After meeting a Sicilian cousin in Ireland, I decided I would book a trip to Italy. I knew this was a sign from Spirit to go for it! How could I not!? I thought I was crazy for taking two large international trips in such a short amount of time, but it worked out.
I booked my trip for the end of Sept./early October, and I planned to go to Grotte in Sicily where my great-grandfather (Amodeo) was from, as well as spend the rest of my time relaxing on the beach in Tropea.
YEAH RIGHT. This area had no websites of these places, whatsoever! About the only site I could find was the town’s website where it listed the names of the churches, the officials of the town, etc. I was lucky to find a “Contact Me” button, and figured I should try…so here I went, writing to someone who I was, that I was coming, and this is the information I needed. I sent him every document I had and any old photos of Amodeo in case he recognized anyone in town to look like him.
An angel of a man named Carmelo wrote me back within a day or two!!! He received my email and is in charge of the town’s website and posting the daily news. He told me after reviewing my information that he thinks I am related to a particular family, and he told me specifically about a man named Diego Aquilina, who works for the town. I was BLOWN AWAY to have gotten a response, let alone this specific of information.
I sent Diego an e-mail requesting an appointment to meet with him, and told him when I’d be there. I sent him also all the documentation I had. Unfortunately, I never heard anything from him. I was really nervous showing up, naturally, because I had no idea what to expect. He may have thought I was nuts, he may welcome me. I was nervous.
It was a LONG journey to get there, but I finally arrived in Grotte. I had to take a flight from the US to Rome, then to Palermo, where I stayed overnight. I could barely understand the owner of the hotel’s accent (in English or Italian) not to mention being completely jet lagged. This worried me also because I hadn’t really spoken or heard much in 5 years! I did practice for a few weeks with my high school Italian teacher online before I went (thank God!) but it was still difficult.
Upon arriving at the Comune (town hall) of Grotte, I was met by Diego and his brother Lillo as well as the mayor of the town. I about fell over – Diego (left) ABSOLUTELY resembles my grandfather (right)!
When we arrived at his cousin’s house, this is where I discovered the fact that Diego did not think I was a relative of his. He said all his family he’s aware of either still live in Italy, or have immigrated to France or Belgium, but nobody to the US. His cousin spoke up, and said, “Yes, I’ve heard of Rochester NY” and she knew it was somehow connected to the family, but was unclear how. Hmm! All I know is that Amodeo was one of the youngest siblings (his dad was older when he had him) and the other siblings were much older. What I think happened is once Amodeo left Italy at age 16 (and never came back) his older siblings never talked about him. I am almost positive this is why Diego has no knowledge of him – his dad (who I presume was one of Amodeo’s older brothers) probably never spoke of him.
After this, Diego took me back to the town hall, where he arranged a meeting of all the Aquilina family from the town to come together to meet me!!! He told me this was not his Aquilina family, because there are 2 families there with the same last name. Upon walking in, it was like I came home for a homecoming party – everyone was SO excited and happy to see me!
After I got introduced to everyone, the mayor officiated a ‘presentation’ giving me a certificate acknowledging that I officially have connections to Grotte, which was incredible! Where else in the world would a town’s mayor give you special attention!? Unbelievable…
Once things wound down, Diego invited everyone to meet for coffee/light dessert, which at that point I was needing to wind down. In a matter of 7 hours, the things I always dreamt about and wondered about as a kid came true – in those moments! When I tell you I couldn’t sleep that night, it was no joke. I was high on adrenaline!
A huge thank you to Carmelo Arnone! I am forever grateful! If he hadn’t responded, I would never have had this beautiful experience!
The next day I traveled to Agrigento with Lillo. There were some amazing Greek ruins there, and we stopped to see the Scala dei Turchi – just beautiful!