In a vibrant and nostalgic journey, two first-generation American girls recount their captivating experience of visiting their father’s enchanting birthplace of Scanno, nestled where the air is alive with whispers of ancestral tales and the sweet melodies of heartfelt reunions.
Photos captured by Pete Austin our FB group moderator. He happened to be in the right place at the right time and bumped into Andréa who now lives in San Francisco and Alanna who is based just north of Boston as they relived the experience of how their ancestors would get dressed up for weddings and formal occasions.
This past April, our family visited the comune of Scanno, our father’s birthplace. Our dad had been back to his hometown a few times since his childhood and had brought our mother one time before, but for my sister and me it was the first time. We actually had intended to take this trip a few years ago, but our plans were delayed due to the pandemic, so the trip was much anticipated for many reasons! Our dad was born in Scanno in 1951. When he was four, his father, our Nonno, left to establish work and a home in Boston. Two years later, Dad and his mother, our Nonna, left Scanno when my dad was six years old to join our grandfather in the States. My father still talks about how he could hear his Grandmother crying as they left on the bus for Naples, where they would eventually board a boat for a 10-day trip across the Atlantic.
Our dad, our grandparents, our great-grandparents, and most likely several generations before them were born in the old part of the town, Castellaro. Even though this was our first time visiting, Castellaro is very familiar to us, as photos of the stone-covered homes, arches, and winding streets adorn the walls of our family’s homes in the states. You can actually see the house where our father was born in many photos of Scanno. Images of the “costume tradizionale” of Scannese women were also a part of our childhood. We have photos of our great-grandmothers, our grandmother and her sisters, and our aunt wearing them. Naturally, we wanted to continue the tradition. The women in our family sold their costumes when they left Scanno, but fortunately for us you can still rent the costume from a shop in the town called La Violetta. Loretta, the shop owner, was kind enough to make an appointment with us (the shop is only open regularly in the summer months) and she even helped us book a photographer in town as well. Putting on the costume was something of an arduous process, and took almost an hour for both of us to be dressed. The most time-consuming part was fitting the hat, “cappelletto”, which involved tying our hair up at the top of our heads and Loretta affixing the white ropes in a specific way to keep everything in place. Apparently, the women used to actually tie their hair into the ropes themselves, which probably took much longer than our appointment.
Once we had everything on – the wool pleated skirt, the black jacket with the silver buttons, the hat, and the jewellery – it was time to walk the town. Anyone who has been to an old town built into a hillside can appreciate the stamina it takes to fully explore up and down the cobbled steps. We were definitely wondering how Scannese women did this in their everyday lives, while in a very heavy, wool, pleated skirt, especially in the hot summer months! Walking the streets and lifting the skirts over stone steps, we definitely felt a little transported in time, catching glimpses of what life was like for the women who came before us. The visions were ultimately disrupted by a group of friendly tourists who were intent on taking our photo.
We were fortunate to have many other special moments from our stay, including meeting up with relatives and old family friends at Pan Dell’Orso, a local cafe and pastry shop, to earth up long-lost connections and old stories. We enjoyed listening to our family friend, Maurizio Carfagnini’s stories about being a park ranger in Abruzzo National Park, and owning and operating Apicoltura Carfagnini producing Miele di Scanno as a bee farmer. We milked sheep at Agriturismo Jovana (pronounced “yo-ana” in dialect), Maurizio’s brother, Liborio’s farm, just outside of Scanno. We savored many hearty Abruzzese meals at Antica Dimora Fuori Le Mura and Trattoria Il Vecchio Mulino in Scanno, and Ristorante Gino in Sulmona. We “met” our great-grandparents in the town cemetery, lit candles and said prayers in the churches, and
started our days with a delicious breakfast at B&B Angela. And of course, just wandering with our dad to beloved places from his childhood as he painted his memories for us…“I used to sit right on this wall with my grandfather and he’d ask me to run to the store for a cigar”… “The river used to run right here where the street is paved and that’s where the women would wash laundry”… “This is where my grandfather had his fruit trees, and here his wine cellar”.
On our last day in Scanno, my dad and I walked to the town hall, hoping we could learn something he hadn’t been able to figure out – his great-grandmother’s name. To our delight, one of the town employees pulled out a big book and with some information from my father was able to find the name, “Donata”. Just before we made our way out of Scanno we stopped in the Chiesa della Madonna del Lago di Scanno and just paused for a moment to appreciate the gorgeous blue water of the heart-shaped lake and take in the tranquillity of this little town in the hills which we had heard so much about throughout our lives. We are very much looking forward to our next visit!
Story by Alanna and Andréa Fusco, photos by Pete Austin