What my Italian relatives know about the off-season

This is me in Venice, Italy, circa April 1992 : )

Go ahead and settle in for a story…

I’ve been sharing these letters with you based on what is in my heart. I try to make them helpful, give you an idea to help you keep going, and I hope this one will accomplish that.

Today’s is something of a story, a different way for me to share an idea to help you keep going.

It’s also the chance for me to bring you into my life back before I had kids.
Before I even knew my husband Ben.
Back when I was a daughter, but not yet a mother.

Way, way back then, I had the opportunity to go and spend a semester in Florence, Italy.
I knew not one single word of Italian, but still I was looking forward to this new adventure!

The Italian relatives in my family are on my mother’s side. They include my grandfather, my mom’s dad, who was born and grew up as a child in a tiny little town in Italy, right along the Adriatic Sea.

Just before I left my grandfather said to me “If you can, go to Rodi and meet your relatives.”

I wasn’t sure. I couldn’t even speak Italian yet! What would it be like to manage the trains, and get all the way out to the countryside, to this tiny fishing village?

But I held onto my hope that I would be able to do it.

A friend of mine spoke outstanding Italian, and agreed to come with me a few months later (when I got more comfortable with the ways of the country, figured out the trains, and had some idea of how to converse with people.)

And so we set off. We didn’t try to contact anyone beforehand, we had no idea how we were going to get in touch with my relatives. It was early March 1992, there was no cell phone service or social media yet to help us get a sense of the lay of the land, never mind the actual people who lived there!

It felt like a true adventure!
We relied on trains and buses to get us out to the village, and traveling, it was really interesting to see how things got more and more rural. Fewer and fewer people. More wild scenery. Until we finally stepped off the bus, turned to our left, and stood right on the coast. Turning to our right, we began walking up the hill into the village.

Still with absolutely no idea if we might even find any of my relatives up at the top of the hill!

There was a bar in town, and when we walked in – during Italy’s Carnevale celebrations – it was pretty crowded.
We literally stepped into the bar, the friend who had come with me asked “does anyone here know anyone by the name of [my Grandpa’s last name]?…” And after he’d asked a few folks, a man stepped up to us and said “I know that family! Come across the road with me, I saw them just now!”

So, we did… And that is how I found my Grandpa’s family! (We even determined that the original gentleman and I were very distantly related. He called me “Cugina [Cousin]”!)

We communicated with both language, and in an almost charades-like way, using hand signals or our bodies, when necessary. For example the family knew that after my grandfather emigrated to Canada, he began working in the airplane division of Rolls-Royce. One of Grandpa’s cousins stuck out his arms to the sides and “flew” around, asking in effect “have I got the right guy here, is this your grandpa?”

Sometimes my friend, with the good Italian, would translate for me; I felt sad that I was unable to converse as well as I would wish.
Except when it came to food. Any time they were planning a meal, it was in the local dialect, and because I had grown up hearing about food using that dialect, that’s when I started to understand what was being spoken of – and I got to translate for my friend instead.

These folks, who had never met either me or my friend, who knew of me only vaguely as my grandfather’s granddaughter, showed us the most riproaring good time over the three days that we were there. They got us a great deal at a hotel, took us out for several meals and hosted us at their home, an apartment just a little ways from the town center, constantly during our stay.

They took us to see:
– The home in which my grandfather was born, and lived in until he was 12
– The water spring in the middle of town, saying “take a picture of this. Your grandfather will remember it.” (He sure did – it turns out that, for all of his life living in Rodi, his job was to balance the water bags on the back of the family donkey. He had wonderful memories of going back and forth to that fountain every day.)
– The nearby “big” town, where there was a sweetshop that my grandfather remembered going to as a child
– The family mausoleum; again and again they told me “take a picture of this memorial. Your grandfather will remember this person.” (And of course he did. Rather than being maudlin, it was fascinating – and very fun to talk with my grandpa later about these people in his life.)

But my favorite times were when we gathered in the family apartment.

It was a tiny place, and yet I remember it as uncrowded, fun, and full of life.
Some of the best food I’ve ever eaten, I ate there.

In one corner of the apartment living room was a big pile of netting.

I didn’t think anything of it, just concluded “I guess some people have piles of netting sitting in the middle of their living rooms.”

And then, I began to notice: after each meal had been cooked and cleaned, the dad of the house would go and sit behind the netting. What was he doing there? I began to watch: he was weaving new rope in among the old. Knotting it, testing it for strength, moving on to another area of the netting.

All the while he did this, he talked very genially with the rest of us; he sipped his outrageously strong Italian espresso or aperitif, a liqueur called grappa; he smiled and laughed and debated and argued and joked, and was wholly present with his family and his guests.

Finally I asked “what are you doing?”

Through hand signals and translation by my friend, I learned, this was a fishing family.

We were visiting in the off-season. This meant that it was the time for fixing up the boat, netting repair, and rest.

Had we visited in the summer, we might not even have seen the men! They would have been off from morning until night, or even several days at a time, on the family fishing boat.

But now, it was the time for rest and rebuilding.

It was the time to get ready for everything to come.

Each winter I think about that visit, and how lovely it was to sit with this family – my family – and visit together, during their time of rest and rebuilding.

I think about how incredibly generous they were to two people who they did not know at all, except by a slim tie to a relative they had not seen in decades.

I think about the off-season, and what it can mean. How gentle and peaceful it can be. How full of love, and rest, and rebuilding.

Where I live it is now the off-season. Maybe that’s true where you live as well?

Even if it’s not true in the sense of the weather, perhaps we all need a little bit of rest, of boat-rebuilding and netting repair, right about now, after riding the waves of Covid 19 for nearly a year.

If you agree with me, and see this as a time to pause and rest, what can that look like for you?

I’d love to hear what your ideal off-season would look like, and even one tiny way that you could make it a reality.For me, it looks like fireside hang-out time and with my family, light and fun fiction as a bigger part of my reading, and gentleness with myself.

For me, it looks like connecting with podcast listeners and newsletter readers.

It looks like serving my private coaching clients as they build the kind of family life they dream of.

For me, it looks like joy – but a quieter, more peaceful joy than one finds in the warmer and noisier times of year.

I’m wishing that for you at least some part of each day can be lived in that feeling as well.

Cheers, and Happy New Year!
Karen

PS In this off-season, I am adding a segment to the We Turned Out Okay Podcast!
It will be the chance for you to contribute and have your voice featured on the show.
Click weturnedoutokay.com/weekly to be notified first about this fun new segment : )