Over the Hills and Far Away

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I never really met my grandmother. Stories of her holding me as a newborn and playing with me as a toddler are told, but neither of those experiences ever completely registered in my mind. I never looked into her eyes and realized that this woman was the source of my existence; I never understood that the blood running through her veins was the same as mine. Her death did not affect me until years later, when my father told me that our smiles are almost identical, and our sense of humor and sarcasm are uncannily similar. I longed to formally meet the woman whom I was constantly compared to. Her death left behind a mystery, a part of myself that had yet to be discovered, and never would be until we finally met again in heaven.

While she was born in America, my grandmother’s parents and ancestors originated in Italy. A small village in the southern region of Calabria has been mentioned throughout my childhood; a village that is in the perimeter of the dangerous and mafia-controlled city of Naples, but still manages to produce hardworking and passionate citizens. The name of the village is long forgotten in my family, but is undeniably the home of the precious Caravetta family; the name my grandmother carried before the wedding that committed her to the legacy of Leone.

Naples is dirty and full of thieves, my father tells me, which is why we go directly from our train compartment to the backseat of a gleaming Mercedes-Benz, armed with a hired
driver. The vehicle pushes its way through the crowded streets, and speeds out of the city that reeks with the sweat and frustration that accompany the summer heat. The burning sun roasts my eyes as we follow it west, while the cool shadows of the city fall slanted upon my bare shoulders. The absence of tall industrial buildings has slowly been filled with small homes, shacks, and tenements. Places where sheets suffice as window shades, where the sun turns wet clothes into stiff cloth, where paint peels off the exterior of homes and the air smells of despair and dirt and sadness.

This is the home of my grandmother. This is the place my ancestors called home for centuries; the place my grandmother may have still been if it had not been for America, and the place her spirit may have returned to when it left the world.

I begin to hate this place. I hate the way the sun casts long shadows on the raw houses, ones that emphasize the poverty and sorrow the town possesses. I hate the sounds of a blaring Italian soccer match as it passes through an open window, and I hate the contrast between the faded paint of the cars that line the street and the sleek sheen of the car I ride in. I hate how children run down the hot streets barefoot, and I hate how when I give them looks of pity, they give me toothless smiles. I hate picturing my grandmother, a young girl who looks just like me, breathing and learning and living in this disappointing place. My father glances at me, and gives me an expression that challenges my level of appreciation for the life I lead. Despite my lack of spiritual guidance, I find myself silently praying for America and what it represents; I thank its existence and acceptance of the Caravettas, and the understanding it had when they fled this stillborn village.

My eyes look away, and soon the town is gone, almost as soon as it appeared. I wonder if
I will ever come across it again in my life, while secretly I know I will not. I refuse. That place is not how I want to think of my beloved grandmother, the woman who I fiercely admire, yet have never spoken to.

Days pass, yet the village remains in my mind. We have arrived in Sorrento, an incredibly beautiful seaside town, which is situated on a cliff that rises above the brilliant turquoise of the Mediterranean. My dislike for the village begins to weaken. Its appearance still upsets me, but I begin to realize the importance of the tiny village. As much as I do not want to accept it, the village is apart of me. It is the true home of my grandmother, and her mother and father, and theirs as well. My ancestral roots are deeper there than in any place in America, so deep that America could never catch up. This village may not contain external beauty, but it is the seed that created the personality and individuality of my grandmother, one that was passionate and intelligent and warm. While I tell others that California is my home, this village in the south of Italy is where my grandmother’s, father’s, and my soul were born. I could travel the world far and wide, but the fact still remains; this village is where I am from, and where my heart will belong to for all of eternity. Finding it was like finding the part of me that has been missing since my grandmother’s death, and while I still feel uncomfortable with the prospect of consenting to the desolate village, I subconsciously allow it to fill the void my grandmother has left.





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