During the summer of 1970, when I was 10 years old, my parents Nicola and Carmela decided to take me and my sister Paula to visit our mountaintop hometown of San Bartolomeo in Galdo, Italy. We boarded the Michelangelo cruise ship out of New York Harbor for the eight-day voyage across the Atlantic Ocean.
Over the next three months, we reconnected with family and friends that I had heard stories about. What a magical time it was riding bikes with my cousins through the little town and playing the kissing game with the cute Italian girls - wonderful memories that I will cherish for the rest of my life.
Over the next 38 years, because of the daily demands of life - work, attending college at night, being involved with my daughter, Stephanie - I never considered making a return trip to our hometown. But one day, I was speaking with my father about how nice it would be to spend some guys' time together and visit the family in Italy. My wife Amy and my mother were kind enough to agree, so on Labor Day weekend of 2008, my father and I were off to visit Italy for a month.
My cousin invited us to stay in his immaculate second-floor villa in the center of town.
I will always remember the church directly across the street ringing its bell every hour on the hour, starting at 6 a.m. The clock would wake me up every morning. Dad would just smile and say, "Don't worry about it - I'm sure you will get used to it." So I smiled back and thought to myself, I could never get use to that oversize alarm clock!
A typical day for us included using my Uncle Eduordo's house as a base for lunches and dinners, and taking nightly two-mile walks to solve the world's problems. I learned so much about my family on those walks. My father told me the story of how he would strap me to his back at 3 years old and ride his motorcycle through the town and countryside. Or, the time my Uncle Eduordo almost lost his leg and his life when he fell under the family's tractor while working on the farm. If it hadn't been for a good samaritan who found him in the field, he wouldn't have made it. Both brothers were so close and loved each other dearly even though they were usually separated by 4,500 miles of land and sea.
I learned a lot about myself during those late-night walks in 2008. I was fortunate enough to have such wonderful role models in my life as my father and Uncle Eduordo. My father would always say, "Try to enjoy the simple things in life, a nice meal, a long walk, and spending time with family." And "don't ever take anything for granted."
I knew in my heart that we both made the right decision to take that special trip, because sometimes in life there are no second chances.
Three years later, on Oct. 28, 2011, my wonderful father and best friend, Nicola Del Buono, passed away at the age of 79. I will always cherish the annual vacations that we took as a family. There were special times that we enjoyed visiting Wildwood, N.J.; Ocean City, Md.; and the Poconos. But most important, it was during that 2008 Italy trip that I truly found out how special a man my father truly was.