You see demonstrations of it in the cobbled street, leaning from balconies, in the pictures on people’s walls. You see it in the groups of men jabbering to each other outside bars.
You see it between the two old women laughing in the street.
You see it in the eyes of every shop keeper or waiter as they squeeze a child’s cheek and stroke their hair.
The very heart of this place is interwoven, stitched together, through the thread of family. Submerged in this energy, it seemed ironic that I – the girl with no family – had come to the heart of familyness.
When I think of family I think of cow parsley. I think of the different branches that spray outward from the main stem, only to create smaller sprays of their own. The pattern keeps on, keeps repeating itself, on and on like a spiral.
My Dad pointed out the pattern in the cow parsley in one of our walks through the fields with our dog.
He pointed out the reoccurring pattern and said, “I often think this reflects life, the world, evolution. Look around you in life, Beth and you’ll see this reflected wherever you go.”
Family. Cow Parsley. Stems, fresh growth and with every new generation the last one is pushed back once again.
We came to Sicily to attend a family wedding on my father’s side. Sitting in the pew, soaking up this great flood of Italian family connectedness and knowing that my own family has been ripped apart through death, hit me with a unexpected blow.
I hadn’t seen it coming.
Regular GYOG readers will know I’d been looking forward to the wedding for months, yet as I sat there, gazing at my dad’s sisters, their children who I never see, recognising my brother and father’s features in their smiling faces, all of my grief swelled to the surface and it was all I could do not to burst into tears and run away.
Even when you don’t see the people you are connected to, family blood runs like great gorges in the flesh, rivers of blood, the essence of life, connecting people who never meet on the surface of life. Blood ties, like red wine, are thick and heavy and undeniable. They are a vintage number, deep and mysterious.
The Sicilian Wedding forced out a cork wedged inside me. It exposed the blood connections between me and my dad’s blood line and the lost blood that has been escaping since he died and then my brother. It ushered up this huge gush of “why?”
Why do I spend so much time feeling as though I am on the outside of families, looking in?
When Dad and Harry were here I was nestled safely in the family. Now, with mum and her new partner and his kids, I feel like I am on the perimeter, pushed out – the new spray of flowers, disconnected from the main stem. Here in Sicily I see dad’s family and once again I feel like I am on the outside looking in, a naked little flower looking longingly at the warmth of togetherness.
I moped around in this feeling of victim-hood for the whole day. The following day I curled up on one of the many sofas in the many rooms of our apartment and cried, until I was interrupted by an almighty crash.
(It turns out that when you and your children are staying in an expensive apartment filled with Sicilian antiques and your deposit is at stake, loud crashes are enough to banish any mopes.) I jumped up and rushed through the door to the office to find that the HUGE black and white portrait of the owner’s grandmother had fallen off the wall.
Neither of the children had caused it and thankfully, while the carved frame had been slightly damaged, the glass was intact and Mama Caltabellotta was gazing up at me with a soft, mysterious smile. In that moment I felt that I was wrapped up in love, in the very heart of family itself.
If that feeling could talk it would say, “you are loved, you are safe, you belong. We love you.”
It’s as though the essence of familyness wrapped me up and said “you are one of the family”.
The next morning I woke and felt like laughing out aloud. Refreshed and flooded with a huge sense of gratitude, I thought, “here I am – the girl who had been living in a state of family-lessness, wrapped up in the warm Sicilian hug of Family!” And as I opened my eyes and looked at my life, I saw family everywhere.
I have a husband and two children and I live within the heart of this unit. I am blessed. I have my mother and her partner and his lovely daughters – one of whom I experience more and more as a sister. I have Andrew’s family, two beautiful sister-in-laws, two brother-in-laws, cousin-in-laws and a mother and father-in-law.
I have nieces and I have cousins and I even have a little god-daughter. I have a father or my own and a brother, who despite not being here, I am still connected to through underground springs of life. Physical blood and spiritual blood.
Whenever it was, I felt so thankful. I was thankful to the family feeling in the air, in this culture, in this experience that has allowed me to see clearly where I stand again in the Cow Parsley Of Life. Thank you Mama Caltabellotta!