Where I'm From
(my maternal grandmother at Bronx Beach, June 1946)
I am from neighborhoods with a front stoop, gold Cadillacs and singing ice cream trucks; Locatelli cheese and The Feast of San Gennaro.
I am from a beautiful two-story white house on a hill, surrounded by forsythia and lilac bushes, overlooking the lush landscape of New York State; a house filled with the sounds of Barbra Streisand and Johnny Mathis, the taste of Italian pastries from DeFilippis Bakery after church on Sunday and the smells of sauteed garlic.
I am from the Muscadine grape arbor in our Bronx backyard, filled with grapes so fragrant, you would smell them before seeing the vines, the rock wall at my home in the country that my grandfather built with strong hands, placed stone by stone, and the fresh cut grass that clung to the mower blades as we rode across the vast expanse of green; the lawn our parents always wanted us to have.
I am from gravy on Sunday, women in the kitchen and men in the living room, talking loud and stealing freshly fried meatballs made by Aunt Jennie. I am from Michael James, Saverio Lorenzo and Marie Antoinette.
I am from those who gave more than they had and others who embraced after too many years had passed without seeing your face. I am from "Oooooh, you put on some weight." and "Eat something, you look so skinny." From "talk lower and slower" and "don't cry, it will grow back" (my grandfather was a barber).
I am from the Bishop of Rome, the Eucharist and the Hail Mary's full of Grace to attendance now only for weddings and funerals. I am from tenets I don't remember to the Virgin Mary who looms everywhere. I remember the basics, but have generally eschewed the specifics. I believe in many religious pursuits and the freedom for those to practice them at will.
I’m from the Bronx and from across the Atlantic. From two opposing shores: one in Bari, in the heel of the boot and the other, directly across, in the city of Naples. I am from Gnocchi, "water mozzarella" (Mozzarella di Bufala) and finocchio.
From the grandfather who wielded silver scissors at his very own shop on Tremont Avenue in the Bronx, cutting the hair of grandson and granddaughter alike, from my Poppy who played the guitar with callused fingers that glided smoothly across the strings, but who also worked as a welder for the City of New York, his heavy welding helmet making his neck muscles thicker as the years went on, and from the aunt who made trees out of money and licorice, creating gifts never to be found in any store no matter how hard you looked.
I am from the bevy of albums collecting too much dust, the 8mm film of the home movies that hold my family in silent moving images, the photographs developed by the hand of my grandfather and the paintings done with the stroke of a brush by my mother. The blanket crocheted by my mother's hand, the magnifying glass wrapped by my Poppy with the blue electrical tape from his toolbox, the guitar picks belonging to my father, the race car picture drawn by my brother, the Madame Alexander doll given to me by my Godmother and the sewing machine belonging to my Nanny.
There is not one of these items that do not flood my mind with memories. I am often back in those moments, in that very day. It is so clear to me, so vivid and so present. Lately, I feel a strong need for re-creation. To make sure they do not fade; are not lost.
I am from these people and those days that will never live again, but I am also from a strong memory and desire to keep them alive. This is who I am. This is where I'm from.
These are the roots of my tree.