As we approach July 31st, the day that we close the doors to our restaurant, customers are having the need to not only come in and have one last meal but also share their stories. One customer, that I will refer to as Mr. Bill, gazed at our wall of paintings depicting different cities in Italy. He had a wonderful smile on his face as he reminisced about visiting Italy with his Dad as a 16 year old. Recounting his dad’s WW2 time in Italy his eyes teared. Mr. Bill’s dad was a colonel in the 15th Air Force in Italy. The US Air Force was there to support the invasion of Italy for the strategic bombing of Germany. The air force took priority over the troops on the ground using much of the limited transportation in Italy. As Mr. Bill unraveled his Dad’s travels through Italy he explained to me about the battle of Huskey.(JULY 1943 Operation Husky – the Invasion of Sicily was the start of the Allies assault on German occupied Europe. Churchill described Sicily and Italy as the soft underbelly of Europe but there were many hard fought battles there before the job was done.)
As Mr. Bill spoke of his fond memories it brought to mind some of my own stories that my Dad would tell his children. My Dad was just a young boy growing up through World War 2. Living in Italy during that time was not a good experience as the German’s took over the country. Monte di Procida where my dad grew up is a town on top of a mountain overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. Evidently it was a great spot that served as the German’s look out. One day my dad came upon an unmanned machine gun set up overlooking the bay. Of course what would a curious young boy do! He decided to try out the guns when all of a sudden the Germans came running! It amazed me that he survived this experience as well as the ugly war.
But the story that was told with the most frequency was the one about the American soldiers that altered my dad’s life forever. By the end of the war jobs and food in Italy were scarce. There was poverty, destruction and schools were not in session for 3 years. After the Americans pushed the Germans out of Italy, my dad and a few of the townspeople would take the bus to the American Naval Base to look for work. My Dad was a mere 12 years old. Even though he was so young, the American soldiers knowing the devastation in the nearby towns and the plight of the Italians, gladly took him in and gave him odd jobs for food and money. My dad beaming with pride would bring home money and food for his family. The generosity of the Americans made a lasting impression on my dad. So much so that he came to the United States in 1954 to start a new life.
And that brings me back to Mr. Bill. When Mr. Bill was 16 years old his Dad the 15th Air Force Colonel brought his family to visit Italy. They started from northern Italy and made their way down to Sicily. When they reached the Amalfi Coastline they were in awe of one of the most beautiful coastlines in all of Europe. The Amalfi Coast (Costiera Amalfitana is a stretch of coastline on the southern coast of the Sorrentine Peninsula in the Province of Salerno in Southern Italy. The Amalfi Coast is a popular tourist destination for the region and Italy as a whole, attracting thousands of tourists annually.) It was lunch time so the family stopped in the town of Positano on the Amalfi Coast. In fact there’s a short story written by John Steinbeck called “Positano”. If you would like to read about the Italians in Positano it’s a vivid depiction that captures Steinbeck’s experience there!
( www.fortunecity.com/littleitaly/amalfi/84/positanosteinbeck.htm )
They reached Positano 2 o’clock in the afternoon. As you can imagine they were all quite hungry. As his Dad knocked at the door of a trattoria, he didn’t realize that the trattoria was closed and they were having a siesta. His dad not knowing much Italian was happy that the owner spoke English. The trattoria owner understood quite well that Mr. Bill’s dad was bringing his family to all the sites in Italy that he saw when he was an American Colonel in World War 2. Well Mr. Bill’s dad didn’t need to speak any further. The owner quickly yelled out to his wife and family that a great feast was to be made. And with a flourish as everyone gathered around cooking, setting the table, and filling the jugs with wine a big feast was prepared for the Colonel and his family. And with loving eyes Mr. Bill exclaimed with a catch in his voice that when his dad reached into his pocket to pay. The host said, “ No! It is our honor and privilege to provide you and your family a meal.”
I wouldn’t have understood this gesture if it wasn’t for the stories my dad told me. The trattoria owner was just trying to give back to the Americans for the kindness that was shown. I am sure he had his own special story from WW2 and he wanted to reciprocate.
As I watched Mr. Bill walk out the door of Coppola’s Restaurant for the last time I came to the conclusion that our service to the community hasn’t been just about the food. It’s been a reminder of family and good times. Jim and I at Coppola’s are proud that we were able to hang on to that aura of family and thankfulness that my dad passed on to us. Not only were we able to provide our customers with the same great food experiences that my Dad and his brothers started 50 years ago but Coppola’s also was able to provide customers a canvas for memories! In turn, our customers gave us a greater understanding and lasting memories of my parents heritage! And for that we want to say thank you for 50 wonderful years!