I sit shotgun as my cousin Moira zips down the tiny, narrow streets of Somana into Mandello. Windows down, the mountain air blows through the car. She taps her horn and waves to passing cars and neighbors who brave the walk. They shout Ciao, Buon Giorno! Their greetings trail off as we speed past. I ask her in Italian if she knows everyone. She laughs. In fact she does, common in these tiny mountain communities where folks have lived for generations, including the family of my paternal grandmother. Moira’s grandmother and my grandmother were sisters.
Moira parks the car and we walk to the coffee bar, still greeting people, along the way. She leans into me and says that everyone is looking at me because they know I am not a local, and they are curious. I laugh, I thought I had been blending in so well. We find a seat on the patio and Moira introduces me as her cousin from California. Her friends gasp at my good fortune, California, Mamma Mia. I tell them I think Italy is just as beautiful. They shake their heads. Palms facing, their fingers pressed together at the tips, they create a teepee shape with their hands and give me the familiar Italian gesture that basically means, What the hell are you saying? My Italian isn’t good enough to make any convincing arguments.
As Moira catches up with a friend, I sip my cappuccino and think about home. Forty-eight years I lived in Huntington Beach before I packed my bags last summer, thirty of those years in the smaller downtown community. While I didn’t know everyone in the way Moira does, I certainly knew a lot of people. On any given day, I could ride my bike or walk downtown and bump into neighbors and longtime friends. I loved that about my little beach neighborhood. I miss the familiarity, comfort and predictability of home.
Walking back to the car, I look toward beautiful Lake Como and then up into the surrounding mountains. I have fallen in love with this beautiful country, its people and my family here, my second home. I am reminded of something a friend told me last month when he visited. “Christine, you are forever changed for this experience. You can never undo what you have done.” He smiled as he spoke from experience. I nodded in agreement.
I’ve done fairly well navigating this adventure, gaining a fearlessness and confidence I never expected. I know without a doubt the possibilities for me are endless. I can never play small again.
When I return to the states in August, I’ll have new baggage. I’ll bring with me the love of my Italian family and beautiful memories made here. When I arrive, there will be no physical home waiting for me. I will go back to my beach town as a visitor. Still, I’ll walk the streets, visit with friends and family, and eat at my favorite places. I’m willing to bet it will feel as though I had never been gone. In the hearts of the people who love me, I was always there. Just as they were always here with me.
Home is where I am loved . . . it’s a beautiful thing.