By Ryan Colella
The words "military" and "Indiana" scared me at first. I could not imagine myself in a state that felt foreign when my parents told me they were sending me, a lifelong New Yorker, to a military academy in Culver, Indiana. Eventually, the sweet words of a familiar, but foreign language, "Oofah! Cocoa Bella! Mangia!" would provide the foundation that helped turn Culver into a home.
I had heard those words every Sunday for as long as I can remember. The words signal a Sunday lunch at our grandparent's home in the Bensonhurst section of Brooklyn. Relatives would come from all over the tri-state area to eat lunch with my grandparents. It never mattered how many people were at the table; everyone would be served and barely able to finish their meal. As soon as I arrived, I would poke my head through the door of the house, and my nose could immediately sense the pungent smell of mothballs. This rancid smell would startle most people, but to me, the odor triggered a smile and sniffs of comfort that were matched with the sounds of varied accents throughout Bensonhurst. First generation Italians were shouting in Barese, a southern Italian dialect, while the second generations were speaking in a loud, nasally Brooklyn accent. The third generations of relatives understood every word, but were only able to converse in English. Those family luncheons helped form my adaptability, which led to my inevitable acceptance of the new cultures at Culver.
My parents thought that a military school in the Midwest would broaden my perspective on life. I was alone and frightened when I arrived at Culver, enduring six weeks of new cadet training in the blistering summer heat of Indiana. However when the weather began to cool down, so did I, and my unit began to feel like my Tri-State Italian family. Yet the new family gave me something that I had never had before, brothers. I am an only child, so the idea of brotherhood seemed exotic. The memories that I had bonding with my Italian family resembled new moments with my Indiana family comprised of 17 new cadets. We not only ate every meal together, but also worked together by shining shoes and inspecting each other's rooms to ensure that we would all be accepted into the unit.
My life had been significantly altered in a beneficial way. What I used to call soda was now considered "pop", and what I used to refer to as cursing was now "cussing." When I ate lunch with my grandparents every Sunday, I was exposed to only one culture. However, when I came to Culver, I ate dinner with people from Texas, Nigeria, Ohio, Indiana, Mexico, France, and Wisconsin, all at the same table. I still missed my Sunday lunches in Brooklyn, but I now realize that I discovered something just as significant in a new family that broadened my perception of the world.
As my Culver success progressed, I started to change major parts of my life. I used to be a diehard baseball fan, but I decided to put all of my focus onto one sport, which was football. Culver gave me the opportunity to be more independent, but my Italian family made me feel comfortable making this decision, which was so important and crucial to my progressing independence. The football team became another way that I built a community at Culver.
I still miss my Sunday lunches in Brooklyn, but I now realize that I discovered something just as significant in with my new family. Now, when my Brooklyn family members visit me in Culver, we always order a large pizza and feast in our hotel room together. It isn't the same as the family meals that I cherished in Brooklyn. Yet it is a reminder of what Culver has taught me: family bonds come in many forms.
Ryan Colella is a graduate of the Culver Military Academy and will be attending Elon University in the fall