Who Tells Your Story
My father, Charles Castiglia, is an incredible story teller. He attracts attention easily, and commands it gently, like he’s inviting you to sit in front of a fire with him. Growing up, he was my favorite form of time travel. He told stories about the trouble he’d get into with his brothers, the adventures of his high school years at St. Francis, and the mayhem of raising my siblings. He would tell me about watching his own father, Anthony M. Castiglia, running Surfside Pizzeria, and later the pair of them working together to run Lakeside Memorial Funeral Home. I loved the stories so much that I’d ask for him to repeat them again and again, both for my friends and just for me, because every time he retold the stories, he would remember more and more of what had happened, and I’d get to learn something new every time.
We both share a love of stories as well, in all their forms. Books, news articles, movies, plays, and a special favorite of ours, musicals. There’s nothing that my father and I enjoy more than talking about the new things we’ve learned and seen that reminds us of each other, so when I first listened to Hamilton the Musical, I knew I had to share it with him immediately. He was apprehensive at first, but he had taught me how to argue my points well since I was a young girl, perhaps too well, because I finally got him to listen to the contemporary musical about Founding Father Alexander Hamilton. And he positively adored it. My father loved the musical so much that he went on to read the biography that had inspired the musical, and then began reading the biography of George Washington, written by the same historian. He couldn’t get enough knowledge, all because of a musical that his daughter urged him to try.
Hamilton is a dark story, there is simply no editing how America’s first Secretary of the Treasury lost his life in his duel with Aaron Burr. However, that’s not where the story ends. The final song revolves around those who lived beyond him, and what they told the world about everything he had done. Hamilton struggled for most of his life, and much of the musical for that matter, agonizing over how he’d be remembered, and the final number is everyone he knew explaining how they remember him. As George Washington mentions throughout the show, “You have no control who lives, who dies, who tells your story.” And in the end, it’s Hamilton’s beloved wife, Eliza, who made sure that Hamilton would be remembered for all the good he’d done for the nation. She dedicated her life to founding an orphanage, organizing her husband’s writings, and demanding recognition for Hamilton penning George Washington’s Farewell Address. In the end, if Eliza hadn’t wanted to preserve his memory, Hamilton would have easily been ignored by history at the hands of his political rivals. And now, if it wasn’t for a musical written two centuries after his death, Hamilton’s face would have likely been removed from the 10 dollar bill.
And all the while, through all of my father’s passion and excitement and quest for more knowledge, all I can think about is the stories that he would tell me about his own father. Anthony M. Castiglia, a man so well known in Hamburg that my last name is practically a conversation starter. Anthony M. Castiglia, the man who worked so desperately hard to build a family run funeral home to pass on to his son. Anthony M. Castiglia, the man who raised my father into the man I know and love. Anthony M. Castiglia, the man I never got to meet.
My grandfather died 4 years before I was born. I have no idea what his voice sounds like. But I do know how he touched people’s lives. I see my grandmother’s face light up when I found the scrap book she made of newspaper clippings and letters talking about her beloved husband, and I see how my dad’s voice still shakes when he talks about grieving for his father. I see my uncles’ laughter when they talk about how their dad would embarrass them in front of the girls they’d bring home. But so often, I see how people’s eyes grow a little warmer when they recall their boss, their funeral director, their neighbor, their friend, and my grandfather. I see his grave when we visit on his birthday, almost 25 years later. I see the funeral home that he bought with his winnings from the lottery, a stroke of luck that came from buying a ticket with the milk money his wife had given him for groceries. The funeral home that my father dedicated himself to in order to best serve families the way his own father would have. It’s amazing to see how much things must have changed since my grandfather had been alive, and how much things haven’t.
This is the importance of a story. We live on wholly through our life stories that we entrust in every person that we meet and interact with. Every time that I hear a story about my grandfather, I feel that I am knowing who he is, and every time that I tell a story about my grandfather, I feel that I am keeping his story alive. The ways we impact each other doesn’t just impact the people we immediately see, but it spreads like a ripple in water, long after we are out of sight. In Hamilton the Musical, the title character ponders the meaning of a legacy, before deciding that “it’s planting a seed in a garden you never get to see.” I never got to meet my grandfather, but through my dad, I could never forget him.