89. Settembrino

27, 1, 18.

Those were my family’s lucky numbers, used in any case where a number was called for. My father’s birthday, my mother’s and mine. The phenomenon of choosing loved ones’ birthdays for gambling is so common that my mathematician father maintained that to minimize one’s chances of needing to share the Megabucks jackpot with other winners with the same numbers, one should always choose a few over 31, the last possible birthday numeral. Sadly, we never won the Megabucks jackpot, shared or not.

But 27 was on my mind on Friday, which would have been my father’s 99th birthday. It is certainly easy enough to remember, as his middle name was Settembrino, or “born in September.” But sometimes, it turns out that those things one knows without question turn out to be in doubt.

Baby Luigi, 1921

In 1986, when my father sold his share of his boyhood home in Gaeta to his cousin Tonino, it became necessary to search for his original 1920 birth certificate in the bowels of the Gaeta town hall. And what should they find but two apparent errors.

The plot thickens: note date on his passport

First, the date of birth on the certificate was September 29, not 27. Second, his middle name was something else entirely: not Settembrino but Settembrini, the name of a 19th century Neapolitan poet who was imprisoned for his liberalism and his support for the unification of Italy. These discrepancies had popped up from time to time over the years, but my father always thought them too trivial to do anything to correct them. Now however, the record had to be set, if not straight, then at least consistent. But that was not the most important aspect of this matter to my father. He wrote to me:

I was so glad to remember that my name was really Settembrini. Luigi Settembrini was a very famous Italian poet. My mother wanted to remember him so she changed the Settembrino (born in September) to “i.” The priest, Don Salvatore Riciniello, supposedly a family friend, objected to my mother’s attempt at putting on airs. For years I thought my mother had given in to his arrogance and power. But, I was wrong. She kept the “i,” and apparently she humbly told Don Salvatore to go to hell.


It must have cost my mother a few sleepless nights, but she won out. Your grandmother, by the time I became aware of some traits in her personality, was just like your father is now. Everything bothered her. She would do anything to avoid upsetting situations. She was not afraid, she just felt that the emotional upheaval in her did not warrant her getting unnecessarily involved in “trivial pursuits.” Yet, not only did she get involved, but she won her bout with Don Salvatore.

Baby Luigi at his baptism by Don Salvatore, 1921

So my father had to submit documentation that Luigi Settembrino born on September 27 was one and the same as Luigi Settembrini born on September 29. I think I’ll go with the second one, even though it is counter to what I believed my whole life. After all, why would we have lost the Megabucks all those years? We had the wrong lucky number!




6 thoughts on “89. Settembrino

  1. What a great story! Oddly enough, I also found out there was a discrepancy between what we always thought was my grandfather’s birthday and what “the book” said in his hometown. And it was literally a book. When I visited my grandfather’s native town of Gioia Sannitica, I went to the town hall to try to find out where his brother was buried. No luck on that, but … the guy in the office hefted a huge book from a high shelf, blew the dust off, searched through it, and there was my grandfather’s birth registration – several days different from the one we always celebrated! PS, I love the pics of your dad – especially the chubby nude!


  2. Gigi, I loved this message. I loved your father so , from the day he came to us, we got along ,even though he was four years older than me. After reading your message I am going to put some numbers together and play the lottery. I will let you know if I am a winner.

    Sent from my iPad



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