by Barb, recently back from an amazing vacation
Hi Folks. Our vacation was wonderful. The cruise around the Greek Islands, then on to Malta, Sicily, Sorrento, Ponza, and Rome was fabulous. The sun was shining and the temperatures were in the low 70s every day, perfect for touring ruins and small Mediterranean harbor towns.
Once we reached Rome we took a side trip to Calabria to visit the village my husband, Bill Carito’s, paternal grandparents emigrated from in 1921. Montauro is in the “instep” part of the Italian boot. Like other towns in the area, it is high on a mountain, with another portion of the town, Montauro Scale, on the beach. Today the area caters to tourists, particularly those from the north of Italy, during the summer months.
Bill had been in touch with a second cousin via Facebook for some time, but in the months before we left, he’d dropped off of social media. Attempts to reach him had been unsuccessful. When we arrived in Calabria, we really didn’t know what to expect.
Bill rented us a lovely apartment on the beach. The first morning we were there we got in our rental car and drove up the twisty mountain roads, full of switchbacks, steep inclines, and beautiful views of the sea. When we reached Montauro there was roadwork, so we parked outside the town center and walked in. We found the church and explored the almost deserted streets of the little town.
Everywhere we went, in our terrible, broken Italian, we told the story of how Bill’s grandparents had left the village in 1921, and how we were looking for a second cousin named Giovanni Carito. None of the few people we met knew anything. An attractive woman hanging laundry from her balcony spoke to us, apologizing for her English (so much better than our Italian!), and even called out an older neighbor, but she didn’t know anything either.
The town was so tiny there was no place to eat or even get coffee, so we went back down to the beach area to get lunch. We’d been told the church would be open at 5:00 p.m. so we planned to return then. We thought there might be a priest there then who could help us.
So down the twisty, turny mountain roads we went, and then back up again. We arrived back a little after 4:00 and discovered the church was already open, a youth choir practice going on. We sat and listened to the lovely voices and Bill took photos of the church, San Pantaleon, which has a sort of legendary quality in his extended family.
Choir practice ended and the choir director emerged from behind a pillar where she’d been playing a keyboard. It was Angela! She said, “I am going to help you.” She got out her cell phone and started calling and texting. (Everyone in the village seemed to use What’s App.) The town is so small that five minutes after she contacted them, people would walk into the church to try to figure out who Bill was and who he was related to. Everyone tried to be helpful. Every person we talked to had a cousin in Boston or Philadelphia or New York. But we were getting nowhere. People knew Caritos, but there were too many of them. (This never happens in the United States where Carito is a quite uncommon name.) Which Carito were we seeking?
Then an older gentleman appeared, cashmere sweater draped across his shoulders. He asked, “Is this Giovanni Carito Carabinieri?” (A member of the Italian national police force.) Bill remembered Giovanni’s Facebook profile. “He is!”
Then everyone had something to say. “He lives in the next village.” “His brother died young.” “His sister lives in Cantanzaro.” And so on. Angela messaged Giovanni’s wife and got no response. She and Bill exchanged numbers in case she heard anything back. We told her we were headed to the cemetery to see what we could learn there.
As we left the cemetery, a woman ran by us. It was Angela! “I have news,” she said. Giovanni’s wife had called her. She spoke a little English. She would be calling us.
The phone rang before we even left the cemetery. Mission accomplished. Giovanni and his wife would meet us near the beach. We drove off, down the scary mountain roads.
“Angela is amazing,” my husband said.
“Angela is a plot device,” I answered. Angela is the person who saves your bacon when you are writing a story and you need one person to find another. But Angela is real.
The story of what happened when we met Giovanni and Barbara was, in some ways, even more satisfying and wonderful than our adventures in the little Italian mountain village where Bill’s family’s journey to America began. I finished the story on Maine Crime Writers here.
Readers: Have you ever taken a journey to discover something about your family history?
[All photos in this post are by Bill Carito. If you like them and want to see more, you can friend him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/bcarito and follow him on Instagram at billcarito and bill.carito.colorphotos.]