La Porta Aperta







Fifty years ago, I embarked on the journey of a lifetime. It took courage, an invitation, and some money.

My best lifetime friend, Margie O’Brien, had invited me to join her in an adventure, a trip to Europe. We were from large working-class families and neither of us had traveled very far from our Denver home. Margie had the vision, heard the call.

At first, I said no. I simply did not have the money. All my earnings were saved for next year’s college tuition. But then, my grandmother died. Anna Casagranda left her life savings to her grandchildren. Each of my siblings and I received $1200, the most money I had ever had. It was an invitation from the universe to say yes.

My brother-in-law Ray loaned me his orange frame backpack. My cousin Billy loaned me his camera and gifted me $20. My mother, who at first was not happy about my decision, made me some clothes to take along, a denim jacket and two halter tops. My sister Dianne gave me names and phone numbers of friends she’d made in Europe while she was in the Air Force. “Just call them and say your DeDe’s sister.”

Margie posted a notice on our “rider board” at Colorado State University, and on June 1, 1974, we hopped in a car with some older students who were heading home to New York City. Margie’s dad had advised us to travel by Italian steamship. “These ships won’t always be operating,” he said.  We took his advice, and $600 of our total fund went to our one-way ocean transit from New York to Naples.

The journey across the Atlantic was our initiation. Food was included, so we dined heartily with other Italians at our assigned table. Soon enough we would be living on our planned allotment of $5 – $10 a day for the rest of the summer.

Onboard the SS Rafaello, we wandered the ship by day, danced in the ballrooms at night, made friends with English-speaking youth and Italian passengers, and marveled at the vastness of the sea.

Our summer unfolded along planned and unexpected routes as we learned how to travel by train and bus. We were youth meeting other young people from across the world to see the great European cities. Our legs grew strong from walking, our skin darkened from the Mediterranean sun. We learned how to read maps and communicate creatively using our beginning language skills.

I mark this trip as the first open door to my past. I was making the journey in reverse that my immigrant grandparents had made earlier that century. I knew little about them, and less about Europe. In the years to come I would return to Europe several times to find and visit the villages they left and to meet the cousins who lived there. I would invite other family members through that golden door, across that shining sea.

I imagine Margie and I doing that journey again together now, as older women. The ships no longer run, at least not the Italian steamships. So, for now, I will honor this life-changing event with my words until we can be on the water together somewhere.

I honor our courage. I bless the sea that offered us passage between new world and old. I offer gratitude for my grandmother’s generosity and I thank Margie for the invitation that opened a door to my future and to my past.

“Come Home With Me!”

(reposted from DEA MADRE October 2015)

Carmela Moser was the first person I met in 1980 when I set out to find my father’s relatives in Trentino, Italy. I was on a bus, clearly a traveler with my backpack, headed to the little village of Faida di Pinè, where my grandfather was born. Not many foreigners, and probably never any Americans, rode this bus. The woman on the bus was curious. “I’m searching for my relatives,” I explained in my best Italian. When she learned my cognome was Moser, she said, “Io sono Moser! Vieni a casa con me!” “I am a Moser! Come home with me.”

We spent the next couple of hours listing our families’ names and birthdates, searching for a connection. I explained that my grandfather was Giovanni Moser and had emigrated to the US in the early 1900s. She too had a relative with that name who emigrated about the same time, but ultimately we determined they were not the same person. I learned that most of the people in the village of 300 or so people had the surname of Moser, and that Giovanni was a common first name. After some thought she said that, although we were not related, she knew who my cousins were and where they lived. She directed me to the village of Cirè, where she said my relatives operated the sawmill. I got back on the bus, and sure enough, later that day met Onorina Bortolamedi, the wife of my dad’s first cousin. Carmela, with her vast knowledge of the cultural history of her village, gave me the gift of locating my father’s family. Continue reading

Walking with the Queen

A great sense of joy emerged as I wandered through the forest last weekend, with the midday light of May Eve beaming through. I had entered with a cluttered mind and heart of unfinished projects and unresolved emotions. But after a short while, I realized that pleasure was permeating my senses, awaiting my acknowledgement.  I was immersed in the vibrancy of the plants, birds, mosses, and trees. Once I surrendered my thoughts and offered my complete awareness and admiration, a lightness entered my being that lingered the rest of the day. Merisana’s presence. Continue reading

A Tribute to Irma: Friend, Cousin, Wise Woman

Over the years, when I needed to imagine a place of comfort, it was with my beloved cousin Irma, at her kitchen table.  Today, January 2nd, would have been her 84th birthday.  In July of 2020, we received the most difficult news from our cousins in Italy that she had left this world. Irma felt like more than a cousin, more than a friend. She was a living connection to a way of life that allowed me to see into my family’s story.

