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 remembering their names. 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 normally liked to play with his older sisters, all three of them were orphaned when their 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 we are all different, however, we 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 “ 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… 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 know 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 so tired , 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 like most other mornings, the sunrise brought on the new day and I was reflecting on the day ahead. 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.
<continued on Part 2>