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Monday, December 22, 2014

Postscript One

Except for the weather, and its aftermath, life seems to have slowed down to a crawl for us, my husband and me, until last Thanksgiving. Thanks to the Internet, a grand-nephew of mine, Jacopo D'Ambrosio,grandson of my brother Toni, Antonio D'Ambrosio, found me and began emailing me. For a week, I got to meet him, his family and the family of his aunt, my brother's daughter, Laura D'Ambrosio. I shall pass his email information to my granddaughter Jasmine Tintut Williams who is the same age as Jacopo.

These were the connections I hoped to make when I started writing online. One day, I thought, the young generations will become curious and will come searching for us, for the rest of the family in America.

My journey has come full circle.
What better way to celebrate Thanksgiving?
What better way to embrace the future than making these connections?

Friday, November 26, 2010

Closed Down.

Dear Reader:
This blog is officially closed.
Thank you for following along, encouraging and inspiring me on this journey. I appreciated every one of your comments.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

You Never Know Who is Watching!

You never know who is watching!
Italy Magazine gave me a shout-out this week.
Read the interview below.  Thanks Pat and Italy Magazine for this opportunity.
Here is the link:
Blog of the Week - When I was your age

Published: Jul 13th, 2010
Location: Basilicata

Topic: Blog of the week

Words by Pat Eggleton - Pictures courtesy of Rosaria D’Ambrosio Williams

Today our blog of the week is a bit different and we think you’ll find it interesting. In “When I Was Your Age – A Memoir” Rosaria D’Ambrosio Williams, who now lives in Oregon, tells the story of a young Italian woman’s journey to America and of the people she left behind.

Rosaria, you wrote the blog “When I was your age” as a memoir for your children. When did you decide to do it and what inspired you?

Right after I retired, when I moved away from my children and missed them terribly. Somehow, writing about my childhood helped me connect all the pieces.

For those who have not followed your blog, can you tell us where you were born in Italy and something about your childhood there?

I was born in the region of Basilicata, in a small town called Venosa, during WWII. My earliest memories were all about the war, the occupation, the poverty. I downplayed that part, actually.

There has been so much written about the war that I could not add to the literature. Instead, I concentrated on my family’s focus to emigrate, to find a way out of the poverty. The memoir is both about me and about my family’s tragic situation - how they survived, what they went through to keep on living with hope and faith.

When did you go to America and why?

I was seventeen when an uncle sponsored me to study in America. My town had schooling up to the fifth grade. To go beyond that was very difficult. It took all of our extra resources to continue my education past the fifth grade. I jumped at the opportunity to go to university.

Were you very lonely at first?

Very! Lonely for everything and everyone. What kept me focused was the desire to finish my degree.

Where did you live and what did you do?

I lived with my uncle and his family, serving as a babysitter and housekeeper, helping out any way I could, in exchange for room, board and tuition.

What helped you settle and what, apart from your family, did you miss the most?

Settle is a process still going on! I missed the food the most. Products were not the same and were hard to obtain at that time. Later, I fell in love with a wonderful man a few months before I was scheduled to return to Italy. Falling in love changes everything. Still, to this day, I don’t think I am settled. I’m content with my choices; I’m happy to be alive and have all the opportunities I have; I’m glad my children are well. But, if I had any choice at all, I would live half a year in Italy, and half a year in America. I miss so many things! At the beginning, it was my family. Later, even little things - a food I craved, a smell. I am still homesick.

Did any of your family follow you to America?

No! It’s one of the tragic strands of the story. They never did. They kept hoping all the time that somehow, one or all of them could join me. They visited me for short bursts.

Did you ever think about going back to Italy to live?

Right after we retired, we contemplated the idea. Italy is just too expensive. Besides, my children are here and I would miss them.

Do you ever visit Italy?

I’ve visited Italy a couple of times, for brief periods.

Do you ever think about contacting members of your family with whom you have lost touch?

Yes. We attempt to stay in touch; but, it is not easy. I am hoping that through the internet we can reach each other, or that our children can. I have many nieces and nephews whom I have never met.

