In the course of doing research about our family history, my brother recently managed to locate some relatives who sent him the above photograph of our great-grandmother. Her maiden name was Filomena Rossi. She was born in Italy, and came to New York in the 1880s. She married another Italian immigrant, named Traiano Miranda, and they had five children, the eldest of which was Assunta, my father’s mother.

Seeing her face feels a little like traveling back in time for a kiss. I never knew what she looked like, but she was immediately familiar to me. The eyes especially…my father had eyes like that…also the nose, and the line of her jaw. I see something of her features in my siblings, and I see her in myself, and  I wish I knew more of her story, but I know that it beats in my heart.  I recognize the kindness and sorrow and love in the face of Filomena, and it gives me a sense of continuity and comfort. I carry her hopes, and I feel her strength.

I know she crossed an ocean and bore children and lived in a Brooklyn tenement, and now, as implausible as it seems, the daughter of one of her grandsons is sitting in a house above an orchard in the California hills, thinking about her. 

A verse from John O’Donohue’s beautiful Beannacht comes to mind:

May the nourishment of the earth be yours,
May the clarity of light be yours,
May the fluency of the ocean be yours,
May the protection of the ancestors be yours.

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