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Joyce Amato Moore is writing about her parents’ life in Italy and the United States. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org with feedback or information about Misilmeri, Trapani or Palermo.
I want you to meet Giusto D’Amato and Concetta Maria Milazzo. Neither is born in 1900, but they are destined to meet each other and fall in love. This is more than their love story. This is their story of perseverance and commitment.
Before I introduce Giusto, I need to introduce the place where he was born. What happens in this time and place shaped his life before his life was even conceived. Misilmeri is a village in Sicily rising out of a hilly agricultural area. When the story begins less than 8,000 people live there. Misilmeri derives its name from Arabic, meaning ‘the summer home of the Emir’. It has a rich history and records that go back almost a thousand years.
In Misilmeri pivotal decisions and sometime actions were made by men of power. Just outside of the village, the Normans fought in 1062 to gain control of Misilmeri and the valley. Two years later the Normans went on to conquer Palermo. The Norman Conquest of Sicily brought it into an enlightened period where all religions were tolerated. This was two years before another group of Normans invaded England. In the spring of 1860 in Misilmeri’s main square Garibaldi finalized his plan of attack to free Palermo from the Bourbon rule.
Perhaps Misilmeri attracted and kept independent minded people early in its history. Perhaps it contained a higher ratio of people willing to respect the curious beliefs of others in order to live in peace. One thing is certain. In Misilmeri there was tolerance for freedom of thought, as long as each group kept their dignity by keeping their own beliefs within their group. It was here where Giusto’s family lived for hundreds of years.
By no means are the D’Amatos nobles or of ‘high birth’. For centuries in Sicily, and still in 1900 people were considered either of high birth or peasants. The D’Amato name tells that the family is ‘of the Amato’s’ – a people formerly owned, indentured, or working for the Amato family.
In 1900 Pietro and Caterina D’Amato, Giusto’s parents, have been married for ten years. Physically they are a striking couple. He is six foot six inches tall in a time when most men are no taller than five foot five. Caterina is as tall, if not taller, than most of the men in Misilmeri.
To someone in the twenty-first century they might appear cool, even distant or unaffectionate. This was not true about either of them, especially towards each other. But the culture of the times dictated that affection never be shown in public, not even between married couples. Affection was something to be displayed only in the privacy of one’s one home.
Pietro at 26 and Caterina at 22 were older than many others in their village when they married. The initial discussions that led to their arranged marriage started between their families because Pietro was the only unmarried man taller than Caterina. Discussion concluded when Pietro saw the value of this woman with dark chocolate eyes and mocha colored hair, who was not afraid of hard work and when directly asked her opinion spoke her mind, but generally preferred to let her actions speak for her.
It was ingrained into Petro’s nature to be an astute observer — to the point that even when he didn’t want see things in people’s behavior he generally could not help himself. Still, it took awhile for Pietro to discover Caterina’s attributes. While the D’Amato and Lo Franco families negotiated, he used every occasion he could to secretly observe Caterina away from the required formal meetings between their families. As was the custom, Caterina never left her house unless she was escorted by a male relative, who needed to be older than twelve, or she was in the company of two married women. Pietro could barely see her hair, covered as it was by the ever present, ever required shawl she wore when she went outside.
In 1900, their only living child was eight-year-old Nunzia, their first born. Giovanni, their first surviving son, was born in 1902, their second son, Giusto was born in 1904, and Angelina in 1906. Four other children were born to Pietro and Caterina and died either in infancy or at a young age in the years between Nunzia and Giovanni.
In Pietro’s family each generation worked hard and each bought a small parcel of land closest the last parcel purchased. While Pietro was quietly proud that he now had enough land to grow sufficient amounts of oranges, olives, and lemons to sell in Palermo, Caterina quietly worried that they might not have enough sons to work with him to make a good life. She tried not to be too protective of her children, but she had lost two sons and two daughters so young.
These were Giusto’s parents and family, and the village where he started his life. The place he began his path with twists and turns like the road to Palermo; a path that took him to the love of his life. As Giusto’s and Concetta’s story unfold, the alternating chapters will be in their own voices.©