Story of 3 boys escaping an orphanage during WWII , this is a work in progress
They named me Marco , life began with a struggle for survival. After turning blue in my Mother’s womb ,I was granted a gift. A chance to see this world, to feel my parents love.
One day soon after , I remember the maple seedlings dropping like helicopters from the trees , I was amused and happy. I remember placing the seed casing on my nose and claiming I was Pinocchio. My playmates and I were so truly and simply happy. Soon we were all running around laughing with Pinocchio noses. A child is given such a glorious gift … the gift of being innocent.
Our life voyages will differ considering our cards and the way we choose our specific paths… but in the end , we likely will all realize that our time as children has stayed with us throughout our life. We will carry that child within ourselves for the duration, seeking what was lost . One must live their life in order to truly absorb this fact.
After all the struggling, the selfish dreams, the promises, gluttonous greed, lies and deceptions … we will eventually conclude that life is meaningless … unless you can grasp and love the maple seed helicopter.
C H A P T E R 1
Sister Mona .. raising my hand at the dinner table. “ Yes Marco ,,” I hesitated and then showed her my piece of bread and said “ My bread has green spots on it “. She looked at me with stern eyes “ well , that is what the Lord provided tonight,,, why don’t you have some of the soup”. The soup consisted of hot water with stale bread and some spices. “ We are at war you know.. it is difficult to have fresh food these days”. I lowered my eyes and went back to my seat in silence. I knew that the nuns had a secret store room with plenty of goodies that they kept for themselves, I would sneak a snack during the night. I looked to the other side of the table, Dario and Isabelle were sitting quietly, they had eaten most of their soup. Looking at them I said " how was the soup ?". Dario came back with, " the same as last night". Isabelle whispered " can you guys get us some chicken later on". Making sure Sister Mona wasn't close enough to hear us. " Sure" , I said. Sister Mona was looking over at the line of kids making sure they all were getting their soup. She would always walk up and down the line with her hands cusped together making sure everyone was behaving and sternly enforcing her rule of silence at the Lord's table. She would always wear her quora in public and at dinner time as well, I never could figure out her hair color, but she had brown eyes and was kind of stocky. The cafeteria was also the auditorium and gym so we spent a lot of time in there especially in the winter months. Suddenly, there was a loud crash at one of the tables, we all looked over , two boys had gotten into a fight. Quickly two attendants came running over and took the boys outside. I think they were newcomers as I don't recall seeing them before. I am pretty sure they went without any food that night. Well, we pretty much all did. Except for those that would try and help themselves.
Friday morning I awoke feeling in good spirits , (especially since I was able to have some chicken legs the night before. I used the secret key to the pantry that us children are not supposed to know of to gain access when all were all asleep). I quickly got washed up and went to the breakfast room.. My friend Dario was looking sad so I tried to make him laugh… “ hey … did you know what the eskimo gave to the penguin for his birthday ? … Dario looked at me with a smirk and said “ what ? “ … hehe … “ Ice in the winter !! “ . with a big grin on my face…. He actually smiled and chuckled . We were both the same age .. and we seemed to get along… I was blond and blue eyed and he was dark haired and brown eyed. I was told by the nuns that my mom had died six months after I was born and my father immediately thereafter left me in this orphanage… I didn’t quite know Dario’s story … but he was an orphan just as well. Although we both had experienced troublesome childhoods , we were both 11 years old and we held on to our very good imaginations as it was all we had. Together we could fill our hearts with adventure . I looked around the room, I saw Isabelle . I asked Dario to meet me outside when he finished eating.
I went over and sat next to Isabelle, she was very pretty with shoulder length auburn hair and blue eyes. She never knew her father and her mother died when she was 4 years old. She was holding a piece of bread and some kind of unappetizing mish mash made from old potatoes in front of her. She didnt seem to belong in this place, she was always kind and never complained. We always said she would be the first one of us to be adopted, we all dreamed about it. I whispered to her ear " it's a good thing we found those chicken legs last night". She chuckled a smile. We both looked at the food and decided to skip breakfast. I asked her if she wanted to go out in the morning sun before church and she agreed. George was outside sitting by the big maple tree in the yard , we called out “ Hey George ! “ … he looked over and gave us a smile. “ Why are you sitting there all alone ? ” I said to him. He had to think a few seconds and shrugged his shoulders “ I’m just waiting for Friday mass to start “. Isabelle jumped in and said “ Well now, that’s exactly what we were doing “. George was a year or so younger , he was orphaned when his parents were killed by fascist rebels at a public demonstration. It was 1941 , I don’t think we realized all of the inhumane and outrageous events evolving around us. To us , we were abandoned kids and this orphanage was our home. Our school mates were our family and we were hungry.
The church bell rang, Father Buckius was standing at the church main entrance which is on the other side of the yard from the cafeteria. We all made our way from under the maple tree and headed in for mass. Sister Mona always sat in the rear of the church so she could keep an eye out for any misbehaving. All of us were very respectful and remained on our best behavior at mass time. The father spoke of wars and the growing evil in society and how important it was for us to pray to the Lord in order to give him strength to remove evil from his blessed creation. Our world was created for the Lords children to live harmoniously and to help one another. We should not point blame on one another, instead, we should all try to be the best we can be using the gifts the Lord provided us. It was not something most children could comprehend. However, I could already see how although we are all different , we also all have the same needs. The greatest need being keeping the Love of God in our hearts.
After church, we went back out to the yard… It was Isabelle, George, Dario and I, the wind was blowing nicely and we were making believe we could fly running around with our arms out wide. I noticed the maple seeds flying in the wind , it reminded me of tiny helicopters. I had read about helicopters in a magazine recently, but I had never seen one , and this was how I imagined they would fly. I picked one up and put it on my nose, it stuck on like an extension to my nose…quickly Isabelle looked and pointed at me “ you look like Pinocchio ! “ … everyone started to laugh and placed maple seed helicopters on their noses , we were all imagining to be flying around like helicopters. All of the hardships life had presented us with were forgotten and we were so happy to be alive.
Isabelle asked if we wanted to go to the playground again after reading class and we all agreed. Sister Mona called us into class and we all made our way in. Today we would be reading a book named " La Formica e la Cicala " ( The Ant and the Cricket ). It was a fun story , there was a cricket that was singing and dancing all summer while the ant was working hard on building a shelter and gathering food for the upcoming winter. The cricket would make fun and laugh at the ant thinking the ant was crazy for working so hard and did not know how to enjoy life. Winter arrived and the cricket started to feel cold. The ant was nice and warm eating food that was stored from last summer. The cricket was out in the cold and complaining to the ant that it wasn't fair that she would not share the food. So the ant replied, well, what have you been doing all summer ? The cricket stumbled, well, I sang and danced. So the ant replied, okay, that's nice.. so now you can dance in the cold and keep yourself warm, then slamming the door. It wasn't exactly what father Buckius was preaching earlier today. However, Sister Mona said that it is important that we all contribute and work an equal share so we could have a good living. It was a lot to take in for one day.
We all went out to the playground after class, Isabelle was making fun of Dario because he started playing with a stick making believe he was a pirate captain. Dario shouted at her " hoist those sails mate, winds are chasing aft " She answered, " I'm not the mate, I'm tinker bell !". Dario frowned " crazy maiden ". George jumped in " I'll hoist the sails captain ! ". Then I grabbed an old wooden wheel and made believe I was steering the ship " what course shall we chart Captain ?". Dario proudly " head west south west quarter master, we seek warmer waters". Then Isabelle came in " are we looking for buried treasure ?". Dario's eyes opened wide " yes, of course...treasure we seek ". We all smiled and played to our hearts content. It was a fun afternoon.
Later in the evening , all was quiet in the recreation room … Dario was reading and I was thinking how I would like to see something besides this orphanage tomorrow. We had strict rules that we could not leave the grounds as there were soldiers around , but I missed going over to the river. I had the urge to go and play pirates and sailormen. “ Hey Dario … what do you think if we go down to the river tomorrow ? ”. Dario gave me a look and silent stare … then he said “ are you crazy ? ” … we looked at each other . Then I said "It can’t be that dangerous … they just don’t want us to do anything except stay here and die of boredom” I told him. Then George walked over … “ Hey George … you want to go down to the river with us tomorrow ? “ with a big smile on my face. George goes … “ how are we going to get out without anyone seeing us ? “… “ ooh… you guys worry too much … “ I said. “ It’s not that far … and there is never anyone around there … we’ll just sneak out when everyone is busy and not looking at us.”. Dario sighed … George nodded… I smiled. Now I could go to bed and dream pirate thoughts.
I met Dario and George after breakfast in the courtyard, it was a lovely spring day and everyone seemed to enjoy the good weather. We went to the opening in the fence that we had used before to make our excursions and slipped away unnoticed. It was a bit of a hike on a back country road , there was nobody around this time of day. There were almond orchards as well as fig tree orchards and we would always make our stop along the way and fill our bellies. There was a running water fountain where the farmers would let their animals drink and we also took advantage. What a beautiful scenery my memory recalls with large green fields , trees and mountains of northern Italy, you could see for miles and miles on a day like this one.
We arrived to the river around noon making good time as we tried not to waste time with our stops. The river was roaring strong today as there had been some recent spring rains and we had to speak up in order to hear each other. I shouted “ see… now wasn’t this a great idea ? … I told you we would have fun !” . Dario smiled .. okay .. but let’s not stay too long as we will need to get back before dinner or they will notice we were gone. “ Fine” I replied. I looked around… “ where’s George ?”. I knew we had arrived all together … maybe he went to pee in the bushes. “ George ! … , George ! “ we shouted … no reply. We got a bit worried and started walking around the area … from behind a bush, we heard “ Hey guys !! … come over here and see what I found !”. We stared at George’s hands for a minute with our mouths open … it was a Luger revolver.
“George … where did you find that ? … is that a pistol ?”. George seemed trancelike staring at this cold piece of steel in his hands… I don’t think he ever held one before. I knew this was dangerous and quickly I walked over to George and said “ do you know how it works ?”. George looked at me and didn’t say a word. Dario came over and said “ can I hold it ?” … quickly I interjected and asked George to let me see it. George handed it over to me … I guess he respected me. I made sure not to point it at anyone and kept the muzzle pointed to the ground. I started studying all the levers and buttons… I knew the trigger would make it shoot so I was careful with that. Dario seemed worried “ I wonder who left it here”. Which made me think as well … this had to be lost by a soldier , like the ones we were warned about by the nuns. But why would they leave it … George wanted to hold the pistol again … I pulled away and went into an aiming stance trying to look through the sights … I felt an urge to see what it would be like to shoot it. George said “ Let me try … “ Dario looked up and his face froze in fear ………. ….“ Halt !! .. Nimm das Gewehr nach unten”. I turned around and there appeared a German soldier… I didn’t know what he said, but I knew to put the gun down.
Before I could think , a group of soldiers appeared from the surrounding woods and brush and circled us , one of them picked up the gun. The first soldier muttled to him “Das ist die Waffe, die Sie verloren ?”. .. he nodded yes. My instincts told me he was angry with himself for making an error … the error was he misplaced his weapon. The first soldier spoke out “Was sollten wir mit diesen Kindern?”. Then another soldier spoke, this one in English “ Where are you boys from ?.. what are you doing here ?”. I was stunned .. I stutterd .. “ we are orphans from the monastery of San Benedetto ,,,, we, we, we ….. “ Are you here Alone ?” the captain said sharply. I looked at my friends and we all had the same fearful expression on our face, and then we all said “yes”.
The captain and the first soldier “Horst” turned away and were talking among themselves , I looked at my friends speaking to them with my eyes as to “ what should we do “. Running would not be a good idea as we would not get far … Horst quickly came over to us and expressed with a heavy accent “ You will come with me “. George erupted “ where are we going ?”. Horst immediately replied “ Silenz, Stille”. We followed him along the river for about 5 minutes, then we saw a truck with a few other soldiers around it. At this point George started looking at the river, I could sense what he was thinking. We arrived to the truck and inside there were other men, these were not soldiers,,, they looked like civilians. They were likely taking them somewhere and stopped for a break along the river … and then found us. Horst told us to get in the truck with the others. We climbed aboard.
I’m not sure if it felt better to be in the truck with other civilians, or if we were on our own… everyone had a look of desperation on their faces. There was one guard in the back next to us , I noticed it was the soldier that had lost his pistol along the river that George had found. He was looking at George , a skinny boy with brown hair and blue eyes and then at us… I think he had a guilty conscience… if he had not lost his pistol, we would not have found it… and we would not be here on this truck going… who knows where. We drove for hours and it started to get dark. We came up on a hill and I could see a bridge coming up that would cross the river. The soldier looked up front and the others were occupied in a conversation… quickly he grabbed George and then Dario … and said to me “ follow” … and we quickly went to the back side of the truck … he looked out and pointed to the river … George hesitated… then he picked George up and threw him over the hill, then Dario .. then he looked to me sternly and said “ my nam is Patrick” and I just jumped afterwards with my eyes closed. It was a rough landing although the truck was moving slowly around a turn… and we rolled down the hill. As soon as we were able to sit up, we looked up, and the truck was gone… we were alone.
I stood up .. no broken bones, just some scratches and bruised a little,,, Dario and George were ok as well. I started to walk down hill to the river… we were pretty tired and it was getting late , we would not be able to get back to the orphanage before dark. We needed to find a place for the night and then follow the river back to where we found the pistol in the morning. We found some pine tree branches and made a make shift tent, we camped near the river for the night… it was going to be a long night.
We awoke at first light, none of us slept very well… and we were very hungry. Dario had brought some bread from the orphanage and we all shared. Looking down river, I could see it was going to be a long walk … and so we started off. It was sunny and calm , a pleasant day despite our ordeal .. what would the sisters say when we finally make it back… will they have missed us ? .. has anyone been looking for us ? Dario sighed … “ I wish we never made this trip … we are going to be in a lot of trouble when we get back”. George answered “ well, at least we are not going to Sunday Mass today !”. I laughed. Then I said “ ya know… this is really not as bad as you think Dario … we can make our own rules now”. Dario looked at me “ Yea… but what are we going to eat ?, and where are we going to sleep ?”. George and I looked at each other “ Yes, I really am missing that stale bread porridge from the orphanage”. Dario stopped “ look up there !” … We saw a man walking with his dogs … he was carrying some tools over his shoulder. The dogs saw us and started barking… we looked at each other not knowing what to do. The man stopped and looked over to us,,, then he turned away and started walking. George yelled out .. “ Hey … mister .. “ and he started running up the hill .. Dario an I looked at each other … and then followed. The man turned around and told his dogs to stay quiet… petting them on the head. As we got closer , the dogs sat and panted with their tongues out … the man said “ pet the dogs on the heads boys… it’s ok”. We petted them and the dogs were happy. The man said “ what are you boys doing out here ? , you must be far from home… there is not many people living around here. Are you lost ?”. Quickly George replied “ Yes.. we are lost… we were wandering on a hike and lost our tracks”. The man looked at us and saw Dario and I looking at George as if we didn’t know what to say… I think the man knew we had more to say but he didn’t ask further. He looked at us in the eyes and said “ My name is Domenico … I live about a two hour hike from here with my wife Elisetta , why don’t you come with me and maybe we can help you find your parents. We were tired and hungry,,, and probably lost as well… so we all agreed and followed Domenico and his dogs.