If you could give the girl you were when you emigrated some advice, what would it be?

This is a good question, but most difficult to answer. I was so na├»ve and I knew nothing of the challenges waiting for me. I’d say, visit for a little while, say a year, as an exchange student. Enjoy each country and what it can offer before you make such a life-changing decision.

What do you hope your children and, perhaps, their children, will gain from reading your memoir?

I hope they understand how difficult my choices were. I hope they learn that every one of us is on a journey, peppered with choices, both moral and financial. That our journey defines us and gives us both strength and character.

What aspects of your Italian heritage would you like to pass on to your children?

A love of life! An appreciation for art and music and education. A sense of wonder and exploration and joy! An appreciation of the classics.

You have two other blogs, don’t you? Can you tell us a little about these?

Sixtyfivewhatnow is about living in a small town, growing old, being involved with the community. I also have an Italian language blog, Italian for Beginners. I started it for my grandchild, who has shown interest in learning Italian. She is Asian/American, speaks Mandarin, Burmese, Spanish, and now is dabbling in Italian. Who knows where she’ll go on her journey?!

Thank you for talking to Italy Magazine and happy blogging.

Thank you for your interest. I appreciated the opportunity.

ITALY Magazine - the n.1 magazine for lovers of all things italian

istos srl - web development and social media / +39 0932 950222 / Via Benedetto Spadaro 109, 97014 Ispica (RG), Italia

Tuesday, June 22, 2010


(5/ 18, 2012. This picture of my son Brian was taken in July 2011, a few weeks before he died.)

The purpose of this project was to leave some shards of the past for future generations. It became a  pilgrimage into the past, to the person I was, the family we were.

About the people in this memoir:
Teodoro Rapolla (Ted, Tiudo), married Marie Dugan, and died in Los Angeles, California. He had three children, Anne Marie, Georgeanne and Paul. Paul died before his father. His daughters still live in the house he built/designed in Burbank, California.

Adelina Rapolla, Lina, settled in Fresno, California, where Uncle Jo, Giuseppe Rapolla had lived. She had three children, JoAnn Scordino, Don Scordino and Carla Scordino. Don still lives in Fresno.

Addolorata Rapolla D’Ambrosio, Dolora’, my mother, moved to  Monza after our family home was transformed into a parking area for the elementary school nearby. This occurred after I left for America. She and my father retired back in Venosa. Father died in 1973, she  in 1986. She visited me in California and was present at the birth of my third child, Brian.

Antonio D’Ambrosio, Toni’, my eldest brother,  moved to Torino, then Milano, all over the North of Italy, worked as a taylor, a costume designer, and a fashion designer. He married, and moved his family to Monza. He ended up working for The Piccolo Teatro di Milano as a fashion designer. Later, he  worked for the fashion house of Valentino in Rome. His two two children, Mario and Laura still live in Milano or its vicinity. Toni' is 78, retired and living back in Venosa with his second wife, Rosetta. He bought land and built himself a retirement cottage on a vineyard, in the same style as our family home.

Luigi D’Ambrosio, my baby brother, was five when I left for California. He lives with his wife Debra in Invorio, Piemonte.

I, (Rosaria, Ninetta,) emigrated in 1959 at seventeen. Attended college and graduate school, became a teacher, and later a specialist and an administrator. I settled in Los Angeles, married Kendrick Williams, a scientist and researcher. Our children, Jon Scott Williams, Pia Nicole Williams-Robbins, Brian Christian Williams. We retired on the beautiful Southern Oregon Coast where we are presently residing. Our youngest, Brian Christian Williams, became a victim of homicide in Fullerton, California, on July 17, 2011.

Donna Maria Rosaria, Mingu’s mother, lived way into her eighties.

All other relatives, Mingu’s brothers, Addolorata's aunts and cousings are scattered in Italy. There are Rapolla's cousins living in New Jersey and New York. I met Helena Rapolla Farrell via Facebook-courtesy of JoAnn Scordino who had met her in person years before. That part of the family is doing well.

