In 1972, I emigrated to America from Italy with my two small children. I had no job and spoke no English. It wasn’t easy finding my way at first, but over the years, I created my own successful housekeeping service. Recently, I was at a new client’s home when the doorbell rang.
“I’m friends with the man who lives here,” the man at the door said. “I’m here to fix his computer.”
“Yes, of course, I was told you might be coming,” I said.
“Are you Italian?” the repairman asked. He must have recognized my accent, one thing that hasn’t changed much over the years.
“Yes,” I answered. We started talking.
“My grandfather was an Italian immigrant,” he said. “If it weren’t for strangers helping him when he arrived here, he wouldn’t have made it. So he did the same for others. He used to drag me and my friend along to help.”
“I know what you mean,” I said. I told him about the time I was standing with my two small children in the arrivals area at the Philadelphia airport. I searched for my husband, Matteo, who I hadn’t seen since he left our hometown of San Paolo, Italy, ten days earlier. He was staying at my cousin’s house and I had telegraphed him my flight details, but he wasn’t there.
Six hours passed. It was night, and the airport was almost empty. My two children, one three, one 14 months old, were hungry and restless. I had no U.S. money, just a few dollars worth of Italian lira. I had my cousin’s address and phone number scrawled on a scrap of paper, but I didn’t know how to use a pay phone.
“Then two teenage boys approached me,” I told the repairman. “I was afraid, and threw my arms around my children. But then the boys asked if I needed help.
“The two spoke just enough Italian to understand me. One headed to a food stand and returned with milk and pastries for my children. The other paid for a limo ride to my cousin’s New Jersey home. Matteo had never received my telegram.
“I wish I could have repaid the boys. One of them said, `Give each of us one of your Italian bills and sign it, so we’ll always remember you.’ I was happy to do so.”
I finished my story, and the man looked at me, stunned. He reached into his pocket and pulled a bill from his wallet. On the back was a faded signature… mine.
By Lucia Cipriano