It was a nice day, but the sun was strong and the air was getting quite arid , the path was packed dirt and very rocky so we needed to be careful not to trip. The old man was in very good shape as he outpaced us quickly and we were really feeling tired trying to follow. He turned around and saw us kind of winded, so he stopped under a tree and said “ here we take a break … have a seat.” He opened his sack and took out a bottle of water… handed it to George and said “ have a drink, share with your friends”. He took out another flask and had a drink himself…only I think it was wine. Then he had some hard boiled eggs… one for each of us. George looked so happy he almost forgot Dario and I were there… I think he also forgot that we were supposed to return to the orphanage . George said “ Mr. Domenico .. what are your dogs names… they are very nice”. Domenico looked at his dogs and smiled … petting them on the chest “ Yes… Sandro and Enzo .. these are my two favorite companions… I always take them with me when I hike up this way”. George smiled , joined Domenico in petting the dogs… Dario and I watched and smiled as well although we still had in the back of our heads that we would be in trouble once the orphanage found out what we did…
Domenico stood up “ okay ragazzi … Andiamo… it’s time to move on … I’d like to get home early so we can help Elisetta with dinner. We all got up and started to follow … Domenico led the trek with Sandro and Enzo by his side… George was right behind them and Dario and I were lagging a little behind … I turned my head to Dario whispering “ what will we tell him once we get there … should we tell him about the orphanage ?”. Dario looked at me … “ why don’t we tell him the truth ?”. … I whispered “ because I don’t want to go back to the orphanage”. We both looked at George … he seemed so happy since we met Domenico. We continued our hike in silence. Finally we reached a road and in the distance you could see few homesteads around in the hills. Domenico broke the silence … “ hey boys.. we are making good time… we will be to my vineyard soon, and from there it’s only 15 minute walk thru the town”. We reached a building , it looked like a general store and café bar, there were couple men playing a card game and sipping coffee. We kept walking, and it started to be a steep uphill walk, Domenico stopped and pointed at this fenced in land lot with all his grape vines, it was all up hill with walking paths in between the vines. Proudly he exclaimed “ This is my pride and joy , my brother and I planted these grapes many, many years ago”. George looked and said “ do you make wine with all these grapes ?”. Domenico grinned “ of course ! “. They started to walk again, we were so tired, we didn’t say anything and we just kept following him. There was a big archway for the entrance to the village, it was all cobblestone and the homes were all attached and made of stone and mortar, they looked very, very old. We reached a piazza and there was a church and a couple of buildings for the village community. There was a large fountain in the middle of the piazza and then there was another building with a balcony. There were 5 different roads leading to this piazza. Domenico walked over to the fountain “ when I was a boy, my older brother and I used to play in this fountain”. Seems Domenico must have lived here all his life… we wondered where his brother lived. George came out… “ does your brother live here too ?”. Domenico lowered his face … and he muttled “No… unfortunately he is no longer alive”. He started walking again … we took one of the roads that was again… going up hill. Domenico opened up “ My Brother… he died during World War one… he was crossing a bridge with his brigade and it was blown up… they all died. His name was Eliseo”. We walked a bit in silence, not knowing what to say … then he said “ I was returning from his grave this morning when I met you boys… I go there every so often to pray, … and also to clean up his grave site”. Now we reached another cross road… this one was smaller, with a general store and some chickens loose walking around. One road went up hill, another went down hill, Domenico pointed straight ahead … it was level ground and it looked like it opened up into open fields. There was a fountain with running water… we saw some cows fenced in a yard, and then some sheep and also pigs. The road was bordered by stone walls that looked like they had been there for centuries… finally, we reached an opening in the stone wall and he walked into the field, we would see a home at the end of this field and he said “ we have arrived !”. It was a very old building made of stone and mortar, just like the rest of the town ..only this was on it’s own land. The walls had to be about 2 feet thick , it was shaped like a cube with a door on one side and then some windows. There was also a cellar with some stairs leading down. The second floor had two windows on each side of the home. We stared at all the surroundings and noticed a couple outbuildings and some penned in areas. Suddendly , an elderly woman came out of one of the buildings, she had a chicken in one hand all cleaned up and ready to cook. She looked at us with a smile and did not flinch, Domenico looked at her smiling “ I’ve brought home some guests “. She walked pretty quickly and as she came closer, we could see she had a lot of wrinkles on her face, but she was quite radiant and glowing. The first words we heard from her “ well , I will get an extra chicken for dinner “ Domenico interrupted “ Boys… this is my wife , Elisetta”. We smiled… and then he said “ Elisetta, this is George, Dario and Marco… three young men I bumped into and they helped me find my way home. Elisetta blushed a little… “ well, it’s a good thing they found you, otherwise you probably would have stopped at the café to play cards or work on your vineyard…. Domenico, please take the boys inside and show them the guest room, I will start dinner… you all must be very hungry”. Domenico looked at us smiling “ Boys … let’s go “.
We were all lying down with our eyes closed , we didn’t even hear Elisetta calling us for dinner … Domenico knocked on our door , Boys… we have some nice chicken tonight,, come and eat, you have walked a lot today. George was laying down on the bed, I walked over and tapped his arm … “ George… time for dinner, they are calling us “. His eyes popped open… “ huh…” , Dinner time. “ Ohh .. we have dinner ! , okay..”.
George, Dario and I humbly walked into the kitchen , we had not recalled ever being blessed with such kindness from anyone. There were some very delicious scents in this room and we didn’t want to show how starved we were , but our instincts took over and we began to devour this wonderful loving meal of Chicken and rice which was prepared for us by loving people… and we did appreciate it. Domenico and Elisetta sat next to each other looking at us and I could sense they were so happy to see us enjoying this meal. It was the best meal I ever had and to this day my favorite dish.
Once we finished eating, Domenico asked “ are you all feeling better now ? “ … I looked at George , and then at Dario … we all came out with “ This was the best meal we have ever had ! “. Elisetta smiled and Domenico also … “ I am very happy to hear that . Elisetta is quite a cook and I have been blessed with her delicious meals. It’s hard to believe, but we have been married 42 years now … it seems like yesterday , and the funny thing is, I hardly realize it … but my body is getting old. Instead, Elisetta gets younger every year … I don’t know how she does it.” Elisetta got up and chuckled … “ Domenico … tomorrow I need you to go to the orchard and find us some things from the garden , we need some fruit in this house, see if there are strawberries and maybe the asparagus have come up… it’s been warm.” Domenico lifted his head thinking to himself “ tomorrow I was going to the vineyard I need to grow healthy grapes this year !”. then he sighed .. “ okay, I will make sure to go to the garden. “ , … then he looked at us “ boys , I could sure use some help tomorrow”. We all looked at Domenico .. and then George with a big grin shouted out “ I would love to help you Sir ! “. We all smiled at each other happily. Elisetta said “ well .. you boys, young and old ones “ looking at Domenico “ “ better get yourselves to bed… tomorrow morning will be here soon and you must be all tired from your journey today. We all said thank you and good night and went right off to hit the sack … we all were asleep as soon as we found our bed. So much had happened in just a few days … we hardly had time to think about where we had been or what we were doing… it just felt good and we happily went with it.
C H A P T E R 2
The rooster crowed and we noticed the aroma of fried eggs in the air , Domenico knocked on our door “ it’s a new day boys , let’s get breakfast”. We walked into the kitchen , we each had a plate with 3 fried eggs and potatoes , Domenico said “ Eggs must always be eaten in odd numbers , not counting 1 … so you can have 3 or 5 or 7” . Elisetta interrupted “ Domenico .. that’s not healthy ! .. don’t teach these boys any bad habits. Today you can have three because you are going to work hard all day”. “ Di tutto , il troppo nuoce !”. Domenico replied with a sigh … “ Yes, she is right .. of anything , too much is not good. And that includes everything “. looking at us in the eyes… “don’t forget”. So we all ate our breakfast and cleaned our plates. Domenico stood up , “ Boys .. there are some empty baskets out by the tool shed which we will need to carry back what we will pick today, please go get them and meet me at the front door.
The tool shed was made of stone and mortar with some wood beams to hold up the roof. There were all kinds of tools hanging and on the floor which was packed dirt. We found the bags hanging on some hooks , George and Dario quickly grabbed them and ran out to meet Domenico. I noticed a cross on the wall and next to it a medal with a picture of a young man… I thought it was an interesting place for a cross. Then I hear them calling me… “ Marco … are you coming ? … we are waiting here”. So I ran out and they waved me over … they started walking and I was right behind. Enzo and Sandro were with us too , seemed like they were used to this as they were leading the way. Domenico said. "well , we have some good news and some bad news… which do you want first ?”. We looked at each other and thought what the bad news could be, were we in trouble already. Domenico came out with…” Always ask the bad news first… this way it can only get better … bad news is first we are going to the garden… the garden is up hill”. We sighed .. “ Good news is that on the way back, we will drop everything off at the root cellar and the vineyard is down hill”. We just kept walking … don’t think any of us cared , we were so happy to be on an adventure and out of that orphanage … we could walk all day if we had to.
It was shaping up to be a beautiful day , you could smell the sweet spring air and the birds were calling all kinds of chirps. We came to an opening in the stone wall and entered a large field, there was a pond at the end of the field and a wire fence… I think this is where the garden was. Domenico broke the silence “ you boys are quiet today “. We smiled and made eye contact , I pointed to the fence ..” Is that the garden ?”. Domenico replied “ That’s the garden ,,, my brother and I dug it out and fenced it in long time ago”… we soon got close enough to see inside”. It was probably about 150 feet by 150 feet with rows of dirt and also sectioned off with some wood planks . There were some asparagus coming out of one of the sections and some strawberries in another. There were some channels that ran high to low with some round bricks to hold the water and work as an irrigation system … I guess he somehow got the water from the pond to flow through the channels. Domenico looked concerned ….I asked “ what do you see ?” … Domenico responded “ Weeds !”. Have you boys ever pulled weeds before ?”. We looked at each other … “ Domenico blurted.. “guess not … well, here is your first lesson. We need to pull the weed out of this section , I am planting tomatoes here and the weeds will kill the tomato plants. Take this hoe and try to rake up the small ones , and what is left over you will need to bend down and pull. Keep doing this until all you see is the black soil … then we can plant the tomato plants which I have in the greenhouse”. We each grabbed a hoe and started to work. Domenico said, “ I am going to the greenhouse to bring back some plants”. He pointed and we could see a structure a few feet tall with some glass panels over it … guess that was the greenhouse.
The sun was now high and you could feel it getting warmer , we took off our heavy sweaters and kept our tee-shirts on… this pulling weeds was not easy. Together we did make pretty good progress , cleared up the section in about an hour and Domenico brought us a few trays of plants. “ Hey kids , that is pretty good work you did there … soil looks nice a dark, we should get some nice tomatoes this year”. Domenico got on his knees and started parting the soil with his hands and placing plants a couple feet away from each other , we got down and started doing the same. In no time we had planted the whole section. Domenico took his hat off and wiped off his brow “ whew … it’s getting warm fellas , I think we are done here for today. Only thing I would like to do is put some water “ … he went behind the fence and there was this large tank with a faucet on the bottom, he opened it up and out came the water into the channel. The water flowed the whole way through into the tomato section. Domenico said “ these tanks collect the rainwater, and when they run out, we will need to siphon some out of the pond into the tank … I will show you how to do it later on. There is a tank for each of the sections… works pretty good eh !”. We were all pretty amazed with Domenico’s garden. Domenico smiled and said “ we will have nice tomatoes by ferragosto , for me it is the best part of the entire crop season… with some of Elisetta’s bread of course … a little olive oil and pepper… nice ! “.
We all gathered up some strawberries and asparagus and headed out of the field , soon we were at the rootcellar which was close to the house , dropped off the bags and went on our way. We went downhill through the town, the same way we had entered the first day we arrived and soon found ourselves at the entrance of the vineyard. Domenico brought us to a table and put down his back sack..” Time for lunch kids … let’s see what Elisetta made for us”. He took out a nice loaf of bread and some sausages and cheese , started cutting and slicing and handing out this lunch feast to us… we had never eaten so good in our lives I think… all kinds of goodies , olives and peppers and cheese and sausages so soft you could spread them on your bread like butter. We ate to our hearts content. Domenico had a treat for Sandro and Enzo too … a nice hambone for each. “So boys, today is weed pulling day , this is the number one priority … bad weeds keep growing and it is our job to stop them before they can kill our crop”. “ We will be doing this throughout the summer , so make sure to bring hats next time as the sun will be getting hotter and you will really feel it out in this field”.
George, Dario and I never worked so hard in our lives , but we were so happy to be doing so, it’s like we had just started living. Domenico and Elisetta suddenly became our family and we had a sense of purpose for the first time in our lives. On the way home, we stopped at the general store.. Domenico asked Dario and George to stay outside and watch the backsacks… he took one sack with him and asked me to pick up another one and come inside with him. “Antonio .. come stai ?” .. Domenico…what are you up to …who is this young man with you ?”. This is cousin Eliseo's son Marco , he’s staying with us for the summer. I have some nice asparagus and strawberries here … can we trade ? … sure … will you take olive oil like last time ?” … Domenico replied “ exactly what I had in mind …” Antonio grabbed a case and put it on the table”. Domenico put it in a backsack and put it on his back. Thank you Antonio a presto !
We all gathered up our things and started our trek . The olive oil was heavy and I could see Domenico starting to struggle. I asked him “ Domenico, can I help you with that, it looks too heavy.” He looked at me and smiled “ Thank you Marco, that’s very considerate, but I am going to stop at the piazza and borrow a donkey from my friend. We can load this case on the donkeys back”. We arrived to the piazza and in the corner was a small stable with large wooden doors wide open and an old man sleeping in a chair with a glass of wine and cheese on a table beside him. Domenico put the olive oil down and cheerfully said “ Pietro , what are you up to ? .. when you’re not chasing the women you are drinking wine “. The old man lifted his head and was almost surprised by our presence “ Domenico , I don’t see you around anymore … what are you doing with yourself … and who are these men with you ?”. These are my nephews , they are staying with us this summer… we will put them to work”. Pietro replied “ oh , that is very nice , we need some young people around here, too many of us old folks sleeping around here”. He turned his head to us and said, it’s nice to meet you boys, let me know if I can help you with anything , Domenico and I are very old friends so we are like family here”. Dario smiled “ I am Dario and this is George and Marco”. Domenico interrupted .. “ Thank you Pietro for your gesture , I’m sure they will take advantage” … in the meantime , I am going to borrow Ercole to carry our stuff up hill , I will bring him back down in the morning”. Pietro said “ that’s fine … he will enjoy grazing your field tonight , he always loves the fresh grass up there”. Okay, then … we’ll see you in the morning…Buona Sera”. We packed most of our things on the donkeys back with some ropes and bags and off we were.
It was a steep cobblestone hill, and each time we climbed it it seemed steeper … Ercole did not mind, it looked like he was used to it as he knew exactly where to go and was leading our way. An old woman was walking down towards us and smiled to Domenico “ Buona sera Domenico …how is Elisetta ?”. Domenico took his hat off “ Buona sera Vera , Elisetta is well … I hope she is making us some dinner because we worked all day weeding and planting”. Vera laughed “ you men are all the same…always food on your mind”. We all kept walking and passed each other by. People seemed very friendly in this town , no one was considered rich or poor , they were all people living a simple life and working to survive. They had no desire for greed or power , no need for expensive vacations or mansions… it seemed they all enjoyed the simplicity this world had to offer…nothing more.
Once we arrived home, we were all quite tired. We sat down in the kitchen as Elisetta was preparing a large omelette with some tomatoes and onions she had canned from last fall. I had never seen anything like it but it looked delicious. Domenico went out to check on the chickens and Dario and George started to speak about the day's activities with much excitement. They spoke of how hard they worked with great pride and were actually smiling with gestures of happiness the likes I had never seen in them before. Elisetta laughed and said, " why don't you boys go wash up for dinner, it will be ready in 10 minutes and I know you must be hungry. We all happily agreed and did as she suggested. Elisetta walked out front and saw Domenico returning , she waved at him and waled over to meet him. " "Domenico, I overheard at the market square today that Veneranda heard that 3 boys went missing from the Monastery of San Benedetto about a week ago. Seems they sneaked out for an excursion and found their belongings near a river about 15 kilometers from the monastery. It was assumed that they were picked up by a German convoy that was transporting prisoners up North. The convoy passed over the bridge close to where you met the boys. Do you think it could have been our boys ? Domenico's eyes opened wide , and then he looked down. " I suspected they were runaways , perhaps orphans, but I didn't know they had come that close to danger. " looking her in the eyes. Poor boys, they must be very brave to have gone through that and managing to escape. Let's not say anything tonight , the boys seemed very happy today and I don't want to spoil their day.
After dinner we all sat around the table playing cards. Domenico was teaching us to play his favorite card game " Tresette ". It seemed quite complex, however, Domenico assured us he would make us champs in no time. Elisetta was knitting a blanket and the evening air was cool and crisp. Later we all went to bed and slept solidly. The days and weeks passed, one morning, Domenico brought us out in the fields as usual and we did our chores. We all sat for lunch break , together with Enzo and Sandro under a big oak tree. Domenico , while cutting a piece of bread , looked over and pointed at the garden " you know, you boys really did a nice job for this garden this spring , I could never have done it without you". We all kind of blushed and I said " It's the best time we have ever had and we are so grateful for what you have done for us". Domenico looked at each of us, " well boys, we have never spoken about your lives before we met. I didn't want to invade on your privacy, all three of you have been very well behaved and I am proud to host your young lives and leave with you a part of me for your future journey in life ". Domenico shed a tear and wiped it. " Elisetta and I never were able to have a child of our own , so for us, your appearance in our lives was a blessing, you have filled an empty space in our hearts that I cannot express in words. I believe " Il Signore " has brought us together as we all needed each other. Il Signore Vede e Provede ". We all smiled and grinned.
