My Nonno emigrated from Italy sometime around 1919 just after the First World War. He was born in the small village of Granere di sotto, called “I Bracchi” by the local people near the town of Bardi in the Province of Parma. One of seven children, six brothers and a sister, my grandfather Tomaso was born like most Italians at the time into a life of poverty. At the age of 18 he left home with two of his elder brothers, Bertula (Bartolommeo) and Antonio to find a make a better life for himself in South Wales. Three of his other brothers, Giovanni, Giuseppe and Emilio left home to find a better life in France.
The details from here on in are a little unknown, but according to my uncle Aldo the brothers ended up working for an Italian family somewhere in the Cynon valley. Although they worked hard, the experience of working for another family wasn’t as enjoyable as first expected and the three brothers sought work in the coal mines which were paying better wages. After a number of years of saving their earnings they eventually bought a shop in Abercynon that Bertula worked. Whether they all worked together is unclear, however they eventually bought another shop in Brithdir for Antonio where my grandfather worked until he bought his own shop at Abertysswg.
Giovanni, the oldest of the brothers who had moved to France and had a thriving business in Paris moved back to Granere to take over family land after the death of their father Domenico. As the first born male grandchild and living only around the corner from the family shop much of my time was spent in and around the shop, where my mother also worked. After school I would go behind the shop with my grandparents to have my tea. As a child the shop was a treasure trove with lots of wonderful sweets and chocolate to tempt any child.
But as a child my true love for Italy was indoctrinated into me when every year from a young age I went to Italy with my grandparents, back home to Granere. Sometimes I went with my mother, other times I went with my grandparents, I spent sometimes six to eight weeks without seeing my parents, but my memories of this time of my life are vivid and full of happiness
We would travel by car and after a couple of days end up at Uncle Emilio’s house is Noceto, where we would normally stay for a couple of days with him and his wife Amabile. It was incredibly hot in Noceto and was blighted with “zanzare” which bit you half to death during the summer nights. We would also visit Antonio who returned to Italy when he retired at Cortemaggiore as well. After a few days we would then head up to Granere, which to me was like heaven. The scenery was spectacular and for a young child there was always something to get up to. The house was always full during the summer as from time to time different people would turn up to stay. My grandparents had six children, Dina, Aldo, Sonia (my mother), Mario, Vincent and Maria and during the summer months any of them could turn up for a couple of days or weeks at a time. This situation was further complicated as Meghina (Domenichina) my nonno’s sister would also stay with us. As a child I had to sleep anywhere there was a space!
My uncle Aldo would always stay with my nonna’s brother in Lobie a hamlet of six or seven houses found just off the road to Granere. Every night after we had eaten our evening meal, Pietro, Giustina and my cousin Giannina would walk from Lobie carrying a pale of fresh milk straight from the cow as well as cakes and whatever else had been made that day. The men would play cards and the women would talk and the whole house buzzed with activity. The smell of freshly cut hay and the sound of cow bells as families worked the land is something that will stay with me forever.
It’s interesting when I go back to the old village and the family house, the halcyon days of my childhood memories have definitely gone and will probably never return. I still know the people that are left but many of the young people have left to find work in the cities of Parma and Piacenza.
But for me it still holds a very special place in my heart and when I drive up from Bardi and turn down at Pione into the “Val Lecca”, following the road past Aquanera, Panigaro, Cremadasca, Tiglio, Tanugola and Santa Giustina, finally rising up towards Granere it feels like going home.
Darren Crane, Blackwood, March 2013
The photograph shows my grandfather as a young man outside his brother Antonio’s shop in Brithdir.
The photograph shows four of the six brothers re-united when Giovanni visited Wales sometime, I think after the end of the Second World War.From left to right, Giovanni (seated), Antonio, Tomaso and Bertula (seated)
The photograph shows me as a child with my nonno, my mother and my auntie Maria. This must have been taken either after church or after market day on a Thursday because I have my best shorts on!
The photograph shows my nonna (far right) with her brother, Pietro, his wife Gustina (far left) and her friend Caterina
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