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Rich tapestry of family history revealed one glimpse at a time


There was never any doubt that Linda Romanowski of Ardmore, Pa., would write a heritage memoir. The only mystery was the exact form it would take.

That changed a few years ago when Romanowski was a graduate student at Rosemont College in Byrn Mawr, Pa., where she was pursuing a Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing. Her class had just watched “The Godfather” for critiquing purposes.

“That’s when it hit me; I scrutinized everything I had written to date and framed my writing in a series of vignettes,” she said. “I needed to organize the stories in a manner that was unforced, chronological, historical, and familial.”

The result of that epiphany is her just-published memoir, “Final Touchstones.”



Rather than present her family history  as a linear historical narrative, Romanowski arranged it into evocative vignettes that offer sensory glimpses into that rich saga, like moments in time caught in a camera flash.

The book is a collection of 92 short selections in poetry and prose, divided into three sections: Italian/Italian, Italian/American and American/Italian.

Each of the 92 sections stands alone. Together, they tell an Italian-American story that’s been a century-and-a-half in the making.

Welcome to Romanowski’s world:

  • The sound of her grandmother’s soprano ringing out in her South Philadelphia home at Christmas, as she sang “sire-ly night” because her accent was too thick for “silent night.”
  • Romanowski is all of 3 years old wreaking ravioli havoc in her grandmother’s kitchen until her doting grandfather comes to her rescue.
  • The four mandatory books in every Catholic home: The Bible, the White Pages, the Yellow Pages, and the Sears Catalog.

The episodic structure of the book will appeal to those readers who don’t wish to commit to a long narrative, but who simply wish to crack the book open at random pages, or perhaps read a section based on its title.

Romanowski brings a delightful poetic sensibility to the naming of the 92 sections, enticing the reader with chapter names such as Gravy Pot, Behind the Ironed Curtain, Surname Survival, Palmistry and Ponytails, Twenty-Five Dollars and the American Dream, Ravioli Revenge, Sons of Sicily and Nose-talgia.

It’s all part of Romanowski’s method of revealing her sprawling story one glimpse at a time. She said she didn’t go searching for that structure, but it came to life gradually and sort of suggested itself as she wrote. The result is a collection that will serve as touch-stones for readers and help them connect to their own stories.

“I wanted to provide enough space for readers to think about their family experiences,” she said. “Without exception, every person who reached out to me after they read the book told me a story about their family.”

The vignettes are rich, evocative and alive, yet there is a subtle undercurrent of loss connecting them – not only deep in the family’s past but also in Romanowski’s heart today.

“Writing ‘Final Touchstones’ helped me understand my family story better and brought up thoughts and perspectives I had never considered,” she said. “It also brings regret that I wish I had asked my elders more questions.”

Romanowski is a contributing feature writer for The City Key, a former assistant editor for Rathalla, and a submission reader for Philadelphia Stories, the Sandy Crimmins National Prize for Poetry, and the McGlinn Fiction Prize Contest.
“Final Touchstones” has been accepted by the Historical Society of Pennsylvania and the Library Company of Philadelphia.


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