A 93-Year-Old 36-Year-Old

Patrick and Bianca at their wedding reception, along with the mostly reunited Tunno family. Patrick and Bianca at their wedding reception, along with the mostly reunited Tunno family.

La storia della famiglia Tunno, divisa tra Italia ed America dall’esperienza dell’emigrazione, dal sogno di una vita più prospera e dalla realtà di anni di sacrifici e duro lavoro, è condivisa da milioni di italo americani che non hanno mai dimenticato le radici e gli affetti lasciati in Patria. Il legame che ha tenuto insieme i familiari in decenni così difficili, resta ancora forte e si tramanda di generazione in generazione.    

I think a 93-year-old inhabits my nephew, Patrick’s, body. He sings Italian songs to his newborn son, plays Italian folksongs on his phone, makes homemade pasta, and goes out of his way to stay in touch with relatives, both here and in Italy, because he values family more than anything. Call me crazy, but this doesn’t seem like a typical 36-year-old.

No one would have guessed Patrick would turn out this way. As a kid, he gravitated toward anything he wasn’t supposed to be doing. My sister-in-law always said “he’s just busy,” which is the greatest euphemism for misbehavior I’ve ever heard.

In grade school, he was small, wiry, wore glasses with large frames, and was full of snappy comebacks. When Patrick was 12, their family vacationed in Italy and visited our relatives in the tiny town of Roio Poggio near L’Aquila. While there, Patrick filled a small notebook with hysterical adolescent insights and brought it back with him.

But, I think he brought something else back with him too — the soul of my Grandfather, Bernardo.

Bernardo was ambitious and hardworking with a dream of bringing his entire young family to America in the early 1900’s. In fact, he became a U.S. citizen to do so. The plan was to come to the U.S., work, make money, and bring his kids over a few at a time.

But, there were two problems with this plan. Every time he returned to Italy, he gave my grandmother the gift of another child. Also, it was an expensive trip and he could only afford to bring two kids at once. On the first trip, he brought my Uncle Fred and my father. My dad was just turning 14 and Uncle Fred was 17.
Unfortunately, they came just before the stock market crash of 1929, which began on October 24, my father’s birthday. The timing couldn’t have been worse.

It would be at least three years before my grandfather could make enough to send my dad back to Italy to see his family. My father was so happy to return, he didn’t want to come back to the U.S. He loved being with his family, even if they were poor.

But, ever pragmatic, my grandfather said my dad had to return to the U.S. because he’d waste half the round-trip ticket otherwise So, my father sadly left Italy again wearing a watch his mom had bought him so he’d look successful. He wistfully remembered his mother running tearfully alongside his train as it pulled away. It was the last time he ever saw her.

Then the war raged for years and my grandfather’s dream of uniting his family in the U.S. began fading. His children grew older, found spouses and settled into lives of their own. Only one of my uncles, Uncle Richard, joined his brothers and sought his fortune here.

My grandfather went back and forth for a while, and even lived with our family in New Brighton, PA for three years, sharing a room with my brothers. I was only three when he left but my earliest memories surround him. I remember he loved my brothers’ accordion playing, pushed me for hours on the swing and let me write on the back of his t-shirt with crayons.

The day he left for Italy, he joked he was going to take me in his suitcase. I remember crying because I thought he was serious. But, I also knew I’d miss him.

My dad wrote letters and maybe once a year he’d call his father and talk for five or ten minutes. My father visited Italy in 1963, after being away for 30 years, and saw his dad for the last time. My grandfather passed away in Italy at age 93.

Now you know how stubborn Italian men can be when they have a dream. So, I think my Grandfather sneaked his soul into Patrick when Pat was an adolescent visiting Italy. Bernardo was very sly and did it gradually to escape notice. Eventually, Patrick took Italian classes in college then decided to double major in Business and Italian. He went on to study in Italy and even got his masters in business there.

While there, he honed his Italian cooking skills, lived with family and got to know his uncles, aunts and cousins incredibly well. So well that when Patrick got married a year and a half ago, 14 of them made their way to the U.S. for the wedding.

The group included the family patriarch, Uncle Richard, some of the children and grandchildren of those who never moved to America, plus most of the children and grandchildren of the three who did.

It was the largest number of Tunno’s ever assembled in one place. And quite frankly, I’m convinced my grandfather had something to do with it.