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Friday, April 9, 2010

Dolo`ra's Story

The second wife

This house was Graziella's, her deceased sister house; every piece of linen had her initials; every piece of furniture had been purchased for her. When Graziella had started her trousseau she added Mingu’s initials on the linens, G and D, for Graziella and Domenico, his full name. This house was their wedding present. They had chosen the spot, the place where they could still see the Loggia, her home, on a direct axis with Monticchio, the mountain that guided their horses home at the end of each day working the fields.

Dolo`ra remembered how her sister tried to keep her pregnancy a secret, to keep the Malocchio at bay. The evil eye can come from anywhere, at any time, envious of your happiness. Even Mingu didn’t know.

Their father had been suffering with failing eyesight for years. Paoluccio Rapolla had been bossing men and beasts with equal bark even when reduced to a puny size and was barely visible on the large matrimonial bed where he spent his last months battling pneumonia.

When Graziella took sick and lost her baby, Mingu did not expect to bury his infant and  wife in the same grave. He was going to mourn them the rest of his life.

Donna Maria Rosaria talked to Dolo`ra about marriage; as a Mother-in-law, it fell upon her to decide how to handle things. Dolo`ra was still a girl herself.

“You have all gone through a lot. And nobody is going to split up the family or the property. This family has been on this land for generation. It’s important that you all stay together.” She said, as a preamble.

Dolo`ra answer surprised her:

“Mingu can take his horse and leave. We’ll survive here."

“Figlia mia!” Donna Maria Rosaria could not believe this meek fifteen year old speak out so freely. How did this woman-child insist on getting her way? Was there more willfulness she was going to see? She continued, “Figlia mia, just take your time, but you won't have much leisure left. As soon as the judge is finished with his decision, you and your siblings will be homeless!"

Donna Maria Rosaria had the same trouble convincing Mingu to face the situation with dignity.

“Mingu, if we leave these children alone their relatives will fight over the land and they will not rest until each one gets a piece. They have no one to protect them. They will all be sent to an orphanage; the land will be sold; and all will be lost. You can’t even get your first wife’s inheritance seeing how everything will need to be straightened out and the lawyers will eat up everything.”

“But, Mamma, this is not an easy matter.”

“It’s not easy, for either one of you.”

“Marrying my sister in law must be a sin!”

“We will check with the parish priest. They have seen everything those people.”

Donna Maria Rosaria tended to the funeral announcements, and  six months later, when the girl  turned sixteen and a sufficient time had elapsed with mourning and dark shadows all over the place, she took action.

They were married at the Loggia, with just two witnesses. Instead of a honeymoon, Mingu left to help distant relatives, to give everyone a chance to get used to the idea, and Dolo`ra and her siblings remained with Donna Maria Rosaria acting as the house supervisor, ordering clean-ups and a new coverlet made with the names of the newlyweds. She gave this to Dolo`ra, telling her that when she was ready to be a wife, she was to lay the coverlet over her marriage bed, at her sister’s house, and take charge of her life. No rush, she had said.

The Rapolla’s had accumulated a lot of debts during the years when the father was ill; the residence, the Loggia was mortgaged to pay the doctor’s bills and finance the house in town  for the newlyweds. When Graziella died, the house was still being constructed. When a judge ordered the Loggia sold to pay the many creditors, the girls and their brother scrambled to collect a few things before they were moved permanently in the unfinished house meant for Mingu and Graziella.

“No, it’s not right, I don’t want to leave,” Lina wailed.

Dolo`ra convinced her sister and brother to be practical, choose their favorite things. All animals and equipment was sold with the house, all furniture, all books, all dishes and utensils. People came from other towns to view the place and covet one of the many beautiful things laid out on tables all over the Loggia. The cash transactions went on for days.

Nobody sat down and explained to Dolo`ra her new role. She remembered how her sister Graziella had gone on and on about Mingu’s virtues. He is kind and smart, she had said. He is loyal and conscientious, she had said. I love him with all my heart, she had said. Dolo`ra did not understand this love, but she understood duties.

She asked about getting two extra beds in the house, one for her and Lina, one for Tiu`do.

Donna Maria Rosaria pulled her aside and spoke to her gently:

Madonna mia, non sai che non c’e’ piu niente! My goodness, you don’t know that there is nothing left! Ora, Figlia mia, devi dormire con tuo marito! Now, My daughter; you must sleep with your husband! When your husband returns you must lay your coverlet down and sleep in that bed. He knows to wait for your signal. Whatever is in that house belongs to you two. What’s left of the land are just a couple of split plots nobody wanted. Mingu can show them to you when he returns. Now, make the best of this; God is testing all of us. Remember Mingu has lost the love of his life.”

Dolo`ra realized she should have listened to girls’ talk about men. What was it that Graziella was trying to tell her, trying to get her to focus as they were embroidering the trousseau?

“I do not understand why you need all these fancy things. Can’t you just live here at home when you get married?”

She wanted to run the business, travel with her dad. She loved being around him. And she hadn’t minded when she had to be his eyes too, when she had to run errands for him, drive the buggy for him when he had to show up at meetings.

She had to plan tasks that her dad could still do without feeling like a burden. She had to keep those thoughts alive all the time in front of her. Her dad was losing his will to live, the household was falling apart, and his medical bills were staggering. She figured he should not be bothered with finances. Besides, they were rich, they were land owners. Those folks that sent bills could wait to be paid. In town those who delivered goods also waited. When he feels better he will tackle these inconveniences. Her job was to keep things smooth and serene for him.

It wasn’t obvious to anybody else. Her dad had given up doing the payroll, dismissed lots of people, and Dolo`ra finally thought of alerting her older sister about the circumstances. She assumed that Mingu, her brother in law, who was running the ranch for the family, must have been told some things, but had not complained when ranch hands were let go and the work rested all on his shoulders. He had been spending a lot more time in town, with his Graziella.

When her father’s fever couldn’t break, Dolo`ra left the Loggia and her younger siblings, hitched the horses and rushed her father to town. With a sick man in the wagon, she hurried through, pushing the animals to make the trip while there was light in the sky. Her father stopped wailing around the time that they reached the Pineta, a dark forest full of shadowy figures. She knew about the lovers gathered in whispery moments in that place, and the many crimes committed in the shadows, but she hurried the animals and prayed to the Madonna to protect them. Her father’s last words were spoken in that Pineta:

"Dolo`ra, figlio`la, mi vuoi morto? Child, are you trying to kill me?

Stop, let me rest here.”

She did not trust the place, lovers or brigands, she couldn’t tell them apart. She needed to get to town to her sister’s house and get a doctor to see him, before it got any darker.

Paolo Rapolla expired in that Pineta.

Dolo`ra blamed herself for her father's death.
She blamed herself for her sister's and infant's untimely deaths too.

Dolo`ra was going to live the rest of her life doing penance and asking God for forgiveness.
The night her brother Tiu`do ran away from home, Dolo`ra decided to lay in her sister's matrimonial bed with Mingu'. It was her duty, she told herself, her duty to save what could be saved, to hold her family together, to hold on  to memories with dignity and honor.


  1. Very nice. I haven't read your older posts, but this portion of your memoir drew me in. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Those last words ringing in my head, with dignity and honor. I am electrified by them and shamed too. To think of what I just recently wrote idealizing the place of women generations ago. I want to cuss a blue streak admonishing myself but I let myself off, for this is truly how far we have come. With dignity and honor, these words meaning different things to different generations. HOly, holy.


  3. life is tough at times, especially for women.
    cool post!
    Happy Saturday!