The Generosity of Strangers – How It All Started
by Thomas E. Antonaccio
For as long as I can remember, my mother has told me stories about her childhood experiences in Italy during World War II and its immediate aftermath. Born and raised in the tiny hilltop town of Fornelli—located in Italy’s mountainous heart—life for my mother and her family was oftentimes a contradiction. It was the best of times; it was the worst of times. Yet, their ability to live an honest life despite war, hardship, and even poverty serves as an inspiration to all of us.
For many years, my mother’s stories lie dormant somewhere in the dark recesses of my mind. Then, in 1996, the Army assigned me to Naples, Italy—a bustling metropolis only 75 miles from Fornelli. One October morning, I drove to Fornelli. For the first time in my life, I visited the town, the neighborhood, even the very house in which my mother spent her childhood days. I met her cousins and childhood friends, and I relived the customs and traditions that I remembered as a child growing up in Rhode Island. When I left Italy in 1999, a part of Fornelli came with me, and I never let go of hope that I would some day capture my mother’s story in the pages of a book. Finally, some 13 years later, I’m honored and privileged to present to you The Generosity of Strangers: When War Came to Fornelli.
My mother—Antonia Lucia Petrarca—lived everything in this book as a young girl growing up in Fornelli, Italy during World War II. Over the past several years, she and I have had several conversations—in person, over the phone, and through the exchange of pictures, notes and audiotapes. The result is a series of episodes or vignettes, spanning a period of about 15 years. These episodes reflect my mother’s interpretation of the events as they occurred more than 50 years ago.
There’s something beautiful, something magical about my mother’s story. I once told my mother that I learned more in researching and writing The Generosity of Strangers than I learned from six years of college. I hold firm to that belief even today. The Generosity of Strangers is a charming story that touches our common humanity in a way that no school textbook can. It is a timeless story for the entire family.
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GENEROSITY OF STRANGERS