November 08, 2017Just in time for this Veterans Day, I come across some photos and an old column I had written years ago. The photos are precious. Copies of old photos that date back to the turn of the century or before. This is a rarity in my family, as our relatives were all in the 'old country.'
I got my hands on the original photos, asking my folks and my aunt to loan them to me so I could put them into the capable hands of acclaimed area photographer Mike Mercier, who is on staff with us now. Years ago, Mike was into copying and restoring old photos, which I believe he and a friend did in a darkroom in Detroit.
I asked Mike to make enough copies so I could give them to my sisters, folks and aunt.
Among those precious photos are those of the two brothers. The brothers whose story has haunted me for a while. My grandmother Caterina's brothers—my great-uncles who were killed in World War I.
Concetto and Ferdinando Catenaro. I remember the story my sister Virginia was told when she visited my Dad's hometown—Pescosolido, Italy—for the first time. She wrote it down in her journal, and gave me photocopies of the pages because the story was so compelling.
In the early 1990s, Virginia moved to Italy for a job. Early in her stay she went on a road trip high into the mountains of Pescosolido and low into the valleys of Umbria to meet our relatives on both sides—Dad's and Mom's. She took notes at the end of each day. Descriptions of the landscape, the meals, the emotions line the pages in hurried handwriting. The journal entries, like the photos, are priceless.
I look into the faces of the brothers. Ferdinando and Concetto Catenaro, born two years apart in the mountain village of Pescosolido. A village that is rich in natural beauty but poor in future promise for such determined young men. According to the ship's manifest records at Ellis Island, Concetto makes his first trip to the gold paved streets of the USA in 1907 when he is just 16. He travels alone, ultimately bound for relatives in Toronto, the records say.
Ferdinando follows in 1913 at the age of 20, according to the records. He leaves Naples and presumably joins his brother in Detroit.
My sister learns about their fate during her first visit to Pescosolido, where the brothers, and my father and my aunt were born. Their story echoes through the ages, is certainly familiar in many languages. A haunting story that involves a sort of peace as well. Here are excerpts from my sister's journal:
From Rome it was off via a very laborious effort to find the highway to Pescosolido...I had always heard of towns like these and saw pictures but seeing this small old town marked by the belltower of the church nestled in the mountains and knowing Dad was born there and a part of this type of lifestyle is in our blood sent shivers down my spine...
I asked Zio Andrea (uncle) about Nonno (grandfather) and he said he could not tell me many things. He was only certain that Nonno had lived a difficult life, that growing up as an orphan he was forced to work for his living as young as five years old...
He also told of the story of (our grandmother) Nonna's brothers, Ferdinando and Concetto, who had gone to the U.S. (Detroit) at 18 and 20 years old, and when the first world war broke out their father, Angelo Catenaro (Nonna's dad) made them come back to Italy to serve because if they did not do so they would be denouncing their country.
When they came back they went immediately to war and were killed in action 21 days apart.
Nonna's mom, Teresa Marrone, cried for four months and would not forgive her husband until one day a woman arrived from a nearby town asking for the Catenaro family.
When she found Teresa Marrone she said that for three months she had been dreaming of two soldiers that were killed in the war, and it was tormenting her. She had to find where they were from and tell someone about her dreams. From that day forward, Teresa Marrone found peace...
Sometimes peace comes in surprising ways. My wish is for all to find it.
Email Catherine at firstname.lastname@example.org
Catherine Minolli is Managing Editor of the Tri-City Times. She began as a freelance writer with the Times in 1994. She enjoys the country life, including raising ducks and chickens.