Family Stories

Sorry to be posting late today. We had a little excitement last night.

Stowed Away, (Maine Clambake #6, 2018) won the Maine Literary Award for Crime Fiction.

I was completely amazed and unprepared. It’s the first time a cozy mystery has won and the first time a mass market paperback has won. Plus, the other finalists, fellow Maine Crime Writers Bruce Coffin and Lea Wait/Cornelia Kidd, are both writers I admire, whose books are on my “buy it on release day” list. I am so incredibly honored.

But back to the post. My husband, Bill Carito, and I recently returned from a three week vacation. We took a cruise from Athens to Rome, and then we made a side trip to the small village in Calabria that Bill’s paternal grandparents emigrated from in 1921.

On Monday, I wrote about our adventures finding Bill’s second cousin in Wicked Authors post here. I promised to finish the story today.

So, if you’re all caught up, you know that one of the people in the village of Montauro (Angela!) helped us track down Bill’s second cousin, Giovanni, and his wife, Barbara, and we drove off to meet them in the town nearby where they live.

When we met up, we talked for hours, which was challenging since our combined Italian is terrible and their combined English is only slightly better. But it didn’t matter, because we all really wanted to communicate. In fact, Giovanni had something he not only wanted to communicate, he needed to communicate to Bill. The story he told us was this.

Though Bill and Giovanni are related on their paternal side, it was his maternal grandfather Giovanni wanted to tell us about. In the early 1910s, Bill’s paternal grandfather and Giovanni’s maternal grandfather worked together in the same factory, not surprising in a small mountain village. Fascism had not yet taken hold in Italy, but the ideology was creeping in. The owner of the factory decreed that any worker who organized a strike would be arrested and imprisoned.

There were rumors of a strike. The actual instigator was Giovanni’s maternal grandfather. He was married and had small children, the first three of the ten he would eventually have. When word of the strike leaked out, and suspicion fell on him, Bill’s paternal grandfather, a bachelor at the time, stepped forward and took the fall though he hadn’t been involved. He wasn’t imprisoned, but he had to flee the country, coming to the United States for the first time in 1912. Giovanni strongly believes that if Bill’s grandfather hadn’t done this, his maternal grandfather would have been imprisoned, his mother would not have been born, and he would not have been born. He needed to tell Bill that his grandfather’s heroism was legendary in his family, a critical part of their origin story.

On this side of the Atlantic, we knew of Bill’s grandfather’s earlier trip to the United States, but we had no idea about the reason behind it. We assumed he had come to America to work and perhaps to get a sense of life here, and then had returned to Italy to marry, not returning to the U.S. until 1921 with his own three small children. (Three more would be born here, including Bill’s dad.) The reason for that earlier trip had completely disappeared for us. But Giovanni’s side of the family has not forgotten. It was wonderful to reclaim this family story.

That story might have been lost, but many family traditions remain. The church the village Bill’s grandparents emigrated from is named for San Pantaleon. His saint’s day is July 27, and every year on the weekend closest to that date Bill’s extended family–the grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and now great-great grandchildren of that couple who walked out of the mountains– gather to celebrate family and connection, and express their gratitude for the lives they have created in America. Every year, in Calabria, Giovanni’s family does the same. I love that my granddaughter will be with us this year, so many generations removed from that village church, but still a part of the tradition.

The Sunday after we met, we had a traditional Calabrian lunch Barbara cooked at their house. Their son’s English is excellent and the young man spent hours translating our stories so we all could enjoy them. We ate heartily and drank wine and enjoyed time together. The poor kid must have been exhausted when we finally said our good-byes.

Giovanni and his family. Notice a resemblance?

About Barbara Ross

Barbara Ross is the author of the Maine Clambake Mysteries. Her books have been nominated for multiple Agatha Awards for Best Contemporary Novel and have won the Maine Literary Award for Crime Fiction. She lives in Portland, Maine. Readers can visit her website at
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36 Responses to Family Stories

  1. Pingback: Angela! – The Wickeds

  2. kaitlynkathy says:

    Great story, Barb. And mega congrats on your award.

  3. What a great adventure and story!

  4. Dee White says:

    Amazing the connections we find with one another. Love the story, and it’s priceless that you’ll be able to pass the traditions down to your grandchildren. Congratulations on your award!

  5. Vida Antolin-Jenkins says:

    How absolutely marvelous! And warmest congratulations on the win!

  6. Maureen Milliken says:

    Love the story and also congrats on the win! It would have been a happy occasion no matter who the winner was, but it’s still exciting!

  7. Maureen Milliken says:

    Meant to add that I was with some Italian relatives recently (first generation) and mention came up of someone who’d married into the family and someone said, “Where was he from again?” and someone else said “Calabria.” There was a long pause, then someone said, “Well, at least he was Italian.” But I love Bill, so here’s to Calabria!

    • Barbara Ross says:

      Yes, it was extremely scandalous when Bill’s maternal grandmother whose heritage was Calabrese married his grandfather who was from Abruzzo. And vice-versa.

  8. hpl04943 says:

    Connections are sometimes the most unexpected AND best part of meeting folks. Congratulations on the award!

  9. Lois Bartholomew says:

    Congratulations on your award, Barbara. And thank you for sharing that family story. What a treasure for you and your husband and even more for your children and grandchildren.

  10. Such wonderful connections, Barb. And a well deserved award!

  11. Judy says:

    A very interesting story of family.

  12. Donna Lambert says:

    Love this story about your family and your books! Congratulations for your Maine Literary Award for Crime Fiction.

  13. Sandra Johnson says:

    Wonderful story! My two oldest children’s grandfather, Luigi Piccolo, came to the U.S., worked for a few years and then went back to Italy and married Filomena Marasco in 1904.
    They had three children and then the whole family came to the U.S. and had more children and lived in West Virginia. Luigi came from San Giovannie in Fiore,,Cosenza, Italy which is also in the Calabria area. Congratulations on a well deserved award! I love your books and am looking forward to the next Clam Bake mystery.

    • Barbara Ross says:

      This pattern of coming, and then returning and then coming back is more common than people realize. I’m so glad you love the Maine Clambake Mysteries!

  14. Anonymous says:

    Fantastic story, really warms the heart! Thanks.

  15. Thanks so much for sharing! And congratulations on your award. Guess I’ve got to look into your Clambake series. Your story relates to my “cause”. I’m not a fiction writer, but nonfiction and I love and “preach” family stories. If more people would just “Write It Down!”, what treasures we would have!

  16. sandra neily says:

    Barb! So very pleased for you and you DESERVE it so very much. All three of you with unique Maine stories. What different and amazing lenses you all shared with us. (Not to mention the lovely travel story and pics.) Congrats!

  17. susanvaughan says:

    First, congratulations on your Crime Fiction award! Mega wonderful and well deserved. I love that book! And the whole series. I never miss one.
    Second, what a terrific family story. Thank you for sharing all that. I’m sure you’ll all keep in touch and visit again.

  18. sherylsens says:

    I love your story!!! Thank-you & Bill so much for sharing & I love the photos! I’m now following Bill.. My dad & his side of family are from Positano, Italy, which is about 82. miles from Ponza… Positano is my maiden name 🙂

  19. Beautiful family story and love the photo of the village house with the staircase.

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