It’s time for another Feature Friday! This week’s guest post is from Joe Glasgow. Joe is retired from the Navy and is currently a police officer for the Conshohocken Police Department.

As submitted by author Joe Glasgow on April 18, 2019:

Finding Luck and Blessings in Cesinali

I’ve been thinking lately about the difference of being lucky and being blessed. For me, a $5 bill found in the dryer: “Wow, lucky me.” For others, “Wow, what a blessing.” To each his own, I suppose. Being either lucky or blessed, neither could really be wrong.

Over my lifetime, I have experienced both being lucky and being blessed. I reflect on my time serving in the Navy and of all of the places I’ve traveled. In my 22-year career, I saw much of the world. From here in the United States to Europe, Asia, the Middle East, and Antarctica. It was the experience of a lifetime for a regular neighborhood kid
from West Philly.

In 2002, the Navy asked my reserve unit for volunteers for an assignment in Naples, Italy. Myself, and a friend, volunteered, and in January 2002, we landed in Naples, Italy.  For me, volunteering for this assignment was easy. On my mother’s side of the family, Naples is the area where my great-grandparents originated before migrating to Philadelphia in the early 1900’s. Knowing I was traveling to Naples, I had a fleeting idea of finding my family roots. So one Sunday morning, I left Naples and decided to take a chance and drive to Cesinali, Italy. This is the small town where my great-grandparents were from. It was one of those ‘what the hell’ kind of decisions. So I left early on a Sunday to begin my search.

With a map as my modern-day GPS, and a 4-hour ride, I found Cesinali. After parking the car, and looking around, I thought, Ok, now what? Where do I go? Who do I talk to? My only lead to a relative was a name given to me by my sister. The name was Pino Spina, a distant relative of my great-grandparents. As I walked around Cesinali, I was absolutely taken aback without warning. It was surreal. The small monuments in the city, the plaques of historic buildings, a street name, all memorializing the last name of my mother’s side of the family – Cocchia. The pride I had was indescribable. The Cocchia
family was once very prominent in Cesinali. It seemed the Cocchia family, in Cesinali, was the equivalent of the Kennedys here in the US.

The Cocchia name was everywhere in Cesinali

I found a small mom-and-pop store in town and in my broken Italian, introduced myself and asked if they knew of Pino Spina. The employees huddled, whispered, looked at me, huddled and whispered some more. It was obvious I was an out-of-towner. Finally, one emerged from the huddle and said, “Attendere qui, per favore” which translated to English means, “Wait here, please.” I was then directed to follow a man outside and to follow him by car. Leaving, the employees bid me a warm farewell with large smiles on their faces. I followed the man by car for a short drive. We arrived at a house and the man I followed made contact with the owner. His name was Giuseppe Spina, brother of
Pino. I smiled and introduced myself, however, Giuseppe, did not speak English. Nervously, Giuseppe invited me inside and said, “Attendere qui.” After 10 minutes or so, another man arrived, it was Pino Spina!!! He was the distant relative I searched for.
Unbelievably, I had found the actual Italian needle in the Italian haystack.

Luckily, Pino spoke broken English and I spoke broken Italian. It was a perfect match.  Pino invited me to stay for dinner. After all, it was Sunday, and nobody, I mean, nobody, does Sunday dinner like Italians. The Spinas lived on a farm where they raised, slaughtered, and ate their provisions. It was impressive. I was invited to the garage area
where the table was already set for dinner – for 16 people!!! As the Spina family arrived, I was introduced, welcomed, and of course, hugged. As we ate, all I remember was how fantastic the food was. We had a 6-course meal. First, the antipasto, then fruit, sliced meats and cheeses, then peppers and other vegetables. The main course was turkey and surprisingly, NO pasta. Then the wine and, of course, grappa. It was the most fantastic chicken/meat I’ve ever had. Our dinner lasted almost 6 hours. We talked, and translated, and talked some more. We laughed, ate, laughed, and drank some more. It was the most memorable day of all of the years I served in the Navy. And of all the places that I traveled. Actually, this was one of the most memorable days of my life. I found my family in Italy. They welcomed me with open arms and showered me, merely a stranger, with food, wine, and love. It was a day I felt both lucky and blessed.

Pino Spina_Cesinali
Dining with family in Cesinali