Next morning Domenico asked me to bring Ercole back down to Luigi's cantina and then meet us back at the fields. So I eagerly took on the endeavor and grabbed Ercole's reigns as we walked carefully down the cobblestone road. On the way down I thought back to the orphanage, I had known no other home before this new life we had recently encountered by chance. I often wondered who my real parents were and why I was put in an orphanage. I was told by the nuns that they died in an accident, but I often wondered if that was true. It didn't really matter as I never knew anything of them, not even some photos or family members to visit me like some of the other children would receive from time to time. I was alone in the world, but now I have a new family. As I arrived to Pietro's cantina a young man was standing at the entrance. He said " I see you have brought Ercole back home, I hope he behaved overnight". and I replied " Oh yes, he is a very good friend. Domenico asked me to thank Signor Pietro". And the young man replied " I am Carlo, I am Antonio's nephew but I am helping Signor Pietro this morning...what's your name ?". I quickly replied without thinking " My name is Marco , my brothers and I are staying with Mr. Domenico as our parents have gone to America". Carlo exclaimed excitedly " America ! .. Wow... I would love to go to America. Are you going to go to America too ! ". and without hesitation I said " Yes, I will go to America as soon as my parents settle down and we will have a place to live in". Carlo said " That seems very exciting, maybe one day we can go together to America... I love Rita Hayworth and Fred Astaire. Hey, are you coming to the festival tonight, it will be a lot of fun". I replied " I didn't know of any festival. Well, I will ask Domenico, perhaps we can all come". Carlo said " Good,, see you tonight then, they will also have a cinema". I waved and went on my way , the festival seemed exciting and I'm sure that George and Dario would love to go. I imagined the American movie they would play and the uphill walk to the field vanished into my imagination. As I arrived, everyone was already hard at work. I joined George as he was the closest and started to pull weeds with him. Dario and Domenico were working on watering by releasing water into the channels. Lunchtime arrived and we all gathered under the large oak we seem to always meet at on this field for lunch. As Domenico opened the lunch sack, I excitedly said " I met Carlo at Pietro's cantina". Domenico replied " Oh, that's nice, he is a nice young man. Did you thank him for the use of Ercole ?". "Yes" I said " He invited us to go to the festival tonight, can we go ?". Domenico stopped for a second, then he sighed " well , I suppose you boys can go as long as Carlo is there, but first I need to talk with him." We all tried to contain our excitement smirking at each other secretly".
It was early afternoon and we had finished our chores at this field for the day. Domenico decided we would all now make our way down to the vineyard. On the way we stopped at Antonio's , both Carlo and Antonio were there. " Buon Pomeriggio " exclaimed Domenico. " May I offer you an espresso " said Antonio. "Thank you Antonio, I would love one. I understand Carlo is going to the festival tonight". Antonio replied, "Yes, he is old enough so we let him go on his own now". Domenico asked" is it okay if the boys go along with him ?". Antonio looked at the boys " Boys, you seem well behaved, but I can still remember when I was your age. Do we have your word you will stay out of trouble ?". Domenico interjected " Antonio and I are putting our faith in all of you, please don't disappoint us. The minute you see any sign of trouble for yourself or any one of you, you need to stick together and listen to Carlo as he is the oldest". We all looked at each other seriously " Okay, we will". Antonio blurted " Do we have your word ?". and we all cheered " Yes , we promise".
That evening at the festival was spectacular for us, we looked all about in awe. There were beautiful young women in costumes parading with their boyfriends and all kinds of vendors with everything from fried baccala to zeppoles and cream puffs. The free movie to be shown was going to be "Dumbo" whose ears were big enough for him to fly, a wonderful Disney masterpiece. We enjoyed it so much we were smiling during the entire film. At the end of the film, Carlo suggested we all go to have a gelato, we all swiftly agreed. Carlo knew the vendor so they did not ask us to pay, we all said thank you and quickly commenced enjoying our gelato. We all walked around looking at all the people and activities, there was music playing and even a puppet show. We had never had such a good time. Finally, Çarlo looked at his watch " well, it is getting little late boys, I promised Domenico you would all be home by 10 PM . so it's time for us to go home now. We were all pretty tired so we did not fight much. Carlo walked with us up the hill and made sure we got home on time.
Next morning Domenico let us sleep late, he went on his own to the vineyard and I woke to the sunrise. Elisetta was in the kitchen with some coffee and toast. "Good Morning" she said when I walked in , " looks like you are the first to rise up today , did you have fun last evening ?". I smiled " Yes, we all had such a great time , we saw a Disney movie "Dumbo"". Elisetta smiled , oh I've heard of that one , it must have been spectacular , Disney is a master magician". Then she got up , " sit down Marco" what would you like for breakfast. Quickly I said, "oh no, please I do not want to make you work more, where is Domenico ?". "Well, he decided to let you boys sleep late today and went down to the vineyard, what don't you have a bite and go meet him". I quickly agreed. I went back to the room, Dario and George were still asleep. I went back to the kitchen and Elisetta had breakfast ready for me. " Elisetta, may I call you Aunt Elisetta ?". she blushed. Well Marco, Yes you may. I feel very close to you boys and I would be honored to be your aunt. I smiled back at her gleefully. Then she said " You know Marco, Domenico and I know you boys ran away from the convent, we never mentioned it to you. We know that your lives have been difficult and we are happy to have you in our home and our lives. We intend to help you as we would our own children if we had had any". Tears came to my eyes and I quickly embraced Elisetta, I had no words but I think she felt my same tears.
C H A P T E R 3
I had awoken this morning feeling I had forgotten something, the sunrise brought on the new day and I was reflecting on the day ahead. Then I realized. Today was my birthday ! I had reached 15 and I felt I was turning into an adult. Carlo came by that morning as we had planned for all of us to go to the city to celebrate my birthday. Carlo borrowed his uncle's truck and George, Dario and I joined him, George and Dario sat in the back and I was up front with Carlo. As we drove out of the village, Carlo asked me " So, how does it feel to be 15 ?". I thought about it..." well, I'm too old to be a child, and too young to be an adult, it's not that great". Carlo laughed " Ha, yes, I remember I was also 15 couple years ago... now I can be an adult and drive". He smiled. I looked at him " that must be a great feeling, I can't wait to drive too. But I want to drive in America !". Carlo sighed " Yes, I know...I would like to go to America too, the big cars, movie stars and the rich and famous live in America. How can we go there, we would need to buy a ticket and it costs money". I looked back to check on Dario and George , they were talking. I looked to Carlo " well, I haven't spoken to you about it, but I really do not have parents living in America, but I have a dream of going there". Carlo looked over with eyes wide open " Really ! , are you serious ?". I nodded, " Yes, Dario does not want to go, but George said he would come also. How about you ? would you come with us ? we would feel safer then if we went in 3 people with you cause you are little older, we are still minors". Carlo looked deep in thought " Gee, this is a surprise for me today, I need to think about it". We smiled and continued on our way. We reached Ascoli Piceno and admired the view, there were lots of rolling hills and you could see the Adriatic seacoast , very beautiful place. We parked the truck and walked into the Piazza del Popolo, there were lot's of shops and passersby. Carlo seemed excited, he walked us into a bakery. The scent was breathtaking and we all started looking through the display cases. Carlo asked for a variety of pastries and we all walked outside and found a place to sit. I don't think any of us ever tasted anything so good, My favorite was the Bigne and George liked the Napoleon. Dario was happy with his sfogliatella and Carlo ... I think he liked all of them. Afterwards we went to visit the Cathedral of San Emidio, it was quite spectacular and you could see how very ancient it was. It made me wonder how many people must have passed through this cathedral and I wondered how they lived. We came upon the Madonna delle Grazie and fell mesmerized by her grace. We prayed.
A few years had passed, our new parents guided us into being young men, and we are forever grateful. One November morning I awoke feeling cold, I got up with my blanket and looked out to a white snowy wonderland. Winter had arrived in the mountains of central Italy and it was time to sit by the fire. I went downstairs and Domenico already had the oven lit. he looked over to me, " Good morning Marco, we have our first snow, we need to light the stove down in the cellar, please get dressed warmly and go get some fire wood from the wood shed". I quickly agreed and proceeded to bring wood into the cellar. By mid-day the house started getting warm and Elisetta was baking some bread...the aroma was divine. After lunch they sent us boys down to the village to get some flour as Elisetta wanted to do some baking so the oven would not only keep us warm but keep our bellies full. It was cold, but very sunny, so we didn't mind the walk so much. We arrived to the store and I asked for a couple bags of flour, Dario was looking at the magazines and then brought one over, " can we buy this ?". I looked at it and it looked interesting, I asked the clerk " how much is the magazine ?". he looked at me and said, "it's free when you buy the 2 bags of flour". We all smiled and said "thank you !". George and I carried a bag of flour each , Dario was reading the magazine. George was looking at Dario " You will need to share that with us, later on I would like to read some too". Dario agreed and nodded. " What are you reading about ? " I said to him. Dario came back with " The soccer games... I would like to become a soccer player". George and I looked at each other and kept walking, the flour bags were heavy and the snow was slippery, we didn't want to let the flour fall in the snow so we saved our breath. I turned to Dario" so Dario, how does one become a soccer player for one of those teams ? ". Quickly he pointed to a picture of a University in Genoa , " I want to go there ". We both looked at the picture in the magazine, " George blurted " wow , that's a nice building ". A few moments past as I caught my breath , " well , now we have an excuse to go to Genoa ,,, I will ask Carlo if he can drive us there". Dario remained silent . George asked " how far is Genoa ? anyone know ?". Dario nodded, " I've never been there but I know it's up north". We kept walking, talking made the trip go quickly and we arrived home in no time. Domenico and Elisetta were in the kitchen, " here they are with the flour " exclaimed Domenico. " Elisetta, let's make some bread for the butter". Elisetta smiled " okay boys, please put the bags on the table and get me a few eggs". Elisetta noticed the magazine in Darios hand " Dario, you have a magazine ? can I see it later when you are done ?". Dario quickly said " Oh of course, it has a picture of the University of Genoa". Domenico looked over " you are interested in the University ?". George blurted out " he wants to be a soccer player for them". Dario blushed. Domenico walked over " Well Dario, I've seen you play down at the piazza and I have to say you are pretty good and have the body of a runner, perhaps you have a good idea there". Dario smiled. Domenico walked over to the stove and added some wood to the red coals, it quickly started crackling. "You boys have grown so quickly" said Domenico. " I remember when I first met you that day by the river , you were children yet, now you have become young men". We all blushed " And now I want to help you to become men, the kind that will pursue their given destiny holding their honor in their heart". He looked at Dario , " Dario, In January when school starts we are going to go to Genoa and I will introduce you to an old friend of mine, he is a professor there. You are an orphan of war and we are going to get you on their soccer team". Dario's eyes were glowing, we were all excited.
Later that evening, Elisetta's bread was ready and the scent in the house was so comforting. We all enjoyed the bread and the fire, it was so cold outside, but so warm in this household. I was in deep thought and wondered what it would be like without Dario, we have known him almost our whole life, and then it occurred to me, he was our brother... we were all brothers. Even if life will take us in different places, we will always be brothers. And then I picked up the magazine and brought it with me by the stove and started looking through it. Dario went to bed and so did Domenico. I was reading an article related to the end of the war few months ago, and how America would soon enter a period of prosperity and opportunity. George was playing a card game and not paying attention, Elisetta walked over to the fire and sat down next to me. " What are you reading Marco ? ". I looked up " oh, it's an article on the end of the war, America will be prosperous now that they have eliminated tyranny and brought peace back to the world". Elisetta looks over to George " George... come here next to us". George looked up and walked over " what is it ? " he exclaimed. Elisetta looked at us " I have a nephew in America, he is in the shipping industry. I wrote him about you boys when you arrived... well, recently, he wrote me soon after the war was ending. He would like to know if you would like to go to America... There, I said it". folding her arms and walking over to the kitchen table. Turning her head, she looked at us. We looked at each other , and then looked at her. We didn't know what to say, we had talked about this and I had dreamed about it, and now that the opportunity has arrived, I was without words. Elisetta sat down, " well, I had to tell you as I could not take away your opportunity if you should choose to take it. You boys think about it, you have time... Let's all go to bed, it's been a long day".
Next morning I opened my eyes and noticed the room was empty , I thought to myself George and Dario must have woken early today. I slowly pulled myself up and made my way downstairs, Domenico and Elisetta were in the kitchen. I said " Good morning ! ". they smiled " Buon Giorno ! ". Elisetta offered me some toasted bread and I gladly accepted. Then I asked, " where are George and Dario ? ". Domenico looked over " Well..., George went down to Antonio's cantina to help Carlo with loading a large order going out by truck to Ascoli , Dario went to L'Aquila with Antonio, they are going to the Soccer club to see if they will give Dario a good reference letter considering the games he had participated in last fall , so he can use it for his application". Then he stood up and walked over to me " Elisetta mentioned to me this morning that she told you about her nephew Luigi in Baltimore. I know both you and George have spoken a lot of going to America, well, we have listened and I think it is a good idea for you both. You will find lot's of opportunity there now that the war is over. Elisetta and I will of course miss you dearly, however, we must let go of our selfish needs. You will learn that life places us on a path, and that path will teach us many things along the way. Sometimes it is difficult to understand, sometimes it seems unfair , sometimes we make mistakes..., and that is okay. As long as we learn from them... but the worst mistake you can make , is not to try. You boys have dreamed of America , and you should reach for your dreams. This is your opportunity, right now, at this time. If you don't take the chance now that you are still young, you likely never will. My eyes were tearing a bit listening to Uncle Domenico, I knew he was right in what he said. And for the first time in my life , I felt I belonged to a loving family , the kind I would never leave. Although for this moment, it felt as if I was going to go far away, and I knew I would miss this loving home. I walked over to Uncle Domenico with open arms and gave him a big hug " I Love you Uncle ". Domenico was also emotional " thank you son, I love you too". Elisetta was wiping her tears with her handkerchief, and I walked over to her and we embraced as well. Then I asked Elisetta " May I help you with anything ?". Elisetta looked around " would you mind helping me peel some potatoes ?". ... " Sure... I love to peel potatoes !".
George walked in around lunch time, we all sat down and had some of the chicken stew we prepared. Domenico said " How was work this morning ? ". George replied " well, we worked pretty hard loading up the truck , lot's of canned fruit and vegetables , tomato sauce and flour and dried meats. They really have quite a business going there ". Elisetta replied " well, we know Antonio since we are children, he has worked hard all his life, and now it will be up to Carlo to take over ". With a surprised look on my face " But Carlo is going to come to America with us ! , how will he take care of the business ?". George with an excited look on his face " America !.. are we really going ?". Domenico put his hand up " Marco, I have been also speaking to Antonio, ... Carlo will not be able to go, he will need to stay here and keep the business going". Quickly I replied " But Carlo told me he wanted to go with us ". "I'm afraid it won't be possible" replied Domenico. he continued " without Carlo, that business will die. Antonio kept it going all these years for him , the entire town will suffer if he abandons the cantina". I didn't know what to think at the moment, I felt confident knowing that Carlo was coming with us as he was the oldest... now it would be only me and George. Domenico looked at George and I , " don't worry boys , Luigi is a very good man, he will take care of you there".
Next day I went to find Carlo at the cantina , he was packing an order. " Hi Carlo, what are you up to ". Carlo looked over with a serious face " Hi Marco , well ... looks to me like I am packing some groceries... what are you up to ". I put my hands on my hips and said " well, not much this morning. Domenico told me yesterday that you won't be coming to America with us ". Carlo stood up and let out a gasp " yes, this is true ... I just can't, that's it." I opened my eyes wide " Why Not ? , come with us ". Carlo looked at me, " Marco, you just don't understand , my uncle has taken me under his care and we have worked hard for this place, I can't let it all go , it would hurt him a lot". I nodded my head and raised my hand and sighed. " I understand Carlo , I won't make it harder for you ". I walked over and gave him hug " well, wish us some luck, I think George and I are going to need it". Carlo smiled " you guys will be fine, I will come and see you off when you guys leave".
I found George under a maple tree on the way back home, he was leaning back and looking to the sky. He saw me , smiled and waved. I walked over " what are you doing here ... didn't you get enough sleep last night ? ". George smirked " well, I guess I'm just daydreaming here in the field, looking at the leaves. I'm going to miss this place". I became stern, " Now don't start with this sentimental stuff George, this is an opportunity of a lifetime and we need to take it. What are you going to do here, grow vegetables ?". George looked down. I continued " America is the new world and the land of opportunity, we have hope to follow our dreams there". George looked at me " You're right, I know ... but I will miss this place anyway". I looked up and noticed the maple seedlings dangling from the tree, it reminded me of the orphanage when we were playing with our friends. Everything in this life seems to keep changing. I wondered how our old friends were doing. Suddenly I blurted out " Well, one thing is for sure , you have to live life in order to love it ". George looked at me " I guess you're right Marco ... if I hadn't listened to you I would still be at the orphanage". I gave my hand to George " come on.. we need to get home and see if we have any chores".
Once we arrived, Elisetta was in the kitchen preparing some food, I smiled and greeted her " Ciao Zia ". Ciao ragazzi, what have you been up to, Domenico was looking for you earlier ". George said, " oh, i'm sorry, it was my fault , I was wasting time around town and Marco came looking for me and so I made us both late ". Elisetta said, " Domenico wanted to go with you to L'Aquila in order to get your passports ready. Difficult to explain, but I was filled with excitement and fear at the same time, so many emotions flowing in my veins . I looked at George and I knew he was the same way. Elisetta noticed we were a bit shaken, " what's the matter boys, you should be excited.", then she mumbled in Italian under her breath, " Chi a il pane non a i denti ". Who has bread doesn't have teeth ? I thought to myself...what does she mean by that ? . Neither one of us slept that night , George read his magazine and I was reading Robinson Crusoe. I pictured myself marooned on a deserted island with George trying to survive on our own. We hunted and fished and actually had a lot of fun making camp fires. I envisioned our trip to America could be similar , but something told me it would be not. I wondered what kind of job we would have, where we would live. All I know of America is what I've seen in magazines and couple of movies. It definitely seemed a lot different than what we were used to. I dreamed of owning an American car and driving those American highways I've seen only in pictures.
