Yesterday Was Better Than Christmas Morning!

What a magical day I had.  The day really had nothing to do with me but it really felt like I was on a roller coaster of a journey seeing Pontelandolfo for the first time and sensing the connection to my past, present and future.  Only it wasn’t my past.  It was the past of the Domenico Mancini family.  Like many other Mancinis this family can trace it roots to a section of Pontelandolfo called Minicariello.  Whoa – let me start at the very beginning.

Last year I got an e-mail from a woman who had googled Pontelandolfo and hit upon my blog.  After pumping up my chest like the winning rooster of a cock fight – I mean someone actually googled and found my blog you’d be all proud and cheeky too – I responded to Kristen Ross’s request for help.  It seemed like her good family friend, Domenico Mancini, had left Pontelandolfo when he was 18.  When he was a tyke, his dad had died in World War II and the family didn’t know where his body was.  Check out this post to get the back story – http://wp.me/p3rc2m-dw.  Now, many months later the entire Mancini clan was coming to Italy to visit the grave and see where their dad was born.  Their first stop was the Sacrario Militare dei Caduti d’Oltremare (Military Memorial to the Fallen Overseas) near Bari.

Kristen sent me this shot of Dominico reunited with his dad.
Kristen sent me this shot of Domenico reunited with his dad.

Domenico had not been back to Pontelandolfo since he left as a young man – about  64 years ago. Kristen – the point person for organizing the trip  – asked if we could meet when they got to the village.  What a magical meeting and day we had!  After getting the “we’re here” text, Jack and I pulled into the piazza and saw the biggest shiny silver mini-van/mini tour bus I had ever seen here. Pouring out of it was the Famiglia Mancini.  Never having seen these folks before or even really knowing their names I was swept into a stream of “I’m Kristen -Nancy – Domenico- Rich – Marylou – Tony”, hugs and kisses. It was as though they were my family too.  After a few seconds of where should we go and what should we do, it was decided that we visit the Cemetary so that Domenico could look for his family. Everyone – the men in the family are really tall – leaped back into the van. I, being the shortest person in the crew, had to climb, pull and crawl my way in.  The trip to the cemetery couldn’t have been better. IMG_1512

Rito Sala, the caretaker/administrator, warmly greeted the family, pulled out his trusty typed sheets of who was where and led the search.  Unfortunately, Domenico didn’t really remember the dates of when his nonna died etc.  Without the dates it is hard to truly figure out who is who.  Remember,  in this small town hundreds of people have the same last names but are not related.  Domenico had seen my blog about the boxes of bones in the cemetery chapel and wanted to see if his ancestors were there too.  We went on down and he found a number of boxes with names that he remembered.  The caretaker took us to visit the older section of the cemetery walls (see blog http://wp.me/p3rc2m-hI ) to see if Dominico could hone in on relatives.  It was a very emotional exploration.

Dominico really wanted to see if he could find the house that he was born and lived in until he came to America. This section of Pontelandolfo is really off the grid.  I knew of one person who could guide us there – another Mancini!  My incredibly kind and generous cousin-in-law, Mario Mancini, was pressed into service.  With he and Jack in the lead car we wended our way, up, up and up a mountain over the kind of narrow winding roads that worked really well for donkeys.  Soon we made it to Minicariello and started climbing up to medieval ruins looking his his house.

The cutesy sign was not original.  The folks who are buying these old stone houses and restoring them for weekend joints made the sign.
The cutesy sign was not original. The folks who are buying these old stone houses and restoring them for weekend joints made the sign.

Now he hasn’t been here in a really long time. When he left there weren’t any roads and you really used donkeys to get around.  Now there are roads and some folks from Naples are buying up the ruins and redoing them as weekend houses.  Things look and feel different.  The tenacious Mancini clan would not give up.

Two Mancini men from different families discuss the strategy for finding Dominco's old home.
Two Mancini men from different families discuss the strategy for finding Dominco’s old home.

One of Domenico’s sons found a group of people sitting outside a restored house.  Tony tricked his dad into meeting them.  Dominico speaks the dialect of Pontelandolfo as though he never left and started sharing his story.  This group showed the family another group of attached abandoned ancient homes.  It was there that the family gazed upon the first home that Dominico ever had.  It was an incredibly emotional moment.

The first time I came to Pontelandolfo in the 1970’s with my Aunt Cat and cousins she had memories of an ugly place full of poverty.  We drove in, stared at the fountain and practically fled.  Dominco related similar feelings to his children.  His memories are of incredible poverty and the feeling that they were lucky to get out.

Through the eyes of the younger Mancinis, the beauty that is the Pontelandolfo was reborn for Dominico.  Everyone was overwhelmed with the incredible mountain vistas, the friendliness of the people and the sense of community that one can feel in the piazza.  During our descent, Mario surprised everyone and pulled his car over.  He made us trek through a short field to see a Roman Fountain – yes ancient Romans actually got their mountain spring water here.  Just another of Pontelandolfo’s fabulous secret spots.

