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An American in Norma

My cousin Beatrice Cappelletti lives and works in my ancestral hometown- Norma, Lazio, Italy- half an hour south of Rome by train. We met during the family visit my father and I made there back in February. She and her sister helped us connect to the rest of our parenti (relatives) in Norma thus launching a journey of a lifetime.

She works as an Archaeologist at the ancient site of Norba, a pre-Roman town that sits, partially dug out, on the hilltop just above the 15th-century village of Norma, the place my great-grandfather Primo left behind in 1916 for a chance at American opportunity.

Our visit inspired Beatrice to write about the way history is personal, how it touches our lives and reaches into the present. The full article, in Italian can be found here at Lepini Magazine...and below is my English translation. Enjoy!

My Dad and Beatrice at the ancient site of Norba this February.

by Beatrice Cappelletti

History is made of small, individual stories of men and women who facing life, trying to live fully, and sometimes survive. Small stories of strange men in the world that do not appear on the books studied in school but may be known from having heard the tales passed down from our loved ones. Knowing the real-life stories of many years ago often makes us more aware of ourselves, helping us to sink and strengthen our roots in the ground of existence. Grandparents are an important resource, a source of the memory that we lack, a look of an era and a life now gone, which we can relive through them: emotions, fears, joys. It happened that a man, born and raised in America, in search of his roots, came to the “balcony” of Lepini, in Norma, descendant of the grandfather who emigrated to the United States more than a century ago. It was 1908 when the young Primo, like many other young people, driven by poverty, left their country, their homes to venture overseas and reach America. There they could have the opportunity to work, earn a living and maybe help their family get along. Years passed and Primo had two children, forming a new family, an American family. His thinking remained, however, fixed in his "real" home, there among the alleys of Norma. That veil of sadness and nostalgia is always over his eyes, a transparent veil, hidden but to his family, and especially his grandson, who noticed clearly. And it will be him, many years later, the other star of this fascinating story. Clutching the old photos handed down by his father and grandfather, remembering those few details recounted by them: the arrival date, the name of his parents, the returns of his grandfather to the beloved country of origin in 1950 and 1975, his devotion and his donations to the Shrine of Our Lady of Refuge.

The grandson Gene became an adult, and he decided to look for news on that part of the life lived by his grandfather before his arrival in America. He was determined to find traces of that part of Primo that remained over the ocean, convinced that "to go forward, sometimes you must look back." After several years of persistent research, thanks to the powerful tools of our age, the internet and Facebook, but also the irreplaceable memories of some relatives from Norma, Gene was able to find his relatives in Norma, realizing the dream of being able to meet, see the "pretty standard" told by a few memories of his grandfather, walking the streets of the village that he had only imagined, and see the house where his grandfather was born and raised and where it started. An emotional family reunion, a meeting with the past in the present, in which everyone could get rich stories, memories, and information, enriching their own story and filling in the gaps of his own life.

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