I was born in the red-brick Italian City of the Twin Towers, Bologna. The war had ended a few years before, and my parents were back in the town they both loved after spending the last two years of the war in Como with my father’s family. Compared to Bologna, which would be heavily bombed by the Allies, Como was a relatively safe haven, probably because of its proximity to neutral Switzerland. Not long after my birth Dad decided to seek his fortune in America and booked passage on an Ocean Liner for New York. Mother and I would join him five years later!
My father came from an Italian-American family of Piedmontese origin. My paternal grandfather was from a small village called Castelletto Ticino, practically on the border between Lombardy and Piedmont, where the Paracchinis abound. The last time I visited Castelletto Ticino, more than a score of Paracchinis still populated the small town. You can spell the name with one “c” or two. Nonno Paracchini had moved his family to America after Piedmontese mines ran out of coal. Dad and his brother and sisters were born in Herminia, PA., a coal mining town near Pittsburgh.
After catching the “black lung” (aka “silicosis”), my paternal grandfather decided to return to Italy for some rest and rehabilitation. During the return voyage, the Paracchinis occupied third-class accommodations on an old Steamer. During the return voyage, my grandfather and his wife and four children were crammed below deck in the ship’s hull full of other poor people, like in the film Titanic. Midway between New York and Genoa, Italy, the so-called “Spanish Flu” broke out. Hundreds of people became ill; many died on board and were buried at sea. One such fatality was my aunt Luisa, whom I would never get to know and love. Once back in Italy, the Paracchinis would relocate to a tiny but cozy house on the banks of Lake Maggiore in a small town called Arona. Today, a score of Paracchinis still live in the small town. I remember Dad telling me he could fish directly from his bedroom window overlooking the lake. And that he had taught himself to play the violin while out on the lake in a small rowboat until he could play well enough to do so in public. Father was the oldest of his siblings, born in 1909.
My mother entered this world on June 29, 1920. “Pina” was the daughter of a poor sharecropper from the Veneto, and his young bride. Grandmother would die soon after giving my mother a baby brother. Too poor to raise both children, my maternal grandfather kept my uncle with him and his new wife on the farm. My mother was sent to live in Bologna with an aunt. A good-looking, independent young woman, who would prefer to remain a spinster rather than play second-fiddle to any one of her many suitors. Through it all, mother would blossom into a beautiful, free-spirited young woman thanks to aunt Velia.
In Bologna, aunt Velia, as mother and I called her, took no lip from anyone, especially men. And my maternal grandfather, who had fought for Italy in WWI, would never be hassled by Fascists who respected Veterans regardless of their political beliefs. By the time I got to know my Nonno Geppe, I was his ten-year-old grandson from America!