Domenico opened our bedroom door, " time to get up boys .. we are going to L'Aquila today with Pietro. He needs to get some supplies and he will drop us at the passport office, he has a friend there to help us. George and I did not sleep much so it was a little slow moving at first, but we were excited so we got going quickly. We met Pietro down at the piazza , he was sipping his espresso. " Are you boys excited ? ". we both smiled " yes ". Pietro stood up " Good , if I were younger I would go along for the adventure, but I will leave that up to you young ones ". Domenico said " speak for yourself Pietro, I am still good, I am just staying here to keep company to Elisetta, otherwise I would go with them". Pietro laughed " Okay Domenico, we know of how fit you are...must be all the wine you make and drink ". Domenico looked over, " Exactly , finally you understand my secret". Pietro got into the truck, " come on, let's all get in , the day is passing us by". We drove the countryside like we had many times before, this time seemed different. All the green hills and white capped high mountain peaks with winding roads alongside their slopes, you could see for many, many miles. What a beautiful place this is I thought to myself, it really shows you the hand of God, only a divine creator could carve such beauty.
Once we arrived to the passport office, Pietro dropped us off " I will meet you all here at one o'clock , Domenico, you need to ask for Ernesto, he is expecting you. see you soon , ciao". We arrived to the passport office and it was a little busy , we waited. Domenico asked " would you like to have a cornetto ?." George and I without hesitation, " oh yes ! ". Domenico told us to wait and he went over to the espresso bar, brought us back a nice cornetto each. It is a sweet croissant with sugar coating...quite good with coffee. I always had one when I came to L'Aquila. Finally we arrived to the clerk , Domenico asked for Ernesto and we were sent to a private office. Domenico opened with " Buon Giorno Signor Ernesto , Pietro sent me to see you". Ernesto interrupted " no need to speak further, Pietro explained to me your situation, you are the father of these two boys, Marco and Giorgio and they are going to America as laborers, it's okay. I have everything ready here for you, just sign here" . Domenico was without words, he didn't realize Pietro had such friends with authority. Domenico signed and we received our papers , it was one o'clock. Domenico walked out of the office and we followed " let's go meet Pietro , we need to thank him
". We went to where we left Pietro and he was there, he had just arrived and parked the car. " Well, how did it go ? ". Domenico cordially replied grabbing both of Pietro's hands " Pietro , I can't thank you enough" Pietro raised his hand " Basta, Domenico, how long do we know each other , lascia perdere. you are my friend a very long time. let's go have a pizza". So we all walked down to the piazza, there was a trattoria and we followed the incredible aromas coming forward. I wanted to have my favorite which was the suppli , basically a rice ball with meat ragu and mozzarella in the middle that would string out and stretch until you could manage to put it in your mouth ... oh my , what a treat. We all enjoyed lunch and it was getting late, Pietro needed to get back to the Cantina, so we all got into the truck and made our way back. It had been a productive day and we were all tired.
We arrived at Pietro's Cantina , Pietro parked and said " we are home boys , it was a busy day". George and I walked over to Pietro " Signor Pietro , you have been so very good to us , we won't forget it. One day we will come back to thank you". Pietro shed a tear " I wish you boys all good things, go to America, embrace her and give her all you have , the Lord will reward you". We all said our goodnights and proceeded home. Walking home, Domenico opened up " there is one thing Pietro forgot to mention, America was blessed by the Lord, blessed to be a home for people to live their life in Liberty. America was placed here as a gift to the people of the world, to create a balance on earth so we can all live life in freedom. Never Forget it !.
We arrived home , Elisetta and Dario where in the kitchen near the fire, it was very cold out and we all walked over to get warm. Dario looked at us " how was your day ?". Domenico looked at George and I with a serious look , Elisetta blurted out " did you get your passports ?". George and I at the same time without much emotion " Yes, we did ". then I said, " I'm excited and at the same time sad". George quickly followed with " me too ". Domenico looked to us and then at Elisetta, and then back to us " I shouldn't admit it, but I also feel the same way. However, I also know that going to America will be what you have wanted , and this is your opportunity to do so. If you don't take advantage of this opportunity, it will pass you by. And the next opportunity may not be what your dreams envisioned". Taking a deep breath and pointing his finger up " America is the new world, a land where opportunity is for the individual who is willing to work hard and use their God given talents in the way they choose to do so. It is the only country where one can be proud of their own accomplishment , a concept which has been taken away throughout history over and over by bureaucratic governments ". Then he looked down and shed a tear. " My brother Eliseo wanted to go to America, he loved the idea of America. Unfortunately ,the Italian government took him and brought him to his early grave. I was the lucky one as I was too young to be taken into the army. Eliseo wanted to take me to America with him ...but we never made it". Domenico took his coat and walked outside. We all looked at each other, Elisetta called " Domenico ! ... dove vai ?.... she went to the door " he went out to the tool shed" she said. " he is getting old this man of mine ". She looked worried as she knew Domenico always became sad when he thought of his brother and his tragic death. Dario asked " what is wrong Zia Elisetta, do you want me to go see what he is doing ?". Domenico came back and opened the door, he had something in his hand wrapped in a burlap cloth , he walked over looking to me and unraveled the cloth " This is my brother Eliseo's photo when he was a young man like you, and this is the blessed cross our mother gave to him when he left for war. I want you to bring these to America and keep them with you as a memory of him and us". We all shed tears. Then he went on " this is the medal the Italian army gave to my mom after he was killed , I will keep this with me". I suddenly remembered seeing these objects in the tool shed when we had first arrived to our beloved family home, I meant to ask Domenico about them but never did. I will treasure them always. I went over to Domenico and gave him a big hug " I love you Domenico , you are the father I never had". Domenico replied " Thank you Marco, I love you too". I walked over to Elisetta" I love you Elisetta" you are the mother I never had and will love you always, you have given me what was missing in my heart and I will keep you there forever". Dario and George walked over and we all hugged each other and smiled. It was a beautiful moment and we were all happy.
We spent the next few days planning our upcoming trip, Dario would be going to University of Genoa and we would be leaving by ship from Genoa as well. Carlo offered to drive us all including Domenico to Genoa in his truck. Dario was in good spirits " hey , if you meet Rita Hayworth , make sure you tell her that your soccer player brother in Italy thinks she is beautiful". I smiled and looked to Dario " yes Dario, I'm sure she will come right over to Genoa to give you a big kiss ". we all chuckled. I took a walk out in the field to get some fresh air, one could see for miles from that hilltop. It was a view which gave me a feeling of peace and brought out my soul to enjoy the moment. A place where one could lose their earthly life and truly enjoy God's gifts. Suddenly, I saw Sandro and Enzo running and playing in the field, I started to walk over to them. They came over to me and wanted to play, Sandro sat on my foot and I patted them both and gave them a big hug. I would miss these guys a lot. I wish I could take them with me. At least I knew Domenico and Elisetta would have good company. I really didn't know when I would be able to come back and visit this place and my parents, but right now was not the time to think about it. It was time to move forward, and so I made my way back to the house.
C H A P T E R 4
It was the 11th of March, 1947. Dario received his official acceptance into University at Genoa. We all congratulated Dario and Elisetta made us all some sweet treats in celebration. Domenico brought home a special pork belly roast and Elisetta knew exactly how to roll it up with herbs and spices, it was a lovely family dinner. Domenico was quiet throughout the meal, once we were finished he took an envelope out of his pocket and opened it removing some paperwork. " Well, here we have your tickets" looking to me and George " you will be leaving September 4th on the M/S Vulcania from Genoa. She will stop in Naples to pick up some passengers and afterwards your destination is New York. Luigi will meet you when you debark the vessel and he said he has some sponsors that will give you a place to stay until you find permanent residence. I would suggest you two stay together and help one another as much as possible. You will meet new people, some will be friends, and some will not. Remember, you two are family, not only to yourselves, but to Dario, Elisetta and I". George opened up " I love you , Mom and Dad, you have healed us of the pain we suffered as children, you have filled the hole we had in our hearts. I will miss you and this place very much, but I know Marco and I need to move on in order to become adults. You have both taught us so much and I promise we will never forget what you taught us, and always hold your love in our hearts". Domenico looked to Elisetta, they smiled. He looked at me " Thank you George, you have no idea what that means to us". He paused a moment, " let's play some briscola, you want to ?".
We all replied excitedly " Sure...good idea !". And we played the night way.
The weeks and months passed, spring arrived and we started working the fields with Domenico. Domenico said he would miss our help, but not to worry as he said he would hire some local boys in exchange for some crops for the following year. The power of nature was so incessant. A short time ago the cold of winter embodied the countryside. The ground was frozen cold, the trees were barren, it appeared as an unconsciousness of nature. Suddenly Spring rainstorms brought many beautiful flowers and green hills flowing into blue skies. From nothing, life is born, it is the miracle of mother nature. The fortitude of summer quickly embraces the landscape, from wheat fields to thirst quenching thunderstorms bringing the essential bountiful nourishment to life. Only a divine creator could forge such a nature.
August arrived and we decided that we would make the trip to Genoa a little early, this would give us a little time in Genoa so Dario could get settled in at the University and we could spend some time together before the vessel made it's sailing. Carlo could not drive us to Genoa as the family business required his presence, however, he would be able to bring us to the L'Aquila train station. Elisetta prepared a travel trunk which she had from when she was young, she said she would not need it anymore and we should take it with us. She enclosed lots of clothes and blankets and photos of her and Domenico from when they were younger. We were happy to bring them with us along with some photos of us taken around the town in the past few years. There was one of Domenico standing in front of his vineyard holding some grapes in his hand and his lips smiling wide, he looked so very happy there.
The month of August moved quickly as we boys were all getting anxious about the coming change in our lives, George seemed to be more talkative around town , kept telling everyone he was going to America and would become rich. Dario seemed to talk only about soccer all day long, he followed all the game scores in the newspaper every day. As for myself, I was engulfed in my own thoughts, I did not have any specific endeavors... I seemed to think constantly about crossing the Atlantic ocean on a ship. I found it fascinating that one could travel such a long way over water to a land so far away in such a short time. Seemed to me the world was so very enormous and yet so small. I suppose it's all how you look at things.
Morning of Aug 15th we found ourselves at the L'Aquila station, I remember Elisetta giving us all a big hug and Domenico standing with her, they both were teary eyed, and so were we three. Carlo looking sad " I'll miss you guys so much, won't be the same around here". Domenico looked at Carlo " you need to find a girl, svegliati .. " Carlo raised his eyes ...loking at Domenico. Then Domenico " Chi a il pane non ha I denti" ... That was the second time I heard that phrase. Then Domenico turned to us " we won't see each other for a long time boys, Elisetta and I will think of you every day, make sure to write us so we know what you are up to. I am sure we will see each other again one day. We love you all, this blessed family the good Lord provided". then he continued " Ricordatevi sempre ' Il Signore, Vede e Provede '. Capisci ? " with his finger pointed up at us... God Sees and provides... I will never forget it.
It was our first train ride, we quickly got used to the rocking motion and bouncing. The conductor came by " Tickets please " we brought our tickets out and he stamped them " there is a dining car up 3 cars where you can get some snacks and drink, dinner will be served at either 5 or 6: 30 of 8 PM, which do you prefer ? we picked the one in the middle, " 6:30 PM please ". The conductor wrote it down and said, " Welcome aboard boys , I see you are heading to Genoa, we will arrive there tomorrow afternoon as we will be making few stops along the way". then he looked at us " I see you are well behaved gentlemen , if you like, you may attend the lounge cart up front and you can get some cards and play a game or read a magazine if you like. We all smiled excitedly " Thank you Sir ". I looked over to George and Dario " what do you say, shall we play a game of cards ? ". George and Dario agreed and we made our way to the lounge car, it was equipped with tables and chairs and a closet where they kept games and books, and also a magazine rack. The car had only adults and I believe we were the youngest in the car. George grabbed a deck of cards, Dario grabbed a newspaper and we all sat down at one of the tables. Quickly Dario was looking at the sport section, George dealt some cards around. I noticed a coffee pot " Anyone want a cup of coffee ? ". " I would " answered George. Dario didn't look away from the paper so I went and made two cups of coffee. Went back to the table , Dario looked at me " don't I get one ? ". I gave him my cup " well, you should say something, I'm not a mind reader you know". went back and made myself a cup. An old man looked at me as I was walking back to the coffee table " Young man, would you mind bringing me some sugar ? ". I nodded, brought him some sugar on the way back. " That's very kind of you young man, I appreciate it. It's a little difficult for me to walk on the rocking train. Where are you boys headed ? ". " Genoa ". I replied shortly. " Ah, that's also where I am going, I live in Genoa. It's a beautiful city, is it your first time there ?". I opened up a little " Yes, actually my brother Dario is going to attend the University". The man interrupted, " Really, I have been a professor at the University and I have retired few years ago. He is very fortunate to have the ability to attend there, it's and experience he will always remember". " He wants to become a soccer player". I added. " Oh, they have a strong program for Soccer, he is going to the right place. Ask him to come talk to me later, I can give him a few pointers". I walked back to our table with my coffee " George looked at me " who were you talking to ? ". " The gentlemen asked me to get him some sugar ". Dario said " you were talking for a while ". I looked at him " well, actually he is going to Genoa and told me he used to be a professor there, he said you should go talk to him as he can give you some information about the school". Dario's eves opened wide " does he know anything about soccer ? " . I shrugged my shoulders " I don't know , guess you can go ask him ". George and I played cards, Dario continued reading his magazine. The old man walked over to us " Hello young men " , I got up and offered my seat, the old man accepted " Thank you ". He sat down and said " my name is Felice, whom do I have the pleasure of sitting with". I opened " I am Marco, this is George & Dario my two brothers". the old man looked at each of us and then to Dario " Marco told me you are going to attend the University of Genoa, I used to be a professor there, I taught history". Dario said " I am going to be a soccer player ". Felice replied " I'm sure you will be a great addition to the team, and to the University, you will have lot's of opportunities there. Will you be living at the University or staying with relatives ?" . Dario answered, I will be living at the University". " Excellent " replied Felice. He continued " and you two boys, are you only accompanying your brother, or will you stay in Genoa ?". George answered " we are going to take a ship to America " Felice jerked back surprised " America ! ... wow, on your own ? ... I replied, " we have some relatives that will provide us hospice". " That's very nice " Felice answered. " well, they say America is the land of opportunity, especially now that the war was won , I think you both are making a good choice". he continued " in any case, you are all very young, you have everything you need to make a good life. The worst thing one can do in life is not to reach for what you want". We all nodded. Felice continued " while you are in Genoa there are many places to visit, the Palace of Doges, Piazza Matteotti, Piazza Ferrari... and George, you must go visit Palazzo San Giorgio.... and don't forget to visit Corso Italia.. there is a beautiful view there and you can walk and get some fresh air and look at all the girls go by" . We all looked at each other and smiled " We will ! " . Felice stood up " well, I'm sure we will see each other on the train again , if you need anything, don't hesitate to ask me, I will be glad to help you all" . I shook Felice's hand and said " Thank you, Sir ... you are very kind ". and Felice walked out of the lounge car.
The day went quickly, dinner time arrived and we all arrived on time to the dinner car, we showed our tickets and they brought us to our table. This would be our first dinner away from home, we were so used to Elisetta making dinner for us, this was going to take some adjusting. We ordered dinner and a waitress brought us some water , " Thank you " said Dario smiling. She quickly said " Prego " and walked away. Dario looked at us " wow, did you see her ? she is beautiful ." I looked at Dario " you better calm yourself down brother, you're going to wind up married before you are 21" . Dario looked at me " listen brother , I don't know about you , but I'm young and women are attracted to my good looks, I can't help it". I looked at George and we laughed. Dario smirked " ridi, ridi, che mamma ha fatto in gnocchi .. non capite niente" . The waitress came back with our dinners, Dario could not take his eyes off her. She looked at him " is something wrong ? do you need anything else ? " . Dario looked stunned " huh, ..no, sorry. I'm just a little tired". she looked at George and I, rolled her eyes, and walked away". We both chuckled at Dario. Dario grabbed his fork and knife and ate his dinner without any more words.
