The days before the departure were full of preparations. My father wanted to leave everything nicely in place. He had a small transportation company that he needed to get rid of.
A certain gentleman from another village had arrived for negotiations. He wanted to buy everything, but he didn’t have the money to pay for it. Consequently, they agreed that the gentleman would send a monthly payment to my mother. My father was pleased with the idea. This way my mother, my sisters and my grandmother would have a sort of income even before the two of us had settled ourselves in and started sending money from America.
Grandmother prepared a large trunk and filled it with everything under the sun. She added sausages, hams, cans of olive oil, pieces of cheese. Four of her children had come to America before us and she wanted to send a bit of everything. Especially homemade things, things she had made with her own hands, and the oil made from our own olive tree grove. I could barely contain my happiness at the thought of going to America. Leaving my small village to go to such a large city like New York was very exciting to me. I imagined cities with huge squares and fountains, beautiful buildings and monuments. I dreamed of meeting many good-looking Italian-American boys, much more handsome and well off than the boys in my town. The weeks before the big day, my mother had gone to the market and had bought me a beautiful light blue dress suit and black high-heeled shoes.
I felt truly like an adult when I saw that beautiful outfit and the high-heeled shoes.
She used all her money to buy it and I’m sure that Grandmother’s hen-house “had sung for more than a week to fill the piggy bank.” They wanted me to make a “good impression” when I arrived. I was to wear the outfit when I went ashore in New York.
Everything was almost ready. Our suitcases were overflowing and the trunk was so full that we had to really push to close it. The day before the departure, my father had checked all our papers. Passport…visa…identity card. Everything was in order. I went to church for a last goodbye to the Virgin. The parish priest of our town was waiting for me; he gave me his Holy Blessing, he loaded me up with images of Saints and he wished me good luck. I went back home and Grandmother called me aside. She was sad, but she didn’t want me to notice.
With Mother and my two sisters, Grandmother was the one that it hurt most to leave. She had me sit next to her and she said, “Now you are going very far, perhaps I won’t see you again; but it’s for the best for you to leave here, there’s no work and there are no opportunities. In America you’ll have your aunts and uncles, they’ll introduce you to a nice boy (from a good family). You’ll get married, things will go well for you, you are a good person and you’re smart.” She hugged me warmly. I embraced her and promised that I would return as soon as I could. With teary eyes, she nodded her head, but I could see that she didn’t believe me.
That night, friends and relatives arrived to say goodbye. Even my friends came; they told me that I was lucky to be leaving the village. I went to say goodbye to my dearest friend, Maria; it was very sad. We had been good friends since we were little. She cried as she hugged me. We reluctantly let each other go and Maria walked towards the door; before she stepped out, though, she turned back to me and waved her hand, then she left. Who knows if I’ll see her again and when. It was late by now, and tomorrow I had to get up early. I went to bed; it was the last night I slept at home.
I’m telling you about myself, in first person, but this is not only my story; it is the story of thousands and thousands of families that everyday would get on a ship to travel off to far-away lands.
Usually, only the father and the older children would leave. The mother would stay behind with the smaller children. Eventually, after the father and the children had settled down in America, they would call over the rest of the family.
These are my memories,
though as I said before, this is not only my story, but also the story of so
many other families that were forced to make a choice that forever changed the
course of their lives.
Delia Socci Skidmore