You may remember the winter Olympics held in Turin, Italy. Nearly a hundred years ago, my great-grandparents came from this area, got on a ship in Le Havre, France, and came to America. They left the village of Volpiano behind and started a new life on the prairie of western Nebraska.
Pietro (Pete) and Domenica (known as Minnie) Amateis didn't have it easy. They spoke no English and farming was a tough life to live. But they went on to have eight children - three girls and five boys - owned their own farm, and built their own house.
I've always been fascinated by my Italian heritage. My grandfather and my great uncles used to sit around the table after a cattle branding at my house while I was growing up (the homestead where my great-grandparents settled) and tell stories about their childhood. I listened, fascinated by the antics of my great-grandfather in chasing a thief from the chicken coop or how he used to eat eggs and bacon every morning for breakfast, but never worried about his cholesterol.
I have pictures of my great-grandmother, but she never looks very happy. I think she had a hard life here in America. When she was a girl in Italy, she worked in a silk factory, tying thread. My great-grandfather used to take marble across the border into France and have to watch out for attacks from the gypsies. They wanted a better life, so they left everything they knew behind and came here where they knew nothing - not the language, the customs, or even how vast this country was. But they especially didn't realize how tough life would be.
When my father was in the air force, he had an officer tell him that our last name - Amateis - was an old French name. We were puzzled by this for awhile since we are an Italian family. But it turns out that we come from the Piedmont area in northern Italy, an area that used to be under the French House of Savoy.
I still have plenty of relatives in Italy - especially in Volpiano. And I can't wait to meet them, which is why I'm tentatively planning a trip to the "mother country" with my two brothers and my father for next year or the year after. We've all wanted to visit for a long time - and I think now the time has come. Not only will I be able to research my roots, meet my family, and bask in the Italian sunshine, but I'll also be able to soak in the culture of my ancestors and hopefully be able to transfer that experience into my novel. It's the perfect combination!