Island of Ancestors
My ancestor summoned me. Seated with his back to me, he waited before a round hearth burning in the center of the stone floor. Long shadows cast by a glowing embers flicker on the stonewalls of the Abby’s great hall. A path of carved stone circled him like a labyrinth. It meandered to a wood bench, continued round, and formed the complete arc.
Cloaked in a deep blue hooded robe, his garbed arm motioned me inside and then swept out toward the bench. I turned, took two quick steps left and stopped when a voice said, ”Michelle, think. If you continue, you will walk into the future. Is it the future you want or is it the past?”
“Then you must move against time to find your answer.”
I walked counter to time, faced my ancestor and sat on the bench. The vague memory I have of his face is from single digit years. He was old then. He is old now, but the same, with a face not defined so much by age and wrinkles, but by experience. He pushed the hood back and his hair, a familiar sungold red of reflected fire, gleamed in the dim light. It’s a color that skips through the generations, bypassing my dad. On me, it became a red gold highlight glinting in dark brown.
My grandfather’s eyes, eyes I gaze at in a daily mirror inventory, are Sicilian blue-gray, a lit fire of amusement, and they smiled at me. His eyes are his legacy passed from son to daughter to my sons.
He is fifty-year fast forward, in face shape, personality, and coloring, a reincarnation of my oldest child, Shane.
“You give a him en a Irish name.” He laughed.
A smile lit my face. I nodded, remembering stories are rarely told about my Dad’s family.
My grandfather left Sicily as a young man. He married a girl of sixteen; one so naive she didn’t know how her pregnancies happened. He brought her and my two uncles to the promised world, land buried in the Allegheny foothills of rural western New York, the village of Falconer, home to autumn’s colorful hardwood trees and relocated Italian immigrants.
Little was said about my grandfather’s arrival in Falconer. Signs posted for employment stipulated, “No Italians need apply.” He found work because they thought he was Irish with his red hair and fair coloring. To survive, he didn’t speak at work, but insisted my Dad and his siblings become bilingual and Americanized. He emphasized the need to blend in and become citizens, except in the family home they spoke the old language and lived the old school Italian way.
He changed his last name from Federico to Frederick and his first from Ignatius to Tony. Ma, changed hers from Constantina to Mary. Franco became Frank and Karl became Cross. My dad, little Giovanni, became Johnny. Later, my grandparents would adopt a daughter, Rose Marie. Ma, the story goes, needed someone to help with the household chores and the small corner grocery store they opened and operated from the front of their brick, two-story home until they were stopped by age.
He handed me a small paper bag. Inside were life lessons, messages given since childhood. Candy bars, wrapped in colorful paper. He said, “Almond Joy is a for happiness an a because some a times one should a feel like a nut. Snickers is a for laughter. Lotsa Hershey kisses for love. A $1,000.00 candy bar, success. A Heath bar, with its sweet outer coating and its hard amber core is a for adversity removed is a
inner strength. A Baby Ruth bar, life is a game an a to be a winna you must a touched all a you
all you bases to reacha you dreams.”
“Thank-you, Granpa.” I stood up and hugged him., something I don’t recall ever doing. I was so young when he died. “I wish I had something to give to you.”
“Michelle, will you a do a sumptin for me?” I nodded. “You can give a me the gift of remembrance. Honor the entrepreneurial spirit. Keep a going with the things you know are a right in a you heart even if it goes against what others say and social climate says you a no good. This a family it is a family of survivors, even if there are only a few of us left.”
I reached into the bag of candy and handed him three kisses. I smiled and said, “One for now, one for later and one for when you go to bed.” I laughed. “Oh, grandpa, so that’s where that saying came from.”