My grandmother Angeline was born in central Sicily, in a small village with the beautiful name “Villarosa.”
In 1910, at age 8, she emigrated from Sicily to America with her own grandmother, got married at age 16, quickly had five bambinos, and was widowed at 30. She later remarried and had a good life, but she never got to see Villarosa again.
Here she is at about age 30 (I’m guessing).
I liked going to Grandma’s house. She always seemed cheerful, and she served us plenty of macaroni, ice cream, and raspberries, saying the word “mangia” practically as soon as we’d walked through her door. Her house was decorated with colorful starched doilies that she’d crocheted herself. I wonder if she crocheted the collar in the above photo. I have a special memory of the two of us sitting in a summer garden next to some pansies while she taught me to crochet.
Although Grandma never talked about her childhood (probably because I never asked), I’d always wondered what Villarosa was like. About a month ago, I finally got to see it for myself.
I’d signed up for a 5-day Italian language immersion program in Taormina, Sicily, mainly so I could learn about my Sicilian roots and visit Villarosa. Luckily, our group leader and two other students also were interested in seeing more of Sicily, so we rented a car on day 6 and headed for my grandmother’s home town.
Villarosa (pop. 4,824) is on the outskirts of Enna. The two cities couldn’t appear more different. Enna (left), seen from a distance, was a glittering city on a hill, while Villarosa (right) was its poor, dusty cousin. But Villarosa, as it turned out, was AMAZING.
I’d Googled “Villarosa” the day before we set out and learned a surprising fact: It’s kind of well known for its man-made lake, a popular fishing destination. And the man-made lake was the result of the building of Ferrara Dam. OMG, I thought. Grandma’s maiden name is Ferrara!
Here’s the dam, the lake, and me:
After parking in town, we looked around, hoping to find a place for lunch. Directly across from our car there was a restaurant, complete with group of Italian men deep in conversation. It looked like something out of a movie. Then I noticed the sign above the doors: F.lli Ferrara (Ferrara Bros.). And on the doors, the initials “LB.” Grandma’s maiden name, and my initials!
We didn’t want to interrupt the men (OK, maybe we did feel a little intimidated) so we walked on down the block. Seeing a small, elderly man nearby, one of our group asked (in her newly-learned basic Italian) where we could eat. The man pointed down the street and rattled off directions in Italian. Then, probably realizing we didn’t capice, he escorted us all the way to tiny “Casa Mia.” It wasn’t open yet, but they welcomed us in. No one who worked in the restaurant spoke English. I ordered bruschetta and risotto (in Italian).
Suddenly, a family of about 20 people entered. It was an 80th birthday party! We smiled and nodded at them. A woman (angel?) from their group approached our table and asked (in English!) what had brought us to Villarosa.
“My grandma’s from Villarosa,” I said. “I was hoping I might find some family here.”
“I’m an interpreter!” she said, handing me her business card. “I can help you.”
After I provided my Grandma’s name, and what I was pretty sure were Grandma’s parents’ names, she made a few phone calls, and within an hour I was sitting across the table from Gaetano Ferrara, owner of the Ferrara Bros. restaurant that we’d seen before lunch. His grandfather and my great-grandfather shared the same first and last names. It’s possible we’re cousins.
Gaetano spoke no English, but, with the help of the interpreter, I was able to ascertain that his brother, Pietro, owned a gelato/cannoli shop in town, and would be there at his shop to meet us! Mamma mia! It doesn’t get much better than that. But then it did. On our way out of the restaurant, the owner treated us all to shots of grappa and limoncello, on the house.
When I learned that the limoncello was homemade, I asked if they’d be willing to share the recipe … and they did. And yes, that alcohol is 90-proof.
The hospitality didn’t end there. When we got to Pietro’s store, we were all treated to free gelato and cannoli. Here I am with Pietro Ferrara, another possible member of my family tree.
After returning home, I discovered that Ferrara is a common name in that part of the world, so I’m not sure if Gaetano and Pietro are my cousins, but it doesn’t matter. It was an amazing trip, one I’ll never forget. I’m so happy to know that my roots include such a warm and welcoming town. And I’m still in touch with that lovely interpreter, who has offered to translate a letter for me so I can get in touch with the folks at the Villarosa town hall to learn more about my relatives.
For now, ciao until next time!
P.S. This is my first post for the 30-day November blogging challenge known as NanoPoblano2019. Our challenge is to write for 10 days, read others’ posts for 10 days, and share our posts on other blog sites for 10 days.
Please click this NanoPoblano2019 link and read some of the wonderful posts from other members of our little writing group.