This post has been inspired by pscapp and his blog about “Reading, Writing, Running, and Rhythm”. He frequents a retirement community where he plays guitar and sings the old tunes for the residents. In this post, he talks about one story that a resident told him about his army time in the 1940s.
It reminded me of a story about my own father.
My dad was an Italian immigrant and he joined the Canadian Army in 1942 as a Signalman. Perhaps it was inevitable that he would find himself back in Italy for the invasion of Sicily in 1943 where he was often called upon to act as an interpreter.
My father rarely talked about his time in the army and after he passed away in 1999, my brother-in-law shared a story which I had never heard before – one that my dad had told him some years earlier.
As the Allied troops were pushing their way north from Sicily towards the French border, my father recognized one day that they were within 3 or 4 miles of his home village. He asked permission to leave the unit briefly to visit his family still living there.
My father was given permission and told to take another soldier with him since the area wasn’t yet secure. They were to return by 8 pm.
So it was mid-afternoon when they set off. He quickly found his aunts, uncles, and cousins who – according to my dad – had welcomed him as the ‘great liberator’. Celebrations began and lasted well past the 8 pm curfew. Before they knew it, it was 8 am the following morning and they were in big trouble.
They eventually caught up with their unit, which had continued to move northward. His Commanding Officer was not very happy with them, but considering he had thought they had been either shot or captured, he considered it all good. They had managed to get off without punishment for their tardiness … and hungover condition.
I was thrilled when I had heard this story because I had always believed my father had never returned to his home town. That just seemed very sad to me.
As it turned out however, there was another side to this story which I was going to hear years later.
The year was 2013 when Gilles and I headed to Rome to celebrate our 30th anniversary. Since we were “so close” to my father’s home town, I wanted to make the 5 hour drive to visit my father’s birthplace in the province of Calabria.
What I hadn’t expected was to actually meet family while we were there …. which is a story all of its own. This was family I had never met and quite frankly, I didn’t know even existed. During the brief time we had together, I mentioned the story about my father having returned to Pietrafitta in the 1940s. I received a very odd expression in response.
It turns out they had heard a similar story from their grandmother about a Canadian relative who had unexpectedly returned during the war. They heard the knock at the door and saw the uniformed soldiers standing outside. They had not recognized my father and were terrified. They refused to open the door.
It took considerable persuasion to convince them of my father’s identity … at which point the celebrations did eventually begin.
What I loved about this story was that many decades later, 4 strangers would meet unexpectedly – connected by two sisters who were long dead. Their distant common history would suddenly become strong connective tissue because of a story about a Canadian soldier who had returned to his home town to visit in 1943.