A Single Rose from Sicily

From Dianne M. Nault

My grandfather Giuseppe (Joseph) was born and raised in the little fishing village of Villafranca Tirrena in the province of Messina, Sicily.  His whole family had lived on the same street about one block up from the ocean for generations. Grandpa never spoke much about his life in Sicily, but I do know that as a teenager he decided to join 3 older siblings in America in hopes of a brighter future.  Leaving behind his parents and younger siblings, Giuseppe set out for a new life.  He had few belongings and even less money when he arrived in Boston but what he did possess were the unbreakable bonds of family, a willingness to work hard and an amazing green thumb.

While most of the inhabitants of Villafranca Tirrena undoubtedly relied on fishing to provide for their needs, my grandfather never spoke of fishing.  What I do remember as a child is seeing him outside in his gardens, tending to the plants and harvesting his vegetables.  In the back of the house my grandparents owned in Everett, every square inch was planted in a colorful array of vegetables:  green beans, squashes, eggplants, peppers, zucchinis, onions, and tomatoes, tomatoes, tomatoes.  Since the tomatoes he grew were often the base of various sauces, tomato plants were the real stars of the garden and took up the most space.  Grandpa was very committed to the vegetables he grew, and they were always plentiful and generously shared with family and friends. But while grandpa’s vegetable garden was an essential part of his new life in America, I believe his real passion was in growing beautiful roses.  The rose bushes were along the side and at the front of his house so as not to sacrifice any growing space needed for the vegetables.  I can still remember the big rose trellis in the front yard.  It was a showstopper with the vines that grew over my head and spread outward covering the whole structure.  The display of vivid red roses was breathtaking and many a passersby stopped to admire such a beautiful sight.

Fast forward to April 2022, when my husband and I joined our son in Sicily to spend two weeks exploring this small island.  One of the first places we visited was the tiny village of Villafranca Tirrena.  My son had not only located the street where my grandfather’s family had lived but he was able to identify the house where Giuseppe was born and raised on via Pescatori.  Based on an old family photograph, we easily picked out my grandfather’s home.  It was a surreal moment to stand on the same street and to touch his front door. 

Since via Pescatori is just a block from the ocean and a beautiful beach area, we took a stroll down the street to walk along the sand and to watch the clear blue water lapping at the edges.   We sat at a little café, enjoyed a delicious cup of creamy gelato, and took in the sights and smells in the salty air.  I wondered how many times my grandfather had played along this same beach.  Later, as we walked back towards my grandfather’s house, we passed by lemon trees bursting with bright yellow lemons and small, colorful flower gardens edging the sidewalk.  Just before reaching the corner of via Pescatori, an elderly gentleman tending his garden turned towards us with a kindly smile. And then he snipped a single red rose off the bush beside him and handed it to me with a twinkle in his eye.  The gesture struck me like a thunderbolt!  It was as if my grandfather Giuseppe was reaching out to me to thank me for honoring his Sicilian roots by visiting where he was born.  Of all the things we brought back from our trip to Sicily, that single rose is the keepsake that I value the most.

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3 Comments

  1. John E. Gagnon on June 19, 2022 at 7:13 am

    What a wonderful story.

  2. Susan Conway on June 19, 2022 at 7:52 am

    Thanks for sharing this…it’s a wonderful memory.

  3. Linda Towle on June 20, 2022 at 6:52 pm

    It was almost like being there, Diane. I enjoyed the view of your visit there and the view offered of your family’s “treasure island” . Thank you.

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