The family house I grew up in was torn down. Even the church I was baptized in, The Church of Purgatory, was declared unsafe and shut down. Ironically, the college I attended, Immaculate Heart College is now The American Film Institute.  The church we were married in, a small Russian wooden church, St. Basil, burned down, and in its place, a beautiful big cathedral was erected on Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles.

I returned to visit Venosa just twice, in 1970, and in 2002.

Some names were changed to protect privacy. Historical facts and information reported here are shared memories, and are repeated as heard. Any error was not intentional nor meant to deceive anybody.

This memoir is dedicated to my family: my children, who are my pride and joy, and my husband who has been my constant supporter. Without them, I would cry my heart out and never tell the whole truth.
To contact me:

(this page updated 5/18/2012)

Monday, June 21, 2010

Coming to America

(This picture was taken in anticipation of our voyage to America. I'm the little girl, six years old. Next to me is my father, Mingu, Domenico, my mother, Dolora', Addolorata, and my big brother Tony, Antonio.  My little brother Luigi was not born yet.)

I was four when I met Zio Tiudo, Uncle Ted, for the first time. He was a skinny man, with a bad leg,  back from India where he spent many years as a prisoner of war. I was still sleeping in my crib, and he insisted I was too old to sleep there. He spent time painting, and telling stories of his captivity.

Mamma said he became corrupted by all those years in a foreign land, in a foreign climate. The year was 1946, and when I started pre-school at the convent where Mamma and Zia Adelina had attended at my age, he walked me there and talked to the sisters at length. They had him talk to our class too. He was funny,warm, handsome,engaging.

He and my Aunt Adelina left for America in 1947..

We were all supposed to go together. But, we couldn't obtain the proper visas. Uncle and Aunt traveled to Argentina first, and later emigrated to the United States.  At that time, the quota for Italian immigrants was much smaller than for other immigrants from Northern Europe.

Our  house went from being very crowded, people sleeping everywhere, to suddenly eerily empty. My mother cried from the moment we left the house, and through the next day after the departure. I remember Tony saluting the train goodbye by standing at attention,  just as a soldier would.

Packages from America, big pillowcases full of clothes, shoes, food began to arrive as soon as my relatives reached California, about eighteen months later. Cans of strange sausages, salty and gelatinous were stuck in the middle of the pillowcases.  Not exactly to our taste; but meat nevertheless. Mother sported a new coat that year, which fit her perfectly after alterations.

We began to wear American made clothes, and people talked to us as though we were already Americani.  My dad, though, refused to wear anything the American relatives sent us. “Why do they bother sending this stuff when we are scheduled to join them? Maybe they have changed their minds. Maybe they want to shut us up.”

He was counting the days when they would send for us, not send their discards.

For years, Mother had been trading her sisters' trousseau linens for food or farm supplies. Finally, they were being replaced by the good fortune and generosity that made her sister arrive in America. When I began to write and was put in charge of responding to letters, I would add my own commentaries. Zia, I would say, it’s so good to know you are finding such abundance. It must feel as though you are in Paradise after the scarcity you left behind. Mother would hear the letters and question my round-about ways. “Tell her we need to leave now. Don’t beat around the bushes. Tell her that we sacrificed for her. She can't be selfish!”

Mother was always looking for ways to improve our lot. She had taken me to  line ups at the American War Camps to receive shots of quinine to prevent malaria; a line up to get vitamin pills
or cans of DDT.

Dad grumbled, not trusting any medicine given out freely.

Once, she dragged me screaming and fussing to a louse-treatment line up, making sure my hair was deloused whether I liked it or not. A most- foul smell lingered around us for days. At nursery school, the nuns separated those of us with funny smells and made us stand in the back, away from everybody else.

One of my earliest memory was being held between Zia Adelina’s knees, squeezed so I wouldn’t escape, as she killed the lice and pulled the zits out of my hair with vigor and tenacity, one at a time, a task that tired us both. The pain and indignation, and the fear of being consumed by lice, made me cry the entire time.

Lice and other infestations were rampant during the war years. Many children died of malnutrition or parasitic infections.

