Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Golden Years

At her bedside, they hover and buzz and shake their heads.  “She never speaks,” they say.  “Poor thing!  It's depression, of course.  Ninety and bed-ridden, arthritis in every joint – who wouldn't be depressed?”    But they're wrong.  She doesn't speak because she knows they think her too old to have anything to say.  They talk over her, past her, as if she were not there at all, so she utters not one word in return.  She doesn't speak because, in her private, silent reveries, she's busy unfolding again the truly golden years of her life.

In her silence, she's back in her childhood home, in the small living room with her parents and siblings, grouped before the handsome Stomberg-Carlson radio,  listening to One Man's Family, and hearing wise old Father Barbour's unfailing response of “yes, yes” when one or another of his offspring asks, “What do you think, Father Barbour?”  She stays tuned to hear the honking of Mr. First-Nighter's taxi, and anticipates as before the story that Les Tremain and Barbara Lutty act out.  

She wills herself back to the movies of a Saturday afternoon, when for the admission price of eleven cents, she sees a feature, a serial, and a newsreel.  Through closed eyes, she watches the Pathé camera execute its turn from side view to squarely in the face of the audience. 

Excited as ever she used to be, in the bleachers with her friends, she lives again a Friday afternoon after-school football game.  They stand and sing together the National Anthem, and then their Alma Mater.  Sense of pride and belonging fills her, and for one brief instant, a sharp yearning for what is lost interrupts her reverie.    

The fantasies she treasures most put her again in the early years of her motherhood, with her little ones – at lunchtime, perhaps, or at bath time – the splashing, the laughing, the tears that shampooing invariably produced.    She's right there, reading to them once more, listening to them as they play, as they quarrel, as they tell her their woes, their triumphs.  The fantasies of newlywed days are next-best, or maybe her husband's and her time together after the family has been raised and sent out into the world to live their own lives and to occasionally return to visit with precious grandchildren in tow.   Too cruel to relive, though, are the days of  his illness and dying, for these commence the tarnished years and all the insensitivity that goes with  them.

So they talk of depression, do they?  She could tell them plenty about depression.  But then, she's not speaking.  She's too involved with happier days.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Fine Line

“How was the lunch?”his wife Clotilde asked

Rinaldo fluttered his outstretched hand, palm-down, in the 'so-so' gesture.  Così-così, he 

said, “but oh! You should have seen the tablecloth he spread out!  Hand-embroidered.  Beautiful cut-out work.  The whitest, finest linen I have ever seen!”  Rinaldo knew whereof he spoke, too, for he had seen many a piece of the finest of linen in his mother's palatial  home


Upon his birth, no matter how much his mother, la contessa, young wife of the elderly nobleman il conte Lorenzino, wept and protested, Rinaldo was given over immediately to the care of a wet nurse and after he had been weaned, he was sent back to his father, a handsome, romantic contadino (peasant),  who worked on the count's vast estate, and who had had the audacity to woo and impregnate the bored young wife of a nobleman. When la contessa threatened her husband with suicide if he did not allow her some contact with her love child, he relented enough to allow Rinaldo one brief visit per week with his mother.  After a number of years, though, because the child came unaccompanied by his father, la contessa wearied of the weekly reminder of her transgression.  The weekly visits soon became monthly, and finally dwindled to none.  The child prospered, however, in the humble, loving care of his paternal grandmother, and ironically, he grew tall and regal, in the image of his mother's kin..

The townspeople of Rinaldo's father's village, although they referred openly to him as 

il piccolo bastardo, treated him with affection and respect, perhaps because they knew it was the closest brush any of them could ever hope to have with aristocracy.  Rinaldo, reasonably happy among them, learned the carpenter trade, and at nineteen married a lovely, pious daughter of one of the count's groundskeepers.

When within a  year Rinaldo, and his young bride Clotilde and their newly-born daughter  Serafina managed to secure passage to America, Rinaldo smiled ruefully to himself, imagining how the count must have sighed with relief upon learning that the manifestation of his wife's iniquity had deigned to remove himself far from their midsts.

In America, Rinaldo busied himself with learning English (which his quick mind absorbed easily) and making a living for his family.  It was not long before his skill as craftsman became known throughout the Little Italy section of town, and soon his fame spread to the very limits of the city.  He determined to never think of his mother again, but although he didn't mention her, she often invaded his private thoughts, and unrequited longing for her love darkened his spirit.  It was his daughter Serafina who, as she grew into a gentle, statuesque young lady, brightened it again.  To him she was the embodiment of the nobility he had been denied.  She was the reason he had accepted the invitation to lunch that day with Luglio Bruschini, prosperous proprietor of the finest fruit and vegetable store in the vicinity, a man of reputation in the community for good moral character and great devotion to The Blessed Mother. Luglio was seen going into the local church of San Pietro not only on Sundays, but many weekdays as well, to attend daily Mass, which placed him high in the pious Clotilde's regard.


“So, tell me, caro,” Clotilde continued, “what did il signor' Bruschini serve you for lunch?”

“An antipasto of no particular note,” Rinaldo said, “and a rather nondescript dish of pasta con pollo, and insalata mista.  The vino, though, was full-bodied, and the caffè that ended the meal was clear and strong, and laced with un' poncino of rum.  But as I said, cara, what impressed me greatly was the fine linen tablecloth.  Assuredly, his taste and instincts are of the highest caliber, and I  therefore did not hesitate to give my permission that his courtship of Serafina commence.  I will speak to her of it this evening.


In his modest apartment above his establishment, Luglio Bruschini that evening knelt and thanked The Blessed Mother for inspiring him to use the one bit of finery his loving contadina mother had insisted he take to America with him.  He had protested, because it was the hand-sewn bedspread his own grandmother had labored over for months to include in his mother's dowry years and years before.

“No, no, mamma,” he had said.  “It is your precious bedspread – never used, never even unfolded all these years – an heirloom to be passed from generation to generation.  I cannot take it!”

“Exactly!” she had said, with hand fisted on each ample hip, “To be passed from generation to generation.  So pass it on to your daughter when you have one, then!  Enough!  Not one word more!”

And so the argument came to its abrupt stop.  Luglio packed the bedspread in his suitcase, crossed the sea, made his minor fortune, spread out the bedspread as tablecloth for his future father-in-law that fateful afternoon, and in due time married the lovely Serafina.  They went on to have nine healthy, bright offspring – six girls and three boys.  The oldest, named for her grandmother Clotilde, inherited the bedspread upon her wedding.  What became of that fine piece of linen thereafter has since been lost to history.