My grandmother meets my grandfather
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Angela pranced around her sunny room, still not dressed, and her future husband was due to arrive any minute. Her fine, black hair turned white as she stepped out onto her balcony and stood in the brilliant sunlight. She stood staring out across the valley—my valley. That’s what she had called it ever since she was just a little girl, my valley. A movement on the leave-covered ground caught her eye and she leaned over the railing and watched a squirrel climb up a tree, then scamper along an outstretched limb, its cheeks swollen with food he would save for next winter.
Angela could often be found staring off into the valley, just like she did now, as her eyes absorbed its beauty. She leaned against the door frame and a song softly floated from her full, pink lips as she gazed out toward the ring of mountains above the valley. Her mother told people that Angela saw visions in her surroundings that no one else could see. When left alone, her downturned mouth and soft liquid eyes would cause the mistaken observer to think she was unhappy. A closer look would reveal her lips were always prepared to smile and her eyes ready to light up
Many of the young people in the village longed to move away, to live in big cities and have jobs that didn’t include farming. But Angela was content to stay, make her home here, and be very happy doing so. She looked over her shoulder into her bedroom when she heard her mother call out.
“Angela, come, there isn’t much time.”
Stepping into her bedroom she frowned when she saw her mother holding up a yellow dress covered with blue and green flowers. “I think you should wear this, Angela,” she said thoughtfully. “You want to look pretty for your visitor.”
“No, mama,” Angela said. “I don’t want to wear the flowered dress.” She reached back with both hands and bunched her dark, fine hair, lifting it high and letting the air blowing in from the open window cool her neck. Her legs protruded below the handmade lace of her pantaloons, legs made strong by working in her father’s gardens and apple orchards. “It’s too pretty, and he doesn’t deserve to think I wore it just for him.” She walked to her wardrobe and studied the clothes hanging there, and then she pulled out a plain, brown dress, “This will do just fine.”
“Angela,” her mother said the name slowly. “Why would you say that? You haven’t even met him yet.” MariaRosa, a short, stout woman, normally spoke quickly, except when her exasperation peaked—a state Angela often created. She took the brown dress from Angela and walked back to the wardrobe and hung it up. “And here, you should wear this too.” MariaRosa handed her daughter a broach hanging from a gold chain. “Your grandmother gave you this to wear for special occasions…and today is a special day.”
The broach dangled from her fingers, then swayed as she spoke. “I’m not wearing nonna’s broach, either.” She stood with her back to the wall, her lips turned out in a pout. “I don’t care how I look. I don’t even want to meet him!” Angela had an animated way about her when she spoke. Watching her talk about a subject she was passionate about was like watching her dance to music only she could hear.
MariaRosa took the broach and held it up by its gold rope chain. The gold cross, over-laying a church etched in ivory, sparkled in the sunlight falling into the room. “You should look nice for him when he arrives.” She placed the antique piece of jewelry on the dressing table.
“I don’t know him, I’ve never even seen him, and papa wants me to marry him.” When she turned, a distant look veiled her eyes as she looked through the open balcony door. Angela always turned to the valley when she was troubled. “He may not even like me.”
MariaRosa looked across the room at her daughter. Angela’s beauty was well-known not only in her valley, but in the surrounding villages. Her olive skin and high cheek bones gave her a regal look. Her silken black hair and large almond shaped eyes had caught the attention of many of the men in the valley. “He will like you fine.” MariaRosa turned to her daughter and gently pushed dark hair off her forehead, then let her hand fall to her daughter’s cheek. “You’re a beautiful woman, Angela, any man would be happy to have you for a wife.”
“I don’t want to be a wife. Why does papa insist that I marry him?”
“Angela, please,” her mother said. “Your papa is not insisting that you marry him. Severino Cuzelli is an influential man…he can give you a happy life.”
“Well then,” she said with a tone of defiance, “if he’s so wonderful, tell papa to marry him.” She walked across the room and stood in the brightly lit doorway, the beauty of the valley outside surrounded her. “I’m sorry, mama,” her voice trailed off, “it’s not your fault.” She turned and looked through the open balcony door and watched the trees shimmer in the gentle breeze, the leaves turning from green to grey, than back to green again.
She heard her mother leave the room, quietly closing the door behind her. Angela’s thoughts drifted back to the arguments she and her father had over the last few days. She thought about the terrible argument they had two days ago as they sat in the kitchen having breakfast. A pang of hurt flitted through her stomach as she thought about the way she had spoken to her papa.