I had intestinal problems as a child, pin worms, tape worms, and assorted stomach and digestive problems shared by many children in my town. Again, medications and treatments could be had at the American posts. We all depended on these make-shift generous medicinal dispensaries. If there was something that would make me and my brother get an advantage in life, Mother took us to that line-up.

Mother had enormous faith that her brother and sister would eventually find a way for all of us to join them in America. Every year, she started a novena on this pursuit, a novena that might go on longer than most, months on end, necessitating many prayers, additional visitations to the patron saint appropriate for such a miracle, and a special diet too. On this particular one, since it was such a big miracle, one that might take years to bring about, she gave up meat entirely. Giving up any food was difficult when one has so little to eat. But, giving up meat when one has meat just once or twice a week, and not enough to feel full and contented, but just enough to resuscitate the meat loving glands in your appetite apparatus, that was a major sacrifice. For this one, she prayed to Saint Christopher, not too well known in our parts.

She had given me the task to find the appropriate saint. Not San Rocco; he had the entire town praying to him; not the Madonna delle Grazie, way too many people occupied those pews every morning. She wanted an important figure, one with power and persuasion, one who would get an immediate audience with God Himself.

I found Saint Christopher, patron saints of travelers. Great! She had never heard of him, but trusted my reading and researching abilities. We were going to be great travelers if Saint Christopher took us as clients. How do we do the novenas for this saint? I made up the rest, since no book in the archdiocese specified this stage. “A saint for travelers,” I told her, “needs plenty of songs to help pass the time.”

“Songs?” She inquired, incredulously. The songs we sang in Church were hymns intermixed with recitations.

“Yeah. Songs like O Sole Mio, Mamma, Santa Lucia. As a matter of fact, there is probably a town dedicated to him; we should visit the town, attend the Feast in his name, and get on his good side. Don’t we attend special feast days and give our thanks to special saints?”

“You are right!” She said.

I expected Father to object. What is this? He might say. Where does she get these ideas? We don’t send her to school to come up with these money spending thoughts. We have no business traveling somewhere just to pray.

But he didn’t. And he would have gone along with the idea until something else happened. He got a job, the first Thank-God job that kept him out of the house for months at a time. He became a guard for the Agrarian Reform Movement, a land redistribution program that occurred after the war, splitting up big land holdings and allowing people to homestead/purchase in time/mortgage in labor kind of program. Farm residences were being built on five acres of land each. Some places were kilometers apart. Father’s job was to travel to each one, unexpectedly, spend the night with the shepherds or whoever camped there, and try to keep a presence in the field.

When Zia Adelina wrote that roses had thorns, her code phrase for things are complicated and painful, Mother knew in her heart that only a miracle could precipitate the right action. She didn't know what was troubling her sister; but whatever it was, Mother was going to pray for it to dissipate.

The promise that was America stood on an altar in our house, right next to the Madonna Delle Grazie, Mother’s patroness, and the added Saint Christopher.  America was the same as heaven. When I argued with her that we needed to learn English to have a chance at surviving in America, she dismissed my worries. "What? How did my sister manage? She didn't speak English?"
"Mamma, that's one reason she might be having trouble. They speak English, not Italian."

Mother thought that people all over the world were the same, speaking basically the same, with just a few variations, as in the dialect she heard from people who visited the town on Saint Rocco's Feast Day.  Dialects are not different languages, but different inflections, even different expressions.  She thought everyone in the world spoke a form of Italian. Didn't the Romans occupy the known world? 

We took official sets of pictures,  and got ready to go at a moment's notice. The town continued to buzz with news of our imminent fortune.

My family never emigrated.

Uncle returned to Italy eight years later, in 1955, after Uncle Giuseppe died and the property was divided. My big brother Tony had left for work in Milano, Mother had a new toddler to care for. By now, all our hopes had dried up. America was no longer our destination.,

I was the only one who emigrated for America in 1959. My experience was not an easy one. But, I completed my studies, obtained a teaching job, and got married.

My mother, and my younger brother Luigi, visited me, each for an extended amount of time when I lived in Los Angeles. They saw first hand how we lived, how we too struggled to attain the dream.

