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The Reunion Photo by Josephine Stewart

It was December, 1934. Mussolini was already in power and the European world was slipping and sliding toward war. Franklin Roosevelt came into power in 1932 and it meant that for 2 years I was separated from my cherished papa. He was a Republican and had been on foreign service duty for the United States in Italy. He was recalled to Washington for a possible reassignment or separation when the Democrats came into power. I was 5 years old and very confused as to why I no longer heard his whistle as he came home from work. I still waited by the window weeks after he left, in the hope that "tonight would be different." But it never was. My mother and I moved into my grandfather's house on the outskirts of the city and that was even more devastating. I no longer had my papa and now I no longer had my own room. My granddad was a good man but very aloof and harsh, not at all like my sweet, fun loving father who I adored.

RealReunionPhoto_1.jpg

Needless to say that to a little kid, those 2 years were interminable. So when it came to pass that we were going to America, (America!) to join him it was wonderful and scary too. My mother who did not want to leave Italy was going reluctantly. She inadvertently transferred to me her fears and emotional insecurity. She reasoned that if her husband really loved her, he would not expect her to go to Japan or to the United States. If he loved her, wouldn't he go back to her in Italy and find employment there? Surely he didn't try hard enough. I internalized that maybe my papa didn't love me either for didn't I faithfully wait for him every night listening for his whistle as he came up the hill? And did he come? No, he did not. So maybe he really didn't love either of us any more.

My mother was also afraid to cross the ocean and didn't hide this fear when she spoke of the trip. So naturally I was terrified of that oncoming adventure, not knowing what horrendous things might happen and who would take care of me since my mother was scared too! So leaving Italy at the age of 7 was a mixture of fear, longing and curiosity. Yes, curiosity. Why curiosity? Because even though I was only 7, I knew that my life was not going to be lived in that little village. It was not home. It was not where my papa was and in some weird way I was curious to find out what "going across the ocean" meant.

The name of the ship was the ITALIA and I had a very good time. I was indulged in by the grown ups as I was the only child among the passengers. My mother was sea sick most of the time, but I was not. I can remember that the corridor leading to the dining room was at an angle and I used to love to slide down to the door. The passengers clapped their hands and said, "Brava! Brava!" while grabbing my arm and helping me to stand up again. If my mother was not with me they would invite me to sit with them. They would say, "poverina, sua mamma e malata!" They were fun to be with because they laughed and played with me while my mother was nauseous and scared and no fun at all.

I think it took about 7 days to reach New York harbor. While I was an American citizen, my mother was not, therefore we had to go to Ellis Island to wait for my papa to claim us. While we waited my mother said, "see he's not here. If he loved us he would be here after that horrible ordeal." By ordeal she meant the trip which I did not find to be an ordeal at all. But now I was scared again. Would my papa come? How many times had I waited for him? Would this be any different? All of a sudden I heard a whistle that I remembered. Then again. All I could see was a crowd of people, yet something told me that today would be different. Before I knew it, there he was in front of me. I scarcely knew what to do because I didn't know if he remembered me or even if he still loved me. While all these crazy thoughts were racing through my brain, he picked me up and swung me around in a big circle, laughing and hugging me. I knew then that my papa would finally take me home.

A few days later, we were celebrating Christmas and lots of pictures were being taken. One was of me and my papa. It is my reunion picture and has been with me ever since. Even though my wallet was stolen on two separate occasions, that picture has always come back to me. A few days after the first time it was stolen, a woman called to tell me that her kids found my credit card near some railroad tracks on the north side of Chicago. I went there to claim it and the children showed me where they found the card. I continued to search up and down the tracks and found other things that were in my wallet like postage stamps and business cards; so I kept looking. In a clump of leaves, a little black and white photo peaked through and I was once again reunited with my sweet papa. The second time, my entire purse was found in a trash can a block away from were it was stolen. Everything except any money was still in it; everything, including my reunion photo. It was all there.

Originally Posted by: Josephine on Friday, February 27, 2004 - 01:59 PM (2445 Reads)

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family reunion · childhood memory · 1930s · father daughter reunion