Sebastiano Arcidiacono and Maria Grasso Arcidiacono brought eight children into the world, four girls: Josephina, Rosina (Rose), Agatha and Grazia (Grace), four boys: Rosario, Salvatore (Sam), Gaetano (my maternal grandfather), and Giovanni (John).  They lived in Acireale, a coastal city northeast of Catania, Sicily. Their circumstances were modest, bordering on poor. Sebastiano was a stonemason, who constructed ornate walls for the well-to-do. For all of its prestige, there was barely enough food to feed everyone. There were nights of hunger-interrupted sleep.

A tract of land was attached to the family’s home, perhaps an acre or two, where herbs, vegetables, and flax were grown. Once the flax was harvested, the sisters spun the bounty into thread. They hand weaved the threads to linen, clothed the family, they made tablecloths and furniture scarves. An assumption of added income was possible. Sebastiano viewed his children more as laborers than progeny; education was not a priority. This a frame of mind that would alter the course of two of his sons forever.


Rosario, the firstborn, was nine years Gaetano’s senior. He had his father’s ear from as far back as Gaetano could remember. He was tall and stiff, his posture of arrogance and worldliness. Their father conferred with him in all matters of the household, a fact not lost among his siblings.

One day, this eldest son and his father walked through the flax crop and caught sight of Gaetano close by. Rosario motioned to his father, put Gaetano to work in this field. He is big and strong. Their father immediately agreed. He nodded to his younger son to get to work pronto.

For an instant, life went out of Gaetano. He felt as though he were turned upside down. He was banished from an education. He was separated from the rest of the family. He breathed in bitterness, he detested Rosario from that moment, with uncharacteristic hatred. He thoroughly despised him as he would never hate or despise anyone else. Gaetano’s venom was not toward his father but toward his brother’s ability to exploit Sebastiano’s calm nature. Rosario knew he could assume the patriarchal role without protest. His bravado continued well after the four brothers crossed the ocean. He attempted to inflict authority upon them when World War I broke out. Their brother Sam complied and fought in Turkey in the Gallipoli Peninsula Campaign (1915-1916). Gaetano, my grandfather, was married in 1915, my grandmother was pregnant with their first child. But that wasn’t the real issue for his refusal to follow Uncle Sam. Gaetano vowed never to allow Rosario to interfere with his life again.

Rosario’s entitled nature was shared by the oldest daughter, Josephina, also known as Ida. Ida played her own role in stunting the education of the youngest son, Giovanni (John). One day, when Uncle John came home from school, Ida ordered him to harvest the flax crop with grand-pop. When he refused she told their father, who, at her command, promptly removed him from the classroom. From that moment, John assisted their father in his stone masonry. His formal education, terminated. Stopped in the fifth grade. His hatred toward Ida twinned with grandpop’s for Rosario. He refused to speak about Ida with his only child, my ninety-nine-year-old Cousin Mary. His mouth a straight line across his face, his right index finger to his lips, he always shook his head no. Two brothers resolved to Omerta, silence. Uncle John learned to read by attending night school when he was well into adulthood, as much to spite Rosario as his desire to learn. Grand-pop did not follow suit.


Body language in Italian culture is an overstatement. We talk with our hands; our hands are our souls.

Photographs are a silent language. A time-captured reinforcement. Expressive body movements frozen. The photo of Grand-pop Arcidiacono’s parents shows a couple bound by duty, respect, and culture. My great grandfather discloses an appearance of lack of robustness, yet sturdy and quiet natured. A person who avoided confrontation. My great grandmother shines with her own silent wisdom, her husband’s main support. Her dress, matronly, traditional, modest. Grandpop often impressed on me that he saw them as good people, bound to their homeland. They depended on their sons’ securing their fortune in America to insulate them into their old age. Only one son, Rosario, returned permanently in 1920.

The sons of Sicily portrait was taken within the year of my Uncle John’s arrival (1913). He was sixteen years old. This is the only known portrait of the brothers taken together, the first known photo of my grandfather at twenty-one. This photo is one of attitude. Of Rosario, second from the left, his mustache dictates his opinion. Visible swagger resides in his eyes. His elevated foot in a kick position, punctuating his hairy upper lip. I’m moved to kick him mentally every time I look at him. The beautiful ancient Roman-style chair held his regal posture. Uncle Sam seated beside him, his relaxed gloves in his elegant right hand. His kind face, he was always so kind to us. Grand-pop standing beside Rosario, their obvious tension in black and white, no physical contact between them. Three of them, in various stages of their prime. Uncle John, a teenager, hand on Uncle Sam’s shoulder. Uncle Sam holds no tobacco. This, the first and last iconic picture of that generation of male Arcidiacono lineage.


The oldest son caressed

their father’s ear

and said to harness

grandpop to the land

Gaetano, banished to the field

to learn to read Italian

on his own

to barely learn to write.

The heat of the earth

burned through

from feet to heart

his cut of flax

as if to cut

his sibling’s throat

He cursed him

every moment

in his sweat

his venom weaved

into the clothes he wore

he swore

to never heed his word again.

(Perhaps the seed to stay

across the sea

germinated then)

Linda M. Romanowski earned her MFA in Creative Nonfiction from Rosemont College in May 2021. Her thesis, Final Touchstones, granted with distinction, is scheduled for publication by Sunbury Press in 2022. These submissions are part of her Italian heritage collection in hybrid form of essays and poems. Her non-fiction and poetry publications included the Mario Lanza Institute Facebook page and website. She is a contributing feature writer for The City Key online magazine.