This morning, I was watching marathon episodes of the TLC show, “Long Lost Family.” With a box of tissues nearby, I sobbed, listening to story after story of lost sons, daughters, mothers, fathers, and siblings. One woman, who was given up at birth, spoke about the hole in her heart saying, “It’s like reading a book about your life with missing chapters.” It’s those missing parts, which urge all parties forward in their quest to discover the truth.
Coincidentally, while I was watching this series, I was perusing Georgia Heard’s latest book, Heart Maps, a whole-book version of heart mapping she introduced to us in her seminal work on the teaching of poetry, Awakening the Heart. As Georgia Heard so eloquently notes, “Heart mapping is a visual emotional blueprint for writers to map the people, memories, and experiences that are significant and memorable.” While I ached in listening to the heart breaking tales of lost family, I couldn’t help but think about families who know one another, yet purposely stay apart, or about distant relatives from a family’s ancestry, who remain unknown in the family lineage.
That thinking led me to one of Georgia’s templates, called the Family Quilt Heart Map, with a prompt to “include details of place such as a family home or town, city, or country where your family comes from and how that has shaped your family memories and stories.” That brought me to Italy and one of our family traditions, originating from Altamura, the birthplace of my paternal grandparents, Michael and Filomena Tafuni.
Every Labor Day my family gathers in a park in North Bergen, NJ to celebrate the patron saint of Altamura, Maria SS. del Buoncammino, translated as Mother of safe travel. One of the stories connected to the saint includes Salvatore Tafuni, a distant relative. While he was being assaulted by robbers in the night, he cried out to the Blessed Mother for help. She miraculously appeared in the sky, frightened the robbers away, and saved his life. This feast day became the tradition in Altamura, which traveled with my grandparents and others here to America.
Nothing made my grandparents more proud than honoring this feast day, which celebrated its 90th anniversary in 2015. My grandfather, Mike the Ice Man, proudly walked in the procession, first with my Aunt Mary and Aunt Josephine by his side and then later with my cousins, Vicki and Judy. Years later, after my grandfather passed, my father, Sonny took over, and now my brother Michael, cousin Anthony and my cousin’s son Luke have taken their place of honor, sharing my grandfather’s original procession badge.
As you can see from the pictures, this tradition has greatly impacted our family. Although, we may have begrudgingly attended when we were kids, as adults, we look forward to it. Beyond the history of our tradition, it’s the food, laughter and stories we share that connect us to the Tafuni name. Although my grandparents are departed, I am certain they beam with pride knowing they’ve instilled a tradition in our hearts, which we proudly hope to continue celebrating for years to come.
Thanks to the Two Writing Teachers for providing the opportunity to engage with this amazing community of writers! You have given me the impetus to track my family’s stories, so the chapters of our lives will be complete.