Last night, I attended the AGM at my daughter’s primary school. The guest speaker was Anne E Stewart, who is a storyteller; not a writer, but a storyteller in the true sense. She told us a couple of stories – the first a challenging, but thought-provoking story about a young Aboriginal woman, and a Scottish Selkie tale. She was incredibly engaging – I was on the edge of my seat as her stories took twists and turns.
But the most powerful part of the evening was when she went around the room asking people to share their own stories; where their family comes from and asking about family folklore. Out came stories of convict histories, migration from far and wider, and memories of growing up in Australia.
The story I told was about my father’s family moving to Australia. My great-grandfather, Luigi, sailed from Calabria in Italy to Australia in 1927 leaving behind my great-grandmother, Catarina, and their children. Catarina was pregnant at the time with their fifth child. The plan was for my Luigi to work and save enough money to bring his family out to the lucky country.
It took 20 years. In 1947, Luigi’s youngest son was one of the first people to fly from Italy to Australia. It took 13 days and when he arrived he met his father for the first time. Over the next two years, the rest of the family arrived slowly.
In 1949, Catarina boarded a ship with her other now-grown children, one of which was my grandmother, Vincenza. Vincenza was married and had two young children with her; an eight year old daughter and a five year old son – my dad.
Reunited – the family was together once again.
The tragedy in this story – the part that breaks my heart – is that four years later, Catarina died. The family was all together for only four years.
Our stories shape us, they tell where we’ve come from and where we’re going. They make us feel connected to others; they help us feel like we belong.
I struggled a long time about my family background. As I was growing up, I hated having an odd name, hated having olive skin and dark eyes. I remember quite clearly at the age of seven telling my mother I wished I had blonde hair, blue eyes and was called Cindy. I wanted to distance myself from my history; I was pleased that we didn’t speak Italian at home and that most of our friends were not Italian. Assimilation? That’s what I wanted!
It wasn’t until I visited Italy as an adult that I started to understand why I needed to reclaim this history. And it wasn’t until I took my daughter to Italy – then four years old – that I understood the way that my grandmothers were with me. I stood in a little street in Venice choking back tears as an old woman showered my daughter with the same terms of endearment that my late grandmothers had used with me, my cousins and my daughter. I felt I belonged.
I feel this same connection with people in the diabetes community. The people I met when I started working in diabetes who continue to be some of my closest friends and those who I continue to meet give me strength. And the wonderful people I have met online and in person from the diabetes online community – their stories and my stories have become intertwined and show us as a strong, powerful voice. They make me feel safe.
I love the stories of others in this community. I’ve stopped feeling startled when I hear a story that is so similar to mine; I’ve started to understand how diabetes ties us together in a mysterious way. Diabetes Blog Week was so terrific because so many more stories were put out there. If you haven’t yet, I really urge you to have a read. Make the connections; read the stories; and please, share your own.