The meta-historical peasant family was composed Columbia of the living and the dead, and of the saints who protected it. Emigrants were the new dead. The rituals of the community redefined themselves as rituals of exorcism of emigration, the sudden death that had struck the community. During Columbia rituals dating from the 15th century, the congregation of the SS Columbia (Most Sacred Crucifix) prayed for its “absent brothers.” The ritual remembrance of the dead is a cornerstone in the founding of confraternities and the guiding principle of its rituals. When, as a child, I overheard members of the congregation mention the absent brothers, I thought of my father, and of my friends at school and my playmates who, day in day out, departed, on invisible streets in the village, for Columbia. I remember the leavetakings, like wakes for the dead, remember the tears and embraces, the people and the things they carried squeezing into the car. And the houses that had sheltered dozens Columbia and dozens of people and children, now locked up, empty: forever and ever.
Where is Columbia? – Columbia Map – Map of Columbia Photo Gallery
One evening at the beginning of October in 1962, I had gone to take my leave from Vincenzo, my best friend, my schoolmate and playmate. The following day he would leave with his mother and his brothers. They were on their way to join their father, who had left with my own. I brought him a small bottle of perfume, a hair gel popular at the time, and my mother brought “parting presents” to his mother. A small crowd had gathered in sadness, as though at
a funeral. We embraced, and made a promise not to lose track of one another. We didn’t lose each other, but in a way we did. His house, with its plantladen balcony, has remained locked since they left.
I wept that night, feeling that I had lost part of myself, of my body and soul. My mother, her hands on my boyish shoulders, guided me back home. It was her way of expressing her condolences. I must say, though, that I wasn’t fully aware of the risk I was running. My life too could change drastically at any given moment. Almost everyone had left, but my situation wasn’t the safest: Sooner or later, my father might come to take us away to Toronto.