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Finding My Italian Nanny 58 Years Later

A little over a week ago, Karen and I met Elisa and she took us to her mom’s house. There, after 58 years, was Maria! I gave her hug and apologized that I’d lost my Italian.
By Seth Barnes

Finding My Italian Nanny 58 Years Later

When my parents arrived in the little town of Corrubbio just outside of Verona (that story here), they already had my nanny lined up. I was two. Maria was 23 and only spoke Italian. The first day, my parents left me with her for the whole day. Apparently, I barely moved off the couch.

But over time we bonded. Europe was still healing from World War 2 and my parents wanted to see it, sometimes leaving me with Maria for up to a couple of weeks. As I got older and could carry on a conversation with her in Italian, Maria would tease me. “What will you do if they don’t come back?” My parents were just figuring out how to raise a child. Apparently they came from the school of “whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”

I’d tease Maria back. She was afraid of lizards and I was afraid of the moon. I’d chase her holding a lizard and she’d tell me, “Watch out or the moon is going to get you!”

Maria became like a surrogate mom to me.

But eventually, when I was five, my dad’s tour of duty in Italy came to an end and we had to leave our idyllic villa overlooking the vineyards of Valpolicella and we had to leave Maria.

Four years ago I got a text from a woman identifying herself as Elisa. She wrote:

“You might find this message weird and I hope I’m sending this to the right Seth ..
my name is Elisa. My mom’s name is Maria. I live in NYC now but my family is in Italy. My mom used to babysit a little boy named Seth when she was in her twenties and I was wondering if you are that little boy and if your dad is Dr. Asa Barnes. My mom always told us about you and your parents and she still remembers you fondly.”

 I couldn’t believe it! After all these years, Maria still remembered me. I wrote back:
“That’s me! I am that little boy!”
A little over a week ago, Karen and I met Elisa and she took us to her mom’s house. There, after 58 years, was Maria! I gave her hug and apologized that I’d lost my Italian.
Finding My Italian Nanny 58 Years Later-1

With Elisa there to translate, we shared memories. I could tell that it meant a lot that we had come all this way to see her. Images of what it was like in the villa with her came back as she talked. We laughed. It was such a fun conversation. I felt like I was on one of those episodes on an Oprah show.

It was wonderful to see that she had gone on to live a good life.

She and her husband actually lived in a 900 year-old castle in the medieval town of Castellaro Lagusello. Elisa and her husband had become successful scientists working on a cure for cancer in NYC.

Leaving her home, I gave Maria another hug and thanked her for helping raise me and for taking such good care of me. And thinking back on that charmed afternoon, I can’t help shaking my head.

I spend much of my life showing young people that they can thrive in strange paces around the world. I see now that Maria played an important role in helping me learn that lesson.

Maybe one day I’ll get to take my grandchildren to meet her. Maybe they’ll have a chance to learn the lesson Maria taught me, completing the circle that we started so many years ago.

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