Her grandmother was seasick for an entire month. During the thirty-plus days it took for the ship she was on to dodge other ships making war, she never left her bunk down in steerage. It was a miserable trip for her, and if it hadn’t been for her family members at the other end of the journey – well, she was a strong spirit as it was, but that kept her going. She was not alone, but she might as well have been. When you’re seasick, all you want is to be left alone.
When she disembarked at Ellis Island, she was gaunt and weak and pale. It was such a relief to finally be off that boat, but it took days to get physical relief from the feeling that she was still rocking on a boat. They took her picture there at Ellis Island, and whenever her oldest granddaughter looked at it years later, she always remembered what she’d been told about that difficult passage. It told her so much about the possibilities for an abundant life her grandmother desired so strongly that she was willing to make that trip and leave everyone and everything familiar behind. And the gratitude and admiration welled up in her every single time.
This was the grandmother who shaped her life so powerfully. The one who made her feel for the rest of her life, “if she loved me, I must be good.” The deep spiritual connection was unique in her life and unforgettable. She had learned recently that in fact, she had been named for this grandmother, and her paternal grandmother as well, with Americanized versions of their names. It was a sweet shock to find this out when her mother handed her the baby books with entries from her birth, infancy, babyhood. And the fact of her naming stayed at the forefront of her mind for a very long time afterwards, and she wondered why she didn’t know this sooner.
Her maternal grandmother opened her to spiritual experiences, first with the shrine on the top of her dresser with the tall saint’s statue and votive candles burning, and the handmade palm cross stuck behind the crucifix on the wall. Since they lived in the same house, she could go into Grandma’s room any time and look up at the tall dresser with the shrine on top, and feel the stillness—and she liked the feeling. And Grandma took her along whenever she went to church. She loved the fragrance of incense, the cool darkness, the tall candles, the huge crucified, bleeding Christ, the statues in their niches. And the stained glass, the stillness of the sanctuary broken only by sibilant whispered prayers and the soft clicking of rosary beads sliding through fingers. When the Mass started, the voice of the priest, praying and chanting in Latin lulled and soothed her. She loved it, loved the way it filled all of her senses and her heart and soul, and she loves it still.
After Grandma died, when she was four and a half, she knew beyond a shadow of a doubt which cloud Grandma was sitting on every single day, watching over her. And she had conversations with Grandma up on that cloud every day for a very long time. Her mother seemed different to her after Grandma died, like someone changed to her core, by life.
Her mother was only twenty-eight years old, and the death was shockingly unexpected. This larger-than-life Grandma was beloved by all who knew her. Many in the Sicilian immigrant community came to her as the folk healer who knew herbs and remedies, as well as a woman with a good head on her shoulders, and by all accounts, way ahead of her time. The Italian-American doctor even called on her to assist him in his ‘kitchen table’ surgeries. She was a soft, yet strong and powerful woman. And she left far too soon for those who loved her and remembered her and reminisced about her for decades to come.
It took her granddaughter years and years, and lot of tears, and countless counseling sessions to be able to speak of her without the tears welling up, finally able to claim the love and the connection and the powerful memories without the grief. Whenever she thought of her now, she recalled the laughter, the light around her, the broad smile, the joy, the happiness, the security–and the food!
Snails in tomato sauce, she’d drink the sauce from the snail shell, but refuse to eat the snail. Red cinnamon candies and chocolate nonpareils brought from the candy store in white paper bags and put in the pantry until it was time to enjoy them together as a family after dinner. Macaroni of all shapes and sizes, meatballs, sausage flavored with garlic and fennel, and spareribs in the sauce that simmered all day. She’d ask a grown-up to dip a crusty piece of bread into the sauce for her long before it was dinner time. That was a treat everyone in the house enjoyed on “sauce” days.
Then there were cannolis and creampuffs for special occasions. Warm sfingi with honey drizzled over them on St. Joseph’s Day. Cuccia made from cooked wheat berries on the feast of Santa Lucia. Lightly frosted cookies with a rich fig, date, raisin and nut filling at Christmas. Bread in the shape of a doll at Easter. Thick, chewy Sicilian pizza in a big rectangular pan, with tiny salty pieces of anchovy dimpling the dough. The bubbles in the glass of ginger ale in Zia Caluzza’s palsied hand dancing in the light from the kitchen window. The same kitchen window where the four-year old watched and waited for so long for Grandma to return after she died.
The soft yellow light glowed in the living room after dinner when she’d sit on Grandpa’s lap in the easy chair, and he’d make her smile and giggle with stories about the characters from their village in the Old Country. Stories about the man who’d go from house to house at dinnertime, pleading hunger, and how they’d all feed him, one family after the other, even though they knew he did this every night. And the silly man who was told to “tira la porta” — “pull the door”, and did. He pulled it and took it with him! The stories were funny to her every time she heard them. She listened to Grandpa’s voice telling her the stories as she heard in the background the muffled sounds of her mother and father and grandmother in the kitchen, talking and laughing.
