My father died when I was a teenager, a few years after I left home. This is how it played out: After my father's death, his wife (a stepmother I hardly knew) phoned my mother and my mother phoned me. I phoned my closest sister and the two of us phoned everyone else.
And that was that.
After his passing, I realised that I didn't know very much about him - he was estranged from his own family and the very little I knew about that side of my family was cloaked in myth.
He told me that his father had immigrated to San Francisco from northern Italy as a young man - for some reason I always thought he was from Genoa (I even named my childhood cat after the city). My father said that his mother, Marietta, was also Italian.
My father's secrets died with him. His children (me and my five older siblings) were not invited to his funeral. We were not mentioned in the will and none of us received family photographs or mementos.
In the mid-90s, I received a letter from a man who claimed to be my distant cousin, from my paternal grandmother's side of the family. He was a church minister with an interest in genealogy. He told me that my grandmother was not Italian, but Swiss German! I travelled to Pennsylvania to visit with him, and his wife (what lovely people they are - we're still in touch).
A few years ago, a woman with my same last name contacted me on Facebook, claiming to be my first cousin! I was intrigued and accepted her friend request. My new 'friend' was, in fact, my father's brother's daughter! We formed a friendship over Facebook, bonding over scrabble and Draw Something.
Recently, she remarked that my father resembled her father when he was young. Then, she sent me a letter with these photographs. The young man in the bottom photograph, far left, is my father at age 21 (the two toddlers in the middle photo are my two oldest sisters).
I'd never seen a photo of my father as a young man. I didn't know my great grandfather's name (but I do now!). Last week, I received a letter from my cousin's nephew, offering details of our family tree. I now know the exact town in Italy that my family comes from.
My cousin is digging up some childhood photos of my father. I'm looking forward to her next letter!
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