No matter how hard I tried, I could not for the life of me find an Italian long-lost ancestor to claim as an olive branch on my family tree. Lots of good folks, but not one, single Italian.
But this trip does entail a journey to a homeland; to a small town of about 3,000 inhabitants named Chiusa Scalfani, perched on the hills of north-west Sicily . Not much of note happens there as the residents make a simple life in agriculture and textiles; however, it looms monumental in the mind of a certain pilgrim, of sorts, accompanying us on this trip. Let me briefly tell you the background story of our 84 year old friend, Salvatore Vetrano...
Sal's father, Salvatore Theodore Vetrano, entered the world via Chisua Scalfani just one year shy of the advent of the twentieth century - the year 1899. Sharing a similar story with all those who seek a new life in the Land of Opportunity, one by one the Vetrano family made way to America, greeted by the upheld torch of Lady Liberty standing watch over the portal of Ellis Island.
Young Salvatore made the journey at age 11, accompanied by his mother, Concetta, and joined his father who'd already made a home for them in Brooklyn, New York. The entire family was reunited by the year 1910 and began their transition to the American way of life.
At the outbreak of World War I, 17 year old Salvatore enlisted as an Army infantry man, which would afford him instant U.S. citizenship. After surviving a tour of duty in France, he found himself finishing out his time with U.S. troops occupying Germany.
Assigned as an assistant to an officer, Salvatore found himself as chief dog walker. Fulfilling his duties, however, brought much more than just a satisfied pup: it lead him to his future wife, a beautiful young German fraulein by the name of Evelyn.
Young Evelyn spoke 7 languages, so the chance meeting lead to conversation in Italian, and dare we say "love at first sight". Obviously a woman who knew what she wanted, Evelyn proposed and 3 (three!!) days later, she and Salvatore became man and wife before boarding a ship back to New York. Those kids!
This "puppy love" encounter that afternoon in the park marked the beginnings of 71 years of marriage, 5 children (of 13 pregnancies), and many subsequent generations of proud Americans. Evelyn Vetrano lived to oversee many of those generations, marking 109 years of a full life in the United States.
Fast forward to today: our 84 year old friend Sal and his wonderful wife Winnie are embarking on their first voyage, albeit riding on air currents, to the homeland of the Vetranos, the village of Chiusa Scalfani. As Sal excitedly puts it, "Won't it be great to see the streets where my Dad walked as a boy, to see the town church where he went, and maybe even find some relatives still there!"
No doubt, it will most certainly be great! And Marty and I are so thrilled to be a part of this adventure of discovery, rediscovery, and who knows what else as we spend the coming week exploring the beautiful island of Sicily.
Come along with us as I post each day, sharing the ongoing stories, experiences and special moments that await us!
Paula A. Reynolds
Lover of travel and life's many other blessings!