Sunday, May 31, 2020

Lost & Found - A letter from great-grandfather in 1920

During this down time, I’ve had the opportunity to go through boxes and papers, organizing my office. One of the packets I ran across were papers from my dad. My mom gave them to me before she died. In this packet there was a letter written to him in 1920 from my great grandfather. It was in Italian and was written in a beautiful script. His handwriting was meticulous. I gave the letter to a friend to translate. This is what it said:


Palermo, November 15, 1920
Dear Luigi,

I am writing this to you, a young boy, to hold and to give to your son and his son. I’ve had a good life in Sicily, a good business in Palermo and a fine family. We survived the war, and even though we lost our dear Serafina in 1918 from the dreadful Spanish flu, we mourn her loss, taken too soon, too young. Only 18 years of age.

I know you are too young to understand what I will write here. And there is no way of knowing if you will have sons or grandsons. But I feel I should recount my feelings about my life and what I have witnessed in these early years of the modern age.

I had no idea, when I was born at the same time as our country, Italy, was born, that we would see what we’ve seen. Electric lights, automobiles, telephones, airplanes and world to world communication. That my young son Alfonso, your father, could take a boat at such an early age, and go to America to expand our business, and that I would see him again, it was not even something I could imagine as a young boy in Sicily. But we live in an age of wonder, and who knows what you or your children, or their children, will witness in their lifetime?

Whether or not you follow your father into business, or go another way, will depend on you and the times. The future is unknowable. But here, in 1920, the future holds much promise. I hope you and your children, and their children, will find something to give them happiness and fulfillment. In an earlier era, it was enough to have a roof over one’s head and enough food to eat. But now that we have seen that man can fly, who knows what the shape of happiness will take? I only hope that all of you in the future will have lives of meaning and joy. But there is no guarantee for that. We saw that when Serafina was taken from us as she was flowering into womanhood. Nothing should be taken for granted. No one should expect things to be one way or another. One must push forward, sometimes with great challenges and obstacles. But we Sicilians are a strange race. We belong to no country and every empire. We dislike change, but our people have seen nothing but change since the beginning. We are strong willed, but we can also be short sighted. Stay alert, Luigi, and prepare your children for an uncertain future.

I hope to see you one day, in Sicily again, and watch you as you grow up and become a man. You are the future of our family in America, and that might seem like a great burden to a young boy. But in 100 years, who is to say what burdens your children and grandchildren will bear? Be prepared, isn’t that what your American boy scouts say? Yes, devi preparare.

Your loving grandfather,
Assuntino C.


One can only imagine what he might have dreamt our world to be. And that can be said for all of us, as well. Here we are, 100 years later, and the world has changed tremendously. But right now there is a shadow across earth, and it is making the future a dark place. I hope it is only a momentary lapse. But I cannot see how we get through this if only a few of us make it through unscathed, while many more must face unscalable walls. I had such hope for the world, but now, I cannot imagine writing a letter to unknown grandchildren or great-grandchildren in 2120. Who knows? The fog of uncertainty has yet to lift and reveal where we are going, and who will be going.








wine blog +  Italian wine blog + Italy W

And if you didn't already figure this out, this is (part I of) a fictionalized piece

1 comment:

Marco said...

From 100 years ago, fascinating and prescient. Now I know who you were named after. In 1909 on his first visit to this country, Carl Jung sent a letter to his wife from Albany NY. In it he says that "... Everything is too big and immeasurable. Something has been dawning on me...that here an ideal potentiality of life has become a reality. Men are as well off as the culture permits; women badly off. We have seen things here that make one ponder social evolution deeply. As far as technological culture is concerned, we lag miles behind America. But all that is frightfully costly and already carries the germ of the ned in it self."

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