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Finding My Old Home in Italy

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Corrubbio, Italy – We lived there for three years. We regularly went to the opera in the Roman colosseum. We lived an idyllic life. By the time we left, I was 5, going to Italian school and fluent in Italian.
By Seth Barnes

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Thirteen years after WW2 ended, my mom was a teacher putting my dad through medical school. Then – whoops – she got pregnant with me. They did things differently in those days. She stopped working to start her family.

This left them with a question: How could they pay for school? My dad decided to join the army and enroll in the G.I. Bill. The army’s deal: “We’ll put you through medical school and then you’ll have to work for us somewhere in the world.”

That place was Corrubbio, Italy

In the middle of the Valpolicella vineyards and one of the beautiful places in the world. We lived there for three years. We regularly went to the opera in the Roman colosseum. We lived an idyllic life. By the time we left, I was 5, going to Italian school and fluent in Italian.

58 years later, I said to Karen, “I want to show you the house where I once lived.” So, last week we traveled to Italy. Just one problem – we didn’t have an address to the old house. What we did have was a couple of old photos – the one above of my mom and me standing in front of the WW2 German machine gun bunker in our back yard. And this one of my dad and me.

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So, we knew the shape of the windows and we knew that the house sat up high overlooking vineyards. But in a town of 1,700 people, how to find that house?

Fortunately, we had Alessandro, a new friend, with us.

He said, “Let’s go down into those vineyards and look up – the windows are the key, our regulations keep home owners from changing them.”

We went down into the vineyards and looking up, this is what we saw.

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Alessandro said, “That yellow house – that has potential. Look at those windows. Let’s take a closer look. We zoomed in with my camera. Alessandro said, “Let’s go up there and see it from the front.” We did that, but couldn’t see much behind the gate. So we went back down to the vineyards to compare notes again.

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Finally, Alessandro said, “Yes, I think this is it. Let’s go knock on their door.”

When we did that, the owner, Cristiano, came out to greet us. Alessandro told him my story – a little boy after many years come back to find his homestead. But the front of his house didn’t look like any of the pictures. “Could we see the back?” Alessandro asked.

Cristiano said, “Sure.” And led us around to the back. We knew what the windows looked like and we knew the stonework pattern. And in the picture with my father, there was also what looked like a little peach tree. What would we find?

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Walking around, there it was!

All along those pictures had been of the back of the house not the front! There was the tree – grown tall now. This was my childhood home – the place of so many memories. I was overwhelmed.

Cristiano said, “20 years ago I bought the house from a man named Dompiere.” And when he said that name, it connected with an old childhood memory.

“That’s right,” I said, “Mr. Dompiere – I remember him! And what about the German bunker?”

Cristiano pointed behind us, “It’s a swimming pool now. What was a symbol of war is now a symbol of peace!”

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Wow! Every now and then in life, God shows you how the dots connect, how the circle is completed. I was having one of those experiences now in real time. I was overcome with emotion to see that these distant memories connected to people and stories.

Leaving the house, I asked if it would be OK if I stayed in touch with Cristiano and his two boys. They said “sure.” And part of the reason I’m writing this post now is so I can show them. Our stories are important and the people in them are important.

Why am I emotional when I have an experience like this?

I don’t know. God gifted us with a deep need for meaning and purpose. Maybe, like you, coming out of a season of Covid, I just needed to see the broader story arc of my life. Maybe in it, I get a greater glimpse of what God sees.

Have you ever had an experience like this where you were gifted with a broader view of your life? How did you feel?

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