Photo taken while visiting Great Aunt Italia in Agropoli, Summer of 1976. When I look at it I think of Great Grandmother Emilia.
In January of 2015 I spent time in recollection of the trip to Italy I made with my maternal Grandparents in 1976. Combined with reflections on the life of my Great Grandmother Emilia, I decided to express the resulting thoughts in the form of three letters to her. This posting consists of the first letter.
Emilia Pappalardo Serrapede was the wife of Gennaro Serrapede. She was my maternal Great Grandmother.
Great Aunt Italia: Daughter of Emilia and Gennaro. Mother of Cousin Italia. Sister of Grandpa Sam.
Cousin Italia: Daughter of Great Aunt Italia. Niece of Grandpa Sam. Wife of Antonio. Mother of Stefania. She is my First Cousin 1X Removed.
Great Aunt Filomena: Emilia’s oldest child and the favorite sister of Grandpa Sam.
Grandpa Sam (Sabato): Son of Emilia and Gennaro. Brother of Great Aunts Filomena and Italia. My maternal Grandfather.
Grandma Josie: My maternal Grandmother.
Uncle Sammy (Sabbatino): Son of Grandpa Sam and Grandma Josie. My maternal Uncle.
The First Letter
January 5, 2015
Cold, dark and very quiet.
Dearest Great Grandmother Emilia,
When Grandpa Sam introduced me to Great Aunt Italia, Grandma Josie told me, “Give her a big hug and a kiss!” I was greeted in return by a very warm embrace, a kiss, and an exclamation of “Bella!” I liked Great Aunt Italia’s enthusiasm as she showed us around her apartment. The table was already set for afternoon lunch and in no time we were enjoying a tasty seafood meal.
I do not know if the apartment building Great Aunt Italia lived in is still there but deep down I hope it is. We had to climb two or three flights of stairs to reach Italia’s apartment. The view from her dining room overlooked the foot of the ancient stairway leading up the mountain to the Byzantine Gate. Grandpa Sam told me that the New Town, which was the term he used for Modern Agropoli, stopped right at the building where Italia lived.
Great Aunt Italia was something of a star in that building because her daughter and son-in-law paid a contractor to have the plumbing installed that brought running water into the apartment. The bathroom remained a shared convenience on each floor, however. So I never felt I was completely in Old Agropoli or modern Agropoli. For me, it was a place between the worlds.
As I think about Great Aunt Italia and Cousin Italia, I hope to draw a little closer to you. Although I met Great Aunt Filomena when I was a child I do not have vivid recollections of her.
Grandma Josie told me you were one of a kind. Grandpa Sabato never spoke directly about you except a few months before he passed away. He used to tell Uncle Sammy that he saw you standing quietly as if you were waiting for him.
My parents always told me that one can gain insights into who a mother is by observing her daughter and vice-versa. Since this is the only route I have available for drawing closer to you I will reflect on these memories and see what they yield.
Your Great Granddaughter in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, NY