My husband said today that he didn’t see the importance of history. Excuse him, he’s an engineer. This was an immediate red flag for me, a lover of history and writer of Highlander stories set in the 1300’s. His statement was somewhat ironic given we were in Sicily driving up the side of a smoking Mount Etna to see the land his people owned. What was fascinating about tracing his family’s history was how the actions of one person, in this case, his grandfather, changed the family history of so many future generations.
In the 1920’s my husband’s grandfather, Salvatore, wooed his sweetheart by singing love songs to her under her veranda. She was from a wealthy landowning family and his family was poor. According to my mother-in-law this was not a good match. What hadn’t come out in the telling was that he was a handsome young man with a sweet face who’d gone out of his way to woo a woman. I’d always heard how difficult he was and many other negative things, so I’d never understood why she had married him. But history is more than memory or the recount of a story by one family member. Going to Sicily, meeting other family members, seeing family photos brings so much more to the picture. What I saw in this picture was the handsome face that has features so like other family members, men I love.This is the type of research we need to do as writers to understand what really was there in the past. It’s not enough to go to one source. We have to trace the routes and read every source we can uncover.
Sicily is an island struggling through a recession. It’s poor and tired and in serious need of a good paint job. If my husband’s grandfather hadn’t decided to go to Australia, a place far from anything in 1936, the whole history of my husband’s family would have been different. His young family of wife and three children joined him in Australia, selling up most of the land they owned in Sicily under Etna’s steaming volcano.
They’re a family of wealthy professionals enjoying a terrific existence in Australia. For my husband who spent the day exploring his family’s history, it struck him that the family black sheep, the one that wooed the heiress and left her for years when he went to settle in Australia was in fact the family salvation. He’d changed the existence of future generations for the better.
I very gently led him back to his previous statement of the unimportance of history in his eyes. He has a better appreciation for my passion for history as he comes to know his own.
Is there anything in your family history that has changed your life for the worse or better?