Sunday, September 9, 2012

Viva our Italian Heritage!

My daughter Elissa and I took a road trip to Columbus to see my mom’s first cousin Bill Form, 95 going on 96, his wife Joan, both retired OSU professors, and cousin Fern King, who flew in from Etna, New Hampshire. It’s become a kind of annual family reunion.  Last year, in August, we took my mom’s sister, my Aunt Loretta, to visit with Bill and Joan.  The cousins, who hadn’t seen each other in years, were both 94 years old, going on 95. They were like kids. They hugged, reminisced, laughed, held hands. It was a memorable visit, all the more so because Aunt Loretta died nine months later, in May 2012.  Elissa and I remain overjoyed at the great new memories created during that visit. 

This time, on a day when the clouds rolled across the sky in unusual formations and the light washed across farmland like a Thomas Kinkaid painting, as Elissa put it, we had another wonderful reunion. We got a bit lost in Columbus, as usual, but the visit made up for any frustrations.

We had a beautiful lunch, prepared by cook extraordinaire Fern.  Classic Italian bean soup and tomato salad, and fresh figs with marzipan sprinkled with cinnamon for dessert.  We talked about Italian and Sicilian history, culture and cuisine.  We traced our heritage back to the Phoenicians.  We shared stories of Bill’s family, including his mom, who insisted on the importance of education, and his brother George, who at one time joined the Army Corps of Engineers Band and ended up in Panama (Bill showed us a historic photo).  "George didn't even play an instrument, but he wanted to be in the band so he learned the trumpet, in no time at all!"  Funny.  We remembered his cousin Michael who survived the Batan death march and three-years as a Japanese prisoner of war.  Hard to believe one could survive this experience.  Truly an amazing story. We remembered Bill's sister Nan Form King, Fern's mother, and her important nature conservation work in Hanover, New Hampshire.  Bill fondly remembers my grandfather Luchetti, a Roman, and my grandmother Julia, his aunt, his mom Mary's youngest sister.

We talked about Bill’s pioneering work in the field of Sociology, and also Joan's in gender studies.  Bill remembered how he made his way in the profession, starting with a dissertation at the University of Maryland under the famous but difficult C. Wright Mills, his important research and articles, his different teaching positions and how he became an honored professor at Ohio State University, retiring just a few years ago.  Most wonderful, we talked about his autobiographical project, volume 2, the ongoing story of his family that he hopes to complete soon.  It's Bill's great contribution to our family history, an enduring legacy.      

Will we be so aware and articulate at 95, so full of curiosity and love of learning? Will we remember how to play an instrument, be able and willing to share family stories, and even a list of great books, classic and contemporary, that we have just read? "This book on The Atlantic blew me away," Bill says in awe.  Will we still marvel at new knowledge and life’s lessons?

Bill, at 95 going on 96, is still teaching us.  Joan is too.  Elissa, Fern and I are the lucky beneficiaries. These fantastic relatives from "the greatest generation" are keeping our history and our hope alive.  Viva the Italian heritage of our ancestors who are part of the American dream, the courage of our immigrant grandparents, the moving journey of their sons and daughters!  
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