A New Life in America
With one step off the deck of the SS Conte Biancamano, Lucia Valle withdrew from her past and embraced her future.
She took a deep breath and stepped onto the port of Nova Scotia, Canada. Strange accents and smells bombarded her. Unfamiliar faces passed, going about their business. The sudden realization of being in such a foreign place overwhelmed her, causing her head to spin.
This was the first time she had left her home country of Italy.
In fact, this was the first time she had traveled a significant distance from her hometown of Casapulla.
Waves splashed against the dock, and she stared at them. Even the sea was different; cold and uninviting. Nothing like the waves back home.
Her stomach knotted and for what felt like the millionth time that trip, she clutched at the small pouch in the pocket of her skirt. It was still there, safe and secure, which relieved a small fraction of her worry.
Inside the parcel lay two golden bands. They served as a comfort for Lucia; a reminder of the joy to come.
In her head, she began chanting the words that her beloved Francesco had written to her in so many letters before that moment:
At the thought of her betrothed awaiting her arrival, Lucia regained a sense of composure. The journey was half done. She made her way to the train station and began the 26-hour ride to Montreal, Canada.
Stay Calm, she reminded herself periodically.
Four days after her arrival, on December 22, 1956, Lucia Valle and Francesco Bartolo married in a small chapel in Canada. With their families back home in Italy, the only familiar faces in attendance were two of their close friends, who served as Bridesmaid and Best Man.
Despite the absence of kin, there was no lack of joy between the newlyweds. Love for one another radiated in their faces. Although they had grown up on the same street, the wedding felt like the beginning of their lives together.
And so, they began creating it.
As a soldier in WW2, Francesco had heard of the strength of America. The United States in his mind became the ideal of an industrious, free, powerful country, brimming with opportunity. In America, he could become whatever he wanted. He decided then that one day he would live there.
And so, the newlywed Bartolos moved to the United States, settling near relatives in New Jersey.
Francesco dove headfirst into American living. With his extroverted life-of-the-party attitude, he easily made connections and began to learn English.
His shy, introverted wife could not relate. She desperately missed her family in Casapulla, especially her sister. She would blush with embarrassment every time someone would attempt to speak with her in English, as she knew very little of the language. She preferred instead to stay home in a bubble of security, learning English phrases from soap operas and I Love Lucy.
And every night the love of her life returned home to her, and she remembered how great a decision it had been to join him in America.
Having worked as a tailor’s apprentice, Francesco took up work sewing for clothing retailers. The couple enjoyed life in New Jersey, surrounded by many other Italian immigrants.
They began their family in 1959, with the birth of their first child, Anthony. Later followed Martha, Joann, and Lucia.
Around the year of 1965, Francesco received a job offer in Tennessee, and the family set off into the unknown once again.
In Cleveland, Francesco created coat patterns for SEARS. He worked other odd jobs involving sewing and made pants for his children with a large manually powered sewing machine.
With the earnings from his job, the family was able to rent a home, which they bought in 1971.
In the moment they purchased their home, it was impossible for them to see the future events that would take place there. However, if they had been able to catch a glimpse of the living room nearly 40 years later, they would have recognized a scene of perfect joy.
The grown families of their four children lounged on the cushions of the sofa and overstuffed chair in the corner. Grandchildren reminisced with their siblings and cousins, and great-grandchildren laughed as the youngest of them threw himself to the floor, performing an intricate made-up dance routine to entertain the others.
Their love letters were passed around the room as their daughters attempt to translate them into English, and tears fell as they read aloud the written phrases of love and adoration.
They would have seen their posterity, who to this day, love fiercely. A tightly-bound group focused on food, family, God, and church: values instilled in them by their parents. They would have seen many joyful embraces and prayers of gratitude and gatherings around the dinner table.
And, perhaps most importantly, Lucia would have seen a manifestation of the promises Francesco made to her so many years before:
I will make you happy and I will love you. And I will live only for your sake (good). Stay calm. We will make a good family. And a sincere nest of love.