The first time I took Michael to New York to meet my family was on the occasion of Grandma Gallo’s 90th birthday party.
“How many people will be at this party?” he asked.
“I don’t know. Fifty?”
“Well, her four kids, and their spouses. That’s eight. Then there’s sixteen of us grandkids. So now we’re up to twenty-four. . . And some are married. . . Or bringing somebody. So that’s another ten or so. And then there’s the great grand-kids. . .And her sister. With her son and daughter-in-law. Maybe some other relatives.”
“And all these people are coming?” he asked again.
“Yeah.” I looked at him incredulously, “Why wouldn’t they? It’s her ninetieth birthday!”
“Well, it’s just a long ways to travel for one afternoon,” he said.
“Nah. They all live within twenty miles of Grandma.”
“All of them?”
“Well, yeah. Pretty much. Jessica’s in Albany, I’ve got a cousin flying in from Nevada, . . .”
Michael was amazed. “We’re Italian,” I said.
“Yeah, but still, people don’t stick around like that anymore.”
As is his custom, Michael asked me about this twice more prior to our arrival in New York. “They never left?”
“No . . . All my dad’s siblings have businesses in the area. You know that thing they say about Italians? Whenever we need something done, we’ve got an uncle who can do it? If I ever built a house up there my dad could do the plumbing, my Uncle John would do all the flooring, Uncle Dominic would do the electrical stuff . . . ”
“But what about the cousins?” he asked. “They never left either?”
I thought for a minute. “Well, some of us went away to college. But a lot stayed around, or came back.”
By the time we arrived in Poughkeepsie, Michael was ready. Every aunt, uncle, or cousin I introduced him to got the same two questions: “Where do you live?” and “How far is that from here?”
“They really do all live within twenty miles!” he said to me, as if it wasn’t true until he heard it directly from them.
This propensity for the Gallo’s (myself very much excluded) to stay so close to where they were born has been incredibly helpful when applying for my Italian Citizenship. Of the thirteen birth, marriage, and death records I need to get, nine were obtained from just three government buildings–located within three miles of each other. Apparently Grandpa Gallo’s father got off the boat at Ellis Island, came up to Poughkeepsie, and never left. He got married here, had his kids here, those kids got married here, then had kids here, and so it goes.
My Grandma Gallo’s family, however, did things a little differently. My grandmother was born in Brooklyn, NY, in 1924. A few years later her mother, Frances, after bearing and losing another baby, got what my grandmother referred to as “milk leg.” Google tells me it’s a clot in the femoral vein. Frances was very sick and was told she wouldn’t live too much longer, and the best thing to do would be to move to the country. So they moved 90 miles north, to Poughkeepsie. Frances lived to be 92.
What does this all mean for my Italian Citizenship? That my grandmother’s birth certificate is in Brooklyn, NY. If you grew up in NY State you know everything is different in “The City.” Including the level of difficulty and time it takes to get legal documents.
I could have ordered the document on-line, but, since my grandmother is still alive (at 92!) the credit card to which one charges the $15 fee must be in her name. She doesn’t own a credit card.
So in June of 2016 I got a copy of Grandma’s state issued photo ID (what most of us call a Driver’s License, but she doesn’t drive anymore) and then I took her out to the bank to get her notarized signature on the form, which I then mailed to New York along with a copy of my license and a letter asking for a certified copy of her birth certificate and a “letter of exemplification.” I didn’t know what that was–just that everything I read on-line said I needed one if I was getting any documents in New York City.
Long story short, it never arrived. Or did and Grandma thought it was junk mail. I called to follow up and was told, no, they cannot send it to me–only to my grandmother. Nor can they send it “in care of” me. So in October my dear parents took dear Grandma to get her signature notarized once again. And once again I sent in my money and the forms and prayed the process would not take so long–my appointment with the Italian Consulate was now less than four months away.
My parents and I notified all those that visit Grandma, as well as her caretakers, to be on the lookout for it.
Thankfully, the document arrived last week–and I now, officially, have every record I need.