Following morning we made our way to the lounge car, Felice was there already and waved us over. " Good morning , did you all sleep well last night ? ". Dario replied rubbing his backside " it was a little too bouncy for me " . I interjected " Yes, it was bouncy, but I kind of like the adventure and looked out the window often , so much to take in on a train " . finally George " it was bouncy but it didn't bother me , reminds me of camping outdoors without a tent " . Felice laughed " that's a good one " , continuing " well, I guess I'm used to it as I've been travelling by train a long time now. My daughter Giulia lives in Rome and I often go to visit her. My granddaughter actually attends the University of Genoa ". Dario replied " I have never been to Rome, I've heard it is beautiful". Felice answered him " well, yes, it is. Rome was named perfectly as it is a very Romantic city, full of mystical presence. Every time I go there I can feel the ancient people living and dying on that earth" . With interest I said " I have seen many pictures of the Roman Colosseum, have you seen it ? " . Felice quickly, " why yes, of course...but there is so much more, my personal favorite is the Pantheon. It is very ancient , and so mesmerizing. You really need to go visit one day , when you can". I went to the coffee table and made some coffee , sat down and listened as George was speaking " is it true that the Aqueduct that the ancient Romans built is still functional today ? " . and Felice " Yes , it is true... it's actually quite amazing to see all the things that were built 2000 years ago and still in function" . Felice continued " but now, you two will be going to the New World , you will see many modern buildings and bridges being built, The American cars are a wonder of the world in itself ". George kept talking " I want to open a business and become rich ! " Felice answered, well, you are going to the right place if that is what you want to do George " . Felice looked over to Dario " Dario, where are you and your brothers staying when we arrive ? ". Dario answered " well , we will all stay at the room I will take at the University". Felice replied " I guess that works , if you have any problems, let me know. My granddaughter can help you as she is one of the sponsors for new students. Her name is Isabelle" . We replied, " Thank you ".
Elisetta and Domenico were sitting in the kitchen after lunch . Domenico said " The boys will be arriving to Genoa in few hours ". Elisetta replied " I miss them so much already, it is too quiet around here. Why don't we go to the Ferragosto festival in town tonight" . Domenico thought that was a good idea and agreed. Domenico said " I'm going to walk to town and see what is going on.. do you need anything ?. Elisetta, " no , just come back in time to take me to the festival ". Domenico, " I will dear , I just need to stretch my legs a bit ".
Later in the evening, Elisetta and Domenico were at the festival talking to friends. Elisetta visited a stand where a young woman was selling soaps and trinckets " where are you from " Elisetta asked the young woman. She replied " I am from L'Aquila, my father makes soaps of all kinds and I am here promoting his goods". Elisetta smiling " how nice , and what is your name ? ". I am AnnaMaria smiling ". Elisetta walked back to Domenico " and what are you up to young man ". Domenico replied , " oh, I am looking for my girlfriend ... oh, here you are Elisetta " she laughed at him, Domenico, you wil never change. Where is Carlo, I have something to show him ". Domenico looked around , " last I saw he was in front of the store selling sausages". Elisetta made her way to the store " Carlo, what are you doing...still working ? " .
Carlo frowning " Yes, I am always working , sometimes I am not sure why ". Elisetta smiling " Oh Carlo, you poor boy, take a break and have a little fun...come on... I will speak to Antonio if he says anything. Carlo took off his apron and shrugged his shoulders " you are right, I need a break. " Elisetta smiled " let's go " . They started walking and Carlo quickly commented " there sure are a lot of people this year " Elisetta replied " yes, the town is getting famous ". Carlo looking around " yes, it does seem so , although I think I like it better before". Elisetta took Carlo by the elbow " Carlo, in life, everything changes. You need to adapt to the change and enjoy the challenge " Carlo asked " where are you taking me, we seem to be wandering ". and then his eyes locked on to a young lady. Elisetta smiling " Hello AnnaMaria, are you making any sales with this big crowd ? ". AnnaMaria replied " well , a little , maybe I need to change the display arrangement". Carlo was staring at AnnaMaria in silence. Elisetta looking at Carlo " Carlo, this is AnnaMaria from L'Aquila, why don't you help her arrange these soaps so people will notice them more ". AnnaMaria looked at Carlo " Oh, would you mind, that would be so helpful ". Carlo whispered " hum , well, yes, I think I can try ". AnnaMaria quickly replied " oh, thank you so much , please come here with me so I can show you what I have back here to sell". Elisetta quietly slipped away. Before the night was over, Carlo had all kinds of soaps at his store on display for sale and people were really enjoying the different scents. A lot of sales were being made, and Carlo seemed very cheerful suddenly. At the end of the evening, Elisetta walked over to them with Domenico following " hello kids , looks like you had a good night " said Elisetta. AnnaMaria replied " actually yes, it was much better than I had anticipated , Carlo was so nice to help me and he agreed to sell some of our products in his store ". Domenico looked to Carlo " Bravo Carlo, you are making a good decision. Why don't you accompany AnnaMaria home, it's late at night and a beautiful young woman should not be traveling alone". Carlo looked seriously to Domenico " Yes, you are right Signor Domenico , I will get the truck and drive her to her home". Domenico smiled to Elisetta " well my young lady, may I accompany you home as well ". Elisetta blushed " Andiamo Domenico, show me the way my handsome man". Carlo locked up the store and they were quickly on their way. The festival night closed on a happy note.
C H A P T E R 5
The conductor came around and announced " Genoa Station , we will arrive in 20 minutes " , I looked out the window and could see the beautiful city in the distance. I had never seen a large city like this one, we were high up on a hilltop and I could see the sea behind the city, the Ligurian sea. It seemed so vast, and so blue, it was mesmerizing. I felt another world appeared before me, a mystical world projecting beauty and peacefulness, yet so intense and restless. I could see the blue expanse undulating gently , and then changing form when crashing onto the rocky slopes of it's boundaries. It seemed alive and eternal, I was allured by it's enchantment.
I grabbed my bags and went to the lounge car , Dario was at the coffee bar chatting with the waitress from last night, not sure what he was thinking. I saw George sitting with Felice and walked over to them . Felice looked to me smiling, " Good Morning , you are late !" I smiled back " well, the train rocked me to sleep and I think I kind of enjoy train travel". Felice replied " that is a good thing young man, you are going to cross the Atlantic ocean and I'm sure you will have plenty of rocking on your ship". I sat down, I wondered briefly about how large the Atlantic actually was. Then I said " I was looking at Genoa this morning from the window earlier, what a beautiful city on the sea ". Felice nodded " Yes Marco, it is very beautiful , I have lived here most of my life and I will never leave her". He paused and then continued " it's a beautiful place where the land meets the sea, to me it's a door between two worlds and my imagination". The train slowed down to a crawl, we were pulling into the station. Felice stood up " well fellows, this is it. I suppose you will take the bus to the University now ? ". George and I also stood up " yes, that is the plan". Felice replied " well, it's very easy, and not very far . I will be taking a different bus as I need to go to the other side of town". Remember to ask for Isabelle once you get there if you need assistance, tell her you met me on the train". We all shook hands, I said " it was very nice meeting you Mr. Felice, you are very kind". Felice smiled to us, thank you for the company, your parents should be proud to have raised such gifted and educated young men". George looked to me first, and then replied " Yes, we were very blessed to have wonderful parents". Felice left the car, we walked over to Dario who was still flirting with the coffee bar attendant " Dario, hello ! ... we are in Genoa and it's time to leave the train. Dario gave us a quick look " okay, just a minute " said his goodbye to the girl and followed us off the train.
It was sunny with a chilly wind being it was middle of August, it felt good to be out in the open air. Dario smiling, " she gave me her phone number !". And I replied " and so, what will you do with it Casanova , she probably gave you the wrong number to get you to leave". Dario answered quickly " well, that's for me to know and you to dream about". George pointed to the bus " okay guys, let's stop with this nonsense and get on the bus before it leaves". We hurried over to the bus, asked the driver, "will you take us to Genoa University on this bus". He nodded " yes, please pay the fare and board". We proceeded and sat down. George was reading a magazine he brought off the train " before we leave I want to visit the Palazzo San Giorgio". And then showed us a picture. It was a beautiful medieval building, seemed interesting. Dario looked over smirking " I guess ". George replied quickly " it's a beautiful building ". The bus started to move and the driver announced " we will be traveling to the port industrial zone and then onto Genoa University, we will be at the first stop in few minutes". Within few minutes we could already see the sea at a distance, I was very excited to see it face to face. George pointing to his magazine " we should go see the Porta Soprano and the house where Christopher Columbus grew up". I looked over " well, that does look interesting ". The driver announced " we are pulling into the industrial zone, whomever is getting off the bus, please make sure to take your belongings. Thank you ". Few people stood up and quickly got off, they all worked in the port industrial area, I wondered what their duties were. Did they unload ships, did they sail the seas. Seemed to be an interesting job , vessels from around the world coming and going. The bus started moving again and the driver announced " next stop will be Genoa University, if you look to your left you can see the famous Corso Italia". It looked like a really nice place to take a long walk along the shore. We were all so busy looking in every direction, there was so much to see in this area. I was looking to the sea, and I thought of what Columbus envisioned and his courage to make the voyage over the unchartered ocean. The world became a lot smaller once Columbus found America. Imagine living in a world that you really weren't sure how big or how small it was, or if it was actually round or flat. Columbus opened up a whole new world to be explored, they must have been exciting adventurous times. The driver pointed to the right " if you look to the right, you will see the Palazzo San Giorgio , it was built around 1260 and has its roots from Constantinople. It was used as a prison at one time and is famous for the imprisonment of Marco Polo. He was held prisoner of war there during the war between Venice and Genoa at the time. He wrote his famous book in there "The Travels of Marco Polo" ". I was in awe, my mind invigorated like never before. This city is truly magical, First Columbus, now Marco Polo, this is why I was mesmerized on the train this morning. This city is a crossroads of adventure and inspiration, and here our adventure was about to begin.
We arrived to the University, it was a city unto itself comprised of many buildings. For me, what was fascinating is it's proximity to the port and the beautiful view of the open sea. I could see a light house tower across the harbor, it seemed very tall, I wondered if we could go visit it and go to the top to see the view from there. Dario was looking at the University trying to understand which building we should go to. We all looked at each other. Dario pointed at a courtyard with a gated archway " let's go in there ". So we picked up our things and made our way. Inside was quite majestic, nothing like we've ever seen, so much marble and statues and the highest ceilings I've ever seen with a grand staircase and tremendous windows. This was a royal palace for us. Quietly we made our way to an office, there was a young man behind a desk. Dario asked " hello, I am a new student and I wanted to report myself as having arrived and find my dormitory room" . The young man asked " do you know which faculty you were assigned to ? ". Dario replied " well, I am here to join the soccer team ". The young man " I see. Well ,you are in the wrong building, go to the information center across the way and I think they will help you better". Dario replied " oh, well, sorry to trouble you then , thanks for your help" . Quickly I interjected " he was told to see Isabelle, do you know her ? ". The young man was surprised " you know Isabelle ? , so why didn't you go see her first, she is upstairs" pointing out to the grand hall. "Go up the staircase , it is the second room to your right". Dario looked relieved, we were all a little tired from our trip. We started to walk towards the stairs, then I turned around to the young man " is there a rest room I can use here ? ". The man raised his eyebrows and pointed to a hallway behind a column and so we followed route to the rest room. Once inside Dario asked " was he a little annoyed with us ". I replied , " who knows , let's go see if we can find Felice's grandaughter , hopefully she can help us out". George looked over, " yes, and hopefully we can get something to eat ? ..I'm starved ". We headed for the grand staircase, didn't even look at the fellow in the office. There were two majestic lions at the entrance of the staircase railing. Going up I noticed all the columns, the craftsmen that built this place where in a league of their own. Considering how ancient this building was, these people were truly ahead of their time.
We walked over to the second room on the right, Dario knocked on the door. We heard a sweet voice " come in " Dario walked in first and we followed , at first we didn't see anyone, we looked around , and then the young woman walked in quickly from another attached room . My eyes met with the girl and I was bewildered, I couldn't quite put my finger on it , I felt I knew her . Dario shouted " Isabelle !! " She looked at us, one by one, we stared at each other for few seconds. Isabelle pinched herself on the cheek " am I dreaming ? Dario, Marco, George ! how did you find me ? oh my, you have grown so much ! ". We were all without words. Isabelle spoke " last time we saw each other was " she paused " we were kids , in that awful orphanage ". paused again " you guys disappeared one day, they told us you were captured by the Nazi's and they took you away". Some tears came to her eyes " we all thought you were killed " she cried. Without speaking, we all stood up and made a group hug, we all shed tears of emotion together. Once we got ourselves somewhat under control , I walked over to a couch in the room and sat, George followed, and then Dario. Isabelle sat as well , she put her hands on her lap and looked at us " I still can't believe this is real, you guys grew up so much ". I replied " yes Isabelle, although many years have passed, it's almost as if it were yesterday , only, now we are all grown up" . I paused and then I added " almost as if the lost time did not exist ". Dario, looking at Isabelle " we met your uncle Felice on the train, he told us to ask for you on the train, but we did not know it was you, until now ". Isabelle looking even more confused " you know my Uncle ? you didn't know it was me " pausing " so , why are you here ? ". Dario said, " I will be attending the university " pausing, then proudly " as a soccer player " with a grin. Isabelle replied excitedly " Really ! , that's wonderful ! " then she looked at George and I " you will also be attending the school ? ". And we nodded no. Then George said " we are going to America , I am going to work hard, and become rich ". Isabelle was surprised " America ? , it's so far away , why don't you stay here ?". Then she walked over to the closet and grabbed her coat, " well, I am closing early today, I will tell Daniel to take over for me, we have much to talk about and I have to show you your dormitory room". We grabbed our belongings and walked down the stairs, Isabelle walked over to the young man we first met "Daniel, I am leaving early today, I met some old friends and have a lot to catch up with them, please handle my duties for the remainder of the day". Daniel looked at us, and then nodded " Yes Miss Isabelle, absolutely ".
Isabelle guided us to the dormitory, it was a large complex of several ancient buildings. It looked like they had been built centuries ago on what had been used as docks for the trade ships of those times and situated on a canal which led to the sea. Our room was on the top, or 4th floor, so we carried our bags all the way up. It had been an extraordinarily astonishing day for all of us and we all agreed to get some rest and we would meet up the next day and catch up on our last 6 or 7 years of existence. We said our good night's and shared some hugs. What a wonderful day it had been.
I watched the sunrise following day and we did not waste anytime making our way to the University main building where we had met yesterday. Isabelle said she would meet us outside around 8 in the morning. She would bring us to get breakfast at the cafeteria where she normally went before her duties. As we approached the building, we saw her at the entrance outside of the gated columns. She smiled and waved at us, and we all did the same in return. Isabelle said " did you all sleep well ? ". I replied " I think we were all so tired that we didn't even realize we were at the University of Genoa dormitory". Dario continued " the sound of the waves crashing on the rocks was a little hard to get used to, but I slept well". I looked at him funny " sure beats the sound of the train whistle blowing while bouncing over the rail bumps". Dario smiled. George said " didn't bother me any , I dreamed that I was in America and I owned my own shipyard". We all laughed at that one. Isabelle waved and pointed " well, let's go get some breakfast, I am hungry". George quickly replied " now I'm awake, let's go ".
We walked into the main entrance through the arched gates, Daniel was sitting in his office and Isabelle walked over to him " Daniel, I'm taking my friends to breakfast , please cover my duties while I'm out. I will be gone most of the day ". Daniel stood up " Certainly Miss Isabelle ". and then sat down. She walked away and he turned to us with a frown. I don't think he liked us much. The cafeteria was in another area behind the building, we followed Isabelle and made our way over. I started to notice the scent of some cooking , and it seemed appetizing. Isabelle walked straight to a table and said " we will sit here, you may go over to the buffet table, there is some focaccia and some cheeses and hard boiled eggs, oh, and we also have some really nice cappuccino ". We all went over and filled our plates and cappuccino cup , this was nice ". At the table , Isabelle looked to me and said " so , you have meet my grandpa Felice " . I answered " yes, he is a very nice man, he was so very nice to us on the train ". She answered back , " I was adopted less than a year after " , she paused a moment " after you went missing " . paused again, with a sad face " they told us you were killed " . she took a deep breath , " I was kind of in shock for a long time , you guys were my family there " . I was so fortunate to have been blessed with being adopted , my Mom Giulia , you have not met her. She is so wonderful to me , such a kind heart . I thank God all the time for his blessing " . I replied " well , we also received a blessing , perhaps with a little adventure along with the blessing. We did get captured by Germans. They actually took us onto their truck with prisoners. We were lucky to have found a soldier with a soft heart ". Dario interjected " Perhaps a guilty heart , it was his gun that got us into that mess ". Isabelle took a deep breath " a gun ! .. oh no , where did the gun come from ? ". George answered that one " well, I found it by a bush " pausing " when I went to go pee " . Isabelle with eyes wide open " so you found a soldiers lost gun , and then they went looking for the gun and found you ". we all nodded , " exactly " . She was almost scolding us " you could have been killed , you should never have left the convent, you knew it was dangerous " . I replied " well , I'll take the blame for that one. I guess I owe my friends here a lot . I put us all in danger ". George looked to me " No Marco , it was not your fault. You didn't know I would find a gun in the bush" . Dario continued " and I could have said no , I don't want to go with you to the river . But that day , I agreed to go . And besides , look how it turned out " . Isabelle looked to Dario " so what happened after the soldiers took you away ? " . Dario replied " well, like Marco was saying , they put us on a truck with prisoners , the soldier that had lost the gun was also in the back with us on guard duty ". Then I interjected " his name was Patrick " . Dario said " it was ? " . I replied , " yes , he told me his name before he was going to throw me off the truck , but I just jumped after you guys went over the hill " . George said " you never told us his name ". I replied " Yes, at the time I didn't think of it much , I was more concerned with surviving and everything moved so quickly , it didn't seem important " . Isabelle seemed stunned , then she said " Patrick told you his name because he wanted you to remember him as the one that saved your life " . And I replied " Yes , and I still remember that moment and his face , because I know that now . If he hadn't been in the back of the truck with us , we most likely would not be here speaking with you today ". We all let out a deep breath and sat in silence a minute. Then George started to eat " hey, this focaccia is really good ! ". we all smiled. Isabelle said " yes, try to put some blue cheese on it , and some walnuts. It's really good ". We all listened to her suggestion , and she was absolutely correct , with cappuccino, it all goes down very well.
