Monday, April 30, 2018

Moving to Italy: Goodbye to Gabi

As we packed our suitcases in April, the hazelnut trees by the driveway were beginning to leaf. George had pruned them short and healthy, but no one would bother with them for years to come, and they would grow high and thick, blocking the second story windows and my favorite view. 

I wandered the rooms on our last few days, fixing images in my memory: our spacious bedroom with the weird king bed and the mirrored wardrobe; our balcony where I had stepped out on that long ago early morning seeing for the first time the courtyard and valley that would become so familiar. I moved past the twin beds and two cribs for the children, and onto the balcony off their bedroom where they had played. As I walked I noted the dark, red tile beneath my feet, the pattern softened from years of use, still fading to pale pink dust. I passed the couch, rocking chair, and carpet that had made up our living room. We would have to leave them all behind.

I looked up at the tall double windows—clean in their fresh, smooth, ivory paint—and traced with my finger the deep groove on the left window that mated with the tongue on the right. Resting outside were the light green window shutters that I had opened each morning and closed each evening. The paint on all the windows and doors and shutters would soften then peel as the years passed and there was no one in the house to notice.

And of course I gazed through those windows at the freshly planted fields and leafing vineyards, the green hills that surrounded us, and the village below, a view that had been so much a part of my background at Gabi, one that is fixed in my memory.  On the last day, just before we snapped the catches on the suitcases, I basked in that view one final time as the morning sun lit up the bright, white peaks of the Swiss Alps. I watched the light spread slowly over the pale green fields of Valle Cerrina until it banished the dark shadows over the long, winding, gravel road that leads up to Gabi.  

 In a little while we would pack our car and drive down that road. The mists had lifted; the way was clear. We would travel back to the United States of America to rebuild our life once more in the country we had abandoned, near the family we had left behind. The future held far greater tragedy and greater happiness than we had known thus far, but it would be faced from the firm foundation of a place where we belonged, a place we could call home.  
The children back in Burbank

My sister beside me, my in-laws, aunt and cousins at Jennifer's christening

NOTE: The story of our time in Italy starts with "Arrival" on the June 26, 2017 blog post.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Moving to Italy: Packing Up

During our time in Italy I had changed. From longing vaguely for a better life, I evolved to planning for a successful one. Clean air suddenly didn’t seem as important as adequate medical care, and a peaceful environment wasn’t as attractive without people to talk to. For me, the hateful rhetoric we had fled in California had been replaced by mostly unintelligible sounds in Italy, and in the end, that wasn’t good enough. Better the ability to answer the screaming epithets, than to stand confused and mute. In Italy I learned that I needed to connect with others, to feel part of a community. I could not survive without people. In working to make a life at Gabi I realized I had a strong will and that, like my mother, I could experience many setbacks and yet still endure. This realization was part of the slow journey to maturity that had begun with my mother’s death. As I looked back on our time at Gabi, I saw clearly that we needed to stand alone as a family, to support ourselves, and to make our own decisions. We couldn’t do that in Italy where we were so dependent on my in-laws. 

Everything seemed to happen quickly. In January we talked to my sister, in February we had the flu, and in March we booked our flight. George and the children were U. S. citizens, but I still held a green card, and that meant I had to return to the United States within one year of leaving. Since we had left in mid-May, we arranged to fly back in late April (with a stop in Toronto to visit with my brother Michael). George’s parents would follow us later that summer.

In March, we pulled our trunks down from the attic, and I began to pack. In them I placed belongings from my old life, as well as from the new. My sewing machine went next to our new Italian movie projector; my mother’s family photographs nestled beneath our blankets along with the photos from Gabi; and I packed as many of the children’s new toys as I could fit. (I couldn’t ask them to give them all up again, as I had when we left California.) When the trunks were packed, trucked off to Genoa, and loaded onto a ship, we began the process of saying goodbye.

While Margaret Ann and Matthew didn’t understand what was happening, Paul and James were excited about going back. They would see their Auntie again, they would get regular peanut butter, and they could watch T.V. Their friends in preschool envied their journey to America, and the nuns used it as an opportunity for a geography lesson, but the boys were too young to understand the consequences of their departure from the farm. They knew some of what they were going to, but they didn’t realize what they would give up. 
They would no longer be able to run down to the vineyards, or to the orchard, or to pet the dogs. They couldn't drop in on a whim to visit their uncles. They wouldn’t be there to greet Simona when she arrived for her summer stay. They would not be around to ride in the newly-harvested hay, and Zio Silvio would have to drive across the courtyard in his tractor by himself. The uncles would drink the remaining wine in our barrels, but no one would crush freshly-picked grapes for those barrels that fall. We would say goodbye to Zio Remo, who would die the following year. And say goodbye to Zio Silvio, who would be fifteen years older next time we saw him.  

