The Human Registry Office

Francesco Borrello, Jr. is one of the Italian writers who shared his family history with My Italian Family. In particular, he introduced his grandfather to us from whom he inherited not only his namesake but also his ability to tell a story.

“Francesco Borrello, Sr. was born in Bova (Reggio Calabria) on December 31, 1887. He was a good, bright, sensitive, kind-hearted grumbler and easily moved, generous and true with his fellows, a model of civic sense and industry, he based his life on firm principles of honesty and righteousness, instilling them with his example in his children and grandchildren. He loved the family and his numerous relatives and was loved by them almost with devotion.

Gifted with a prodigious memory, he was able to remember perfectly, up to a few days before his death, the poems learned in primary school; whole passages from the geography book; letters sent and received; the exact date of birth of relatives, acquaintances and fellow villagers; name, surname, title and physical characteristics of the persons he met (maybe only once); the date of each significant moment in his life; personal, family, and town life episodes. And he did have many episodes to remember.

A very skilled joiner, he worked indifferently as cabinet-maker, carpenter or master-carpenter with the same despatch and ability (we still jealously keep a wine-press he had made by hand, screws and bolts included). He migrated twice to America while still very young; he did it only to free himself from need, though: he longed for freedom, not for wealth. In fact, he came back to defend the Fatherland on the Carso plateau during the WWII. He then enrolled as an auxiliary Carabiniere, serving in Gioiosa first and then in Gerace, with a long period in Rome during the post-war tumults. When he was discharged, he resumed his old joiner’s job in his home town, making the best of the techniques and tools he had brought back from America.

He married the still very young Caterina Mesiano, from whom he had two children: Pietro and Ippolita. When the daughter was still an infant and the elder was a toddler, he lived for a long time, with a mute dog and a muzzle-loader, on the mountains above Bova, in a shack he built himself, taking care of his wife, who was badly ill and in need of mountain air. He spent all his money and energies, but he was able to snatch her from death. Afterwards, having left his tough job for reasons of health, he was hired by the Municipality where, since he had learned by heart the dates of birth of his “paesani," he gained himself the loving and effective nickname of “human registry office."

But apart from the episodes he had directly experienced, he used to tell many others he had heard and also fairy-tales by the dozen. Talkative, cheerful, sharp, he fascinated people with his brilliant and gestured narration, no matter what the subject was, though we kids, obviously, preferred tales and we never hesitated to turn off the TV and give up the first, not yet invasive, cartoons, to hear them.”

Many of us can relate his grandfather to our Ancestors who belonged to a past where values such as hard work, sacrifice and dignity were practiced everyday.

In the picture, a celebration that takes in place in the medieval town of Bova on Palm Sunday, called "Il rito delle Pupazze." In the procession, which takes place every year, large Pupazze i.e. female puppets made of intertwined leaves of olive trees adorned with colorful ribbons, medals, seasonal fruits (mandarins, olives, fava beans) and flowers are carried through the historic center and followed by a festive crowd. In the process, the puppets are slowly broken into small pieces which are distributed to the Bova residents.