No really, I’m Italian, is a phrase I’ve repeated more times than I could ever count. The reason this statement had to be repeatedly stated was due to the disbelief one would express upon hearing it from me the first time I would say, “I’m Italian”.
Blonde hair, green eyes, alabaster skin, with freckles…”I’m Italian”.
Ok, ok, I get where it might seem unlikely, but then I would explain that my mother’s mother was the product of a German mother and English father, and my father’s mother was English as well, therefore accounting for the light hair, skin, and eyes. I would go on to further explain that both my father’s father and mother’s father were as Italian as can be.
While I may have been born with features from the one side, I truly believed with the male line so strong, my personality favored the Italian side. I was certain my hair trigger temper, and animated way of speaking, proved this point.
So there you have it…No really, I’m Italian.
Fast forward to my approaching 50th birthday. In an attempt to avoid any well meaning surprise parties, decorated with “over the hill” banners and gag gifts, I thought let’s have an adventure worthy of marking such a significant milestone.
Now I already told you my half time theory in my other post, so what better place to celebrate the new beginning of my 2nd half of life, than getting in touch with my roots on a solo European journey.
Obviously Italy it is! Also I figured England. I chose these two since I have ancestors on both sides from these places and feel the most connected to these nationalities. Germany would have to wait. Brilliant! All that’s left to do is narrow down where exactly I should visit in these two countries. I’d like to get as close to my actual roots as possible. A real full circle kind of experience.
To assist me in pinpointing locations I may have an ancestral connection to, my oldest daughter thought it would be fun to send an early Christmas gift …ancestry dna…what a great idea!
I spit in the tube, filled out the label, and mailed it off promptly. A few weeks later I would really experience the full impact of my daughter’s gift.
It was 1am in a midtown Manhattan diner, and I was about to dig into some cheesy fries, as I got the ping ~ your results are in~ “my results are in” I loudly shared with anyone within earshot.
I pulled them up and began to read, my friend across from me waiting to hear, along with the waiter, and surrounding tables.. just like I thought, pretty much a three way split of nationalities….the smallest slice of the pie, German. Then a considerable sized piece of English. And my biggest slice…Irish. Wait. What?! Where’s my Italian?
“Where’s my Italian?“ became the $100 question. It turned into a lively debate amongst the staff and fellow patrons about the accuracy of these tests. As well as inspired dna result tales of what happened to friends of friends and so forth. I thought there must be an explanation. I mean, clearly I’m Italian…Right?
Not being able to grasp a quick reasonable explanation, but truly believing there must be one, I dramatically, and rather playfully, resorted to the most obviously scandalous, and declared “my whole life a lie”. I then proceeded to share that revelation with the Uber driver, the hotel doorman, and the folks in the elevator on the way up to my floor.
When I woke that morning, my first thought was (you guessed it), “where’s my Italian”. I grabbed my phone, pulled up the ancestry dna app, and gave things a more thorough review. It turns out that aside from the breakdown of your dna story, ancestry also provides you with dna matches. I had been vaguely aware of this, and knew to expect a ton of 4th and 5th cousin matches.
As I read about how relationships are measured and what categories they fell into, I realized that amongst this long list of unfamiliar names, were matches with so many centimorgans between myself and them they fell into the half sibling, first cousin, and aunt & uncle ranges.
Time for answers. Time to call my Aunt Holly…my teller of truths, the one person I could always count on to give me the straight story! From my earliest questions of trying to figure out the family dynamics, to where do babies come from, to any taboo topic that fell under the category of “things you want to know but are too embarrassed to ask”, she was my go to.
I was in Penn Station waiting for my train by the time I got in touch with her. She was, as always, very matter of fact. “What could this possibly mean?”, I asked her as I finished the dna results tale from the evening before. “Well, Deanna..it’s obvious what it means!”, was her response.
And just like that I realized my hot blooded (so called Italian) temper and fast talking ways, actually were attributed to my being the fighting Irish and having the gift of gab…hmmm…now a lot makes sense. Including these green eyes and freckles.
I reached out to my closest match, a female about ten years younger than me, and between her responses to my questions and the memories of the past my aunt shared, I began to piece together the story of my paternity. By the time I pulled into my train station, I didn’t just have an Italian dad, I had a bonus Irish dad…and the latter came along with an additional six siblings. Add them to the baby sis mom blessed me with, who I always knew about (wellll…almost always knew, she was about three, I was about 10…I can explain, another time though) and I’m now one of eight! Well this is unexpected.
Fun fact…four were younger, but two were (barely) older! While the younger four were products of my father’s marriage with his eventual life long wife (I should mention he passed away three years prior to my discovery) and presumably “settled down” years, myself and the older two were all born to teen moms, impregnated over the course of a year. Two of us he was never aware of, and one mom he married. However the young marriage dissolved fairly quickly.
Alrighty then, this isn’t too weird. Oh wait, it gets weirder. He spent his whole life a town away and raised those four half siblings, 3 sisters and a brother there. A town I frequented regularly. Some might say they were my old stomping grounds. Dammmn did I stomp them grounds!
Can’t get much weirder than that. Right? Oh but it can…My oldest sister was raised in another neighboring town. Well most of the time, you know, except when she was living in the SAME town!! Like come on now, seriously!
Basically the only sibling not running around the same hood, was my brand new big brother, whose teen mom was a hippy chick flitting through town. She was in a far away state by the time she realized her mother-to-be condition, and gave him up for adoption, which landed him smack in the middle of the mid west.
So why did my mom not name daddy dearest and instead provided me with just enough info to mange to track down Italian dad, as an angsty teen? I believe bio Irish dad was just a one time, hazy, backseat memory and my own hippy dippy mom thought she couldn’t possibly be wrong claiming I belonged to the 19 year old musician she’d actually been dating for months. In all fairness this was the end of the sixties…’nuff said.
Not wanting to throw Italian dad under the bus, I should explain the reason for him needing to be tracked down 14 years after my birth is not a reflection of his unwillingness to participate in my arrival on this earth. It is however a story for another day. Not only because I should resist the urge to veer off on a side story, but also because it is a story worthy of standing on its own and deserves to be told independent from this dna debacle tale.
Spoiler alert though..it has a happy ending. Kind of can’t help but give that part of that story up when I mention during this part of this story, that the hardest part of this whole experience was having to tell Italian dad about Irish dad.
What happened when I did, you ask…I received, hands down, some of the best parenting I ever received in my life. He said everything that the one time abandoned, repeatedly rejected, uncertain of her place in this world child, that sometimes still lives inside me, needed to hear. And for that I will be forever grateful.
The new sibs…A stand on its own story if ever there was one! More shall most certainly be revealed, but for now I will say that with some the relationships have progressed farther and faster than others, and some are completely resistant to anything at all. Regardless of how fast or slow the bond is forming, with each one I’ve met, I feel a connection. A connection to them, and to their children. These are my people and I’m so grateful to know them or at least know they’re out there.
Speaking of my people, there’s been some changes to my birthday itinerary…. Goodbye Italy and hello Ireland. Goodbye solo adventure, and hello a few new siblings trip!
Wow, that was a lot to come out of one little dna test. Ohhhh, but wait just a stinking minute!! Didn’t I say my grandfather on my mother’s side was all Italian? Shouldn’t that count for something? Hmmm….I guess there’s a part two coming in the next blog post and it obviously starts with the question, “where’s my Italian?”! 😉