One of my biggest goals in studying abroad this semester in Rome, was to visit the town where my grandfather was born and either find someone who knew him or find a distant relative of mine. Being centrally located in Italy’s largest city makes it very accessible to travel throughout the country (a major plus!). Last weekend I got the chance to travel to the Marche region of Italy to visit some family friends in the town of San Benedetto and see the childhood home of my grandfather outside the city of Ascoli Piceno.
My friend Grace and I left Rome Friday morning and arrived in San Benedetto, a beach town on the Adriatic coast, by mid-afternoon. My uncle has relation in San Benedetto, and we arranged to meet up this weekend. My uncle’s cousin Valentina is my age and spent time in America this past summer, so I knew her before arriving. She and her family got us set up in a bed and breakfast (also owned by relation to my uncle!) near their home and really helped us a great deal throughout the weekend.
We we spent Saturday morning lounging along the Adriatic, then in the afternoon set out to explore the town in which my grandfather is from. I came to Italy with a photo of his home and the name of the man living there now. I had no idea what to expect out of this weekend, but what ended up happening was truly amazing.
My grandfather was born in outside of Ascoli Piceno in a small town called Santa Maria a Corte. When I say small..I mean small! The little town consisted of only about 15 homes, a church, and a small square. We parked and approached the first two men we saw sitting on a bench. Valentina’s father, Leone, asked them in Italian, “Do you happen to know a Mario Cagnetti? He used to live here and now his granddaughter is back from America to find his old house.” The men looked shocked, then answered yes! Just that had me excited, the fact that they knew my grandfather was so cool! Leone then proceeded to show them the picture of my grandfather’s house that I had brought with me, and the older of the two men looked at it and said, “That’s my house, and I’m in that picture!” Now I was in shock..the first person I come in contact with in this little town is Domenico, the man that now lives in my grandfather’s home and who was a friend of my grandfather before he moved to America. He was so excited and little shocked himself. He walked us through the town and we ended up in front of my grandfather’s old house.
I took a few pictures, and his wife, Gina, came outside. He told her what was going on and she was also ecstatic! Mind you, I was heavily relying on Valentina and her father’s translations to understand all of this conversation. Gina brought out some drinks and pulled up chairs for us all to sit outside. It was the most surreal moment of my life- sitting in front of my grandfather’s old home having a drink with the people who now live there. I would have given anything for the rest of my family to have been there with me!
We headed out and headed into the larger city of Ascoli Picerno, in which my grandfather used to work before he moved to the United States. It was a beautiful, more modern city than I imagined. I took lots of pictures to bring back for my grandfather, and bought plenty of postcards to send home to my family. I was the first of his grandchildren to get back to the town were he was born, so this was definitely a huge moment for my family, and one of the most important and meaningful weekends of my life.