This is not my story.
This is not my story, but this is why my winters are white, and my healthcare is free. I love this story.
Sometime in 1957, my grandfather, Rocco, boarded the Constitution, a ship owned by Aristotle Onassis, and crossed the ocean to the New World. (At this point, I want to sit back and think about how romantic it all sounds, but in truth, Iím wondering what the hell he was thinking. Iím sure there were other Italian immigrants on the ship with him, and I wonder what kind of guesses they made about Canada, as they stood on the deck, smoking, and trying to hide their nerves.)
Interestingly, that same year, a film called An Affair to Remember was released. In it, the two lovers played by Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr de-board the ship on which they met. In the background, you can clearly see that is the one and the same, the Constitution which brought my grandfather over. Thereís a cherry on top of this coincidental sundae: my grandmotherís maiden name was Ferrante. So was Grantís character.
So, Nonno Rocco docked at Ellis Island, and somehow or other, likely by train, made his way north, to Canada, to Toronto, where his brother was waiting to sponsor him into the country. Heíd been a police officer, and a soldier, and very likely, because we come from a land of olives and figs, a farmer. But there had been some harsh and unfamiliar winters that had destroyed the farming, and therefore the economy, in southern Italy in the mid-50ís; there was no money to made anymore, and so he joined the throngs of southern Italians that were emigrating to Canada.
In 1958, he sent for his wife, and their three children. Their oldest, Angela, is my mother. She remembers that the trip across the ocean took ten days, and that there were days and nights that included a terrible amount of sea-sickness, because the ocean had decided to play rough.
My mother was the oldest of three at nine and a half. Nobody spoke English, and Nonna was the only adult in the quartet. Anyone else may have buckled under the pressure, but Nonna was unfamiliar with that notion. She was quick to yell, and brooked no nonsense. If those had been the days of short skirts, sheíd never have worn them. Her balls would have shown.
They landed at Pier 21, in Halifax, Nova Scotia fifty years ago today, 13 June, 1958. It was my auntís 4th birthday, but Iíd bet dollars to doughnuts that nobody had noticed much. They then boarded a train for a few days to make their way to Toronto, where Nonno was waiting for them in Union Station. My motherís strongest memory is crossing the wide expanse of Front St, in front of the station. Such width did not exist in the throughways of Toritto, Bari and she remembers craning her neck to look up at the Royal York Hotel. Itís the cityís oldest hotel, but of course, she would not have known that. To her, it was just big. Everything was so big.
Nonno had met them in a cab. He hadnít a car then, and it was an occasion that called for a bit of comfort. The five climbed in, and drove off to start the rest of their lives.
Fifty years. My grandparents are both gone now, the brother who sponsored Nonno in í57 moved back home a thirty-five years ago. He came to visit a few years ago, a tottering old man who concedes that, huh, Torrr-ont turned out to be ok after all.
My mother will be sixty at the end of the year, and the baby of the family, Zia Maria, turns 54 today. The three children produced 8 children between them, and of them, I am the oldest, the first one born in this country.
Fifty years, man. Kinda cool, isnít it?
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