While planning my final three weeks in Europe last year, the last thing I ever thought would happen in this world…well, happened. After literally 20+ years of hearing my mom talk about wanting to visit Italy, followed by a quick “Oh I couldn’t possibly”, She shocked the whole world (ok, just me) and declared that she was finally ready to return to the motherland, Terelle Italy.
You see, my mom was born in Italy. She moved to Canada as a child and was brought up in a very Italian household, in the sense that my Nonno and Nonna never really learned to speak English, that Italian. Despite the trips that her parents would take back to Italy, my mom had never been back.
So, throughout the months of April and May, I reluctantly began planning a trip, wondering if at any moment my mom would change her mind or decided that she “couldn’t possibly” go without my sister or dad (Have I mentioned that my mom is basically a saint that never does anything for herself?).
Turns out I had absolutely nothing to worry about. That lady was bright eyed and ready to raise hell around Rome, straight off a 9-hour flight from Toronto. She was the perfect travel companion, along with myself and my friend Catie and oh boy, did that Italian upbringing come in handy!
Never one to shy away from asking for directions, recruiting picture takers or just up for a chat with any random train passenger who had the privilege (or misfortune) to sit beside her, I have to say, I was super proud of my mom. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not always a fairytale to travel with a parent, but it can also be pretty rad.
Since she had waited for so long to finally return home, we knew we had to make a stop in Terelle, the village where she was born. Like most people would assume, being Italian means we have a billion family member AKA people we kinda know/ a have never heard of and are not related to you in any way, but we still call them family. Luckily, we had a “family” member who still lived in the area and owned a restaurant (I’m pretty sure it’s the only one) in the village.
So, off we went, dodging on-coming traffic the whole way up a mountain side, until we arrived in a tiny little village, quite literally nestled into the mountain. As we started to walk around I began seeing signs on buildings with the last names of people in my family. It was so crazy to see.
My cousin was kind enough to take us on a tour through his restaurant, even though it was closed during the week, only to open on weekends, when young professionals vacate the cities and decided to escape to the mountains. Although the village looked like a ghost-town, it apparently comes alive on weekends.
While walking through the village, it quickly became clear that we were becoming the talk of the town. Tiny little Nonnas and Nonnos strolled out of their front doors to see the visitors from “America”. As my mom began to talk to them, it became clear that they all remembered my grandparents. Despite leaving for Canada over 50 years ago, their faces lite up when my mom spoke of my crazy Nonno and they were shocked and saddened to hear that my kind and caring Nonna had passed away.
They embodied true Italian hospitality, guiding my mom to the house that she was born in and the other home that we still own to this day, despite it being boarded up and reclaimed by nature.
One woman, who claimed to be related to my Nonno insisted we join her in her home for an espresso, taking great pride in telling us all about her children and the new remodelling of her home.
After only a short few hours, a huge rainstorm came in and nearly swept us off the side of the mountain, back to the train station.
My only regret from the entire trip was that we couldn’t stay longer. Exploring Terelle was the closest I’ve ever come to discovering my family history. Walking through streets that were filled with empty homes, not lived in since the 1940s and 1950s had me pondering how bad the situation must have been in Italy at that time to force half a village to up and immigrate to Canada.
Who would have thought a half empty farming village, where the average resident is 75+ could rival cities like Rome and Florence?
When it comes to travelling, sometimes the most unexpected places lead to the most unforgettable memories.