Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Vito goes "Home"

This was a work in progress for a month or so, but has just been finished and "copy approved" by Vito.

Vito, originally from the east side of the state, has very little family here in the U.S. While growing up, his immigrant parents did what all immigrant parents do ... envision a life better than their own for their children. Posthumously, Mr. and Mrs. Vito's Parents, you did an incredible job. All your offspring have more than sprung, are overall content with their life choices, and love you. This is more than a lot of parents could or should ever hope for, despite their country of origin, perceived socio-economic status etc. etc. Bravissimo. Really.

I know he talks to you both regularly ... but am not sure he's gotten back to you about last weekend. After coming home from San Cono this fall he was filled w/joy but also with more questions, which he has been tackling one by one in his well known and endearing Vito Style.

We went south this past weekend to visit where you've been before, Mrs. Vito, the state hospital where your mother resided while you, your sisters, and brother were in orphanages. Before and after your father went back to Italy leaving you all here in the United States. Driving through the stone gates where your mother resided for decades, we both felt we were on hallowed ground; knowing that you and what was left of your scattered family, here in the United States, spent so much of your physical and emotional lives entangled there. We walked the steps your mother walked, saw where we believed her buried, and Vito stood where you posed for pictures on visiting days when you visited Nonna Vito.

The staff we spoke to were very kind and while she was not there by choice, Nonna Vito was well cared for. We saw the now closed buildings which housed the laundry, the kitchens, and other places where those who were able, worked. We saw the building in which surgeries were performed, and I hoped against hope that Nonna Vito was never housed within those walls. "A Beautiful Mind" has never left mine.

But one of the things that impressed me most was that Hoosier ... hospitality? Not really. Accent? No. 'ness. Yes. Hoosierness. That down home, y'all-come-back-now quality I had not expected to find just a short distance from Chicago. That very quality that went from "no, I can't help you," to shared stories of our own genealogies, to a phone call "just to see" if Dr. M. could sign some paperwork, to a conversation with him including his remarks that he was glad to see Nonna Vito had had company almost half a century ago, to a phone call to Indianapolis ensuring we would indeed get access to the document of Vito's desire ... Nonna Vito's death certificate. Because, in the midst of getting all said and done, Vito feels almost at home in Italy as he does in the United States. Your families, Mr. and Mrs. Vito, are begging him to obtain dual citizenship ... to come "home," if you will. (See also John Denver and T.S. Eliot.) You betcha, this is a WHOLE lot more than Vito bargained for when doing "just a little genealogical research." Yet, isn't this the conundrum of genealogy? Will one open the Pandora's box including family who fled the Ukraine and a whoooole lot of people who knew you existed before you knew they did, or family in Italy ... who knew the exact same thing? Startling is an understatement. Before we left the State Hospital we took a drive around "campus" one last time .... past the cemetery where Vito believed his Nonna to be buried. He frets about her being there alone w/out family ... and doesn't want her forgotten, so he was buoyed by the story of an unmet friend of mine, Kitten, who climbed over a fence to bury her non-Jewish grandmother with her Jewish grandfather, in a cemetery where gentiles were Not Allowed. Based on all I've learned since age 40 and the discovery of my own birthfamily, I can definitely agree that blood IS thicker than water, despite that extra molecule.

Ignoring the recommendation from a State Hospital Employee that Applebee's really DID have the best food in town, we foraged until we found one of the best meatball subs this side of Brooklyn. And although he didn't say it out loud, I'm sure Vito appreciated that one could get a decent meatball in the cornfields of Indiana.

We drove on to Indianapolis, where I once "hung out" with a man for almost a year, and from whence Kitten haled, if only for a short time. We agreed, Kitten and I, that Vito should go, nay, NEEDED to go to the Slippery Noodle. Which we did on a Thursday night when the weekend's "talent" is in for a lower cover charge and half price drinks. Great blues. GREAT BLUES. And as it was kind of a bluesy weekend anyways, it was fitting. It was unreasonably warm, even by Indiana standards, and a balmy evening with a couple of beers was more than fitting. It was needed. Although watching an older Italian woman dance with a young man w/in the age span of The Sons brought me right back to the State Hospital and Nonna Vito ... for the most part, the sins of the day were washed away. Because, after all, Friday was Document Day at the Archives.

The Archives are in a pretty grim state, figuratively speaking of course, and possess all the charm of say, a defunct yet still standing shopping mall. We'd have driven right past it if we hadn't been scanning for street numbers with such obsession. Really. I've seen school district bus garages with more style than this. But given the state of the economy and all, I suppose I should be thankful they're still open at all. And I am, thankful.

