By REBECCA WEBSTER
Recorder News Staff
The upper floor of the Creative Connections Art Center in Amsterdam was packed with local residents Sunday.
All the chairs were filled, the standing room at a minimum.
At the front of the room sat a table covered in memories: sepia photographs, postcards, scarves, playing cards, and books.
It was an afternoon to listen to the stories of local Italian immigrants and learn about the travels of an Amsterdam native with years of research and touring of Italy under his belt.
The program brought to life the Amsterdam READS book for 2013, "The Shoemaker's Wife," by Adriana Trigiani.
John Naple, chair of the Amsterdam READS program, said the event was about promoting community spirit.
"We try to get people introduced to the book that haven't read it already and to encourage them to read the book," Naple said, adding that many volunteered to help out that day.
"All these people, they're all interested in helping the community and we think that reading also helps people. The more they read, the better they're going to be, I think," Naple said. "It's a community effort, and it's nice to see."
Before local radio personality and historian Bob Cudmore introduced the speakers, Donna Palczak introduced the book to the crowd.
Twenty to 30 people raised their hands saying that they've already read it.
"It really is a great read, especially if you're Italian," she said. "It's about a young man coming to America because he has to leave Italy ... and he leaves a love behind. But that love comes together in America, and it's their struggles of growing up in Little Italy."
Sr. Agnes Clare took center stage first, telling stories to the audience of Italy during a very difficult period of history.
After teaching in Plattsburgh, she was called to serve in Rome in 1939, she said, but when she arrived the convent had yet to be built.
Sharing a small apartment with two other nuns, Clare told stories about her work with the children there, teaching them prayers.
"The children were beautiful," she said. "Every time I made a mistake (in Italian), they corrected me."
She spoke of days in the newly-built convent when they would hear the children singing songs about Mussolini, the days when bombs came through the buildings, and when she would have to travel to the Vatican once a day just to get a loaf of bread.
And she poured out memories of working with the war orphans, many who were sick.
Following Clare's speech, Josephine Sperduto stood and told the audience her story of living on a plot of land outside of Naples and her family's move to America.
"When I was about 8 years old ... my father decided to come to America here," she said, adding that they already had family living in Fonda.
Sperduto stayed in Italy with her sister and mother and about two years later in 1957 boarded the U.S.S. Constitution for America.
Though she was old enough to be in fourth grade, she and her sister were placed in kindergarten because they knew no English -- but, within months, they were fluent.
She shared photos with the crowd following her chat.
The final speaker of the afternoon was Peter Farina, an Amsterdam resident who lives most of his year in Italy.
Farina, founder of italyMUNDO!, an organization that provides people with services like Italian family tree research and heritage tours, shared with the crowd how the book connects with people.
"Each and every one of these people here, whether from Italy or the great-grandson of Italian immigrants, we all have a story," Farina said before his speech, adding that he hoped it also served as a call to action for people to go home and start to take down their own family history.
With refreshments made from Italian recipes and a grandson-grandfather duo playing Italian music, the afternoon left various audience members with a yearning to read the book, and others with an appreciation for culture.
In March, the Amsterdam READS group will hold a book discussion on "The Shoemaker's Wife," and later in the year will take a trip connected to the book's theme.