Midway through my first newspaper job in the summer of 1974, I traveled to Montazzoli in the Abruzzo region of South Italy where my grandfather, Concezio Perrucci, had been born.
The rugged landscape stunned me with its sweeping views of the Apennine Mountains. As I listened to Great-Aunt Emilia, my grandfather’s journey to America began to unfold. Concezio joined the rising tide that began pouring out of rural Italy after Risorgimento. The political and economic reforms promised succeeded in unifying the scattered Italian states, but failed to alleviate the grinding poverty of South Italy. “Thank goodness your grandfather left,” Emilia said, brushing away the tears in her eyes. “Farming here was like tilling the side of a rock.”
Back home, “A Journey of the Heart” drew enthusiastic responses from readers of The Daily Record in Morristown, New Jersey, many of them first-, second- and third-generation Italian Americans.
This is not a travelogue on Italy. For that information, you need to consult a good guidebook.
There you will find pictures of faces and place similar to, and undoubtedly better than, the ones I can show you.
But that is a different story. The one I am going to share with you has noting to do with tours, tickets or timetables.
My mountaintop experience also planted the seed to tell the larger story of immigration in my grandfather’s journey to America in a book, but I soon put aside my notes and began chasing stories that hit a nerve a nerve with readers.
“Father Says, ‘Let My Daughter Die’” reflected the nationwide furor over euthanasia after young Karen Ann Quinlan’s devout Catholic parents asked doctors to take her off life support. “I Feel Like I Committed a Crime,” and “Abortion Is a Personal Choice” told the explosive personal stories of two women on opposite sides of the abortion debate set off by Roe v. Wade.
Over the next 10 years, these and other long-form narratives won national and regional journalism awards in the features and interviews categories and led to positions on the staffs of a new national newspaper, with a news service in Washington, D.C., and on the Capitol Hill staff of a U.S. Senator.
An irresistible opportunity to work on a book drew me back to New Jersey. During a visit home, my mentor at the Daily Record, Ginny Potter, introduced me to Jimmy Costanzo, and I volunteered to edit his collection of notes and photographs into what became New Neighbors, Old Friends for the Morris County Historical Society (MCHS). As the granddaughter of Italian immigrants, Jimmy’s story resonated with me. He had grown up in a tenement building on the other side of Morristown’s “Mansion Mile,” and spent a lifetime collecting photographs and anecdotes about the dreams and struggles of his neighbors and friends.
Then the plight of abused and runaway children drew me to New York City, to work on a communications project for Covenant House, the Times Square shelter for abused and runaway children. A few months later, I stepped into a new fulltime position managing publications and, over the next five years, while expanding the schedule to several dozen publications a year in six location, I wrote or edited five trade books based on the agency’s work. The first, Covenant House: Lifeline to the Street (Doubleday), told a dramatic story of redemption in the agency’s work and raised over 10 million dollars to support programs and services.
In late 1990, I was laid off with other staff after allegations of sexual abuse emerged against Covenant House founder Fr. Bruce Ritter. For the next five years, I worked with a range of nonprofit leaders and their agencies that addressed a range of urgent social issues: humanitarian relief (AmeriCares), literacy (The American Bible Society), prison reform (Prison Fellowship), and homelessness (Encore Community Services, Andrew Cuomo’s H.E.L.P. for the Homeless).
In 1995, I returned to journalism and reported on the changes transforming the newspaper business for Editor & Publisher and MediaWeek, before joining “Staying Ahead,” Jane Bryant Quinn’s syndicated Washington Post column that launched personal finance coverage in U.S. newspapers. When Quinn retired the column after 9/11, I started freelancing, reporting and writing for newspapers and websites that included The New York Times, Newsweek, The Wall Street Journal, TheStreet.com, The Star-Ledger, and NJ Biz.
The knowledge gained during those years also brought me back to books, this time equipped with the knowledge to help the average investor make better decisions with his or her money. During the financial crisis, I wrote or collaborated on seven titles. In 2009, I co-authored Asset Allocation For Dummies® with wealth manager Jerry D. Miccolis, and collaborated on three books with financial experts, including Quinn, that reached the trade and business bestseller lists of The New York Times.
In 2020, I still chase personal finance news from time to time, for businessjournalism.org, the website of the Donald W. Reynolds National Center for Business Journalism, but most of my time is devoted to Searching for Home, which grew out of the notes I began writing years ago. This time, I will not put them down until I finish the story that my father started, and that I first glimpsed on that mountaintop in Montazzoli.
Searching for Home honors the legacy that my grandparents left me and my six siblings, 10 great-grandchildren, and (and, soon) seven great-great-grandchildren, but it also reflects the larger story that I share with many of you. Two in every five of Americans today can trace their roots to an ancestor who arrived at Ellis Island.
My grandfather’s story also opened up my eyes to my own search for home, which is one that I also share with many of you, too, as the unexpected loss of a job in mid-career, the end of a longtime relationship, and the death of a beloved parent after a long season of caregiving upended the life I had expected.
I’ll be sharing what I learn every week with you, and hope you’ll send me your questions. Will you join me? Together I believe that we can find the answers to making more informed decisions. Send me your questions and news to share here.