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Finding My Old Home in Italy

13 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 …
By Seth Barnes
By Seth Barnes

13 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.

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.

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.

Finding My Old Home in Italy-1

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?

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!”

Finding My Old Home in Italy-2

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?

Comments (16)

  • Seth,
    Thanks for sharing your story. It’s so much fun to see how God brings things full circle and shows us a bit of who He is in the process

    I just got out of a meeting with a couple of our missionaries headed to the Middle East. They were sharing their hearts for what they will be doing once there. The wife said one of the ministries that she would like to do would be one with moms and their babies. It made me giggle a bit because I had just been sharing with my daughter how much a ministry called MOPS, Mothers of Pre-Schoolers, had meant to me. I shared how it had connected me with others in my same stage of life and how much it shaped how I parented. We looked up the website (MOPS.org) and found a bounty of resources that she may be able to utilize. We were tickled to see how God is using something that brought life to me over 20 years ago as something that may help them connect to others in the Middle East and introduce them to Jesus. We serve a creative God who uses things we don’t expect to draw people to Him.

    • Karen and I loved MOPS! It was a lifeline for her when she was raising 5 small children and I was building AIM. Yes – a full circle!

  • Love this! I love going back to the homes I have lived in over the years and reflecting on the memories. Makes me so thankful for the childhood God provided me. So glad you got to do this in Italy! Ciao!

  • Powerful. I’m in Virginia right now helping my mother with a move to Lancaster, PA. Every box opens a museum of memories. Each photo is a whisper of another place and time. The Old Testament speaks of the “stones of remembrance.” You’ve arranged a beautiful collection here. Love you.

    • I love that, Butch. “Every box opens a museum of memories. Each photo is a whisper of another place and time.” Yes, that has been my life during the last half year or so as I’ve digitized old photos and videos for our family. Please give your sweet mom a hug. I’ll send a text connecting you with a classmate who lives in Lancaster.

  • What a great story. When our son was in his race we joined him on the parent vision trip in the Philippines. My Dad was in the military and our family lived in Angel City when I was young. Anticipating our trip my Dad showed me old maps of the area and pictures. We had one free morning and rode around in a tuktuk checking out where the base used to be. A lot had changed but it was still fun to look for clues of long forgotten memories.

  • WOW Seth, what a great story! I love Italy. In 1978 I was there for 2 months on a mission trip. (I’m giving away my age) and stayed near Perugia but travelled around and was even a week at Monti Pulciano and also stayed with a wine farmer named Guiseppi. I still have his picture with me in my Bible. Ever since I love my wine. Those were the nicest Christians I ever met. I couldn’t speak the language but learned some words. When I was with Guiseppi I walked around in shorts and I guessed he asked me if I was cold or warm. He used the word ‘caldo’ and ‘freda’ thinking caldo would mean cold. Of course caldo means warm and freda means cold. When he asked if I was freda I answered ‘Si si’ and he would come with long pants for me.Anyway, I have very warm memories with them even after all those years. Even their hand signals when they want you to come and I thought I had to go away. WOW, lovely people (and the best wine) Thanks for sharing and bringing back memories for me. Stay Blessed Seth. Greetings from a beautiful and peaceful Nsoko. LEO

  • What an amazing story. What wonderful photos of you and your parents. I remember stories from them about that place – and about your fluency in Italian. God’s heart for the world was planted within you at such an early age. Thank you for portraying so clearly God’s wisdom and faithfulness working generationally through your family.

  • That reminded me of a trip we took to Norway and miraculously found where Mike’s ancestors were from..and Steve & Dave carved their name on the foundation of the house that once stood of his Dad’s side of the family 5 generations ago!

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Seth Barnes

I'm motivated to join God in his global reclamation project. He's on the move, setting his sons and daughters free from their places of captivity. And he's partnering with those of us who have been freed to go and free others.

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