Considering the dandelion gone to seed on the cover of my memoir, it should not be surprising to those who have read the book that, while writing, an important comparison occurred to me. That is - that the inevitable flight of the seeds from " little yellow flowers on everybody's lawn" is not so unlike my paternal grandfather's ocean voyage across the Atlantic. The family account immortalizes how he, a six-year-old in the early 1900s, held fast to his older brother with one hand and, with the other, waved good-bye to his mother and father who remained rooted to the rocky Italian soil. From Old World poverty to New World promise they sent their youngest son across the ocean at a great price – never to see him again.
This led me to wonder about how this new land inspired my mother’s father, a man who shined shoes, to give each of his four children a nickel every time he heard them sing God Bless America. Something assured him, through the hardship of youthful departure and obstacles of assimilation, that his trip would improve his life and provide descendants like me with opportunities he never had.
When Grandpa the shoe-shiner sailed back to Italy in the 1950s to visit his mother, his two-way ticket entitled him to a cabin instead of the steerage quarters of his first trip to America. In our home movie of his departure, he waves as proudly as the captain of any ship. On his way to Italy, I’ve been told over and over again, he would pass his younger brother on the high seas traveling to America for the first time – on a west-bound liner.
I never saw my mother’s father again. He took sick and died in Italy. But I did get to see the rope burns his brother suffered when he was rescued from the wreck of the Andrea Doria.
Though I can remember once thinking the dandelion was too pretty and too much fun to be called a weed, I thought I had outgrown my childish notions of dandelion flight. Even my mother’s intent to cultivate the little yellow lawn flowers had lost some of its comic edge after I discovered dandelion seed packets in the herb section of the local Agway .Still, every spring and summer, I’m reminded of the seedling’s natural, inevitable departure from the parent plant and my grandparents’ voyages from their mother country. Like Grandma in her housecoat, I add a touch of cicoria to my salad fixings among other bitters (arugula for one) and sweets (dried cranberries and strawberries).