Their lives had been enriched because Americans were generous. The Marshall plan had helped Italy recover from the war in many ways. The Land Reform allowed many people the opportunity to work the land and own it after a while. Houses were built, loans were made, opportunities handed out generously. Father’s job provided steady cash income that helped me continue with my studies past the fifth grade.

My parents always looked to the future, when times would get easier, when their children would break the cycle of poverty. Whatever strength they had, they poured it into making sure each of us had opportunities and education.

My journey is coming to an end. I will never feel totally at home anywhere. Italy is my first home. Italy is a mother’s hug, and a father’s praise. But Italy feels foreign now. Through sheer willpower, I make my home where I find myself.

I think of all who emigrated, who left what and whom they loved, what they knew. We can return; but we have changed in a fundamental way. We are saddened by the change; saddened that we lost our connections to our past. Nothing is the same. We are the outsiders now, the Americani. We take comfort in the fact that our children will not have to feel this loss.

My children will not understand these feelings. I am two-three hours away from each of them, by car or by plane. They get to come back home anytime they wish. We get together anytime we need to be. But their roots are shallow and their branches are not truncated. They only know what is in front of them.

In my dreams, I’m back home, in the same little house, everyone around me, having a big Sunday meal. Only then, I feel whole.

The End.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

War Path

Imperial War Museum photo number: E 6064

28 September 1941. Men of the (British) King's African Rifles (KAR) collecting surrendered arms at Wolchefit Pass, after the last Italians had finally ceased resistance in Ethiopia.
Photographer: Clements H J (Lt), No 1 Army Film & Photographic Unit (UK)
Collection No.: 4700-32

When a fifteen year old Tiudo presented himself at the home of his grandparents, in Naples, he was dirty, hungry and bloodied. He waited on the doorstep for hours before his grandmother  returned home.

She saw that he was fed, cleaned and bandaged before her husband returned. He noticed for the first time how old and fragile she was. In her presence, he broke down and cried for the first time since his father died. Her home smelled so much like his old home, the same roses on the credenza, the same drapes in the dining room. Everything he had felt in the last year returned to pain him with a vengeance. His father’s death, his sister’s death, the loss of their house.

“This is not how I am.” He told her, ashamed of his tears, of his condition.

“Yes, dear. It’s all right.”

“I came to say goodbye.”

“Oh? ”

" I’m joining the military.” He knew that she would not remember their ages; she always mixed his birthday with Lina’s. But he also knew that she would be the only one he could talk to now. His sisters were burdened already with their own problems.

“You could wait another year. No?” She tried to find out what else this boy could do.

“Nonna, there is no need to wait.” He wanted to be talked out; but he also wanted to be done with waiting, done with being bossed around.

“Well, I suppose. It would so please your nonno if you remained a while with us. Seeing you children does us good. We are so sorry about your father, your sister! My goodness, I can still see her here with us. If only she waited….” And she too began sobbing, shedding tears she had already shed when she let Graziella return home.

At dinner time, Doctor Fabrizi asked him straight out: “So, young man, Don Teodoro Rapolla, how do you plan on making your fortune at your age?” The boy was shocked to hear his full name. Sometimes, his father had used the name to emphasize some precept or other, usually when the youth needed punishment.

“I’m a pretty good artist, actually.” He responded, straightening up, aware he was wearing his grandfather’s shirt and coat. He had nothing. Not even a change of clothing.

“You think anyone will part with their few lire for a portrait? There are strikes, famines and pick-pockets everywhere. Everyone is worried about having enough to eat. The government is taking-over industries. Don’t you get any news in that town of yours? If you don’t return back home, you’ll be shanghaied. I’ve seen it happen right down on the waterfront.” Doctor Fabrizi was not sure what would convince the boy to settle down. He needed a dose of good fortune, he thought.

“Papa was a soldier,” the boy responded, “this was his dream for me too!”

“This is a different Italy, not the King your father served. We can purchase your passage to America, if you don’t want to go back home. Don’t you have an uncle and aunt there?”

“We have not heard from them.”

