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Her name was Mariuccia
It was July of 1975, a few weeks before I was to come to America. My father and I were heading home after shopping for lunch at the “Vucciria”, the oldest open market in Palermo. Our car was loaded down with a selection of wonderful fresh ingredients and the aroma from the garlic, fresh vegetables, cheeses, salamis and other goods teased appetites with the promise of another memorable meal in the Stellino’s kitchen.
Throughout our buying spree at the market, my father had been acting strangely all morning. He had been very quiet and reserved. Even bargaining with the food vendors , his favorite activity had not improved his mood. As we were driving home we did not exchange a word, then suddenly and unexpectedly he took an unusual turn on the road. Instead oh heading for home he steered the car toward the harbor. I looked at him, but he did not look back. I thought maybe he wanted to make one last stop at Don Gioacchino’s Fishery, one of his regular haunts in that part of town. Instead he drove the car past the gates of the harbor. He parked by the pier at the end. I had been there before, once ,when we had taken the boat to Naples, that was the largest pier, usually reserved for the passenger boats.
He exited the car and slowly started to walk toward the edge of the pier. I followed along thinking maybe there was something he wanted to show me. There he stood at the edge of the pier staring out into the blue Mediterranean sea, the summer breeze was blowing softly. The horizon was dotted here and there with by a multitude of colorful fishing boats and the large cargo ships entering and leaving the harbor. I stood next to him wondering what was about to come next. He pulled out a cigarette, lit a mach and covering the flame from the breeze he took a long drag, inhaling deep. “Her name was Mariuccia” he murmured to me in a soft voice. He took another drag , the smoke blew out of his nostrils in a thick bellowing cloud, and kept staring ahead
A pang of fear attacked my heart: “Who was Mariuccia?” I said to myself “What was my father telling me?” with melodramatic overtones, I let my thoughts run past me. I turned around to look at his face, waiting for a smile, hoping that he was joking. He said it again: “ Her name was Mariuccia”, and, as he spoke to me, his hand reached inside his pocket and pulled out a yellowed piece of paper. He handed it to me then turned around to look at my expression. His eyes were sullen and his lips were quivering. I took the paper from his hand and started to unfold it, carefully and attentively making sure that I would not put a tear along the old folds.
My mother Massimiliana, my father Vincenzo and Me
My eyes, quickly, darted through the document before. The first thing that screamed at me was the date January 1958. That was 4 months before I was born. I studied the document attentively reading it carefully line by line. It was a work permit, an immigration certificate for Mr. and Mrs. Vincenzo Stellino. The document set their departure date in January of 1958 from Palermo’s harbor, destination:….. New York. The name of the ship which would have taken the young family to America was “Mariuccia.”
We looked at each other without uttering a word, for the first time I truly understood what my father really meant every time he told my brother and I: “L’America e’ un sogno!” ( America is a dream!). My dream was now ready before me, a few weeks away. But it was “his” a life time ago. America became my dream, my destiny because my father sacrificed his.
I looked at his eyes, fighting back my own emotions I kissed him on his cheek and I whispered” “Papa’ ti voglio bene”(Dad I love you.) I held his hand and together we stood at the end of the pier, staring out at the horizon dreaming together of another land, on the other side of the horizon. A place where the ocean is always full of fishes and all the dreams always come true: “America.”
Looking out into the blue sea, my father ran his hand over my head like he used to do when I was a kid and he asked” Nicolino hai fame?(Nick are you hungry)”
I nodded timidly without uttering a sound. He pinched my cheeks with both of his hands and with a big smile on his face he said” Let’s go home and cook something, there is a special dish I want to teach you, one day you will prepare it for your friends in America!”
As I got into the car my father repeated to me: “ Nicolino, remember, L’America e’ un sogno!(America is a dream.)”