Rabbit trail. I personally descend from a long line of academics ... both in my adoptive family as well as my birth family and the truth is, I'd have given birth to The Sons in a library if allowed. They are sacred places filled with the lives and thoughts of others ... on this planet or elsewhere. And having entered my own search for my genetic Holy Grail I can sense another's when I'm near it ... and I'm telling you, that childhood game of "Hot or Cold?" had every fiber in my being shrieking, "We're getting hotter, we're getting hotter! RUN, Vito, RUN!." (Ok, that was a little bit "Dick and Jane.")

Vito checked his bag into a storage locker (not allowed) and being the good girl that I am, I asked if it was ok if I brought in my own purse. I half hoped we'd be able to wear gloves ... if only because I'm SUCH a fan of Original Documents that I dare not taint one with my grime. This, disappointedly, was not necessary. Dr. Archive was the strict master of his domain, and we dared not trifle with him. Having dealt with archivists before, I knew the drill. Line up, shut up, 'fess up. Yes, there are times when tears shed still provoke emotion in those grown immune to them. Especially female tears. Even middle aged ones. Ok, old ones. As The Sons often remind me, I am not middle aged as it is unlikely I will live to be 112. (Dear God in Heaven, please spare me THAT!) Dr. Archive finally came out from behind his glass doors and we presented our written request, in triplicate. Fortunately he remembered the phone call from the good folk at the State Hospital from just the day before and had recently received a letter from a Vito Cousin. Hence, the family name (not exactly Indiana farm bred) was in the forefront of his mind. Within a few moments he came over to our well worn library table lugging a MASSIVE tomb of yellowed papers. Although I had the automatic urge to GRAB it, I clasped my hands behind my back as Dr. Archive showed us how to touch the documents, how to place a provided weight on each paper as we turned it less we strain it too much. After all, those who did the original recording did so with the technology available to them ... and as the decades pass, not only does the technology become more and more outdated, but the documents themselves areas fragile as Nonna Vito's skin must have been towards the end of her life.

Fortunately, bless his little I.T. heart, Vito can be quite systemic about problem solving. This pleases me greatly as he never runs willy nilly into a situation. Any Situation. Despite the fact that he marches to the beat of his own drummer, Vito is Consistent. Both these fine qualities, although frustrating to many sheeple, make a good researcher ... one who is not only ready, willing and ABLE to pour over a document, say 500 times, but one who does so with GUSTO. Quiet and thoughtful gusto, for Vito. A little less quiet, for me. I will admit to the slightly above library tone gasp, guffaw, and even an occasional Out Loud, "OH NO!!!" So there we sat for hours, up until closing time, pouring over the transcripts of Nonna Vito's life. Her physical and emotional story ... one we thought we were prepared for, but really weren't. Ironically, I, the survivor of Searching, took it harder than Vito. We took turns reading the worn out original hospital transcripts, took turns reading out loud when the other's eyes grew tired of well worn fountain pen ink in a writing style no longer valued or taught, took turns taking notes, took turns crying, and took turns taking breaks. All in all it was a shared event. And Vito came away with much more than a death certificate; he came away with more of his Family Story, and consequently ... more of himself.

Due to the very personal nature of one's (anyone's) Family History, due to the very personal nature of Vito himself, and due to the fact that it is really Not My Business, I will not share what we discovered that rainy day in Indy. But I will share what happened within my own heart.

First of all, I am soooo thankful for my family. SOOO very thankful. This extends from my birthmother/birthfather and assorted siblings, to my foster mother, and finally to my adoptive mother/father and sordid sibling. But most of all, I am thankful for The Sons. The very first people I met with whom I share DNA. The very first people I ever met who Look Like Me. I Am Just So Thankful. WHY? Because, dysfunctional as it is ... it's MY story and it took me decades to find all the players. Decades.

Secondly, I am thankful for Vito. Not that our friendship/relationship has been a walk in the park (although we do love to walk in parks) but his Very Vito Nature is near and dear to my heart. No, he does not always "get" me but he always listens ... eventually. Always. THIS is something I appreciate more than I can say. He holds his, oh pretty much everything, close to his Italian made vest, and while that can take patience a good deal of the time, I feel honored that he shares himself with me. Because Vito is a pretty great human being.

Finally, I am thankful to be part of another Family Story. And just like all Family Stories, this one didn't get wrapped up in a neat tidy box from the Sicilian Bakery with an Italian flag sticker. It didn't get wrapped up in any SORT of neat tidy box. Rather it got some loose ends woven into its already rich tapestry ... still not neat and tidy, but more well tended. Kind of like the large, blousey perennial gardens in the photo behind Nonna Vito and her beloved oldest daughter as they wrapped their arms around each others waists at the State Hospital for the Insane. Snapped and Frozen in Time.

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