“You need to plan ahead a little bit. How did you just show up here without a plan? We can house you while you go to school?”

Tiudo made no plans that night. He ate, slept soundly, and the next day he joined the army. They asked him how old he was; he told them he was eighteen.

Three years later, the grandparents received a letter from India. Tiudo had been captured in Africa, three months in his service, by the British, and taken as a war prisoner.

“It is hot here, hotter than anything I ever experienced,” he wrote. “I’m treated well, with plenty of food, and opportunities to paint. I’m learning to speak English and plan on going to America when all this is over. Tell my sisters I’m doing fine.”

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Under One Roof

(The picture is called "case vecchie", part of a museum show called Case di Contadini.  Contadini means farmers. The picture came with a blog from Decomondo. Thank you Me for the source.)

Mingu’s cavalry unit was never called to serve. He remained on standby as Italy and Germany joined forces, as German troops arrived to occupy the southern end of Italy to fight the Allies about to land in Sicily.

His mother arranged his marriage to the next sister while the Loggia was being auctioned off and the surrounding land was sold a plot at a time to pay off creditors. The old life was quickly dissipating.

Don Matteo, the parish priest, was not surprised by the age difference between Dolora and Mingu. These things were unavoidable, he counseled both, as life must go on and the family must be kept together. He married the couple at a private ceremony. Dolora mostly dazed, not understanding the significance or the weight of God and Church in these matters. Mingu understood that the union was unavoidable.

Dolora felt an enormous disquietude. Her opportunities to be courted, to have suitors at her door, the way  her mother or Graziella had, these opportunities had passed her by. She knew nothing of life outside of the Loggia. Becoming Mingu's bride meant that she and her siblings would not end up at an orphanage the way many orphans did.

After the ceremony, his mother told her that she didn't have to share the matrimonial bed until she was ready, after a proper amount of time for her son to have forgotten his Graziella. Dolora had no intention of taking Graziella's role in bed with Mingu, and was assured that it was up to her when the time was right.

There was nothing else to do but to take care of the house, and be a mother to her siblings. Their relatives had offered to take one of them, Tiudo, so that could have someone help out in the fields. Tiudo had understood the change that would occur in his life regardless of where he went to live, and he was not happy with the options.

A month into the new arrangement,Tiudo left after an argument at the house, and Dolora feared Mingu's anger at the end of the day.  She heard him mumble and curse for hours before he went to bed. She began having nightmares herself, always about being at an orphanage, she and her baby sister assigned to the cleaning crew; her little brother sent away, to another location she couldn't possible find.

With half loaf of bread, and a chunk of cheese, Mingu left every morning before the rooster crowed, before anybody else stirred, determined to go on as though nothing had happened. He had been a happy fellow, breaking into songs at the slightest opportunity; girls and women lined up to praise and take him in, making him feel wanted and appreciated and special. He could have had any woman he chose. The town was full of beauties, rich widows asking for nothing more than a handsome smile and a strong back.

He was  deep with anger over inconsequential things, as though a big lump of food was stuck in his throat, a piece of hard bread swallowed whole, chocking him if he tried to swallow it.

He pounded his fists at anything and anyone, scaring the sisters who cowered in fear and huddled together behind the table. The night he heard Tiudo had run away, he grabbed Dolora by her hair and hurled her across the room, then he returned to  slap and kick her.

 ‘Mannaggia, Mannaggia, Mannaggia’ he yelled at the top of his voice, to all points of the compass, to nothing in particular, and everything in general.

Dolora retreated in the shadows of church niches from that day on, trying to find refuge in prayers and novenas. She began to feel responsible for anything that went wrong in the household. I must try harder; I must pray with more fervor, she told herself.

Their house was small, one room for people and one for animals, with a cellar to hold harvests and preserved food. The matrimonial bed took up half a room. The other half served for everything else, an eating/food prep area with table and chairs, a fireplace for heating and cooking. Pots and pans hung on the wall. Hooks and ropes held clothing and tools. A big armoire kept their possessions, and one single light in the middle of the room illuminated the space.