The next couple of weeks moved very quickly. Isabelle showed us around Genoa, we visited a lot of places, From the home of Columbus and his family, to the prison of Marco Polo, and of course the Corso Italia where everyone goes to enjoy and socialize by the seaside. My personal favorite was the Faro di Genoa, or the Lighthouse of Genoa. It kind of sticks out on the Genoa skyline as it is the tallest structure around. It has a large cross half way up on the outside and has seen a lot of historical events since it was built originally about 1000 years ago. It has been through invasions, rebuilding, imprisonments. I had decided to go to see the top, it was a long way up. What I was most impressed with was a carved, marble stone along the way up, it's been there for centuries, it said in latin "Christus rex venit in pace et Deus Homo factus est. or (Jesus Christ king came in peace, and God became Man). I think it says a lot ".
The view from the top was quite spectacular. One can see the curvature of the earth along the horizon, where the sea meets the sky. The ancient people thought it marked the end of the world , although it turned out it's actually just the beginning. Today we take this knowledge for granted . Lesson for mankind, always question the unknown and never fear it.
C H A P T E R 6
It was September 1st, Isabelle, George and I were at the soccer field watching Dario kick soccer balls and training with some other members of the team. I have to say he was very good at it, he was definitely built to be a soccer player, thin and nimble, and most important, very agile. Isabelle was enjoying looking at the guys play, then she said while watching " Marco, when is the ship coming into port ? ". I turned to her " well, we are supposed to depart Sept 4th, so it should be soon ". Isabelle looked at me " normally they come in a day or two before they leave , what is the name of the vessel ?" I said, " it is the Vulcania " Excitedly she replied " oh, I remember that one, it was here for some time last year and it was being reconditioned, then they travelled to South America I was told. But, you are not going to South America, right ?" . Quickly I replied " No, we are going to New York " She said, "That's funny, I guess they changed the transit route. Imagine how many places that vessel has seen. I was told that it once belonged to an American company and they transported American troops during the war with it". I was surprised " Really ? , that is very interesting". I looked to George " Now we can say we have been on a ship that American soldiers travelled on ". We both smiled, and then I said " Well, I will write a letter to Domenico and Elisetta tonight and mention that to them, I'm sure Domenico will find it interesting". Isabelle replied " I would like to meet your parents one day, they must be very special people ". George replied " Yes, they are. Very much so. I do miss them already". I looked to George, " They are still with you George, we will now travel on an adventure that we will remember and tell stories to our children one day about it. We will see our parents again, sooner than you think". Isabelle replied with a serious look " Marco, your are very mature for your age , you have a lot of insight on life at a very young age ". I replied " I hope that's a good thing ". We all laughed.
I awoke as the sun peeked over the horizon following morning, I walked over to the balcony and looked out to sea , there was a large ship coming into port. She had one large smoke stack and two masts, the waves vanished under her bow as she glided into the harbor. Our ship had come in and I was eager to see her. I quickly got myself dressed , George looked at me " where are you going ? , it's still dark out " . Excitedly I replied, " our ship is coming into port, come and see with me ". George laid back to bed " I will come later when the sun is out and the normal people are looking ". I continued out the door and walked briskly to the harbor. I walked over to the berth and waited , it seemed to take forever, and then suddenly I spotted the ship approaching, I could read Vulcania on the forward side. As she was pulling in I was amazed by the size of this vessel , out at sea it looked a lot different than when you are standing by her side. It was amazing to me that she was made entirely from steel and yet managed to float on water. I counted about 7 or 8 levels, it was like a floating city. As she approached , the dock men came out to portside, the crew threw large ropes over the side and they quickly managed to tie her down. The mooring ropes were very large, it took several men to carry them and hook them onto the mooring cleats. I was observing every step and very absorbed in their procedures. When they were done, the men walked back towards where I was standing. One of them looked at me and said " What are you doing here at this time of the morning young man, if you're looking for a job, go see the dock master back at the terminal office ". I was kind of surprised, then I replied " Oh, well, actually I will be traveling onboard the vessel when it sails". The man replied " Really, you're going to New York , that's a good idea. There will be plenty of jobs available at that side of the pond". and he just kept on walking. The pond he said, he must have crossed it a few times to call it a pond. I didn't know what I would be doing on the other side of this pond, however, since I arrived to this city, I was intrigued by the sea. I wanted to explore the worlds horizons and see the places I could not even imagine while lingering in one place on land.
Later in the evening, we all took a walk to see the ship. We stopped at a bench and sat , Isabelle looked to George " are you all ready George ? ". George replied " yes, I've been dreaming about America a long time now, it's time to go and see for myself. Besides, what else is there to do ". She smiled and looked at me " and you Marco, how are you feeling about it ? ". I thought about it a bit " I have always read and heard from other people about America, Domenico spoke very highly about America and what America has to offer. I am certainly curious to go there, but right now, I think I have more passion for boarding this ship and crossing this vast sea. To think this ship can travel all over the world by floating over water is alluring to me". Dario looked at me puzzled " yes, but you are only traveling a week and then you will be in New York". I replied " yes, well, one step at a time. For the moment, I will experience crossing the sea into another world, a new world". Isabelle replied almost blushing " Marco, you are very romantic ". I replied with surprise " I am ? ". Dario looked at Isabelle " Him ? " pointing at me. I think he was jealous. Needless to say, Isabelle and Dario seemed to be getting along quite nicely, visibly more than friends. We said our goodbye's and promised to write once we arrived to New York. Dario and Isabelle needed to attend class tomorrow morning, so George and I would go to the ship on our own. I asked Dario to write Elisetta and Domenico and let them know everything was well.
Morning of September 4th arrived, George and I arrived with our belongings for loading onto the vessel. We were 3rd class passengers so we were placed on the lower deck, we did have a window in our cabin, although it was indeed quite a small space. The window was not very high off the water, so we could not see much. It didn't bother us, we were happy to be on this beautiful ship., and we would not be spending a lot of time in the cabin. Once we settled in we made our way to the main deck, we observed the large smokestack, it was painted red at the top, a white ring to follow and then a blue ring underneath. It looked quite regal. Suddenly we heard a loud horn, and then a loudspeaker " Good morning ladies and gentlemen , this is Captain Alessandro, welcome aboard the Vulcania. This vessel has recently been reconditioned and I hope you will enjoy her accommodations. The vessel is 633 feet long and weighs 24000 tons, considering these factors, the vessel is capable of a maximum speed of 21 knots. This will be the first voyage of a new service route to New York. We will stop in Naples tomorrow morning to pick up some passengers, and then onward to the strait of Gibraltar were we will stop briefly to let off a few passengers going to Morocco by shuttle boat. After that it is non stop open ocean until New York , you will briefly see some islands soon after Gibraltar, they are the famous canary islands. For the time being, the weather forecast is fair and the winds are in our favor, we should reach New York on schedule September 12th early morning. I wish you all a wonderful voyage. If you have any questions, please ask an attendant for assistance. Thank you". During the announcement we noticed the ship started moving, it was interesting as we could not really here the engines, however we were moving, we could see we were pulling out of the berth. George and I went forward and had a look, we could see small tugboats pulling , pushing and turning us. They must have been pretty powerful ships to move a 24,000 ton vessel I thought. Once we were pointed out toward the harbor exit, I could see the smoke and hear the engines, the tug boats let go of the ropes and slowly followed us out. The wind started blowing a little as we past the lighthouse, I quickly remembered my visit. Quickly we were out in open sea , the waves were a little bigger, however, the ship was quite steady, I had imagined it would rock more than this I thought to myself. It was getting little chilly and George said " why don't we go inside, it's a little too windy here ". I agreed and replied " okay , let's go get some warmer clothes ". On the way to our cabin, we found the 3rd class lounge and we stepped in to look it over ". It seemed nice enough to sit for a while and get some coffee and cake. George walked over to a magazine rack and picked out a magazine, walked back and sat next to me " wow, she is beautiful " he said. I looked over, it was a magazine named movieland with the face of a beautiful movie star. I said to him "who is it ? ". he turned to me and said " her name is Lauren Bacall ". So I got up and walked to the bookshelf while he was admiring his magazine. I looked through a few books and one stood out to me , Robinson Crusoe. It had lots of illustrations of ships and sailor men. I brought it back with me and started reading, from the start I was absorbed.
I found myself contented by the gentle rocking of the ship, it was a gentle movement from forward to aft. Together with my newly found adventure book, I was absorbed in my own new world. George came to me and nudged me on the shoulder " hey , are you still with me ? ... you haven't gotten up in few hours now ". I gazed at him briefly, put my book down " well, I'm enjoying my book ". George pointed to the door " come one, let's go take a walk up on the main deck, I need some air ". At first I hesitated, then " okay, but it will be windy, the sun is coming down now". Excitedly George rebutted " let's go watch the sunset ". It seemed like a good idea, so I replied " that's a good idea George, our first sunset at sea, let's make our way starboard " George looked at me funny as we were walking out " huh , make our way where ? " . I shook my head " never mind George, just follow me ".
Once we made our way out to the main deck, we could see a lot of people around enjoying the sea air. It was not so windy on the starboard side as the winds were blowing out of the east. We found a clear spot where we could see the sun making it's final peek at our section of the world for this day, our first day at sea and the beginning of a new life. As the sun lowered, it's color became more orange and you could feel the warmth of the sun slowly dissipating as well. I noticed it's gleam on the open sea pointing out as if leading a path, a path the ship did not follow. I wondered what may lie in the lighted path. George was holding his arms together " let's go in now, I'm cold ". I agreed and we went inside, it was dinner time.
That night back at the room, I was lying in my bunk, my book in hand. The ship gently rocked me into my comfort zone and I was absorbed with Robinson Crusoe on his island of despair. I tried to imagine what it would be like to find myself alone on a deserted island. I was fascinated at the power of his thinking and finding means to survive and make his life comfortable, although all alone. He was a determined man, ready to face any and all of life's challenges. I decided I wanted to be like him. There was s knock at the door, it was George " hey , what are you up to ? ". With a destitute stare I replied " I was trying to get to sleep ". George replied in spirited fashion " Sleep ? , our first night at sea and you are sleeping ? come on , there is a party going on at the third class lounge ". At first I was hesitant " I don't know George, I was already half asleep , you go on without me, I don't mind". George insisted " come on , there are a lot of interesting people there and we are all heading for the same place, may as well make some friends ". He talked me into it, so I put on some clothes and went with him to third class lounge. It was very crowded compared to what it was like earlier in the day, I guess people all come out at night around here. George walked over to a table with a few people and waved me on, I followed. " This is my brother Marco ". I smiled " nice to meet all of you". One man answered " I am Giulio " , another " I am Pietro , are you two young men traveling alone ?". I replied, " yes, we are going to New York to meet some family members ". Giulio replied " will you stay in New York or will you travel further ?". I thought about it a little " For the moment we will stay in New York, we have our accommodations in place." Giulio smiling " that's good, just thought I would let you know that if you are looking for jobs, there are plenty in Cleveland where we are going, we will be welders for the railroad company". George replied " that sounds kind of dangerous ". Pietro replied " well, you do need to have some skill, or you can blow yourself and your friends up into pieces". We all smiled. George replied " for the time being, we are going to work at the New York harbor terminal, most likely unloading the ships". Giulio replied " that's a good job , you can move on from there quickly ". Pietro interjected " let's go get a snack, I see lot's of goodies there". We all followed and enjoyed the feast. There was American music playing and people were sharing some of their home made wine they brought with them. I thought to myself that Domenico would have liked to try some and I wondered how he an Elisetta were back home. I had not seen them in quite a while now. I thought I should write them a letter during the trip so I can mail it off as soon as we arrive to New York. I felt a little guilty not missing being back home, everyday was like a new adventure since we left and I was enjoying it. I was finally seeing that the world has lot's to offer, and I was eager to see more.
I slept soundly that night until the sunlight peered through our porthole window and I noticed the ship was not rocking, I got up and looked outside and noticed we already had docked. George had already left and I wondered how long I was sleeping. I quickly put myself together and made my way out, I stopped at the third class lounge, I noticed Giulio was there. I went over to him " Good morning , have you seen George ?". He replied " Good morning, yes, I did , he had breakfast earlier and said he was going up to main deck. We are at Naples !". I replied " Yes, I see that, I slept all throughout the docking". Giulio pointed to the food table " well, go get some breakfast before they take it away ". I went over and grabbed couple eggs and potatoes. Giulio was reading a newspaper, I went back over and sat down with him. Giulio asked " How do you like travel by vessel ?". With my fork and knife in hand " well, yesterday was my first day, and I have to say I really like it". Giulio looked at me with a dubious look " well, this is my fourth crossing. When the weather is nice like this, yes, it is nice. However, if you find a storm squall, things can change rapidly. One time, we found 25 foot waves. Believe me, the ship was rocking, some people can handle it, and some cannot". I looked at him, took in a mouthful and thought about that a bit. It didn't seem to scare me , this ship was so big and strong, I don't think some 25 foot wave could do much to it. Giulio continued " well, we are in early September, we still have time before the rough weather season arrives". I finished my breakfast " I actually have been thinking of enrolling as a ship worker, I like the idea of traveling to different places around the world". Giulio smiled " you are an adventurer ! , good for you, you should have your adventures now that you are young, once you are older, we all settle down into the same situation". I asked him " are you married ?". He answered with a disenchanted face , looking into my eyes " Am I man ? are men all fools ? ...Yes, I am married. I took a wife, I brought forth children and bought us all a home. The whole calamity ! ". I looked at him and could not come up with anything to reply. He continued " This is why I am going to Cleveland , I have come back and forth to America, this is my fourth trip, each time I go home, I ask my wife to come to America with me. She always refuses". Then I replied " That must be difficult to be away from your family". He looked at me with stern eyes " Listen to me, marriage, you won't understand until it's too late. Make sure you pick the right woman. One that understands you and thinks like you, and respects you.". I looked at him and pretended to comprehend, although I really was not even thinking about marriage. Otherwise, I would have stayed back in L'Aquila and settled down selling produce or something. I felt a yearning to seek out and find what was missing in my life, I don't know what it was I was seeking, but I knew it was not back in L'Aquila. So I changed the subject " have you ever been to Naples ?". Quickly he replied " Yes , it's very beautiful. Well, we are here today, you should go outside and have a look around. You won't see too much around here, but there are many beautiful old buildings and castles and churches, this is an ancient city with lot's of history." I replied " Yes, it does look very interesting from here , I will come back one day. I intend to work for a shipping company and would like to travel aboard cargo ships and visit ports around the world." It was the first time I said that to anyone , I was thinking of it to myself since I had arrived to Genoa, and the idea seems to agree with my soul".
