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Villavallelonga: a Journey to My Ancestral Home
By Sharon Pacheco
A few years ago, I wanted to find my grandparents village, so my husband and I took a trip to Italy. The village is called Villavallelonga (Village in the long valley) and is in the Abruzzo section of Italy, in the central region of Italy and about 3 hours east of Rome. We flew into Rome and got a hotel. The hotel owner was nice enough to hold some of our luggage and gave us directions to the train, which we took to Avezanno. From there we boarded a bus to take us to Villa. We arrived in Villa late at night and got a hotel room.
The next day we went to the City Hall and the Vice Mayor was kind enough to help me look up all the documents (birth, death, marriage, baptisms, etc.) for my family members. He then said...I know who your family is. We were on our way walking to the Piazza and there was quite a large crowd of men and women. The Vice Mayor said, those people are your family!! I asked how they knew I was there. He replied, "word spreads fast." When we got to the crowd, everyone came over to me and tears, hugs, kisses, talking, arms waving, etc. was happening. My husband and I were ushered into a small house off the Piazza. This house belonged to my mom's cousin. We sat at the table and everyone was talking at once. Then, one of my mom's cousins took out a picture of my mom, her parents and her 9 siblings. Well, since my grandfather Cesidio happened to immigrate to Rochester, NY and he worked for Kodak, I had the same picture that I had brought with me!! There was no doubt now that we were famiglia!!! Again, hugs, tears, kisses, talking, arms waving, etc. Quite a scene. Then, they pointed for me to turn around. I did and sitting against the wall on a small bench were two very small little old ladies dressed in black. They motioned for me to go to them. I did and knelt in front of them. They gently held my head in their hands and stroked my face and talked to each other. Then they nodded and said yes and kissed me on either side of my cheek. Talk about emotions! Food came out, talking, stroking me, everything all over again. Turns out these two little old ladies were the matriarchs of the family and my mom's oldest cousins. Their mothers were my grandfather's sisters. It was very emotional! Over the course of the next few days, I visited both my grandparents side of the family, met a lot of relatives, attended a town fiesta, got a lot of documents, ate at the home of each relative I met, walked around and explored the village (Villa has about 850-900 residents), went to the small cemetery and found the graves of my family, visited the Abruzzo National Forests (which is bounded by Villa), went picking huge wild mushrooms in the forest and hiked in the Apennines mountains surrounding Villa. I even saw and went inside the house my grandfather grew up in and because he was the town shoemaker, I was given some of his tools he used. His bench, tools, leather and equipment were still in the basement as he had left them. His bed that his father made (my great grandfather Bartolomeo) was still there. The house is still in the family and my mother's cousin owns it and has the keys.
Every morning the rooster awoke us at 5 AM, the fruit and vegetable cart came to the Piazza at 0800, fresh bread was made daily in a little store covered by a long curtain as a door, every morning women from the town came down to the local watering hole in the Piazza to gossip, scrub their clothes with handmade soap, wring them out, put them in a wicker basket on top of their head and walk back to their homes so tall and straight. Then walking through the village, you can see all the clothes hung on lines strung from one house to another. I felt like I had stepped back in time. No fast food restaurants, everything grown locally and made fresh each day. Every afternoon the shepherd came through town with his herd of sheep, ringing a bell, using a staff and his dog to keep the sheep in line. There is a small village church (Cheese di Madonna delle Grazie) that holds daily mass, honors saints and is used for religious gatherings. In 1915, there was a massive earthquake that wiped out Avezzano and most of Villa. Lots of people died. The buildings that were destroyed are left as they were. Some of my family died in the earthquake. There is a memorial in Villa for those people who perished. I was lucky enough to attend a fiesta while there and a special mass is said with everyone in the village crowding into the church and outside, the saint is placed on a platform and men of Villa carry it around the village, followed by a band of men playing songs. Afterwards, there is lots of food, dancing and good times. It was a very memorable experience and one that I will cherish. I plan to return in the fall of 2020. Some of my family has passed, but I still have a lot of relatives living there. I LOVE ITALY and VILLA!!!
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