Several years ago, my sister, Carol and I took our mother, Alba, to her home town of Lucca, Italy (Tuscany) to visit her cousins. Mom and her cousins are in their eighties, and haven’t seen each other for over 45 years. When we arrived, tears of happiness flowed as we hugged and kissed and greeted each other after so many years of being apart.
No agenda. No stress. At suppertime, everyone gathered in the kitchen to make meals from scratch – vegetables came from the garden and the wine was homemade. As we dined outside in the garden under the fig trees, the children played hide and seek. As the sun set, we lingered over peaches and gelato, singing Italian songs, looking at family photographs, and sadly reminiscing about loved ones who had since died.
One particularly magical moment on the trip was when my mom asked if she could be driven to the house where she was born. Turning the corner on the street where she had once lived, we saw a group of elderly people sitting outside, taking a break from the hot summer sun. As we got out of the car and approached them, Mom pointed to one of the houses and explained to them that she had once lived there. At that very moment one of the men in the group stood up and said, “Alba, is that you? I’m Renato.”
As it turns out, he was the little boy who had lived next door. He and Mom had been childhood playmates – that is until the day her parents took her and her brothers to live in America. Overnight, Alba had disappeared from Renato’s life. Mom was seven years old and he was five. That was the last time they had seen each other. Words simply cannot describe what happened next as everyone witnessed this incredible childhood reunion between Mom and Renato. Tears, hugs and more tears. After an hour or so of listening to their stories, we bid them farewell and were once again on our way to the Tuscany my mother left behind so very long ago
There were other special moments during this trip. Mom also wanted to visit the church where she was baptized and the school she had attended as a child. We also paid our respects at family gravesites and drove past the house where her mother, my grandmother, Nonna was born.
In the Medieval town of Lucca, we walked for miles everyday visiting churches and quaint shops. Walking is the only mode of transportation. At first, Mom was apprehensive about the ability to walk on the cobblestone streets on a daily basis. And she proved herself wrong. By the end of our two-week stay in Lucca, Mom was walking over four miles a day and with a bounce in her step, I might add. She also lost eight pounds and took home a healthy summer glow.
Today, Mom has a scrapbook of the trip that my sister and I had created for her. She looks at the scrapbook quite frequently. We’ve also noticed that Mom is happier these days, and more peaceful. She talks about this trip as one of the highlights of her life. The journey back to her home town gave Mom many memories to contemplate and also to put to rest on her own terms.
Taking your parents back to their home town is truly a gift of a lifetime. You never know what may happen.