Tiudo slept in a corner of the barn, on a bedroll over hay. Bed bugs or the cold kept him alert. If he didn’t clean up the stalls, he would be smelling more than he wanted to. Unless he dumped the hay and set it on fire, the lice propagated rapidly. During hot summers, he slept outside by the fig tree his Mother had planted when he was born. His cat followed him everywhere.

Lina slept on the landing, an elevated area reached by a ladder and draped for privacy, situated at the top of the stairway to the cellar.

The city had erected a new school in the back of the house, and from the time the first shovel hit the ground, the family was put on notice to vacate their residence as the area had been rezoned. The war and the occupational forces of the Germans and later the Americans delayed any formal action on this notice. Mingu was willing to fight it. He was not going to let anybody sell or take this house the way the Loggia had been taken from his wife’s family.

During harvest time, everyone pitched in, every child, every adult who could walk and stand worked from sun-up to sun-down picking olives and grapes.

When food was plentiful, the sisters prepared jams and conserves; tomato paste dried on big sheets in the sun under loose cotton towels preventing flies and insects from landing. By the time the first frost sent people indoors, the cellar was full of provisions, vats of olives curing; barrels of wine aging, jugs of olive oil perfuming the place, a wheat granary towering in the middle; strings of apricots, grapes, peaches, apples; garlic and herbs drying around the ceiling, out of cat’s reach.

In November, a pig was bought and slaughtered, and sausages and salumi were made in various sizes, specific ingredients for taste and spiciness dictacted by tradition; some were left to air dry; some were packed in oil. Jars of peppers and eggplants in oil and herbed vinegars lined the shelves of the cellar, organized by sizes and by specialty. A jar of tomato sauce, one of prepared eggplant would become pasta condiments on most days.

In the same cellar, Mingu fermented grapes in a big barrel, acidity and sweetness corrected and monitored daily. He knew just at what time to distill the liquid. The house had a musty smell all winter long. Bottles of wine were exchanged for everything they needed.

On days too wet or too treacherous Mingu repaired cane chairs, built reed baskets, organized the cellar. He spent evenings discussing politics, singing at weddings and feast days, looking for opportunities and friendships.

When the Germans occupied the school behind the house, Mingu forbid the girls to go outdoors, or doing daily shopping, even hanging laundry outside. He dug an extension to the cellar, behind the granary,to hide provisions. Between bad weather and bad luck, the hiding place was never utilized. These were lean years. Everyone went hungry. The cellar emptied in no time, and bread and fried peppers were eaten at breakfast, lunch and dinner. Wine was all sold, until nothing remained to eat or drink in the cellar.

There were those who sympathized with the Germans, and those who worked against them. Those who gave willingly were protected and allowed to move without restrictions. Mingu forbid his family from visiting people, fearing and mistrusting everyone.

The sisters read serial romances on long winter evenings, Lina doing the reading aloud, stopping only to fantasize about the man she would marry. Mingu had prohibited her from showing any interest to any boy. Secretly, she prayed to the Madonna to provide a miracle, just one possibility, like the boy next door who had eyed her beauty and managed to send messages to her.

On Sundays, Donna Maria Rosaria came to visit , and an elaborate pasta meal made with a ragu of rabbit stuffed with herbs, breadcrumbs and olive oil would stew for hours in its rich tomato sauce until they all sat at the table after Mass and were satisfied. The old woman thought the girls were doing well; the house was always spotless, the food plentiful. The family had to barter for the rabbit and anything else they served with pieces of Graziella’s trousseau, elaborate laces, beautiful pillow cases.

“Son, “she asked , “is anything wrong with you or Dolora? Why aren’t there any children in this family?”
“I may be called to serve any day. This is the worst possible time to start a family. Besides, she’s still too young.”
“People are beginning to talk.”

“People have nothing better to do.”

“I’ll pray you have boys as strong as your brothers.”

“I am not so sure God is listening.”

“Now son, trust, trust.”

“The way this country is breaking up?”

“Things have a way of working themselves out.”

“They are getting worse.”

“Pray that it doesn’t happen, son.”