As an adult adoptee looking back, one of my regrets was not growing up with my Italian heritage. In my recent memoir The Goodbye Baby: A Diary about Adoption, I lamented this “deprivation.” However, I DID meet my Italian-American birthfather. I was able to travel with him to Abruzzo, where he was born. It was to be the last time I saw him, as he passed away shortly after our return. This is the second part of my essay about our trip to Italy…
I ran every morning of our two-week stay in San Martino Sulla Marrucina. The miles melted away. Propelled by fascinating sights, smells, sounds and sensations, I was hardly aware of moving. I glided by the town’s gothic style cathedral, the tobacco shop, the nursery school, multistoried buildings with flower-laden balconies, graceful patios, tiny cats peeking from doorways, sheep, chickens, olive trees and grapevines. The town’s dogs barked and lunged as I ran by. Lucky for me, they were chained or fenced in. By the third day, I thought I’d run every cobblestone street and traversed every steep, narrow alleyway.
But I was wrong. One of my rewarding outings came about as a result of a funeral. A village dignitary had died, and I was invited by my cousins to join a procession to the “camposanto.” Thus on this morning, I walked rather than ran. The entire population of San Martino had joined in the solemn on-foot parade to the final laying-to-rest of the deceased. After interment, my cousin Carlo pointed out many tombs that contained his (and my own) late kinsfolk. All the while, I made mental notes of possible new running sites. I discovered a narrow path, just beyond the village proper, that descended to a lovely valley and forest.
After the funeral and from then on, this path was my favorite running destination. I went from my aunt’s house to the “camposanto” to pay respects to anyone who might have been related, however distantly, to me. That accomplished, I explored the paths beyond. In the marvelous way that running has of leading us to we don’t know where, I powered my way up small roads through cultivated fields and olive groves. During several forays, I rambled through dense forests, each time discovering something new.
One day, I spotted a garden plot of red chile peppers that looked just like those of my native New Mexico. Another time, I spotted a prickly ball along the road, a small animal something like a round porcupine. Was it dead or just hibernating? When I returned, cousin Carlo told me, “These animals are very useful. They kill garden pests and are also good to eat.” When they feel threatened, he added, they curl themselves up into balls.
A week before the end of my Italian sojourn, the weather turned colder. Until now, it had been summer. The sky became moody and the moist air promised rain and the coming winter. On one of my final runs in Italy, I took along a bag and collected fallen autumn leaves to press and take back to America.
On my next-to-last day in San Martino, I ran through town, passing my favorite little lady and her three cats, the post office,the tobacco shop. Just as I was heading back to my aunt’s house, Carlo and his wife Bianca drove up beside me, stopped their car and invited me to go shopping with them. When we reached the town of Guardiagrelee, it became obvious that their mission was to buy presents for me — handmade lace, a brass oil lamp, pottery, a cookbook written in English and Italian.
The day of my departure, I took a predawn farewell run, and then it was time to return to Rome and the United States. My wish to meet with the dad I’d never known had been granted, at least partially. So much time had passed, “water under the bridge” my father called it, that we might never become closely bonded father and daughter. However, sharing San Martino with my father was precious beyond words. Miles of running through his village enriched my memory bank forever.