EMBARKATION IN NAPLES
On the morning of July 9th, my mother woke me up very early. It was 4 o’clock in the morning.
The big day of the departure had come. The car that had to drive us to Naples was already parked in front of the house. My father and the driver were loading the luggage. I felt like I was in a dream as I got ready. It seemed as though I was watching a movie. It felt like the person that was leaving was not me, but somebody else and I was observing everything from afar. I was like an automaton. Perhaps I did not want to think about the consequences of what was happening. Leaving all that I knew, all that I cared for, all the people I loved. It was only a few days ago that I had believed I was the luckiest person in town because I was going to America!
In the mean time, even my sisters had woken up. They would come to take us together with mom.
They were still very young, Iole was 7 and Maria was 5. When mom was not there, I used to take care of them. I dressed them. I got them ready for school. I took them out to play. Then when they came back, they would always find warm soup and they would happily chirp. This morning they were quiet, they stayed off to the side and watched the preparations without saying anything. I looked around me one last time...the kitchen.....the fireplace, I wanted to see and touch everything before I left. With a sad face, Grandma was standing next to the table, with a hand inside the pocket of her apron and the other hand leaning on the table. She was not coming with us to Naples, the trip would have been too long....... At least,that’s what she said, but that wasn’t the real reason.
“Let’s go” my father said. Before getting in the car he said good-bye to his mother with a hug: it was a sad and bitter good-bye, grandma had always lived with us and my father and she were particularly close with each other. My father worshipped his mother, he adored her.
Grandma had been separated from four of her children for the same reason that she was now being separated from us.
But she did not complain. She thanked the Lord that He had opened the path for her children, a path leading to a better life that, in those times, they could not have had in Italy.
We were all on the doorstep, the driver had opened the doors of the car and he was ready to leave. Grandma came forward, she put her hands over me and my father and blessed us saying “Go and may God always be with you”. It was that act that moved me very much, it touched me in the deepest part of my soul and so I cried. To hide his tears, my father immediately got into the car and we left. We were moving further away from the town. I kept looking back, the houses were disappearing, the fields were disappearing; we went through all the districts and we arrived at Atina, where we got on the main road. A last look back toward the town; now you could only see the Cross on the Bell Tower. In a short while, even that disappeared.
Day was breaking while we were on the road, the trip would have lasted four hours. In the car, no one was talking. Everyone was absorbed in their own thoughts. I was absorbed in mine, I was thinking about a boy that had courted me assiduously. A nice looking boy, tall, long-limbed with a nice smile. I did not want to get close to anyone and I had refused him. But now I felt bad because I hadn’t even said good-bye to him. The car kept moving further and further away from the town, though once in a while, when there was a bend in the road, we could still see a part of the town.
We took the highway, La Casilina, and we drove until we reached Naples. We arrived. It was almost nine.
The port of Naples was bustling with people, cars, longshoremen; noise and confusion everywhere. A black and pungent smoke was all over the entire port. The driver unloaded the luggage to be checked. I went with my father to the document control office, we handed over our passports, our ID cards, the boarding tickets....everything was ok....we could board.
The big ship, Cristoforo Colombo, was anchored. It looked huge, like a floating city.
The longshoremen were loading the ships, carrying big sacks on their shoulders and even on their heads. It was the first time that I saw men transporting big sacks on their heads. It was also the first time that I saw black longshoremen. We could hear music and songs coming from the loudspeakers of the ship. Songs like “Addio mia bella Napoli,” “ Torna a Surriento,” “Partene e bastimenti,” all songs that left you feeling sad. We already felt a weight on our hearts, a pain, and in a few minutes we would have said good-bye to the family, gotten on board and left for a far away place.
America was waiting for us..
I will never be able to describe what I felt when I left my mother and my little sisters.
They had grabbed my hips and were holding onto me. Every step I took, I had my sisters moving together with me. I had been their little mom and now I felt guilty for leaving them. I observed my father move away from my mother and I saw a deep pain and emotion on his face that I had never seen before. It hurt seeing my father so sad and moved. Suddenly, I felt a huge weight. I understood that now he would be my responsibility. I must be the one that takes care of him for everything. This thought scared me and I felt desperately alone.
Together, we went towards the boarding point. We boarded the ship with sad faces. We looked out from the deck to see the crowd that was below us. I searched with my eyes......I thoroughly scanned the crowed.... Finally, I saw them, mom, completely still, and my sisters, who were waving towards the ship. Thinking that, among hundreds of people pressing against the railing of the deck, they would see us, I started waving to them. A group of seamen came to announce that we were about to set sail and all the passengers had to go into their cabins. No one listened to them, no one moved, people kept throwing confetti to the crowd below. The seamen had to fight to separate us from the deck. Finally, they had to push us downstairs towards the cabins like a herd of sheep.
After a short time, the ship let out three loud, powerful whistles and set sail.
Delia Socci Skidmore