Continue reading

The Grace and Wonder of the Christmas Creche

One of the few Christmas decorations I pull out each year is a Christmas manger scene that my mother gave me. Over the decades, Mom would ask me if I had set it up yet, so partly from guilt I would get it out, so that I could say yes. But the truth is, it has brought me a lot of joy to see the little baby Jesus in his crib, surrounded by animals, loving parents, and travelers, and protected by an angel. The human figures no longer stand firmly on their own without toppling over a few times.  It isn’t a finely carved presepio that Italy is known for. The figures and manger are molded plastic, yet they are still tasteful.

One year, the year that was to be my mom’s last, when the Epiphany arrived on January 6th, I resisted taking the nativity set down. Mom was not doing well and having this Holy Child nearby felt like a source of grace and comfort. Mom left hers up as well, and we joked on the phone that this was the longest time that we had ever had them on display into the new year. Continue reading

My Mother’s Letters: Everyday Stories Across Time

edited Mom and Me 2012As a tribute to my mother, Lena Moser, who left this world five years ago today at age 90, it feels appropriate to reprint an excerpt of my introduction from She Is Everywhere, Volume 3. It is a testimony to her resilience (she recovered fully from the episode below), the power of stories to sustain us; and the importance of sharing and caring. Blessed be, dearest Mother! Blessed be!

New Moon, March 4, 2011   As I write this introduction, I have just returned from a period of caring for and being with my mother, who is recovering from a broken hip. When she fell, on January 3, 2011 and hit the floor of her dining room, the earth shook for me upon hearing the news. Learning of her progress with reports from my sister, Marlene, and then witnessing her daily improvements in person have inspired me during these tumbling times of change. Will I have her determination when I am 87 years old to meet such challenges? Do I have such courage now to rise up and learn to move in new ways in a changing world? Will we all be able to do the hard work of rebuilding broken structures that no longer sustain us? Continue reading

“We’ve been waiting for you. . . .”

Felicita.JPGDecades ago, after my grandparents had died, I felt called by my ancestors to visit my ancestral homeland and to find my grandparents’ birthplaces. From the years of genealogical research that followed, I know that I am the daughter of Lena, granddaughter of Edvige, great granddaughter of Felicita, and great great granddaughter of Margerita. It is these women in my motherline who beckoned me to retrieve my cultural heritage with a focus on folk women’s culture.

On the eve of February 2, 2007, the midway point on the solar cycle of the year between the longest night and the spring equinox, I opened El Meledri, the periodical from the village of my maternal grandmother in northern Italy, named for the river that borders the village. Inside, there was a photo of three women: my great grandmother, at the center, and her two oldest daughters, Emma and Erminia on either side. Their eyes seemed to look straight across the ages into mine and say, “We’ve been waiting for you.”

Knowledge of my culture was not handed down to me explicitly, as it was for centuries from mother to daughter, parent to child, for a number of reasons including early deaths, immigration to the United States, discrimination, and the missing link of stories tied to particular places.

Much of the oral history was lost due to language. My mother could understand her mother’s spoken dialect (a particular variation of Italian), but she responded to her in English. Here in the United States, my grandmother’s language—the very medium of agency through which her culture had been communicated for generations—became a source of shame, due to her inability to speak “good English.” Her oldest daughter, my Aunt Annie, told me that my grandmother brought her along as a translator in shops to conduct transactions. Through language courses, and with time, my grandmother mastered the English necessary to pass the difficult exam for citizenship, which became a source of pride.

Three years before I was born, my grandmother died while sitting in my mother’s kitchen. As a result, I did not hear a single word of my grandmother’s language growing up. Only in 1981, when I traveled with my mother to Italy so that she could see the birth village of her mother, did this hidden language that she held inside for thirty years tumble out.

In this unfolding story of my heritage, I have sought to recover and make more evident the folk wisdom of my ancestors, particularly of my female ancestors. The arrival of the photo of my bisononna by mail on the sacred day of Santa Brigida, also known as Candlemas, while I was deep in coursework for my dissertation on my ancestral heritage, seemed to be an auspicious affirmation of my Ancestor’s desire to be known.

From my studies and travels, I now know – and thus can appreciate more fully – the numerous ways that cultural values have been transmitted to me in everyday family life, including through food, clothing, medicine, religious practices, acts of service, and celebration.

The Motherline: Laundry, Lunedi, and Women’s Lineage

14264002_10207126183218621_3293015868250446570_n2The blackberries are fermenting on the vine, fallen leaves blanket the picnic table, and the slice of sun on my clothesline arrives later each day. With the arrival of fall, the days of being able to hang my laundry outside are growing fewer. Lately I have been pondering my passion for this ritual of outdoor clothes drying. Is it only the sensual pleasure I crave, or something more? Continue reading