I have a lot of pictures, but they can’t replace the great feelings within for evoking memories about the award ceremonies held in my honor. Both events took place not far from Torino, Italy. Realizing that the title of “Piemontesi Protagonisti” was special—only two people are chosen annually for their contributions to culture, literature, and patriotism to the Piedmont, Richard and I arrived in Northern Italy a week early so we wouldn’t be jetlagged.
The first event was on May 21 in the town near my native village called San Martino Canavese. It’s where I had my first communion and where my great aunt Teresa is buried. The current mayor, Domenico Foghino, was my schoolmate when I was young.
As I arrived at the municipal building on the evening of May 21, I did not know what to expect; Domenico had told me it would be a surprise. The anticipation was thrilling, but the ceremony in the large conference room was the dream of a lifetime. The room was crowded with friends and relatives, representatives of the media, and government officials.
After Mayor Foghino welcomed everyone, my school friends came and sat next to me to read excerpts from my book; the mayor presented me with a plaque of honorary citizenship followed by singing of the national anthem; I talked to the audience (in Italian) about my memories of youth and my difficult emigration. Each moment was nothing less than amazing, including the strains of music from the band that was beckoning me to go out to the plaza.
I assumed this was the end of a beautiful evening, until Domenico (the mayor) instructed all of us to drive down the hill to my town of Pranzalito. As Richard and I approached my one-room schoolhouse where I went through third grade, a procession of cars followed us honking their horns. We felt as if we were part of a wedding procession. But instead, it was the inauguration of the new walk-in clinic housed in my schoolhouse. Town children cut the red white and green extended across the threshold. As we walked in, I noticed my honorary plaque of citizenship hanging on the wall. Yes, the schoolhouse would now be remembered for one of its young students who went to the New World, but enthusiastically had given back to her roots.
For a couple of hours, we all enjoyed snacks, desserts and beverages. Most of the village folk attended, including the children. As they drew pictures of me surviving the Andrea Doria-Stockholm collision, they were amazed to know that the blackboard on which they were drawing was the original that my teachers had written upon. I was amazed too, but wondered where the old yellow map of Italy had gone. It had given me my first sense of belonging to a place and culture that I would embrace for a lifetime.
Richard remarked, “How many people ever get the chance to be honored and remembered in their elementary school?” I guess he’s right that it’s special—and it feels terrific remembering all the smiling faces, handshaking, camera flashes popping, and words of congratulations.
Note: the second ceremony will soon be posted in another blog entry.