What’s in a name you ask? Well, for me it was an accumulation of decisions that brought me to this intersection that is known as now. Let me give you one such example out of millions.
My Grandfather Colargio Zito and my Grandmother Giovana came to the new World in the early part of the Twentieth Century, 1902 and 1904 to be exact. I am talking of a 32-year-old man who left everything he knew, loved and understood for a better life. His first wife, who died very early in Sicily, gave him a child named Mary, my Aunt Mary to be exact. They struggled to find a place for themselves like so many other immigrants of the time being called Wop, Guinea, Gangster. The height of intolerance was upon the land and anyone who was not Anglo Saxon need not apply. This was as true for the Irish, Germans, Polish, Jews, African, Spanish and any others that were different. It is little wonder that they all huddled together, in the same neighborhoods. Italians on one block, Jews on the next, Irish and so on. Within those refugees there was a semblance of order and understanding, familiarity. One could speak his or her native tongue and not be ridiculed.
Soon after my Grandfather’s arrival, a courtship pursued between him and my Grandmother. They were set up, so to speak, by the ladies of the day and soon after they wed. They had six more children, one boy and five girls, the youngest of which was my Mother, Giovana. But that name was soon stripped away at school. You see, the teachers of the day did not look so kindly on Italian names and so they insisted they be changed to their English equivalent. That’s when my Mother became Jeanette. Of course, all of her sisters were given different names such as Jenny, Katie, Lily, Connie and Mary. My uncle who also died young, Johnny, died of Pneumonia. Now there are only two sisters left, we lost Jenny two weeks ago at the age of 100. Lilly is 96 and my mom is 82. Yes, as the great Dylan song goes, “The times they are a changing” for sure.
I need to thank my Grandfather who, by the way, I never met. No, he was gone as well as my Grandmother before I came along. Not to worry, my Grandmother had two sisters and they filled in that role nicely. They took all the children under their wings and provided the nurturing that would have come from their real Mother and gave me my only true Grandmother experience. Got to love the old ways, picking up the pieces was without question as natural an act as there could be. My Grandfather leaving what he knew, braved the sea, the brunt of jokes and humiliation, to give me the opportunity I would never have known. Hell, I would not even be here if not for this brave man. On our Zito Family label, the humblest of our wines. Made to drink now, affordable, and a reminder of so many of the wines made in the cellars of Italians like my Grandfather. You will see a park bench with two glasses, wine poured in both. The one wish if could be granted to spend a afternoon on that bench with him and speak of things I don’t understand. To thank him and ask why he did what he did. To show him what he had created, the vast family that now is rooted so deeply in America numbering in the hundreds. Yes the glasses are full and they await the moment when we are finally together. I will sit with him and ask these things and we will drink till we’ve had enough, or I’m all talked out.
To you my fearless man, all 5 foot 4 inches of pure love and tenacity. To you and my Grandmother, who I will also sit with when the time comes. To my Great Aunts who treated me better than I ever deserved, to my Aunts who were always there for us and loved us nearly as much as their own children. To a time past that’s worth striving for again. To family, the kind of which cannot be measured in anything other than love. I salute you all and will strive to be better, closer to the principles you bestowed on all of us.
That’s it, getting blurry, must be something in my eye.
I’ll be up soon Grandpa