Except for Theresa, with whom I remained close all my adult life, everyone else was transitory. Each time I met a college friend at a party or was invited by them to play a friendly tennis match at their country club, I was reminded that my life was transitory.
My aunt in Fresno shared news on the rest of the relatives scattered on two continents. I had a feeling that my life had been a real illusion. All my letters sent back home spoke of exciting experiences and opportunities opening up for me, an ideal setting for a lucky girl. The news I sent was a combination of my wishes and my mother's wishes for me, all wrapped up in a tiny bundle of hopeful words. She had had similar difficulties when she lived with Great Uncle Joe, taking care of his needs during his declining years.When he became ill and cantankerous, she had been tempted to return to Italy and give up her hope for a new life in America. She missed her youth, family and friends she left behind.
I learned that Great Uncle Joe and his older sister Elena, the only brother and sister of my grandfather Paolo Rapolla, had arrived in America around the close of the century, fourteen and seventeen respectively, with one suitcase between them. Elena had been sent to America to marry a cousin; and Joe went along to accompany her on the long trip. Later, he went to California during the Gold Rush where he accumulated a great deal of wealth, and after his wife’s death, sponsored the immigration of the children of his brother Paolo at the end of World War II.
When Uncle Ted on the famous visit back in Venosa met my teacher and promised to send for me to study in America, his difficulties with renters and vacancies were just beginning. By the time I arrived in Los Angeles, Ted had married and had re-established the building tenancy, Aunt Elena had returned to New Jersey, and everyone was a bit miffed with each other. Each part of the family was angry at the other for something they should have done.
History was repeating itself, I thought when Aunt Elena called me one Sunday. The conversation was a bit strained.
“My dear, Joe wanted so much to bring you all here.” She started.
“It's not too late. You know I still have some property in L.A. that I could turn over to them; that’s what Joe wanted. I need to make sure I get my apartment back from Ted. My son tells me I have rights. I spent winters in Los Angeles ever the last girl was in college. When Ted returned from Italy, he threw my stuff out. I was ill then; couldn’t do a thing about it.”
“Aunt Elena, I’m on my way back to Italy. I'm sorry I won't be able to see you again. ” I told her, with a strange sadness I had not anticipated.
“I do hope we can meet again.” She said, cheerfully.
And that’s how we left it.
She was resuming a past life.
I was leaving this new life.
She was returning to old grudges.
I wanted distance from the same grudges.