We all drank from the Roman Fountain.
We all drank from the Roman Fountain.

After a beers at Bar Mix Fantasy, I led part of the crew up the hill to the Mother Church.  Luckily, it was open and they could take a quick peek inside at the alter where their dad was baptized and nonna was married.

They invited Jack and I to join them for dinner along with Mario Mancini and Carmella Fusco.  Carmella, Dominico and Mario were real “chiacchierone” laughing and chatting away in the dialect of Dominco’s youth.  The night was filled with sharing stories, trying to figure out if we were all somehow related and feeling – well just like family.

Un Miracolo Di Natale – a Reader’s Story

Auguri di Boun Natale!

December 15th the best Christmas present this blogger could ever want came from Kristen Ross.  Kristen posted a comment asking for help finding out more about her friend Nancy’s family.  I e-mailed her, then she e-mailed me and soon we were chatting on the phone like old chums.  The surnames in her pal’s family can also be found in my family! Rinaldi, Fusco, Mancini – wow – my bis-nonna was Mariantonia Rinaldi who had a brother Francesco.  Nancy’s grandmom, Maria Rinaldi, was the daughter of Francesco Rinaldi !  Could this Californian’s family tree intersect with mine?

Those of you who grew up in or live in Pontelandolfo may know the family – if you do please leave a comment on the blog.  Nancy’s dad – Domenic Mancini was born in the Minicariello section of Pontelandolfo.  His dad was Antonio Mancini and mom was Maria Rinaldi.  Antonio’s father is Angelo Mancini and his mother is Catterina Fusco. Maria Rindaldi’s father was Francesco Rinaldi and her mother was Antonia Rinaldi.

This is Kristen’s Story –

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Kristen, Domenic & Nancy Mancini

Un Miracolo Di Natale

By Kristen Ross

Domenic Mancini was born on a small farm in Pontelandolfo, Italy. During World War II, nine year old Domenic was the first one in his family to discover that his father, Antonio, was killed in Bardia, East Africa.  His mother’s inability to read meant that this little boy had to personally deliver the devastating news to the family.  As I began to hear more about Domenic’s early childhood, I was deeply affected by the tragedy of it all…images of Domenic being held back by his Mother as the only father he knew left for lands and battles unknown, the longing of a little boy for an absentee father, and the courage he had to support his grief-stricken mother.

To compound the sadness of war, he never knew where his father was buried.  He was told that Antonio was buried somewhere in Africa, but no one had been able to locate any information, and Domenic (now 82) had begun to come to terms with the idea that he might never be able to pay his respects to the father he lost and have closure.

After hearing him tearfully tell this story, I could not imagine what is was like to not know where his dad was after all these years.  I was determined to do some research of my own.  I felt the sense that nothing is impossible and nothing is ever lost, it just hasn’t been discovered.

Having taken only one Italian class, after traveling to Italy several times, I used my broken Italian to make numerous phone calls, emails, and research Italian websites. Having looked at almost two thousand names, a thousand war memorial sites, and spent countless hours of translating Italian handwriting from the 1940’s I was coming up with nothing.  It was like searching for a needle in a haystack, an Italian haystack for that matter.

I needed un miracolo; a miracle.  Every time I find myself helpless, I turn to something higher. I simply prayed for this right intention to manifest itself.  For a father to be reunited with his son, even 72 years later, is still possible.  Having lost my father too, I knew how much this would mean to Domenic to have some sense of unity, closure, full circle ect… I kept ricerca; searching.

Before I went to sleep that miraculous night, I checked one last Italian website.  I typed in the letters of his last name and there he was.  Antonio Mancini had been found.  I started scrolling down to make sure I was actually seeing straight.

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 Luogo Sepoltura means Place of Burial. He was back home in Italy. From previous research that I had done, I knew the bodies of the Italian Soldiers who died overseas, were sent back to Italy in December of 1967 and placed in a beautiful memorial museum in Bari, off the coast of the Adriadic Sea. Dominick’s father has been honored there.

I called Nancy, and she quickly made the phone call to Domenic! He was in total shock and was filled with so much joy. He told us that this was the best gift he’d received in his entire life. As his voice teared up on the phone, he told us he would travel back to Italy to see his father. This summer, we will be traveling with him on this beautiful journey to witness this father and son reunion.    

 Unconditional Love is the best gift in the world.  

This is the true meaning of Christmas to me.

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  Sample Photo from Location

 

The Sacrario Militare dei Caduti d’Oltremare (Military Memorial to the Fallen Overseas) was opened on 10 December 1967 on the outskirts of Bari, on the way to Brindisi. The structure houses the remains of more than 70,000 Italians who died in foreign lands. These lands include Greece, Albania, Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, Libya, Somalia, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Germany and the Mediterranean Sea, in the First and Second World Wars.