In reflecting about my life, family history, and the larger story of the world, the idea of lineage has emerged as an important theme and the assumption of individuality that has so far subconsciously framed my sense of identity has broadened to incorporate the forgotten contributions of history which - in our breakneck race forward - can be so easily lost in time. I no longer think of my life purely as a detached incident but rather as an extension of a branch stretching far into the past and carrying with it remnants of all that occurred before. So I've tried to piece together recollections from my relatives in an effort to understand how I got here.
Italy, in the early 1900s, was a nation where Catholicism was not just the only religion, but the center of culture, knowledge and power. Unlike Protestantism, the other largest variant of Christianity from Northern Europe, Catholicism demanded that the Church (or State) control the religious experience, and outlawed hearing the scripture in any language but Latin - which none but the Priests spoke - rather than a language the commoners could actually understand. Three hundred miles south of the Vatican there is a 9000 year old town called Matera - one of the oldest in the world - and home to my great grandfather, Bellisario. Almost nothing else is remembered about him - except that he caused an uproar when he was the first in town to convert his family to Protestantism.
My grandfather Emmanuel was born in Matera in 1921 to a relatively privileged life of working on his family-owned olive farm. At age 19 he was conscripted to fight in WWII and as one of the better educated young men was hired as a sergeant despite no prior military experience. While stationed in Germany, Italy changed allegiance from fighting alongside the Germans to against them, and Emmanuel and his men found themselves suddenly behind enemy lines where they were captured and imprisoned. Trapped in a cell at the peak of his youth for serving his country, Emmanuel survived on potato skins and thoughts of Bruna, the poor girl that worked on his family's farm and was waiting for him back in Italy. Two years later, he was released and returned to Matera where he quickly married Bruna and had two children with her before they all immigrated to Toronto, Canada where they had two more children, one of which would be my father, Vincenzo - or Jim - as he came to be known.
Italy, 1944 - Pia Cudrig, an Austrian house cook and maid found herself pregnant and abandoned once again with her second daughter, Marina, who would be born that summer in Rome. Poor and fatherless, Marina followed in her mother's footsteps, working as a house servant in England where she met her future husband, Al, a General Manager for British Airways. They wed and had their only child, Nadia (Lara), in London in 1962. At age eight, Lara and her parents moved to Toronto, Canada where she would study Economics at York University. While working at Scotiabank, she would meet her future husband, Jim, also a York alumni of its prestigious Schulich School of Business. They married in May 1984.