#52 All our ancestors
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This month I have been participating in #1000wordsofsummer which is a writing exercise of encouragement through the CRAFT TALK newsletter. A great initiative where writer Jami Attenberg sent us wonderful prompts and words of motivation to help us all write 1000 words a day for two weeks.
To tell you the truth it has been wonderful to actively dedicate time daily to writing. And eventhough I didn’t always write every single day, I realised skipping a day wasn’t the end of the world as my mind seems to be able to level up the words the next time I got a moment to write.
As long as there is a slow and steady forward movement, progress can be made. And like most things it’s about consistency.
I wrote this post amongst the writing I completed for the #1000wordsofsummer.
All our ancestors
This morning I woke up with a strange resolution. As I slept last night, I dreamt of my ancestors, who whispered so many stories to me. They want me to tell their stories. Everyone came to me as clearly as possible, as if someone had sat before me and told me about their day. It is as if they were ready to be revealed. They came to me, as if they trusted me to tell them truthfully and completely.
I have always felt I know my ancestors so well. Often I have listened to their stories told by my nonni and other family. I have gathered up each memory, every scrap of recollection and photograph like a magpie making a nest.
I will always happily listen and gather exciting tales from the family tree, as I feel as if knowing who came before me gives me clarity. The ancestors will always take me home; their words are my origins, and they are where I belong.
For me, the stories from the family tree are like a mirror, reflecting the generations that came before me, whose history is so intricately interwoven with my own. I come from my ancestors, and my ancestors are connected to me. I respect and love them; I try to understand them even though they might not always be as likeable or perfect as recalled.
It is a rich story, and I feel it somehow belongs to me. They are also connected to others but have spoken so clearly to me. So I think what they say to me is to become the essence of my story.
Listening to them has given me many lifetimes of experience to draw from and many stepping stones to walk upon. I am here thanks to my ancestors; they gave me their gifts, strengths, stories and character to do as I please. I can see how we are connected.
I dare to suggest otherwise before anyone accuses me of being narcissistic, staring into a pond in love with my reflection. These stories are not from me or my lifetime; they have been in the background, a part of the family and the community surrounding me. They are more about a shared migrant experience.
My stories are so much more than mine; they are the same stories prevalent in any family. Of stoic grandparents, intergenerational struggles, journeys of discovery, tragedy, sorrow, overcoming obstacles and living a life with endeavour and courage as best you can.
There is a certain bravery in exploring family stories, the way people were able to live a life of dignity, strength and character without many possessions or personal wealth.
This is the biggest lesson I have learned in listening to these stories; my ancestors were solid, determined, shrewd and driven people. What they left in the world were their families, characters and stories that remain told from generation to generation.
For some unknown reason, I have always been attracted to stories. My Sicilian grandparents would always tell stories about Sicily. Talking about their family and where they came from was the way my Grandparents kept a connection to their homeland.
Every family dinner, cup of coffee or tea was illuminated by colourful and vivid accounts of their friends and family; the community they were a part of and that nurtured them was never far away, thanks to their accounts.
I think Sicilians are natural-born storytellers. Small-town Sicilian gossips are well versed in the complex interconnections of families and societies. Apart from their local dialects, the social shorthand of family nicknames acts as a way of identifying and classifying the different parts of the community.
Everyone knows everyone else, their family histories, where each person comes from, and how they are interrelated, it is imprinted through a complex social narrative.
Gossip is an essential social lubricant in Sicily; it keeps the wheels turning. Everyone knows everyone else's business. Yes, sometimes it can be malicious, but like everywhere else in the world, it helps you to keep connected to your contemporaries; just like professional gossip, local gossip tells you about what is happening in the local community.
My grandparents took their stories from the gossip and their own family and friends' lives; they were also the lessons that had been taught to them from others' experiences.
I know they had a story about every possible problem or event. From home remedies for various illnesses, advice on looking after newborns, relationship advice, sayings in their dialect, comfort food recipes, memories from their grandparents and an array of hilarious characters and observations from the past, often retold just for a laugh.
I find it difficult to navigate myself through my grandparents' recollections of cousins, colourful aunts and uncles, and godparents. Their dialect was always so complicated. I could never draw a map or family tree, but their stories were so intimate that they flowed without effort or thought, as natural as any conversation.
Their recollections of Sicily were my mythology. There was a story for every occasion. A typical interaction during a conversation with my grandparents was often interrupted by memories like: 'Oh, that's like that time with Compare Ciccio,' or 'It's like Nonno Cosimo always used to say.'
They had picked up and brought Sicily with them in their minds; it was constantly speaking to them, giving them its wisdom. Sicily was ever present to them, never leaving them alone. It kept them company, giving them strength and advice every moment until the day they died.
Today, Sicily's social fabric is influenced by local dialects, religion, morality, patriotism, tradition, superstition and gossip. The interweaving of these factors binds the people in Sicily's small towns ever so tightly together, creating an elaborate and confusing tangle. The complicated nature of these interconnections fastens the people to their homeland in a bond that overshadows everything else.
An endless murmur whispers to me like fairytales and nursery rhymes. My grandparents' stories kept their childhood home alive and filled me with awe; their dialect always spoke softly in the background like a symphony performed in pianissimo.
Not only Sicily but any culture throughout the Italian peninsula and beyond that is historically based on small agricultural towns and hamlets have its unique music.
There are endless migrant diasporas around the world who nurture the love of their homeland through talking, recalling and re-enacting events from their birthplace.
All Sicilian migrants, including my grandparents, have a binding love of their Sicilia. This sentiment outlived any hardships on the island, from economic depression and famine to a lack of primary education. Despite everything worsening, Sicilians held onto their beloved Sicily until things on the island became so unendurable that people could no longer live. Only then did they leave their close-knit communities to migrate in massive numbers worldwide, where some assimilated into new cultures and refused to talk about the sufferings they had experienced in their paese.
Only with the woes of economic depression did my grandparents find the strength to cut their family bonds and unravel themselves enough to move overseas. The umbilical cord at their core remained intact, filling their lives with nostalgia for Sicily. There are many children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren of these Sicilian migrants who still reflect an inherited idealisation of Sicily.
My Sicilian grandparents have passed away, and their absence from my life has left me a great sense of emptiness. Their stories and Sicily comfort me; my family's connection to the island is profound and goes back many generations.
I married a Sicilian in a strange ancestral pull back to Sicily, where I've found a personal connection in a place which feels like home and alien at the same time. Sicily is my obsession, damnation, inspiration and vocation all at once. Gradually the years have passed, and Sicily has worked its magic, making me forget the outside world.
Sicilia speaks to me like no other place; it whispers an intoxicating tale to me. I am happily lost in a certain Siciliatudine, a long melancholy history filled with perfumed gardens, abundant wealth, beauty and perfection, a lost paradise which all Sicilians proudly cling to like a babe to a breast.
An aristocratic haughtiness that believes in the immortality of a regal past. A special kind of magic in blissful islander self-isolation.
A lifetime of Sundays at my maternal grandparents' house in Western Australia, I have filled my mind with the stories of their lives.
I hate to be long-winded, so I will stop here for now.
I'll keep trying to write something worthwhile, well thought out and new here every week, perhaps more often if I get in the zone.
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