“Angela,” he had said. “I only want what’s best for you, you must know that.” Giovanni filled his small, porcelain cup with fragrant black coffee, then picked it up and peered at his daughter over the rim. “I only ask that you meet him, nothing more.” He sipped the hot coffee. Giuseppe was a small man, but he had a big heart, especially where his four children were concerned. The creases at the edge of his brown eyes contained the knowledge that sometimes you win, but more often you lose, when the heart of your daughter is at stake.
“Papa,” Angela had replied, “I know what is best for me, and to meet someone I don’t know so I can marry him is not what’s best for me.” Then with an edge of belligerence in her voice she continued. “I won’t be paraded around in front of some stranger waiting for him to nod his approval!” Her temper flashed and narrowed her eyes.
“I’m not saying you have to marry him, Angela. I’m just saying you should meet him. That’s all I’m saying.” Giovanni’s voice was becoming plaintiff. He sat at the table looking at his daughter and the love he felt for her swelled his heart…a heart that had grown weak with time. He understood how quickly she could become angry, but he also knew how quickly that anger could turn into a smile, a hug, or a kiss on his cheek. His daughter was passionate, this he knew.
“Every time you mention his name you tell me he could give me a good future, papa. That sounds like you want me to marry him.” She paused and looked directly into her father’s soft eyes, “I’m not going to marry him, papa.” She brushed dark hair away from her eyes then exhaled a loud sigh and threw her hands into the air. “I can take care of my own future,” she said slowly.
“Angela, Angela,” his shoulders sagged, and his face softened, “You are my oldest daughter, your mother and I are getting older. Someday we won’t be able to take care of you. That’s why I worry.” He lowered his eyes to the table.
“Papa!” she shouted, “That’s exactly what I’m talking about.” Angela’s eyes began to well with tears, dark pools formed in the corners. “I’m able to take care of myself. I won’t marry someone I don’t know.” She stormed from the kitchen, tears streaming down her cheeks. Her father’s eyes followed her footsteps as she ran upstairs and slammed her bedroom door and locked it.
Turning from the door, Angela had paced her room as she carried on both sides of the argument, one with a deep, silly voice, the other hers; it was as if she were not alone.
“But he’ll be good for you,” she mimicked as she spoke with a fake, masculine voice.
“No, no, no! You will not choose my husband,” she replied with her own voice. She tugged roughly at her bedspread, punched her pillow and then threw it back on the bed, then lifted it and punched it into plumpness again.
“Angela, you will do as I tell you, I am your father.” She exaggerated the low voice, and her hand glided through the air with so much flair that when she saw herself in her mirror she had to suppress a smile.
“I am not a child!” Angela murmured.
“I demand that you marry him so that I may have eternal peace knowing you will be taken care of.” This time Angela shuddered at the thought of her father dying, and she didn’t smile at the exaggerated voice.
“I will never marry this man from Cloz, this Severino Curelli, and I don’t care how influential his family is. I can take care of myself; I don’t need anyone’s help.” She said this aloud, in her voice and without exaggeration as she flung open the shuttered balcony doors and stepped out onto the wet wooden balcony. It had begun to rain, just a summer shower, but as she looked around she saw that even on a wet, rainy day the valley was beautiful. She heard the river roaring below, hidden in the leafy ravine, winding its way into Lake Guistina far below, sparkling like a jewel even on an overcast day like today. She knew she would never leave the beauty of the valley, and certainly not with a man she didn’t know, even if everyone expected her to marry him.
There had been more than one emotional argument with papa over the last couple of weeks. She loved her father dearly, but he refused to accept that she was not a little girl anymore. At age twenty-six she had become independent, she had no desire to change her life—she saw no need. Angela rested her head against the cool stone wall of the house and thought about the walk she and her papa had taken last night, and she tried to relax. She was lost in thought as she turned and peered into the mist that shrouded most of her village as her thoughts returned to last evening.
The village had been cleansed by the day’s rain and the air smelled clean and new as she and her father walked together, arm in arm. They had talked, calmly, about the future, Angela’s future, and the possibilities a man like Severino could provide.
They walked down to the small lake below the village of Bresimo. The grass along the bank of the lake was still wet from the rain, but they found an old tree that had fallen over and sat on the rough bark covering the trunk. They talked as the sky above them turned violet, then deep blue.
“I want only what is best for you, Angela,” her father said as he tossed a small stone into the placid water. Angela watched the circular ripples spread across the smooth surface and move toward them before she answered.
“Papa, I don’t want to disobey you, I love you,” she began, “and I understand why you want me to meet this man, I do.” She took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “But you must understand that I want to love the man I marry.” She looked into her father’s round face and saw how his dark eyes complimented the flush in his cheeks caused by the cool, evening air.
