For years Calascio, Italy, the birthplace of my father’s parents, occupied a special part of my mental and emotional space . Growing up near my grandparents in Windber, Pennsylvania, I identified with my Italian ancestry. My grandfather would always offer me a dime from his black leather change purse. I know it was a game. Perhaps I had to guess which hand held the dime. I had to tap his fist and he revealed it in his palm as he smiled gently. My grandmother babysat me while my parents worked next door at the grocery store . My grandmother taught me to cut pucarelle noodles and to crochet while telling me stories of their German shepherd dog at their old farm in New Florence, Pennsylvania.
When I started a craft business in the late 1990’s I knew exactly what to call it: Calascio Designs. I found old files filled with logo ideas just waiting for this occasion. While I dreamed of traveling there to take pictures that would become part of a better logo, none of my money making plans ever seemed to grow feet. Finally, I saved the money. After years of internet research on the Abruzzo region, I had an itinerary.
I set off for Rome on the 12th of June. But Rome was an after thought. I stayed for a few days to get over jet lag. My first destination was La Porta dei Parchi bioagroturismo in Anversa degli Abruzzi in the Abruzzo mountains. While it was not exactly Calascio, it was in the region. I would be doing what my grandfather did in Abruzzo. What a great way to experience geneaology! The farm organized a transhumanza, a three day hike walking the sheep from the lower pasture of the farm to a higher pasture in the national park for the summer. My grandfather, Pasquale Iocca, was a shepherd in Calascio. He left Italy in 1890 or 1900 as a young man. An Ellis Island document lists Pasquale Tocca from Calosino arriving on the Aller from Genoa on June 6, 1900. He was 23 years old and his destination was Mt. Pleasant, Pennsylvania to stay with a brother-in-law. However, the 1910 US census states that Pasquale, now living with his wife’s family on the New Florence farm, immigrated in 1901. The 1920 census has the family living in Paint, a coal mine town near Windber, and it lists 1890 as the immigration date. All of these documents indicate a birth date in 1877.
So I began my Abruzzo journey with a traditional transhumanza. I discovered much about the history of this area along the way.
I took a bus from Rome to L’Aquila where I saw a sad and devastated city center. The center is not being rebuilt from the earthquake of April 6, 2009, while building is going on on the outskirts. From there I took a bus to Sulmona and another to Anversa. The bus driver drove me closer to the center – not very far to go from his normal stop. Through the passageway between two tall buildings, I could see the mountains behind the village and another little village nestled higher in the mountains. Breathtaking!
My room was up the steps from the piazza. Before supper, there was traditional Abruzzi music to celebrate the beginning of the Transhumanza. Participants and townspeople joined in the piazza for the music.
I remember a story that Grandma heard Grandpa play the accordion and that is how she fell in love with him. As I listened to the music, I imagined their meeting.
The whole time I was in Rome, I felt a sneaky underlying suspicion. I was suspicious of myself. I wondered what I was doing there. From the moment I set foot in Anversa, I knew why I was there. I felt whole.