When I was first able to speak, my great grandfather sat me on his knee to teach me to count to ten in Italian. When he and my great grandmother immigrated to Chicago from small towns in Italy in the 1920's they were fiercely proud new Americans and forced each other and their children to only speak English in their home. Thus, my grandfather knew precious little Italian, and my father spoke none.
When, in December 2002, I received an email entirely in Italian from someone with an address that contained my last name, I was unable to read it. I did have a friend who grew up in Rome, spoke Italian and agreed to translate the emails for the next few months. It turned out to be a cousin of not too distant relation; his grandfather and my great grandfather were brothers! Since it had been my dream to go to Italy and see the small village my great grandfather had grown up, I planned a trip for April of 2003.
Oliveto Citra is a small town approximately 25 miles east/southeast of Salerno. Most people with my last name (Prosapio) trace their roots back to that town because, at one time, the family owned quite a bit of farm land. It was a sunny, cool day on my first visit to Oliveto Citra. We first went to a site where the old family house had been located. A major earthquake devastated the area in the late 80's/early 90's and many of the houses are newly built. The area is gorgeous, much more beautiful than I would have imagined because it is surrounded by mountains with plush valleys all around.
Afterwards, we went towards the centro (downtown). It is quite small with one major street running through it. At the center of town there is a courtyard with a fountain that my Great-Grandfather used to talk of. Although I traveled to Venice, Florence and Rome for three weeks after the day trip to Oliveto Citra, no memories could compare to that day.
I returned home and six weeks later, I won a trip on a radio contest to see Santana play in Milan, Italy! I went on that trip with my sister and was able to introduce her to our Italian family. A few weeks later, my cousin Pasquale came to the United States for three weeks. In the years that followed, our families have become close and I've learned to speak Italian. I've even had dreams of speaking to my great grandfather in Italian.
In 2004, I finally found a way to top my original experience in Italy. I took my father to Oliveto Citra, the birthplace of his grandfather. I doubt that any of the amazing things I'll see or experience in my favorite vacation spot, Italy, will ever compare to the memories of that small, insignificant-to-most, village.