Visiting my Mother’s Village

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I flew into Rome with my cousin Annette and as Sicily came into view we had our first glimpse of the rugged mountainous country that is Calabria… and we both cried.
My cousins Annette and Tony’s Grandmothers and my mother were 3 sisters and they also had a brother.

Tony his wife and their friends had arrived a few days earlier so were there to greet us and they drove us to the delightful seaside village of Scilla ( Where my great Nonna was born).
They had booked a delicious little house for us with four bedrooms and bathrooms, a big outdoor area, and a view of the sea ( and a highway passing right next to us).

The village was just gorgeous and so we spent the next few days exploring the little lanes and alleys, going up and down many many steps and delighting in the friendly manner of the people in the street, the waiters and waitresses and the shopkeepers.
There was Antonio the deli man, the lovely lady in the florist that wanted to know all about our trip, and Diego the Brazilian born Italian from Canada who served us cuppas every evening when we went on our twilight walk.
We watched the sword fishermen and wondered at their skills, we ate fresh fruit, pasta and paninis and had so many laughs I wouldn’t know where to begin to document them.
But for as many laughs we had the same amount of tears and more as we journeyed through the lives and places of our ancestors. As I stood out the front of the church in Scilla, I wondered if my Nonna had prayed there.
Cousin Tony was lucky enough to catch up with Aunts, Uncles and cousins that still live in the tiny villages on the mountain tops and Annette got to see her Nonno and Nonna’s home in Varapodio.
In Messignadi, I think we guessed at the resting place of my grandparents in an Ossario- a domed, run down building housing a statue of the Madonna. The faded blue walls inside were somehow soothing and I felt their presence strongly. Very moving. Back in Australia, a cousin told us that yes, the grandparents were buried there!

piminoro My mother’s village, Piminoro is literally perched atop a mountain and the road climbing to it twists and winds its way through countryside full of old olive trees with trunks so broad you couldn’t put your arms around them.
My stomach was uneasy, nervous, apprehensive and yet excited about finally seeing the places I had heard her talk about for so many years.

As we pulled into the piazza (with my mother’s family name in the title) we immediately looked for the church because we knew that my Mum’s family home was opposite in the same street.

And there it was in all it’s quaintness, colorful flowers smiling at us from their pots. The church was closed but we saw the fountain they drank from and the school my mum went to for a short time and as I walked the same streets the family had walked I touched the walls of the buildings, pressing my cheek to some to feel the coolness and perhaps in hope of hearing a whispered ancestors voice. mums home piminoro

I was overwhelmed when we were invited into a home and we met a darling old lady (94) who reeled off the family’s first names and said she knew them all before they left the village.
Her husband went to war with Tony’s Nonno and she went to school with my Mum. She said that they were the prettiest girls in the village.
This chance meeting made the whole story of the village real because it placed my mother and her family right there in that place. The emotion we felt that day is simply indescribable.

The next day we visited my Dad’s village, Molochio – but unlike Piminoro, and because my Dad had died when I was young, I knew nothing of my father’s movements in the town.
So after a quick drive around, we decided to visit the cemetery where I found many graves with our family name on them and other people I am sure must be related.

LIZZIE HUGGING MONSTER OLIVE TREE The visit was still emotional, but much more a feeling of emptiness, of longing to know more.
We stopped for lunch in Oppido Mamertina and on a whim I went to the local commune and asked in my very bad Italian if it was possible to get a family certificate of my mother’s family.
I met a lovely man who spoke English and he took me to a woman who said she would find as much information as possible and send it to me.
I was pretty emotional (have been trying to chase up family history documents for a while to no avail) and I apologised for crying.
The gent said “Don’t be embarrassed because this country is in your heart and your heart is in this country.”
Well I cried even more!

When we left Calabria to head for Rome and further travels, we said that we felt like we had left a little bit of us behind there in that lovely country.

Since this trip I not only received the documentation as promised form my Mother’s commune, but I have had the fortune of receiving my father’s birth certificate from his village.
To my delight it recorded the address where he was born.
Now I look forward to re-visiting his village with much more insight. Perhaps I might even find a relation!!

Liz Zito

Everyone has a story: tell us yours!


  1. Diane says:

    What a lovely story, Liz! I wish I knew the street my nana lived on in Jelsi, but not even my mom knows. I’d also love to know where my papa lived in or near Campobasso. Everyone who might know has passed away. Have a wonderful trip back to Italy.

  2. Liz Zito says:

    Thanks Maxine. It was a beautiful experience that I will always treasure. Regards, Lizzie

  3. Maxine Cimino Baldwin says:

    Our visit from Colorado to Roccamandolfi in southern Italy sounds so much like this story and brings back fond memories of spending a day as our parents and grandparents may have spent their days prior to coming to the USA.The scenery and traditions of these small Italian villages make a lifelong impression on the whole present day family unit…….Thank you for sharing

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