In August of 2000, when I went on my first trip to Italy to visit family, I was only 8 years old. Still, even though I went at such a young age, I have incredibly vivid memories about that trip and about meeting my parents’ relatives–my relatives–for the first time. At the time, I spoke only enough Italian to be able to say “hello” and “goodbye,” but that never really stopped me from communicating with either set of grandparents. Three of my four grandparents immigrated from small towns in Sicily that are only about 20 minutes away from each other. Although my dad’s mother was born in Pennsylvania, her parents were also Sicilian immigrants, which makes my family 100% Sicilian. And so, six months after my eighth birthday, my family and I went to Sicily both for vacation and so that my brother and I could meet our relatives and see where we come from.

As it turns out, where we come from is insanely beautiful. It’s hilly and green and the fields of fruit stretch for miles. While we were in Sicily, my family showed us their orchards and had us taste their fresh plums and figs. Other family members showed us their homes that were literally carved into the sides of mountains and took us with them to see what it was really like to herd sheep. My parents’ cousins taught me that the idyllic scenery isn’t all there is to the Sicilian countryside and that hard work can pay off in both delicious food and a deep sleep.

While some cousins showed us how those who do manual labor live in Sicily, others showed us what it was like to live “la vita bella.” Lunch at my Zia Antonina’s summer home lasted for hours and consisted of everything you could possibly think of: antipasti, pasta, meats, vegetables, salads, and desserts. We played card games, ate and drank, talked and laughed. Although I didn’t understand the language, the kind of happiness and satisfaction displayed at those tables doesn’t need words. Dinner was small and later at night than I expected, but the size and timing of the meal was perfectly in proportion with the colossal lunches we had. And after dinner, by the light of the moon in the gorgeous Sicilian night skies, we danced to burn off the meals that we ate and readied ourselves to do it all again the next day.

I learned a lot during my brief stay in Sicily. I discovered the smoky taste of brick oven pizza, and with it that “peperoni” (peppers) is something very different from “pepperoni.” I went to the top of the volcano Mount Etna with my cousins and watched them as they marveled at the first snow they had ever seen. But, most of all, I learned that there is so much more to my heritage and to Italy than I could ever have imagined. And I knew that I would have to go back one day.

By Nicole M. ~ Public Relations Specialist