Sunday, September 15, 2013

Shoes to Fill (An Ancestor Story)

     Whose shoes have you trod in? I thought about this today while reading posts in an ancestry site I belong to. The answer: All of those who have gone before us.
     It was last summer when I began doing research for a story I was writing at the time. Though fiction, I still wanted to use my own great-grandfather as the subject for the beginning of this tale. A haunting photo of him sparked my imagination and I was relentless in my pursuit.
     I joined sites, asked questions and spoke to relatives I hadn't seen in years. What did they know of him, what did they remember from stories they might have heard as children?
     We had some big shoes to fill. Pietro Biancucci was a young man when he arrived in this country. Leaving behind wife and children in Patrica, Italy to find work in America, the task couldn't have been easy. He spoke only Italian. He'd never traveled before.What would it be like when he arrived? Yet he found good work and with his carpentry skills, sent for his family to join him after a time.
     The tales I heard about him all seemed to paint a portrait of a soft-spoken, good-hearted man. With a shy wife, I'd found that Pietro had to explain the facts of life to his daughters, a task which must have not been easy. Also, he had been the one in his family to make homemade pasta. One of the most intriguing stories I'd heard was about a misunderstanding. Some men had accused my great-grandfather of some sort of mafia issues. He'd gone to the foreman in the mill he was working at and explained to the man that the story wasn't true. The foreman knew Pietro to be a man of character, so he'd taken care of the problem, though I'm not sure how.
     He died of pneumonia, something so easily curable now, in his forties. A good life snuffed out way too soon.
     My great aunts and uncle were a tribute to this man, their father. For each of them had lives, stories, love shared and lost. Good times and bad. Happiness and sadness. And my own mother, the product of generations later, a good, compassionate woman, a woman who taught me everyone has a story. A woman who carries within her the blood of these generations past and the tales handed down through the years.
     We all have shoes to fill and paths to trod upon. May your journey, and the tales of your ancestors light the way for you as you seek to discover the stories which molded you and the people who've gone before you. Don't wait another day. Learn all you can, share photos and look up relatives you haven't spoken to in years. Visit that aging grandparent, or great aunt or uncle. Don't let time slip by before you discover the shoes you are meant to wear. The person you're meant to become.

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