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  • My Italian Life

    "My Italian Life" is a column written by Flora Mitidiero Raehl. Here you will find stories of Flora's experiences in Calabria as well as growing up in an Italian family in America.

    Am I Really Italian?
    It was a long journey for Flora, her son and father as they made the trip to Calabria. Flora's journey will take you to the village where her father was born.

    The Bread Man
    Uncle Ciccio made the trip to America on his own in search of something more, something better than what he had in Alessandria. I can't imagine the courage it must have taken for a teenage boy to leave his family and all that he knew in search of his dream in a foreign country, but that's what Uncle Ciccio did.

    The Cookbook
    I learned at a very early age that even though the basics of Italian cooking were very much the same from cook to cook, every family had a set of tried and true favorite recipes, and these were kept under strict lock and key.

    Dall'amico al Nemico
    For someone who comes to America from another country, I would imagine that nothing is more comforting than being surrounded by people who understand you, people who speak your language, understand your customs and most importantly, people who think like you.

    I Now Pronounce You – i sposati
    When I was 10 years old I got to experience my first Italian wedding while visiting my Father's hometown of Alessandria del Carretto. Some 40 years later I find myself back in Italy going to two weddings. It truly does seem that the more things change, the more they stay the same because these weddings, although somewhat more modern, were very reminiscent of my first Italian wedding experience.

    Memories of a Special Lady
    But even more than my nervousness about travelling once again with a mischievously stubborn Italian man, is my sadness at the death of a wonderful woman. I am travelling to my father's hometown with a heavy heart this year because a close family friend recently passed away and Alessandria del Carretto is just not going to be the same without Comare Teresa.

    New Technology for Old Traditions
    As I rush around preparing for this upcoming holiday season, my mind fondly recalls passed Christmases. For me, the Christmas celebration was like no other. The Italian holiday dishes, all the Italian holiday traditions, and my entire family together made it the most magical of holiday moments for me. But I always come back to realizing just how many holidays my father spent here in the States while his mother, brother and sister remained in his hometown in Italy. Because of this, one of the most exciting Christmas traditions we had was making the coveted midnight phone call to my father's family back home in Alessandria del Carretto on Christmas Eve.

    Old Fashioned Snow Days
    As a child growing up in the Chicago area, nothing was more exciting than waking up in the morning to get ready for school only to find out that mother nature had granted an overnight gift – the much coveted snow day! What could be better than lounging all day in your comfy pajamas, snuggled under your favorite blanket, dunking cookies in a nice cup of coffee (yes, as a child I drank coffee) and watching morning cartoons that you didn't get to see because you were in school. My father never understood how I could be excited at the thought of so much snow that an entire city could virtually be shut down, because as a child in his hometown of Alessandria del Carretto the thought of a lot of snow would send the residents into a panic. You see, living in a mountain village, far away from any real city, winter life was actually very hard. Dad's house in the mountains didn't have a furnace, just a fireplace in the kitchen fueled by chopped wood stored in il maggazino. When he was very, very young, indoor plumbing was as primitive as you can imagine and there was no "corner grocery store" that you could run to in a pinch. So I guess I can understand why massive amounts of snow would not hold the same appeal to the people who live in the mountains of Calabria. The longer my father was away from his hometown, the more nostalgic he became for the old days in the old country. Much of my childhood was spent hearing stories of what his life was like compared to the way I was growing up in the States and oh how I loved hearing those stories!

    One Man's Hot Dog is Another Man's Garbage
    My family enjoys getting together as much as possible – whether it's the Fourth of July, Christmas, someone's birthday, even a namesake day, we're all together en masse and somehow the conversation always seems to lead to what life was like when our grandparents first came to America. Both sets of my grandparents came from the same small town of Alessandria del Carretto in search of a better life for their families, without knowing anything about their new neighborhood, without speaking any English, without having a job ... but all these "withouts" didn't seem to deter them from making a life in Chicago, and the rest of us have benefited from their forward thinking, courage and hard work.

    Pizza Mia
    Every time my family and I return to my father's hometown of Alessandria del Carretto in Calabria I learn something new about how and where he grew up, I meet new people and I marvel at how much this small town has changed over the years. During last summer's trip even my father was shocked to see two new businesses in town - pizza parlors!

    Grandma was always more comfortable with her native tongue and although she did her best at English, sometimes forming her own language of half English, half Italian, all the grandkids understood what she was saying. She was the matriarch of our family and every event revolved around her recreating her Calabrese traditions in this new land. So as I've said before, every birthday, feast day and holiday was celebrated with all of us together at Grandma's. If you were married, there was no question where you were spending the holidays, there was no splitting your time between Grandma's house and your in-laws – you showed up at the appointed time and you brought the in-laws with you because you wouldn't find a better meal anywhere else.

    Sometimes Money Does Grow on Trees
    My Papa brought many of the traditions from Italy with him when he came to America. One tradition I called the money tree comes from the annual festival in Alessandria held on the last Sunday in April.

    Sunday Pasta
    Being Italian, it's no secret that daily life revolves around food so I'm always looking for new recipes to satisfy the diverse palate of my family. You see, my husband isn't Italian and isn't very fond of a lot of spices or sauces – give him meat and potatoes and he's a happy guy. My daughter's tastes seem to change with the seasons so what she enjoyed last week very likely will be something she won't get near this week, and my son, like me, would eat pasta most days of the week. So I'm always in search of great new recipes and have enjoyed watching cooking shows for as long as I can remember.

    This Old House
    A house renovation is difficult to live through even under the best of circumstances, like being able to speak the same language as your contractor and being on the same continent while the renovation is taking place. Imagine navigating a renovation going on in Italy while I'm here in Chicago - that is what is going on in my life right now.

    Valuable, if Unusual Lessons
    As I look back on all of it now I can see that there were many positive lessons in the way I grew up. I learned very early on that family – again, I mean the ENTIRE family – third and fourth cousins included, always came first. I learned to appreciate everything we had because grandma and grandpa had nothing when they came from the old country. And because we come from a good peasant heritage, I learned that a hard day's work was something to take pride in. As I grow older, I remember these early childhood lessons and do everything I can each day to pass them on to my kids. So who would have thought that at this age I would be exposed to all kinds of new lessons, but that's exactly what's occurred in my life these days.

    What's For Dinner Silly Rabbit?
    Flora recounts her journey with her father to his home town of Alessandria del Carretto, which is located in Cosenza, Calabria. Her journey allows her to see a side of her father she rarely sees.

    Where in the World is Peppy Mitidiero?
    Several years after mom died dad decided it was time for a trip "home." No matter how long my father has lived in the United States he always has and always will consider Italy home. Dad was born in a very small mountain village in the toe of the boot that takes a good twenty-four hours of travel to get to, and he was going to be travelling alone. This was going to be a challenge for all involved.


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