Peace delivered in unexpected ways
June 02, 2010
Cleaning out the old homestead actually brings a peace of mind I didn't expect.
I come across some photos I had made years ago. Precious photos. Copies of old photos that date back to the turn of the century or before. I collected the original photos from my folks and my aunt and put them into the capable hands of acclaimed area photographer Mike Mercier. Copying and restoring old photos to the extent possible is among Mike's talents. Good old fashioned darkroom work required.
I asked Mike to make enough copies so I could give them to my sisters, folks and aunt. And he did. I also had negatives of the old photos too. I just didn't know where I had put them.
It bothered me for several years. Especially the photos of the two brothers. My great-uncles who were killed in World War I.
Old photos of my parents and their parents are rare. Photos of extended family members are practically non-existent. So when I had a chance to get my hands on the photos of Concetto and Ferdinando Catenaro I grabbed it. In the fog that has been my life over the past few years, it had been haunting me. The photos existence, just like their lives, were real and they haunted me like ghosts.
I knew I put them (and photocopies of pages from my sister's journal) in a safe place. I just couldn't remember where that safe place was.
The interconnection of the photos and journal writings were a treasure for my sisters and me. Sometime in the early 1990s the youngest of us (Virginia) took a job in Italy. 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. 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.
So cleaning out the old abode getting ready for whatever lies ahead does bring something other than dread. It brings peace by way of a dusty, plump Manila envelope that holds the photos that had been haunting me. And as if to underline my one time ability to squirrel away important treasures, the journal entries appear along with them.
I look into the faces of the brothers. Ferdinando and Concetto Catenaro, born two years apart in a mountain 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 they were born. Where my father and my aunt were born. Their story echoes through the ages, is certainly familiar in many languages. And like the lost photos haunted me until I found peace, it turns out the brothers' story involves a haunting 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, Angela 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. From that day forward, Teresa Marrone found peace...
Sometimes peace comes in surprising ways. My wish is for all to find it.
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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.