We Are All Local - Little Worlds


Anna with Child, Little Pine, Madison County, NC 2018

I've had the good fortune to know Anna Woodruff since the day she was born, almost 38 years ago. And now look at her, almost barefoot, and certainly pregnant. And glowing. I have photographs of Anna as a young child, growing up on Big Pine, and she has that same irrepressible smile and openess in those images from long ago that she has today. I can't wait to meet her and Marco's baby. 

There is a long and storied tradition of giving quilts for births, weddings and friendship in our little Madison County community, one that has been ongoing for forty years. This quilt is not so much a part of that community tradition, but a gesture of love from Anna's sister, Jenny, and her close friend, Olivia Shealy. The design is called Bargello, a quilting term today that originated in Italy in the 17th Century as needlepoint embroidery. This was Jenny and Olivia's first attempt at using this pattern.

Quilts are not only physical coverings, but are also symbolic embraces from the community that made it. An offering of protection. Of warmth. Of comfort. What I love, as a person whose son received one of the first quilts made in the community, is the continuation of the tradition. That quilt from 38 years ago was organized by Anna's mother Libby. 

Marco looked at me, patted Anna's belly, and said, 
"Look what I've done, Rob."

I think of Joni Mitchell.

Olivia, Jenny, Anna, and Anna's partner Marco Buch with Quilt, Little Pine, Madison County, NC 2018


We Are All Local - Family

In My Great-grandparent's Crypt, Letojanni, Sicily, 2005


When I meet new people I usually get around to asking them how they got here. What was the route they took with their life that brought them from wherever, California, Georgia, the upper Midwest, to here, Madison County? I get a variety of answers mostly having to do with getting out of the rat race, wanting something smaller and slower, or perhaps to be closer to children who have settled here. Legitimate reasons all. 

My great-grandparents, Caterina and Vincenzo, had three children in the small Sicilian village of Lentini. Their two sons, Giuseppe and Carlo, left as teenagers for the United States and never returned to Sicily and never saw their family again. Their daughter stayed behind to care for the elders, which is the Italian way.

I think about this kind of stuff a lot, probably more often than I should readily admit. But I'm taken with our goings and comings, as individuals and as cultures. It's not something new to humans, we've always moved and migrated to lands new to us. Places we liked better. Or places with more opportunities. Or places, as Nilsson said, "where the weather suits your clothes." I understand the motivation. It's what brought me here, the desire to be in a place I perceived to be better than where I grew up, or anywhere else for that matter.

Yet I also wonder about those left behind. Caterina and Vincenzo without their sons, my parents when their children left home, and perhaps us, as our children look to new places. We are a fortunate people with our ability to choose. It isn't the case for most people. 

We Are All Local - Faye and Kate

Faye and Kate, Valdese, NC 1992

Whatever misapprehension or concern Leslie's parents may have had about me - my Yankee ways or "he ain't from around here" attitudes - clearly vanished when we brought Kate into their lives. A grandchild was the one thing they wanted that they didn't have and Kate fulfilled their dreams and desires, and then some. Kate was nine years old when Jim passed away so his experience of her, and she of him, was limited. But Faye has gotten the full dose. And now, twenty-five years later, roles are reversed and Kate is more likely to be holding her grandmother although not wearing curlers.

My Mother


Catherine Agnes Galeano, ca. 1942


Looking at this beautiful, mutely colored photograph of my mother when she was about twenty-one years old, it's easy to see why my father fell in love with her. I'd say I inherited my good looks from her, but I've never remotely looked this good. 

My mother was a first generation American of Italian and Sicilian descent. She identified as American and was more than ready to give up the majority of her Italian background. At an early age she changed her name from Caterina Celeste Galeano, named after her two grandmothers, to Catherine Agnes Galeano, adding Amberg when she married my dad in 1945. Everyone knew her as Catty. She understood Italian, but I never knew her to speak it. We ate spaghetti most Sundays and lasagna on Christmas and Easter, along with my grandmother's classic Italian wedding soup. But we mostly ate my father's mid-western, German meat and potatoes diet. Early on, she traded olive oil for Wesson and Crisco.

But she was also a classic Italian mother. To say she was driven underestimates her and in her lifetime she achieved more than she dreamed possible as a young girl growing up in a Italian neighborhood in depression-era DC. She was adept at pointing that drive toward her children. There were expectations about education, cleanliness, family, church, loyalty and patriotism and she used guilt with the best of them to see those expectations were met. She could be fierce about this and it drove me crazy.

On our recent trip we stopped for a brief time in my grandmother's home town of Gioia del Colle in Puglia. There, walking around town, having coffee, and later driving through the immediate countryside, I felt familiar and comfortable, like I had been there before, even though I hadn’t. Psychologists call it genetic memory, that is, memory that is with us at birth even without any sensory experience of the memory. For me, there was something in the air, as we’re fond of saying, the smell, the taste, the salt coming off of the nearby Aegean Sea. It was something I knew, deep inside, but couldn’t quite identify. But I sensed the answer lay in ten or more generations of genetic memory that preceded me, most recently passed from my grandmother and mother, and onward to my children. For this I am eternally grateful. 


In Gioia del Colle, Italy, 2017. Photograph by Joe Grittani

In Gioia del Colle, Italy, 2017.
Photograph by Joe Grittani