Sleeping Under a Bridge? No, But Homeless Nonetheless

I didn’t understand we were homeless. 

It wasn’t the “live on the streets in a box” homeless. We lived with relatives. We lived with friends. Italians are great at putting together a makeshift bed to bring in extra people. We had our own apartment for a time – but we could not afford electricity, so candles lit the way for us. 

We lived in at least 5 different places during the two years in Italy. For a five-year-old boy it was an adventure. For a single mom, it was depressing. 

One of my aunts lived in a 2 room farmhouse that was built many years ago. We would walk to it. To access it, we went through a gate and across a field full of sheep. Cool stuff for a kid. 

Indoor plumbing had been brought to this house after it was built, probably many years after.  Possibly to save money, water was only brought to the kitchen area. The toilet was right next to the stove! The only thing that separated you from others in the room was a shower curtain. My aunt would be cooking meatballs while I was sitting on the pot doing my business. Not a great mixture of smells.

All my aunts and uncles treated me kindly. A couple of my uncles were a little gruff, but nothing that scared me as a kid. Uncle Salvatore helped instill a love of music in me at an early age. He played the guitar at family gatherings. 

I had Italian and American friends. I learned to speak Italian without even trying. I got to eat lots of good Italian food and there was plenty of it. We were poor, but I never had to go hungry. In Italy everyone claims to make the BEST meatballs. After you try them, you realize that they are all telling the truth!

Mom taught me another lesson about racism –  through her actions rather than through words.  

She had a guy friend over for dinner. He made a prejudicial comment about black people. My mom kicked him out in an instant. He was trying to apologize and make amends. She told him in no uncertain words to get out and never come back.

Overall life in Italy was fun and an adventure for me. There was one terrible secret that impacted me for the rest of my life.

***James is a middle school teacher and motivational speaker. He uses music, personal stories, humor, and his 105 year old sax to tell others that – although they may be scratched, dented, and abused – like his sax – a beautiful symphony can still pour out of their lives. Find out more about him at This is an excerpt from his book (available on amazon), Sad Boy, Joyful Man: Your NOW Doesn’t Determine Your FUTURE.