My Nonno Joe with my mother in 1952.
It’s a story I never get tired of telling.
My grandfather, Joseph Anthony Longo (Giuseppantonio Luongo in Italian) arrived in the United States in 1927. He was 11 years old. The only thing he ever really wanted to do was go home to his birthplace, Guardia dei Lombardi, Avellino Province. He never made it.
The first time I heard this story was when I was five years old. I can still vividly remember my mother, Ann Marie, his daughter, taking my tiny hands to trace the boot-shaped outline of Italy, proudly saying her “daddy” was from there.
At nearly 71 years old, my mother still calls her father, “daddy.” At nearly 71 years old, my mother has now outlived her father by 15 years.
April 1 marks the anniversary of my grandfather’s passing in 1973. As the oft-repeated story goes, he died eight years before I was born, but I have always felt closer to him than any of my other family members. I have always felt him loving me and protecting me from Heaven and, yes, I have always felt his loss deeply.
Yet, I never really did lose him. He’s still my grandfather, my Nonno Joe, my hero. If it was not for his life, I never would have gotten involved in Italian-American affairs. I never would have made it my mission, along with my mother, to return to Guardia on his behalf, making his dream come true. “I want to go to Guardia,” he would say to my mother. He did. I carried his picture and a cross that once belonged to him with me the day I first set foot in his town and have brought the same items every single time I returned.
I have never played an April Fool’s joke as far as I can remember, not even as a child, because I always knew that on April 1, my mother’s heart broke when her father died. Even though I wasn’t born yet, my heart broke, too. It may sound strange for an outsider to read this, but it is true– there is a deep void in my life because he is not here. We would have been close. In a way, we are, but I still wish I could have heard his laugh, seen his smile, and looked him in the eye to tell him how much I love him and that, above all, he is my hero. He always will be.
As I write tonight, on the eve of the anniversary of his passing, I am looking at a photo that I keep on my desk– it is of my grandparents’ wedding on May 15, 1940. My grandfather is in the middle, flanked by my Nonna Anna and my Aunt Jennie, with neighborhood children laughing from the porch behind them. As the three of them have been my life’s most profound influences, it only makes sense to have them keep vigil over me any time I write.
When someone dies, the love lives on, always.
Ti adoro, Nonno Joe. Ora e per sempre.