Six days after my northern book launch on April 19, 2015 in Syracuse, New York at Eastwood’s landmark Palace Theatre, my father died. Even though Dad had been sick for a while, it was heartbreak for myself and my large Italian-American family. In readings, talks and speeches that I have given about my book My Father’s Daughter, From Rome to Sicily, I always say, if we don’t share our stories they will die with us.
Fortunately, my father’s story was captured in two ways—first through my memoir, My Father’s Daughter, where Dad, Mom, my husband, Stu, and I traveled to Rome and then Sicily to the roots of my ancestors. The story, of course, is from my perspective.
There is another collection that my sister Nicki wrote while Dad sat in his recliner and shared tales that Nicki captured in a personal, unpublished book entitled Money in My Pocket, An Oral History by Nick Morina. In the bottom right-hand corner of the cover is a delightful, one-word description behind my sister’s name, Nicki Morina Richards, Scribe.
Dad has been gone for over two years but his presence was so strong that for Mom, my seven siblings and myself, my father still lives on. Over the last few years as I have traveled for My Father’s Daughter, I have had the great gift of still living with Dad by talking about him through the various scenes in the book, reading excerpts of things that my father did or said on the trip, describing flashbacks of memories from when I was a child, reminiscing over the stories that my father had shared.
And did he ever share! Dad loved to talk, tell us what he experienced as a barber, an immigrant, a soldier in Europe during World War II, and more.
What I have learned over these last few years as I’ve been giving readings and speeches about the book, that for most people their two favorite characters in the story are Dad and my husband Stu. Both for very different reasons.
Dad is the in charge, everything revolves around him, person whom “I” really see as the central character, although my father is actually the antagonist, the adversary of the main character. Since the story is a memoir that protagonist happens to be me. Stu is the comic relief, the glue that holds the rest of us together, the easygoing anything goes person. Since I married someone like my mother, Mom is the other character that stands back as Dad and I resolve our issues, even though we had no idea that was what we were out to do when we set off on our journey.
After the four of us landed in Italy, spent time in Rome and around the Vatican, we traveled by train to Sicily to two more locations: my father’s region around Messina and his hometown of Gualtieri Sicaminò, before driving our rental car to the Mount Etna area and my mother’s family’s village of Linguaglossa. All the while I learned, especially through Dad’s eyes, about my Sicilian heritage.
I never started out on the trip planning to write a memoir of my journey. But it was all I could think and write about when I returned.
Now because of this story, I still get to live with my father again when I read passages of why Dad had for years refused to go to his hometown with me, how he responded to the taxi driver who tried to charge us more at Rome’s daVinci airport, and what it felt like to follow my father up and down the hills of his small Sicilian village.
If I had not written down my memories, they would have died with me. Instead I get to live with Dad over and over again each time I start a reading and say, “My story is about going to Italy and Sicily with my Italian-born father, my Italian-American mother and my very-American husband, and in the back ground is an emotional journey between a father and daughter. ”
Gilda Morina Syverson, author, poet, artist, educator, and speaker, was born and raised in a large, Italian-American family in Syracuse, New York. Her heritage is the impetus for her memoir My Father’s Daughter, From Rome to Sicily. Gilda’s story was a Novello Literary Award Finalist, a 2015 Nominee for the Ragan Old North State Award for Nonfiction, a 2016 Nominee for Author of the Year for the Artist Guild Award, a 2016 Honorable Mention for the New England Book Festival, the 2017 Runner-Up for Autobiography in the Great Southeast Book Festival, and a Best Seller at Amazon.com. Gilda has been a long-time Memoir Instructor in the Charlotte, N.C. area including 15 years at Queens University of Charlotte.