NOTE: The story of our time in Italy starts with "Arrival" on the June 26, 2017 blog post.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Moving to Italy: The Decision

We decided to try, once more, to find a way to integrate into American society because it was where we felt most at ease. We had criticized the culture, but it had formed much of our outlook. England would always be “home” to me in the same way that our parents’ house is home, but I could never return there to live because I didn’t belong anymore. Canada was a brief but pleasant interval in my childhood, but I didn’t belong there either. More than anywhere else, George and I realized that we both belonged in the United States of America. 

A nation, just like a person, is shaped by the small decisions that nudge it ever forward. If we didn’t like the shape of our country, if we wanted to change the direction of those decisions, then we realized we had to take responsibility for helping to make them. We would speak up when saw something wrong, vote for representatives to make laws we could support, and contribute in some way to the people in our community—through our neighbors, our church, and our schools. A nation, like a family member, has faults. If we were to live in peace in the U.S. we knew we would have to forgive its transgressions and learn how to live with those faults. We might get angry at times, but we could not pretend any more to be above it all, to stand back and criticize and complain about conditions we found without doing anything. We would, instead, sigh our exasperated sighs, then analyze how to make things better.  

We had tried to create a new life in Italy and we did not succeed, but many good things came of our efforts. We had exposed our children to the customs of their ancestors, reconnected them to their relatives, and we had enabled them to forge a link with children of the community.  All of this would stay with them and help shape the way they viewed other countries and other people in the world. We had met Italians who were kind, who were generous, and who were just as hard-working and driven as people anywhere else. They were thriving in their own environment, but we just didn’t fit. Even though we took a chance on a new way of life and failed, I don’t regret for one moment the time we spent there. It opened my heart and my mind to another culture, it provided the clean air and the peace that we needed, and it was an essential component in my personal growth.

NOTE: The story of our move to Italy starts with "Arrival" on the June 26, 2017 blog post.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Moving to Italy: The Bonds Weaken

The flu that winter shook us hard, and as we recovered we began to question seriously our decision to stay in Italy. Every question loosened our bonds to Gabi, and nudged us back toward California. 

After the phone call to my sister in January and the unsuccessful chicken-business interview, everything we tried seemed fruitless. When we recovered from the flu, George continued to look for work, but most of the jobs were translation or sales positions that might keep him out of the country for months at a time—not acceptable for us. We had not traveled all that way to have him disappear from our daily lives. Since George had lived most of his life in the States, he had a fluent, working knowledge of Italian, but not an educated one. One or two of the interviewers hinted that, although his English was excellent, his written Italian wasn’t good enough for a translation position anyway. This may have been one reason why he was never actually offered a translation job. 

More and more our thoughts turned to America. In addition to the convenience of living in a town or city close to medical care, we realized how many more options we had in California than in Italy.

Most importantly, with his university degree we were confident that George could find work far more easily in America. As for me, without Italian fluency, without a car, and without connections, there was no way I could get a job in Italy to help us survive. I knew I could find work in California doing something, anything, to help us earn money to put us back on our feet. And my mother-in-law could baby-sit. (I was still not facing reality completely. At Gabi, Rina had been reluctant to watch the children even for a quick afternoon outing. I don’t know why I thought she’d baby-sit all day so I could work.) 

The children’s education was very important to us. If we spent so much effort to find the right preschool, I knew we would be even more concerned about the rest of their schooling. High school in Italy would mean a long bus ride to Casale each day, and college may not have been possible if our Italian income remained at subsistence level--which seemed to be the most we could hope for. In California, both George and I had been able to attend college, even though our parents were not rich. The opportunities for our children were even more important to us than the opportunities for George. The equations seemed simple: Italy—no university education; California—a chance at one. As the weeks progressed and we continued to add to the list all the conveniences and opportunities of California, the idea of moving back became more and more seductive.

NOTE: The story of our move to Italy starts with "Arrival" on the June 26, 2017 blog post.