Although my Italian grandfather was the initial inspiration for writing Daughter of Calabria/Echoes of War, it was my Italian grandmother who was the inspiration for the heart of the story.
Sadly my childhood memories of her are few and so instead I drew on the stories told by my father and aunt.
She remained in Italy for a few years with her four youngest children, managing the farm, until my grandfather had saved enough money for them to join him and my two uncles in Australia. I always wondered how she’d managed on her own, what a strong and resourceful woman she must have been.
People often came to see her to seek help for minor ailments; babies with colic, adults with headaches among many other things. She used old folk remedies, herbs and hands on treatments and gave comfort and healing to many people.
Like many women of her time, my nonna had limited schooling in Italy. She was illiterate, although very good with numbers and very intelligent. Like Giulia, I always wonder what she might have done if she’d had the opportunities to study further.
But the story that I think epitomises her is how she regularly travelled across Sydney to see her newly married daughter, using two buses and two trains without any English. Grit, determination and perseverance right there!
My nonna was an incredible woman, smart, resilient and strong, and the perfect inspiration for my beautiful main character Giulia and her folk healer grandmother, Nonna Mariana!
As you may know, family stories are the inspiration behind each of my books and Daughter of Calabria/Echoes of War is no different. Unlike my mother’s German family who have a wealth of stories, documents and photos, my father’s Calabrian family have only few.
Most of the stories about my grandparents and family come from my father and aunt but each story told me so much about the people that they were or about the world they lived in.
One story my father remembers his mother telling, is about how afraid she was when the Allied planes flew overhead in 1943 around the time of the Allied invasion of Sicily. They lived in a remote village between the mountains and the coast, right on the tip of the toe of Italy, and were many miles from any major city or strategic target in Sicily or Calabria. Yet the sound of the planes which flew across the Mediterranean Sea from Malta , forced many of the women and children to run from their homes to the surrounding fields, because they were so terrified of bombs falling on their houses and the village.
Some of the breastfeeding women lost their milk as a result of the constant anxiety and babies were handed to mothers across the village to feed. Apparently as the babies grew into children and then adults, a few old ladies used to take great satisfaction in telling them how they’d breastfed them as babies, much to the mortification or embarrassment of many! And the old ladies had a good old chuckle!
It certainly is a wonderful illustration of the old saying, ‘it takes a village to raise a child’!