As the band and folk dancing troupe marches forward, they awake the crowd with their battle cries set to music. The beat of the tambourine, the melody of the clarinet, and the stomping of their feet moves me in a way that is hard to explain. I feel like I’m floating over another time and place, when the roots of my family were just being planted somewhere far, far away from my home.
The group is about to act out the story of a war that broke out – as a result of a love triangle – between my paternal ancestral hometown of Buonopane and my maternal ancestral hometown of Barano on the island of Ischia in Italy. Buonopane was the clear winner because it is there that generations of musicians and dancers have reenacted the story in this dramatic, breathtaking fashion that has men swinging wooden swords in unison while singing and keeping rhythm.
Once my family was a big part of this special tradition that continues today. The arrow in the postcard above is pointing to my paternal grandfather, Giovanni Battista. He played the clarinet and participation in this historic group, ‘Ndrezzata, was a cornerstone in his life. He considered the other members of the group his family, and he talked about his time playing with them as others have described being the star of their high school football team.
Yet, he would leave them and the only life he ever knew in Ischia for the prosperity of America, when he was already more than 50 years old. Always a hard worker, he worked in factories and as a landscaper in the United States until he was 72. He lost a finger in the factory here and had to give up the clarinet for good. But he had already bid farewell to that life; America left no room for music or playing cards or drinking wine with his buddies like he often did in the Motherland.
Now this postcard hangs on a wall in my living room, a tribute not only to the man I knew as my grandfather but also to honor the sweet life he gave up so we could have ours.