And there were the visits. The extended family was large, made up of those who had come from the Old Country first, and saved and sent money for the others who wanted to come. Her paternal grandfather alone, had worked hard, saved money and brought over a lot of family members. And now there were the children and grandchildren of those brave souls who came here knowing they’d never see the ones they left behind again. The family was large and still growing.
There were always people dropping in, or she and her mother would go visiting, or she’d get to stay with Donna Lucia and play in her backyard with the tomatoes and flowers and sunshine while her mother went shopping. And Grandma took her everywhere with her—that’s what she remembered and that’s what everyone said. To the Italian grocery store several blocks away, where the shopkeeper would lift her up and let her dip her hand into the huge wooden barrel of olives to take a few fat green olives so she could taste the salty, slightly bitter, imported delicacy. Oh, and all the wonderful smells in that store! Then some days they’d go to visit with Grandma’s closest friends, the ones who had christened each others’ children, or stood up in each others’ weddings, and so, were family. And other days they would drop in on cousins, in-laws, or siblings and their families.
And on Sundays, well, Sundays were the best. Big dinners at their house, or her other Grandma’s house, where the big, long table was filled with food and family. And where the white ice box was crammed with glass dishes of wonderful foods, and the cellar smelled like the wine that Grandpa made with his wine press. Loud, talking, laughing, aunts, uncles, cousins filled the house…kids playing and running around, and babies being bounced up and down, and handed from one pair of arms to another.
And in the summer, sometimes they’d take the Sunday dinner to the park where they’d reserved a pavilion for shelter in case it rained. The women had made baked macaroni which they brought in large covered pans, wrapped in blankets to keep the food warm, and roasted chicken, salads, and wonderful sweet cakes and pies. And scattered along the table, there were clear glass bottles with the drawing of the dapper man in the top hat, full of ginger ale and orange pop and cream soda, alongside the green glass bottles of Grandpa’s homemade wine. And loaves of crusty bread spilling crumbs. Everyone laughed and talked, and the kids played and played until they dropped on the blankets laid out on the grass in the shade.
And they played practical jokes on one another. Like the way Grandma, during the holidays, always filled a walnut shell with pepper, or stuffed a creampuff with cotton instead of cream and make sure it was positioned on the table in front of the uncle who would love the joke more than anyone in the world—year after year after year. And they all laughed just as hard every time the joke was played, and Uncle acted as if this had never happened to him before. Then they would clear the dining room table and play cards for hours, laughing and arguing and having fun.
When she got tired of hovering around the card players, she would go into the living room, lay down on the couch and drift off to sleep to the sweetest sounds in the world…the sounds of them talking, laughing, just being there, filling the entire house with their presence. This was one of her greatest remembered pleasures when she herself was an adult, and understood what it meant that she had gotten to experience this in her childhood. Then later she’d get picked up by her father and carried to bed, or to the velvety back seat of their big blue car for the trip home to her own bed.
The feeling of connection, of family, was so strong and such a firm foundation. This was her reality, her life, and to her it felt like paradise. Loving and being loved by so many people. Such richness, such a sense of belonging and warmth and goodness and laughter. It was something gracefully taken for granted that defined her life. And it remained the same until Grandma died and they moved a short time later to a city ninety miles away. But, as her mother said, they could just as well have been on the moon for the changes that the move created. For a long time after they moved, no one dropped in and they visited no one and her mother was quiet and sad. She started Kindergarten and made new best friends and had fun and liked their new home with the lady next door who had a piano and granddaughters. And they’d drive the ninety miles on Sundays to visit the family, but it wasn’t the same, not really.
And although it was never the same again, those early experiences shaped her life and her beliefs powerfully and sweetly, so that she always expected to be connected, to belong, to be loved, to experience true closeness, to laugh with friends, to enjoy life. She always looked for, created, and found, the warmth and richness of those early days. It established for her a strong desire for that kind of family experience. And later on in her life, her friends hugged her and thanked her for including them in her own family gatherings that have the same flavor and sweetness as those early days.
We really do carry with us the vibrations of the past, and marvelously, we get to choose the ones we want to carry, continue to experience and share. What she experienced was not perfect, things sometimes happened that weren’t happy, as they do in any life, but she chooses to remember the things that made her then, and still make her, the happiest. And you can do the same.
Sift through your memories and choose thoughtfully, hold the thought, the vision, the vibration of your happiest moments and you will become a magnet that attracts more of the same.
Those happy moments usually exist in our memories as snapshots rather than videos, so search your memory bank for the snapshots that capture your richest experiences, your peak moments, and treasure them, revisit them, feel the feelings again. Then ask the Universe for more experiences just like them. And if you have actual snapshots of those moments, put them up where you can see them often.
And if, for some reason, you can’t find a really happy memory right now, don’t worry—make one up for yourself out of the wishes of what you’ve always longed for. To the subconscious mind, and to the Universe, it makes no difference at all whether the memory is real or imagined. It creates the very same brain chemistry that floods and saturates every cell in your body, and gives exactly the right message to the co-creating Universe just the same.
The Law of Attraction is always operating, bringing to you what you focus on the most, so allow it work for you to create a life that you really, really, really, really love!