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Chapter Fourteen – Welcome to America
That phone call in October 2004 came from Tony. He let me know that he and my cousin Roberto would be traveling to the United States to visit me in November. They had made the tickets already, and by coincidence they would arrive just in time for Thanksgiving and stay for a month, just until Christmas. It would be a dreamy holiday season…maybe with a little romance.
From the start, the relationship between Tony and I was a challenge. My father and I drove to JFK Airport to pick up Tony and Roberto. My grandfather – Roberto’s great uncle – insisted on joining us. But he would not come in the car with us. He wanted to drive his own wheels. We all waited with open arms. When the Italians arrived, my grandparents greeted Roberto and Tony, and we introduced Tony to my father before heading back to the car.
As we packed the luggage into the trunk, my father and the two young men teased one another about the various towns they come from in Ischia – “All the wimps come from Barano, all the lazy bums are from Ischia Porto, all the pains in the neck come from Buonopane.” Once we all got in the car, they started discussing Buceto, the wooded area in Ischia that is the place of my father’s childhood and dreams. There, he would pick mushrooms and chestnuts, hike with his family’s dog Fox, and camp out with his sisters and father during the various feast days that had them taking in fireworks from the top of the mountain in their little cantina (wine cellar). My father’s eyes sparkle like the stars in an Ischia sky on a crisp fall evening whenever he gets on the topic of Buceto. Noting this and my father’s brown leather jacket with the collar upturned prompted Tony to nickname him James Dean of Buceto.
There was a lot of traffic that night as we were trying to get from New York to New Jersey, and my grandparents were still behind us in their car. All of a sudden, my grandfather pulls up next to us and starts shouting. We can’t hear him because the windows were down, and we were boisterously reminiscing about my father’s youth in Buceto. We rolled down the windows only to learn that Grandpa was running out of gas. We had to get off the highway somewhere in the Bronx and find the nearest gas station. We made it in the nick of time. But it meant that Roberto and Tony’s first glimpse of the United States was the ghetto. In fact, we saw shady characters with hoodies covering their faces exchanging money in the corner. And the smell of pot wafted through the air.
We took it as an adventure, and so did Roberto and Tony, who are used to the far grittier Napoli, which is right outside of Ischia and their gateway to the mainland. From the moment we got in the car, Tony was secretly texting me sweet little notes. The first was about how happy he was to finally be here with me and how much he was looking forward to this month discovering America. Others followed commenting on how great my father was and what the flight was like.
I was smitten, and I wasn’t paying attention. When we got back on the highway from the gas station, there was a detour. Somehow, we must have gotten on the wrong road. An hour and a half and five more stories on Buceto later, my father and I wondered aloud why it was taking us so long to get home when we were at the Bronx (which is really only 15 minutes away from our house barring traffic). We also realized my grandparents had lost us. They were nowhere to be seen. Up ahead, we saw a sign for Connecticut. We had been driving in the wrong direction. By the time we realized our mistake, turned around, and got home again, we had been traveling for five hours in the car. At least we were all laughing. And we found out my grandparents had just returned home to Long Island when they noticed the mistake.
I sent Tony a text message apologizing for the major error and the lousy start to his vacation. He responded, “I guess this is the price I have to pay to be with you. It’s worth it.” When we entered the house, my mom was waiting with a great spread of food and red, white, and blue balloons to welcome Roberto and Tony. As they were shuffling in and out while unloading the car, my mom whispered to me, “Wow, Tony is tall and handsome!” I couldn’t agree with her more.
Tune into this Web site, Two Worlds, every Monday for the latest installment in my blog about my experiences in Ischia, and every other Monday to ItaliansRus.com for the latest Our Paesani column about all things Italian. Di Meglio is also the Guide to Newlyweds for About.com.