“Tell me about your life.”

A simple phrase that can open up the vault of memory. We are so often in a hurry that we forget that our loved ones with more years behind them than ahead have much to share with us. Our parents and grandparents have lived lives of meaning and depth – everyone has a story, everyone! – and their memories can enrich our own lives in unimaginable ways. All we have to do is ask.

Among the greatest gifts you can give to a loved one is a chance to reveal the past.  This is what personal history is all about.  It’s  a spilling out of memory, through an invitation to reminisce. Perhaps your father has never told you about growing up in the Depression, or what it was like to return from the battlefields of World War II. Perhaps your mother emigrated from a distant land. Perhaps they never felt that their past experiences and stories would be valuable to you.

But you know now that they are. And will be to your children and their children. Or they will simply become a gift from one generation to the next.  Personal memory is priceless. Your loved one’s memories are your history to keep.

Anthony "Tony" Erbetta went home late last year.

Not, this time, to Boca Raton, Florida, where he had happily retired with his wife of 59 years, Louise. Not to Woburn or Lexington, where he had raised Bob, Ron, and Gail. Not even to Marblehead, where the family lives starting in the early 1950s.

He went home to Italy, to the coastal town of Gaeta, near Naples, where he was born in 1913. Home to the Gulf of Gaeta, where he and his father had fished together in the early years of the 20th century. To a town not radically changed in the last half-century, despite the occasional cyber café and boom box. Snuggled up to the coast on the front seam of the Italian boot, the town swells in summer as Italy takes its vacation, and quiets down again in the winter.