyes “Ciao Cugini – kiss kiss”. For three weeks our MoMaher had her family from two continents surrounding her. It’s been a few days since we’ve all been able to stop our Italian responses to each other (si, grazie, prego, etc). MoMaher has plans to return next year in April for Pasquetta (Eastertide). This time she will bring Tomasso, my brother in law, to meet his Italian cugini in Lake Como and Talamona. No doubt, Nono Giuseppi is smiling somewhere from heaven.

Tammy Maher is a resident of El Dorado Hills and bi-weekly columnist for the Mountain Democrat. You can reach her at

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