The ships horn blew , I got up and walked to the window , I could see we were starting off as the ship guided off the berth. I waved off to Giulio and made my way to main deck. There were lot's of people looking over the railing and waving at onlookers on shore. People always seem to be warm and emotional when a ship leaves port , it's both a good feeling , and sometimes sad at the same time. I was at sea only a short time and already I sense that once you are at sea, you seem to be in a world all it's own. A place where one can lose their burden and enjoy the moment one creates. We drifted away from Naples, and I knew I would not see her again for long time , I waved and smiled. I felt a tap on my shoulder " what are you waving at ?". said George. I smiled at him " well, as far as I know it's Naples. Thought I'd wave, it's only the polite thing to do when one leaves a friend". George looked at me with his eyebrows raised " Okay. What do you say we go and play some checkers ?". I looked at George with my eyebrows raised this time " checkers ? , since when do you play checkers ?". he replied, " since this morning , they have some checkerboard games at the lounge, I made couple friends there. Come on". He waved me on and we went. I never really played checkers in my life but I knew the basics. George beat me three times in a row and I gave my seat to another victim. Wasn't sure where George learned his checker skills , but he definitely had a good technique. The new contender asked George if he was willing to place a bet and offered to play for 25 cents. They both placed the 25 cents on the table and played the game. This guy was better than I was and was giving George a good contest. I was learning more of the game as I watched them. You definitely need to pay attention tavern move and what possibilities it opens up. In the end George won and claimed the winnings. The young man smirked " where did you learn to play so well ?" he asked to George. George hesitated a moment " well, actually I never played the game before today". The young man replied " that's impossible ", then he placed his hand in his pocket " I want to play you again for a chance to get my money back , he is 50 cents". Somehow I was not liking this picture , this guy was few years older than us and somehow I was feeling a scam. I spoke out to George " George, we are late for our appointment". The young man blurted " Appointment ? what appointment... we are on a ship. There are no appointments here. You need to be fair and give me a chance, it's the rules". George nodded yes and put his 50 cents back in the pot. A few new people started walking over to watch, one of them was Giulio. Then Giulio tapped my shoulder and pulled my aside whispering in my ear " come outside with me ". So I followed out of the room. Whispering he said to me " you need to tell your brother to stop the game when he is done". I asked "why ?". He replied " that guy is an excellent checker player, he is playing your brother like a piano, he will let him win again this time, and maybe the next... but eventually he will take the pot and maybe all your money". I frowned. "I had a feeling that was happening". I said. So we went back in and sure enough, George shouted " Check Mate !". So I quickly said to George " Okay George, it's time to go, the captain is waiting for us ". George looked at me puzzled " huh ?". The young man stood up " oh no you don't , you are not leaving this room without one more game ". So I grabbed George by the wrist and I pulled him with me, the young man grabbed George and a scuffle broke out. There was some shoving , Giulio grabbed a chair and so did the young man, next thing you know there was some broken furniture and a few bruises. Some of the ship staff came in quickly and broke it up. We were all brought to the security room. Each one of us was questioned individually and we each explain our version, then we waited. Finally a ship officer came in and asked to see me first, I followed him to another room. He told me to sit down and then asked " are you the bother of George ?". I replied " Yes ". Do you know the young man he was gambling with ?". I replied "No." Waving his finger at me he said " You should know better than to get involved in gambling practices abroad a passenger vessel ". I replied " it started as an innocent game, first George and I were playing and he beat me several times, then this person asked to take my place , we did not intend to play for money". The officer looked at me " I believe you , I can see you and your brother are not trouble makers. But now you have a problem". With a worried look I said to him " what ?". You are on board a ship for the next week with a trouble maker that has a sour taste in his mouth as he was not able to scam you and your brother". pausing " he will seek revenge. I'm not sure what to do with you and your brother, I know these types and there is no predicting how he will react". Then he continued " I will need to speak with the captain, for now I suggest you and your brother go to your cabin and stay there until I call for you". I agreed and the officer asked me to follow him, he opened the door and George was standing there with another officer and we were told to be quiet as they escorted us to our cabin. Once at the room, George opened up first " what did they tell you ?". I replied" well, they said they know we are not the trouble makers, but I think they feel we are in danger from the other guy as he may seek revenge ". At first George looked worried , then he said " I'm not afraid of that guy, he's not so big". I replied " George, we need to be careful and listen to the officers, we don't need to get a record before we even make it to New York". He looked at my eyes " hmmph ... I guess you are right. But I won him fair and square".
C H A P T E R 7
Knock, knock . Someone was at the door , I walked over and opened the door, it was two officers, one was the man that escorted George earlier, the other I had not met before. He walked into the room and told the other officer to wait at the door. I noticed that this officer was wearing a different hat. Before I could think, he said " I am Captain Alessandro ". My eyes opened wide. He continued " My first mate informed me of the trouble you two were involved in. I don't like these instances on my ship as I am responsible for the safety of everyone aboard and I am aware of the possibilities when such troubles arise. If I leave you here in 3rd class, you will be subject to vindication by your recent acquantance , and then if you should get hurt, I am responsible and would have all kinds of paperwork and hearings to attend making my already demanding schedule overbearing". Neither one of us said a word. The Captain continued, " do you have anything at all to say ?". I did not really know what to say , then politely " perhaps we can apologize to the young man " the Captain interjected " Apologize ! , you don't even know his name ?". I replied " actually, no, I do not" and then George "neither do I ". The Captain placed his hand on his chin " I see ". then continued " I see only one solution here, you will leave this cabin and come join the working crew in first class. You will need to perform duties like cleaning dishes and perform room services and whatever they find suitable for you". He then took his hand off his chin looking directly at us " Agreed ?". George and I were stunned, but at the same time I was kind of liking this idea. I said " Agreed !". thereafter, so did George.
We gathered our belongings as the officer waited for us outside, the Captain had left already giving orders for us to check in with him tomorrow morning as we would be assigned for duties on a daily basis. The officer escorted us into the First class area, which was adorned with all kinds of artwork and tapestries, decorative columns and majestic stairways. Quite a different ship on this side , people were all nicely dressed, some walking casually, some sitting and being waited upon. We quickly made our way into a hidden doorway where only the staff where allowed and we quietly exited the area reserved for the elites. Once in the staff area, it felt a little more like where we came from, except cleaner. I could see that this ship was constantly being maintained, painted and cleaned spotless. We were assigned to a small cabin with 2 bunks, the officer said dinner would be at 6 O'clock at the staff lounge and we were to report to the captain at 6:30 AM for our assignment the following morning. Further, we were only allowed in the Staff designated zones and not to venture anywhere near to the third class section for the remainder of the journey. We agreed and understood. After all the adventure we had transpired for the day , we decided to stay in the cabin and then take dinner back to our cabin when the time came. I continued with my Robinson Crusoe.
Following morning our alarm clock rang at 5:30 AM , we were ready for the day as we had been cooped up in this cabin for what seemed a long time. Washed and dressed in a staff uniform we made our way up to the Captains office. We knocked and we heard " enter ". The Captain was at his desk with a cup of coffee and some large maps on his desk. He seemed to have a lot on his mind and at first did not pay attention to us walking in. Then he looked to us " Good morning young men". " Good Morning" we replied. The Captain continued " I'm happy to see you are punctual , I dislike when people don't follow instructions and waste my time. Tine is a gift and one should not waste it". We nodded " Yes, Sir ". The Captain looked at me " You are Marco " and then George " and you are George , correct ". We both said " Yes Sir " and I added " correct ". The Captain sat with one leg on his desk and folded his arms together " well, it seems you ran into a little bad luck yesterday, I can see you are not troublemakers. But sometimes bad luck can bring good things. I've looked up your documents and the manifest shows you are traveling to New York for work. Well, this is a good way to start your training". Excitedly I replied " really !". " Yes " said the Captain, then he paused and continued " you seem to like the idea Marco... and what about you George " George replied " Oh yes Sir, I did not mean to cause any trouble yesterday, I was just trying to play some checkers". The Captain replied " Yes, I am aware of this". Then he continued " How would you two like to come up with me to the bridge and see how we operate this vessel ?." We both replied excitedly " Yes Sir, absolutely Sir". The Captain stood up, walked over to his closet and put on his jacket " Follow me mates, we are heading to the bridge".
The Captain walked briskly and we had to struggle a bit to keep up with his pace, we followed up a few flights of stairs and everyone we encountered saluted the captain with a Good Morning Captain. Once we made it to the bridge, the Captain introduced us as his guests and asked one of the officers to show us around the room. I was fascinated by the big open view of the sea and all the systems and controls. One of the officers announced " Captain, we are on schedule and on present course will arrive to Gibraltar at 10:18 hours". The captain replied " very well Officer Phillips, stay on course ". Then the captain turned to the intercom and sent a call to the radio room " Officer Jansen , initiate a message to Gibraltar harbor master that we will arrive this morning at 10:18 hours and to have the tender vessel ready for us when we arrive. We have twenty eight passengers that will disembark via the portside aft doorway at level 2 ". Then the captain turned to the First Officer " Scott, what weather forecast do we have ahead ". Officer Scott looking at his weather chart replied " we have strong headwinds past the Canaries, I suggest charting on a northern course". Captain replied " request granted, chart a course for northern crossing ". The captain now turned to us " have you enjoyed your tour of the bridge ?". we both replied " Yes , Sir. Thank you". The captain replied " any questions ?". I thought a little, then I said " I would like to learn how I can work on your ship Sir ". The captain chuckled and smiled " already you've made up your mind to work on a ship ? ". he continued " well, you must really like being at sea and obeying orders ". I replied " I don't mind orders Sir ". The Captain walked over to a ledger and ran his finger to a point " okay, I have a position for your duty today, motorman assistant !". I didn't know what I was getting in to but I agreed. George wound up as assistant in the kitchen, he didn't seem to mind. My first duty was to carry some mechanical room supplies from the storage room to the engine compartment. It was interesting seeing all the equipment and I even got a close look at the engine shaft as it cranked the propeller up and down. I could only imagine the amount of force it required to turn that propeller and move this massive vessel. I was truly fascinated. Then my crew boss called me " better come back up here Marco, we are at Gibraltar and we are shifting propellers off. We will need your help assisting passengers onto the tender vessel. Quickly I climbed up the ladder off the engine compartment and followed the crew members to the portside aft door on level 2. The door was open already and I could see the water not very far from the door level. The tender vessel was maneuvering it's way to the door entrance against the current and a crew member was standing at the doorway holding a rope. As the vessel got closer, he threw the rope to the tender vessel cree and they tied it to their cleat. Both crews worked swiftly to secure the tender vessel to Vulcania's side and we then placed a gangway in between the vessels. Then they asked me to go open the door to the passenger entrance and let the transfer passengers in. Customs checked their documents one by one and asked a couple passengers to open their bags. As they were released they were sent to the gangway. The tender vessel was bobbing up and down a bit and the gangway moved along with the movement of the vessels. We were asked to assist the passengers to disembark at the point when the two vessels were most even and could make a safe transfer. At first I was a bit nervous about it, but once I saw there was a rhythm to the movement, it became a matter of taking the passengers hand and pulling them through on the bounce back up. It worked out well, and I was beginning to feel like a seaman.
The shift ended at 5 o'clock and I went back to the cabin and found George. He was laying on the bunk with his hands behind his head and I asked " how was your day George ?". He replied " well, I spent most of the day cleaning dishes and floors, but all in all, it was a good day". I smiled " sounds like work". George continued " it's a good thing Domenico trained us well. This work was easy compared to farming and clearing fields". We both chuckled. Then I said " I was assisting with unloading passengers at Gibraltar, it was interesting". George opened his eyes " wow, that must have been exciting. Did you get to see the rock of Gibraltar ?". I replied " No, we were on the other side of the ship". George replied " I got to see it as I was carrying trays from the dining room, it is a big rock. You can see 2 countries, Spain on one side and Morocco on the other". " Seems pretty interesting , I wish I had seen it, it is the doorway to the Atlantic ocean". George continued " I met some guys of the crew , they were pretty nice. They said that Captain Alessandro made the right decision in bringing us up front , in the past there were similar situations where the trouble escalated and then the police got involved at destination. I nodded my head " well , we certainly don't need that. I'm glad to perform some chores and learn a few things. I wonder what duty we will have tomorrow ?". George got up off the bunk " I don't know, but what do you say we go over to the crews lounge and see what is going on". I agreed and we made our way there. We met a crew member that George worked with today, his name was Nazzareno. He wore a key around his neck and I wondered what it was for. " Hi George " said Nazzareno. George replied " Hi Nazzareno, this is my brother Marco". We shook hands. Nazzareno said with a smile " I heard how you guys wound up as part of the crew". I also smiled " Yes, well, I always wanted to learn how a ships crew functions, so I guess this is one way to do it". Nazzareno chuckled " Yes, become part of the crew !". And then I asked " what other duties have you performed on board ". He answered " well, this is my first voyage on this vessel, although I have been on many others. On my last tour I was at sea for 9 months, then I stayed in Genoa for a month and now I am on Vulcania". "Interesting" I replied. And he continued " I have done all kinds of maintenance and even worked as a table server". " What is your favorite duty " I asked. He thought about it a bit, and then said " I like to paint and be outside on a sunny day. You kind of get into your own thoughts and enjoy the quiet time by the sea". I replied " hmm, I can see that being enjoyable". Nazzareno continued "well, I am on duty for painting tomorrow, if you like I can request to have you join as my assistant". With surprise I answered " Really !, that would be great, yes, I would like to join you if you can arrange that". Nazzareno replied " wonderful, I will ask the crew master when he comes in for dinner". And then he asked George " and what about you George ?". George thought about it, and said " hmm, I think I will stay in the kitchen if the captain allows, I kind of like being around food". We all laughed.
I made my way to the crews lounge following morning watching the sunrise starboard aft, it was quite mesmerizing watching the sea turn orange as the sun made it's first glimpse. Nazzareno, George and I were with our morning coffee in hand. Nazzareno opened " So, you guys ready for the day ?". I replied " well, am getting there with the help of my coffee ". George raised his cup " Cheers !". We all laughed. Nazarene continued " what duty will you have today George ?." George replied " I am going to have the same duty as yesterday, I kind of like the kitchen". Nazzareno replied " Good , it's important to enjoy what you do ". The crew master came over " hey guys, better go have your breakfast, your shift starts in about 10 minutes". We all got up and followed him to the breakfast table. The crew master continued " We will be passing the canaries today, it will be calm and sunny. However, most likely the head winds will pick up tonight as we go into open ocean, may get eight to ten footers. Ship may be rocking a bit tonight". Nazzareno replied " Good, this way I will sleep as a baby". We all chuckled.
It was a great day for painting, sunny and dry , in the open air the paint was drying almost as soon as I brushed it on. We were in charge of the forward portside railing, Nazzareno placed me on one section as he handled another. I was careful not to spill paint as there were guests walking by , I noticed one young family with two young children. The mom was holding hands with her young son and the dad doing the same with their daughter. They all seemed to be happy and enjoying the view of the ocean. With the sound of the wind blowing, I did my job almost without thinking. I was lost in my thoughts as the day progressed and I started to drift back to the days of the orphanage. I remember nothing of my parents, so at the time I thought of Sister Mona and Father Buckius as being my parents, as they were in charge of me. But there was no love. I remember wanting to escape from that orphanage, not knowing where I could go, I just wanted to get out and find, I didn't know what. But I knew something was missing. It was a time in my life where I became aware, somehow I knew being a child was not supposed to be this way, and I wanted to escape. So , I talked my brothers into escaping with me that day, and actually, I had no intention of returning. Somehow God was watching over us and crossed our paths with a kind man as Domenico. He and Elisetta were the first glimpse of caring adults we had ever known. And then I thought back to how empty my heart was when I was a child, never having a mother to hold me or a father to provide my security. I had to go out and find my own strength and stand on my own, and learn how to be an adult. It made me a strong person , but left a hole in my heart.
C H A P T E R 8
Crossing the Atlantic was now becoming reality and it was all that I had imagined and more. I was now experiencing being part of the crew. Nazzareno and I painted during the entire voyage and George learned a lot of kitchen skills as well as being assistant waiter. During the voyage we did experience couple days of of big swells, Captain Alessandro said they were 10 to 12 feet and the ship did bob up and down front to back quite intensively. Some of the passengers became seasick and remained in their rooms. As for myself, I was captivated by the power of the ocean , the force of its waves and the scent of its mist in the air, all of this force arising in short time without notice. I was convinced the ocean was alive and had a mind of its own.
It was now our last night on the ship and the crew was having a party in the crew lounge. Captain Alessandro came in to thank all of us for doing a great job during this maiden voyage for this new transatlantic route for the Vulcania. He opened “ my friends and crew of Vulcania , thank you for making this maiden voyage to New York possible for Vulcania and allowing our passengers to have a safe voyage. It is the Captains responsibility to accomplish his duty to his ship and passengers, and only his crew can make it happen. So without all of you, this would not be possible. Thank you and God bless you”. Then he turned to the first officer and asked him to take over. The first officer announced that there was a buffet table and we should all serve ourselves and enjoy the party. And so we did.
I sat next to Nazzareno, George was sitting with another crew member he met on his shift. Nazzareno looked to me “ So Marco , how does it feel to have crossed the Atlantic ?”. I looked to him and thought a bit “ well, actually we have not quite made it to the other side. When I see the Statue of Liberty , then I will let you know”. Nazzareno leaned back “ Yes Marco, you are correct. Lady Liberty is very special. She stands boldly guarding the gates of the land of Liberty, and at the same time she is welcoming newcomers with a guiding light. When I saw her the first time, I knew I was arriving in a special land. America is a land that protects a person’s freedom to live their life according their own choices. And with the gift of freedom, bringing out the very best in people. America is a blessing by God. It is a country where you can become who you want to be of your own will according your God given gifts”. Listening to Nazzareno reminded me of Domenico, he also told me similar ideas. I found it interesting, but I don’t think I understood fully. Then I looked at his key around his neck that I carried all the time, and I asked “ Nazzareno, I noticed that you wear that key around your neck all the time , what is it ?”. Nazzareno touched the key with his hand “ well , I have done a lot of travelling since I became a seaman, I’ve seen many ports around the world, from South America to Africa, Asia and even Australia. At first, I felt alone and so I spent my free time listening to others and entertaining myself by meeting new people at all the ports and observing different cultures and their unique creations. I made friends and I became close with some, I learned quickly that we all have to follow our destinies and that unfortunately, friends often come and go. I realized the only thing that really belongs to a person are the memories they create, so I decided to write. Everyday I try to write what I encountered that day, or sometimes I will write a poem. I do it mainly for my own satisfaction, I often go back and read something from the past and enjoy it as it will help me get through a tough time. Anyway , the key is for the box of poems I keep, they are my prized possession so I carry the key with me to remind me of who I am and that I have the key to my thoughts”. I listened very attentively as I found that concept enchanting. Then I asked “ may I read one of your poems ? “. Nazzareno chuckled “ I am flattered that you would want to read my poem. Normally I don’t tell people that I like to write, as I said, it’s all personal thoughts. But for you Marco, I feel comfortable enough. Sometimes you may need to read them few times before you feel what it means to you. I try to write my poems so they mean different things to different people. As we all perceive things differently. He stood up suddenly and said " Let’s go back to the cabin”.
