In 1924, my grandmother was extremely reluctant to leave her home and family in Sicily and cross the ocean with her three children. My grandfather, who was living and working in the United States, was insistent and sent her tickets for the passage. Family legend has it that she kept her packed trunk in the hallway of her home for the next eight years.
My father was only four at the time that he arrived in the new country, so his memories of Sicily were not as strong as those of his older sisters. When my dad was a young boy, Nana often complained that she missed the good produce from the Old Country. One day she was going on about the puny lemons in the United States. To emphasize her point, she cupped her hands to demonstrate the size one would associate with a grapefruit and told my father that in Sicily they grow “this big!” Dad just brushed her off and said, “Yeah Mama, everything is better over there.”
Years later, Nana got to make the ocean journey back to Sicily, accompanied by a few other family members. They probably stayed a month or two—one never went for a short time—and then they returned to the States.
My father drove to the New York dock to pick Nana up. It must have been winter because he tells of her getting in the car in a big 1940s style fur coat with very wide sleeves. She settled into the back seat of the sedan and they drove home to Washington.
Once inside the house, Nana turned around and looked my luggage-toting father straight in the eye. She slid her hand inside the elastic bound inner “storm sleeve” of her coat and pulled out an enormous lemon, shoving it at his nose and shouting, “See!”
In 2006 when I went to Sicily, I was sure I couldn’t get away with smuggling one of those giants back home, so I had to be content with taking a photo of one at the Capo market. I sent the photo to my dad as a gentle reminder that Nana’s DNA lives on—and so does that of the Sicilian lemon!