Family Ties

Long ago I had a family in Switzerland. It’s difficult to explain and kind of a personal story, but among the treasures I’ve carried with me from that time are two plates. My Swiss family wasn’t exactly Swiss; they were Italian. They’d gone to Switzerland at the end of WW II when things in Italy were pretty dire. One of them was from Puglia, the other from Trieste. Pietro and Laura weren’t exactly “mom and dad” — “mom” could have been my mom, but “dad” only a much older brother. I’m still close friends with their son.

I didn’t speak Italian or any form of German, but my Spanish was decent, and my “mom” had taken care of a Spanish woman in Zürich when she first arrived in Switzerland so she and I spoke Spanish together. My listening comprehension in Italian was surprisingly good, I guess from watching Fellini movies over and over for years. My “dad” and I developed a unique language that drove their son crazy. He is multi-lingual as are most Swiss, but Pietro and I did fine with our language and spent hours wandering in the forest with Daisy the dog — talking! He loved cooking and taught me to make focaccia like that his mother sent him north with when he left Puglia at the end of the war. There were no opportunities in war-torn Italy and Pietro’s large family was very poor.

The story of the focaccia he traveled with is at least as good as the focaccia (which is amazing). His sister was already in Zürich and he was going north to join her and, hopefully, find a life. He said he only had a small bag of clothing and a giant focaccia that was supposed to feed him all the way to Zürich. Half was for him, half was for his sister in Zürich.

My experience with Italian trains is certainly different from Pietro’s back in the late 1940s, but one thing that remains is that they are prone to going on strike. When Pietro got to Milan, there was a train strike and he was stuck at the “Monument to Eclecticism and Fascism” — Milan’s main train station — for several days. All he had to eat was the focaccia so, when he finally got to Zürich there as none left for his sister.

My Swiss family was the “reward” for choices I made that were pretty crazy at the time, a leap of very blind faith. That leap took me exactly where I needed to go.

I wear my Swiss dad’s gold chain around my neck and wherever, I live, I hang two decorative plates they gave me for Christmas. The Christmas before my Swiss “dad” died of lymphoma (soon after New Year, 2000 😦 ) I was able to talk to him on the phone for a little while and speak Italian. Laura returned to Trieste after Pietro died, and I visited her there in 2004 when I went to Italy to study Italian. We spoke on the phone often, and, in the process of cleaning out all those old journals, I found her letters and noticed the linguistic evolution from Spanish to Italian. Family is where you find it and I miss them.

10 thoughts on “Family Ties

  1. There is family your are born with (and have no say in who they are) and there is family you choose or who choose you! Both can be good but the chosen family can be wonderful!! Love the little plates!

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