Back at Nazzareno’s quarters, he walked over to his closet and pulled out a metal box, placed it on the table. It was green and big enough to hold several notebooks. He pulled his key off his neck and opened the box. He took out a few books and then one marked Poem’s, removed one of them and then put everything back in the box. He handed it to me and said, “ here, this was one of my first poems. Take it back to your room and read it , let me know what you think in the morning if you like”. I put it in a folder he had on the side table and said “ Thank You Nazzareno, I will return it to you in the morning “. I said goodnight and returned to my cabin. George had not yet returned, so I sat down and pulled out the paper.
Passing clouds left behind,
new horizons soon to be.
Sounds of crashing sea ,
bring my soul to me.
Every course will be churned away,
lest clouds behind choose my way.
Love in my heart guides my passage,
strength of my soul conquering challenge.
Clear sky with bright sea lie starboard,
rain squalls chasing aft.
Force of my soul thrust me away,
sound of calm seas carry me today.
I found this poem inspiring, providing me with both a sense of inner peace and at the same time proving strength to endure life's challenges. I liked it. I could see how being out at sea could inspire one to write, and I thought that perhaps I could give it a try as well one day. I placed the poem back in the folder and fell on my bed, it was a long day and I was duly tired. In my last conscious thoughts of the day, I was envisioning the Statue of Liberty. I had never seen her except for in magazine pictures, to me she symbolized strength and freedom. Thinking further, she is welcoming newcomers and at the same time holding a book. So she is there to teach as well as protect. What a beautiful symbol I thought. It reminded me of what it must be like to have a mother as a child, which I never had. I was now ready to see Lady Liberty and receive her welcome in my heart.
I woke early following morning, went to the crew lounge and was told we would arrive to New York around 1 o'clock. It was quite exciting to finally be arriving. I went back to the cabin and found George packing his things. He looked at me " well, are you packed ?". I looked at him " Yes, pretty much ". Then George replied " I hope we find uncle Luigi at the terminal ". I replied " I'm pretty sure he will be there, otherwise, we can always ask Nazzareno to help us find a place". George shrugged his shoulders " hmm, I guess that is an option too". then he continued to pack and said " But I really want to get the job uncle Luigi had wrote about. I think I am done with this ship for now". I replied " I kind of liked it George, actually, I think I want to get a job with a vessel operator and apply to be a crew member". George looked at me seriously " come on Marco , we are just getting here now... give it a chance ". I replied " It's not that I don't want to stay here in New York, I just like the idea of traveling the seas and seeing the world. America I am sure is great and like uncle Domenico said, America is here to keep the world a safe place. But I want to see what else is out there too". George looked to me seriously " You are leaving me here ! , I can't believe you". I looked at George " Don't worry , you will be fine. First let's meet Luigi and then we will see. I didn't even get the job yet. You will be fine, relax".
After lunch, we noticed a heavy mist in the air. There were a lot of gulls approaching the ship and flying all around, sometimes diving for food. I guess we found new friends and they were welcoming us to their land. The horn blew, folks started making their way to top deck. The mist was quite heavy and we could not see very far. Suddenly, I could see a tall shadow appear over the sea, and then I saw her face and crown, and then the torch. Just like I envisioned her, holding her book on one arm representing education and discipline. And the torch raised high in the other to show us the path. Uncle Domenico was right, this was truly a special land, and I could see now it was blessed by God. America's ambassador Lady Liberty greeted us simultaneously expressing her duty to protect the life of God's creation in the way the Lord intends. An enlightenment to the world.
New York harbor appeared soon after our reception by Lady Liberty , I was in awe of the skyline. This was almost a dream , I had never seen buildings so tall nor ever dreamed of them. It was like stepping into the future. The harbor had so many enormous berths with all kinds of machinery to handle the cargo ships. I believe that day I was in a trance absorbing my new surroundings. It felt like I had lived a fantasy up until this moment and have only now awoken to the world , the New World. It was clear that the world I had lived in was ancient and that a new world was born on this opposite side of the ocean. How was it able to grow to these enormous proportions I wondered. Everything was big and modern here.
The tug boats pushed us into our berth, George and I stared at the docking operation. It was fascinating to see the coordinated work being performed. The crew made it look easy, however, I was sure it took them a lot of practice to make it happen safely. George put his arm around my shoulder with a big smile on his face " We are here Marco , New York ! ". I looked at him in silence with a smile. George said " well, don't you have anything to say ?". I grabbed the railing and leaned myself back, shook my head back and forth and took a deep breath , then let it out " It's hard to explain George, I have so many emotions going on in my head. This city is more than I had ever imagined, I almost feel I am born again ". George looked out and up and all around " Yes Marco, I have to admit I am also very excited. This is my new home and I am going to work hard and follow my dreams and pledge my life to America. The first thing I am going to do is apply to become a citizen. Then I will work and go to school and learn a trade and eventually have my own business and be my own boss. I looked at him, and then I looked out to the city and all it's energy, and then I looked back " looks like you are in the right place for that George, I'm sure you will reach your goal, no doubt".
We heard a ships horn , it was not Vulcania's. We looked out to the harbor and another ship was approaching , this one was a cargo ship.
There was so much happening here, so much energy being emitted. Suddenly I felt the need to get off the ship and go experience the city, I looked to George " come on , let's go find Luigi ". We bolted off to get our things and make our way off the ship. We met the captain in the crew area , he walked over to us " Hello young men ". We replied " Hello Captain ". He continued " what do you think of the city ?". We both replied " Amazing Sir ". He chuckled " Yes, it is. Even for me after being here many, many times". He put his hand on my shoulder , " Since you guys became part of the crew during this voyage, I have a courtesy suggestion for you, meet me at the crew gangway portside aft and we will get you off the ship without thorough Customs exam, okay ?". We both looked at each other , and then turned to the captain with a salute " Thank you Sir !".
We met Nazzareno at the crew gangway, he looked to us and waved us to come over " You guys got smart, yes, this is the faster way off the ship. Otherwise the clearance process can take a lot of time. So, you are going to meet your uncle now ?". I replied " yes, he is coming from Baltimore to meet us". He then opened his bag and took out an envelope " Marco, I want you to have this poem, the one I gave you to read. So you remember me". I was taken by surprise " Nazzareno, that is so nice of you. I'm sorry, I do not have a gift for you, I was not prepared". He smiled " That's okay Marco, for me , the experience we shared is what counts, and I won't forget. It was very nice sailing with you guys. I hope you both find your dreams and they are a happy place". We both replied " Thank you". Then I noticed Captain Alessandro arriving , he waved us to come over. He handed us a paper " Guys, once they open the door , you will get online to meet the Customs officer, he will ask you for your documents. Hand him this paper together with your passport documents, he will give you his blessing quickly. Marco, remember, if you wish to become a crew member you should contact the New York office of Zim Lines. They are a new company and growing very quickly. You can work your way up the ladder quickly there and they will treat you well. I have a friend there , his name is Sidney and he can get you a job quickly, mention my name". The captain shook my hand and I graciously thanked him. George thanked him as well and we both parted from the Captain with a salute.
We found ourselves in a grand terminal station , the crowds of people was a little overwhelming. There were all kinds of lines for Customs and baggage and transportation. As the Captain mentioned, we would be cleared quickly, and looking at this chaos, I was very grateful. George asked me " Do you see any sign of Luigi ?". I replied " well, I really don't know what he looks like, so that will be difficult". George looked at me " He must be holding a sign or something with our names ". I looked around and then I said " Let's try and find a clear spot where we can actually be seen ". So I saw a staircase next to an information desk and decided to go there. I asked the girl behind the desk " we are trying to find a Mr. Luigi from Baltimore ". She replied " what does he look like ?". I looked with a confused face " Actually, I don't know". She smirked " Then how do you intend to find him ?". Then I turned to George " Do you see anything ?". George looking into the crowd " Nope ". Then I told George to stay there next to the information desk and I would go up the stairs to have a look. At the top of the stairs I looked around and saw hundreds of people going in all directions. With this scenario it will be difficult to find each other, so I thought, where would I go if I was looking for someone that just came off the Vulcania ? Ah ! the baggage claim. So I ran downstairs and quickly went to the information desk. Asked the same girl " where is the baggage claim for Vulcania ?". She replied " let me see your baggage tickets ". I replied " we don't have any ". Then you cannot go in the baggage area, not allowed, sorry". Frustrated I replied " So how do we meet our uncle ?". She just shrugged her shoulders. George tapped me on the shoulder and we walked away. He said " I have an idea, why don't we go to the main entrance to this place , maybe he is waiting there". I agreed. We walked and followed signs for exit to street, through a large tunnel and then more crowds. Finally I could see some large doorway openings to the street. First thing I noticed were the large luxurious automobiles. Once outside there were automobiles everywhere, horns were honking, engines were humming. The amount of steel used in construction here was extraordinary. I could see now how America won the war, there was nothing like this in Europe. There was a man with a black coat and hat standing in the corner next to a paper stand holding a piece of paperboard, we walked over to read and it said " I am Luigi from Baltimore ". We cheered " Luigi ! " he smiled and cheered " Are you George and Marco ?". "Yes" we replied. He gave us both a big hug " I was getting a little worried, I thought maybe you had some problems with Customs so I had gone to look for you at the office, but they said you were cleared already with the crew, I didn't know what to think". I kind of rolled my eyes and said " it's kind of a long story, ahem, the Captain of the vessel took a liking to us and we ". Luigi interrupted " The Captain ! , he took a liking to you ?". George abruptly " I will tell the story Marco , well , the first night of the sailing Marco and I went to the lounge and started playing checkers. One fellow talked me into betting with him against our checker game". Luigi sighed " Ahh, I think I can see where this is going, okay fellas, well, the main thing is you made it to New York. Let's get the bags and head to my car. It's kind of hectic around here and we can talk better once we can relax somewhere". We picked up our bags and started to follow Luigi , there were people walking around everywhere, Luigi walked quickly and it was kind of difficult to keep up. I could see that in New York you need to move quickly, otherwise you will become an object that gets in the way of the current of people making their way. Luigi pointed his finger ahead " We are almost there , I'm parked at then end of this street. We arrived and he opened the trunk " put your bags in guys, yo should have plenty of room ". I was in awe of this automobile , it was huge and built solid. I walked all around it looking at the beauty of the shape and color of this blue automobile. I asked Luigi " What kind of car is this ?". He grinned " This my friend is a 1941 Packard 120 ". Pausing, he looked to the car, " beautiful machine ". George and I both agreed. Luigi opened the passenger door " come one , let's get in, I'm going to bring you to my business manager's home here in Brooklyn, his name is William". We got in the car and Luigi started the engine , it was an experience riding in that car looking at the streets of New York. I had seen it in magazines, however, pictures could not explain what I was taking in on this first drive around New York. Luigi drove confidently, we came to a tremendous bridge. He pointed " Here we are to the Brooklyn Bridge ". I had never seen anything like it. Everything seemed so big here in America. I looked to the arches of the bridge as we drove under them, I wondered how people managed to build things so high off the ground. Luigi continued " I will stay here in New York for few days, after that I will need to return to Baltimore. William has a room where you can stay until you are settled in your jobs. William can drive you to work as you will be working with him at the warehouse cargo terminal in Brooklyn, it's actually very close to where he lives". I replied " Thank you sir for helping us ". Luigi replied " Nonsense , first, Elisetta and I are very close, that makes you family. However, putting family aside. Here is how Americans look at it, this is a country with business values. You give your employer an honest hard days work, and your employer gives you an honest hard days pay. This way , you both go home with your heads held high. And that is the best one can ask for in this life. So you see, there is no need to thank me". I dared not mention to him that I was actually planning to go out to sea, I didn't want to hurt any feelings. So I thought I would save that for a later date.
That night, after meeting William and getting settled in our room, I was thinking of Nazzareno and I decided to write a poem. I thought about what I had seen on this first day in New York, and this is what came out.
City streets, bright lights,
working folks and entertainers.
Fire trucks and horse drawn carriages,
homeless folks and five star savages.
Motor cars and limousines,
jaywalkers and pedestrians.
Their paths are disordered,
yet they all find their quarters.
Every time I cross this way,
my troubles seem to fade away.
Moving briskly, no time to speak,
all these people, what do they seek.
A place like this, is like no other,
for here we have become a number.
No names spoken, no hometown,
only meandering and looking around.
I try to come here from time to time,
for this reminds me, this time is mine.
And like no other, perhaps unordinary,
this time is only momentary.
C H A P T E R 9
We learned a lot in the following weeks, New York was a place where life was constantly on the move. We met new people everyday, each of them with their own mission. The one thing people around here seemed to have in common is they were quite open minded and willing to talk openly about their lives. But then, I'm not sure if what they spoke and what they thought were the same thing. People did work hard every day and were proud of their work. People primarily were concerned with work and money, and this would often be the most common topic in any conversation. George quickly made his way into working in the office preparing documents for exports and imports , while I preferred to work outside. I spent a lot of time loading and unloading cargo, preparing manifests and inventory for the goods being received and shipped. It was good work, but every time a vessel arrived from overseas my mind started to wonder. I felt if I stayed here I would fall into this materialistic realm that seemed to dominate ambition.
That night at dinner, I asked William for a day off. He looked at me with surprise " why do you need a day off Marco ". I replied " I want to go visit Zim lines and see if I can get a job on board a vessel". George had a look of disbelief on his face. William leaned back in his chair with his hands on the table " Have you mentioned this to Luigi ? " I nodded my head back and forth and let out a sigh " No , I did not have the courage". William stood up and started to pace a little " I kind of feel you are not giving this job a chance, you are only here a short time. Luigi will certainly be disappointed". I clasped my hands together and put them on the table " I appreciate what both you and Luigi have done for me, and I will never forget the opportunity you have provided to both George and I. It's difficult to explain but I feel at this time of my life I want to go out to sea and learn more about this world we live in". William put his hand on his chin " You know Marco, I do understand, and you are a courageous young man. You may have your day off , if you are able to make it to work later in the day, we won't dock your pay for the day off". I nodded my head and said " Thank You ".
William dropped me off at the train station early in the morning, George waved goodbye rolling his eyes. I guess he was disappointed in me. I didn't blame him, but it was just something stronger than I that I needed to follow through. So I followed my directions and made my way to downtown Manhattan, near what they called the "Battery". I took a couple of buses and walked around a bit , there was an impression of wealth in this area. I passed by a building that looked like it was a copy of an ancient greek temple, only larger and bolder, I read the inscription " New York Stock Exchange ". I didn't know what it was about, but something told me that there was a lot of money involved. Then I walked upon another building, it looked like a modern day castle , or better yet, a fortress. I stood on the corner staring and studying it , a passerby stopped and said " are you lost ?". " No " I replied. He answered with a smile as he walked away " well, if your'e looking to rob a bank, you found the right place, that's the Federal Reserve , they got plenty gold in there". I stared at him as he walked away , why did he think I wanted to rob a bank. Then I looked back at the building, I just thought it was an interesting architecture, but now that I looked at it again , I suppose it could look like a large bank or fortress. Wow, it held a lot of gold... I had no idea. Anyway , enough playing, I had to get where I was going.
I arrived to the Zim lines office , it was a lot smaller than I had anticipated. Sidney was not available, so they gave me an application to fill out and they said if I wanted they could assign me as soon as within 2 weeks going back to the mediterranean. I handed it in and they said they would contact me in couple days. It was a beautiful day so I decided to walk , I was enjoying the scenery and I had in mind to go see the Hudson river where we entered this city and perhaps see if I could see Lady Liberty again, from another angle this time. On the way I passed by a cemetery, it was very interesting as it seemed to stand out from the other surroundings. It was the Trinity cemetery. I stopped for a moment and went in to look at the graves. I read some history and there were some famous people resting here, people that were founders of this country like Alexander Hamilton and many signers of the U.S. Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution as well. I felt I was in a special place and I was honored to have this opportunity. I sat in prayer for a few moments. And I thought to myself, what an experience it must have been to be a part of founding a nation. And here they rest among all these great buildings , I wondered how proud they would have been to see what they created. Then I heard a car horn blast and I came out of my thoughts, it was time to move on. It wasn't very far and I made it to a park on the Hudson , I walked my way in and found an observation point, from there I could see in a distance Lady Liberty. It was different to see her this time, when we entered, I felt she was showing us the way into her shelter . Now that I arrived , it felt comforting to know she was there to remind us of what this land is about. We have all been gifted with a nation founded for and by it's people to live Life in Liberty. She stood out in the harbor reminding us that with Liberty we must have unity, and very importantly, she was there to remind us to respect one another. Without respect for one another, Liberty will no longer exist.
It was a long day , I made it back to work very late in the afternoon. I told them there was a long line and they didn't seem to mind. That night I was relaxing on my bed going over my day, I was excited to going back out to sea, but then I also had another craving. I realized I wanted to become a citizen of this land of liberty.