Have you ever been to Canicatti? When Frank told our sailing friend, Stephano, that his mother was from Canicatti, Stephano told us that there is an Italian rhyme about going “all the way to Canicatti” – sort of their version of “Timbuktu.” I think it is mainly because the word is catchy. But there really is a Canicatti – and we went there yesterday.
Canicatti is in the southern part of Sicily, near Agrigento. It is actually quite large, with a city center surrounded on the outskirts by green countryside, small mountains, and close by, the Meditteranean. Frank’s mother, Antoinetta Buccheri, grew up here. Frank’s father, Angelo Volpe, grew up in the neighboring town of Castrofilippo. The story goes that Angelo saw Antoinetta in a window one day and knew he would marry her.
After they married, Angelo was the first to strike out for America. He then sent for Antoinetta, who, at the age of 18, boarded a ship by herself, crossed the Atlantic, and disembarked at Ellis Island in 1927. Angelo and Antoinetta settled in Brooklyn, where Frank and his brother were born.
Angelo never went back to Sicily – his story is more of a mystery. We will try to uncover some of it while here. But Antointetta kept up with her family and made several trips back. Frank has been back to meet his first cousins, but it has been several years since they connected in person.
Meeting the Family
Frank had called his cousin, Enza (Antoinetta’s niece), and through an Italian-English combination, they established that we would all meet for lunch on Tuesday. We were on our way back from Palermo after switching our rental car (see prior story) when we decided to swing by Canicatti to make sure we knew where we were going. It was about 6 pm by then.
We found Enza’s address and, lo and behold, her daughter, Mirella, was waiting out front. She spotted us and honked and waved. She jumped out the car, called her mother and daughter, and before we knew it, Enza jumped in our car and we were heading to Mirella’s house to meet the rest of the family.
Mirella’s home is beautiful, with an olive grove and big garden out back. Soon, more family came – Mirella’s husband, Benedetto, and her brother, Johnny and family.
They mainly speak Italian, with a little English. We mainly speak English, with a little Italian. But we told stories, traded family updates, and laughed and laughed. This turned into dinner and before we knew it, it was almost midnight!
We looked like one of those Super Bowl commercials for technology. We traded messages through Facebook to figure out each other’s phone numbers, showed each other family pictures on our respective iPads, and used Google Translate (a lot) to help sort out the tricky words each side didn’t know.
My favorite moment was when Frank was filling in his family tree. He had sketched out what he knew and then sat with Johnny and Johnny’s 6th-grade son trying to fill in names in other squares. Three generations of Bucherris back together again.
What a truly amazing and moving experience – like a movie. We are meeting up with Enza today to look for the house where Frank’s mother and Enza’s father grew up. Stay tuned . . .