“I am not saying you must marry him, mio dulce,” he replied and slipped his arm over her shoulders. “I only ask that you meet him, and that you consider him a suitor.” His gaze lingered on her face before he turned away.
By the time they finished talking, dusk was settling in. Shadows stretched across the blackened water and the lake became a darkened mirror reflecting the slowly drifting clouds floating overhead. As they walked back to the village together, Angela sensed, more than knew, that she had made a decision.
As they greeted other villagers and talked of marriage, children and grandchildren, she saw the last of the day’s rain clouds moving away in the distance. Streaks of pink and dark purple cut soft lines across the sky. She had the ominous feeling that the life she’d know until now was drifting away, just like those clouds. Enveloped in the comfortable feeling of days end and the warmth of her father’s soft brown eyes as he looked at her with a heart filled with love, she finally relented.
“Okay papa, I will meet this man, this Severino Curelli, but only because you want me to.” Angela had said.
“That is all I ask. I only want what’s best for you.” He took her hand in his and they continued their evening stroll through the damp village. Angela liked it when she walked with her father like this, and she liked it when he held her hand—it made her feel like a little girl again.
Angela was pulled from her reverie by her sister’s shouts.
“He’s coming,” he’s coming,” Carmella shouted as she ran up the stairs to Angela’s room. Pushing open the bedroom door she smiled at her sister. “He’s handsome, Angela,” she said. “Wait till you see.” She ran to the balcony and with a conspiratorial whisper motioned for Angela to join her. “Come on, Angela, let’s see what your future husband looks like.”
Angela reluctantly walked to the edge of the balcony door. She heard his footsteps on the stone street below before she actually saw him. When she did, her first impression was that he was tall. “He’s too tall,” Angela said mostly to herself. “He’s taller than I expected.”
Because he wore a fedora, she could only see the top of his hat from the balcony. As he turned onto the walkway he looked up, only briefly, but long enough to get a glimpse of Angela—and she of him. He tipped his hat and Angela knew she had been seen. She stepped quickly back into the room, giggling slightly. “Oh my, he is good looking.” Angela smiled at Carmella. “You’re right.”
“Yes, he is good looking. Are you happy now? You probably thought he would be a beast?” Carmella said half joking. “Angela, are you going to marry him now that you know he’s handsome?” Carmella teased.
“Carmella, sometimes it’s hard to know that you are a grown up, only two years younger than me,” Angela scolded mildly.
“Yes, three years younger, but I’ve been married for six years already, with two children. Isn’t it time you gave mama and papa some grandchildren?” Carmella taunted.
“Yes, and you are the one who married a beast. It is good your children look like you and not your beloved, Pietro.” Angela was teasing now and Carmella joined in.
“Yes well, I hope your children look like Severino, and not like you.” Carmella said, teasing her sister in return.
“I’m not going to marry Severino, and I’m certainly not going to have his children. Go on, leave, go downstairs, I have to dress now.” Angela shooed her sister, nudging her to the door and locking it after she left. Angela heard her sister going down the stairs, yelling, “Papa, papa, someone is at the door.” MariaRosa knocked on the door and Angela pulled the door open to let her in. “She makes me so mad, mama.”
“She loves to tease, Angela, but she loves you.” MariaRosa said slowly as she began to embrace her daughter, gently enfolding her with her thick arms.
“Mama, I don’t know what will happen when I meet this man, this Severino, but if I do marry him I don’t ever want to leave the valley. I want to stay here forever.” She rested her head against her mother’s breast and heard her heartbeat.
“Angela, I’m sure he will make you happy. He is a very nice man. His family is very influential in Cloz, and he will provide well for you.” Her voice was almost a whisper as she stroked her daughter’s hair.
“Mama, I’m capable of taking care of myself.” She knew her mother was no longer listening, it didn’t matter. Angela felt good in her mother’s embrace, listening to her heartbeat while looking out of the balcony door at the lush beauty of the valley below. Somehow Angela understood that her life would change soon, in a very important way.
MariaRosa held her daughter at arm’s length now. “Come, we mustn’t keep a gentlemen waiting, besides, your father might make him want to leave if they talk too long.”
“Yes, you’re right. Mama, I think I’ll wear the flowered dress,” Angela smiled. “And grandma’s broach too.” The smile stayed on Angela’s face, but the normal twinkle in her eye was missing. Her mother noticed but hid her concern.
. . . . .
Word Count: 2941