“We’ll have to stop and see Donna Maria Rosaria.” Graziella told Lina as they got into the buggy.
Their day was going to be long and tiring, and Graziella knew her little sister needed to know all the rules for this long day. She would not be running around the gardens, playing marbles or hide and seek with her brother Tiu`do. The older sisters were splitting responsibilities to get everything done.
“Do we have to?” Lina was excited, looking forward to the street vending and lots of new merchandise laid out on the streets. The celebration of the town patron, La Festa di San Rocco, brought dozens of vendors to town, with merchandise, rides and music from one end of town to the other. This occurred at the end of August, when many things had been harvested, and the town folks had extra cash to spend.
“It wouldn’t be right not to pay our respects. Besides, if you want those new shoes, you need to be polite and pleasant the entire time. Yes?"
“I hate her house; it smells funny.” Lina was not at all interested in spending time in a quiet dark corner as the two women talked about stuff. She wanted to shop, try new toys, eat new candies.
“We don’t choose where we’ re born or what our luck is. We ought to be thankful.”
“That’s not what Papa’ says.”
“We owe the Pepe family a great deal. Who do you think has been in charge of the Masseria? First, Signor Natale, Mingu’s father; now Mingu. Our families have been connected for generations. God chose to make us human to help each other. Different from animals, but not much better. I know chickens I trust more than humans.”
Graziella realized that it was best to make Lina happy before the visit. That way, she'd be content and full and ready for a short nap before heading back home.
They arrived at Donna Maria Rosaria’s house late afternoon, after the shopping.
“We had to wait until now; had we arrived close to the midmorning meal, we would be imposing, assuming that a meal prepared for the family could feed uninvited guests as well. If we arrived after the meal, people would be taking an afternoon rest. We have to be careful of these things, or we are not welcome into people’s houses. What’s more, people will think we have no manners.”
“You always take too long!” Lina knew that it was of no use to complain, but she hoped Graziella would forget about visiting anybody and take her home where she would be telling Tiudo all he had missed.
“Che bella sopresa! Angels at my door! Come, sit with me.” The old woman was surprised to see them.
“Donna Maria Rosaria, we’ve come to invite you to the Festa.” Graziella handed her freshly baked pastries from a local bakery, and a bouquet of white roses from her garden. White roses were Graziella's favorites.
“I remember when your Mamma Mariana, bless her soul, wanted different roses for each of you. I planted fruit trees on the south side of the Masseria, for each boy. Terradonna has all of our memories. Thank you, girls; this makes me miss the Masseria a little less.”
“Dad asked that we get you up to Loggia for my farewell party. I want you there. I wouldn’t think of leaving without saying my goodbyes.”
Graziella referred to her house as the Loggia. But, the whole compound had always been called Terradonna, and it included the Loggia, the compound where all the farming and stables were, called the Masseria, the vineyards, the olive groves, the woods that had provided hunting expeditions for decades, spreading for a thousand acres or so, part of which had at one point been owned by the Pepe and D'Ambrosio families before the Rapollas came on the scene.
The name Terradonna was the name for that entire place.
“When are you leaving?”
“In a week, in time for the beginning of school. I need some independence, meet new people…”
“Oh? Is there someone special?”
“No. I just want to have a little life away from the Loggia. Papa’ is in good hands with Mingu’ around. And Dolo`ra seems to handle things around the house.”
“Figlia mia, che bella idea (my daughter, what a good idea); to go to school, to enrich your mind. You have been gifted with beauty and brain. God loves you.”
“Thank you. We must head on back. We don’t want to be on the road too late. Besides, look at her, she is so tired!" She picked up Lina, half asleep and transported her to the buggy. Donna Maria Rosaria accompanied her.
“Ciao, cara, my respects to your dad.”
Graziella moved away from Lina and walked Donna Maria Rosaria to her door.
“Donna Maria Rosaria, I cannot leave town until I know for sure how I stand. I came to ask for advice."
"I am in love with Mingu, but I don’t know how everything will turn out with us. He seems to avoid me. You can help me understand what's wrong here."
The old woman was speechless. She was fond of the girl, but she didn’t see this coming. This was not what she anticipated. This can’t work out, she thought. Paoluccio would never allow it.
“Child, you are too young. Nowadays girls pursue more interests. I wish I had your opportunities. I wanted to become an Opera singer. I took lessons. But, I just stopped dreaming for myself after I got married.”
"I feel like a flower that will wither in a few hours; I am missing air.”
“Child, there is nothing more important in our lives that love. Have you prayed for guidance? Have you told your father? ”
“How can I talk to Papa? I’m not supposed bother him.”
“You must talk to him. You must tell him how you feel. It’s no use putting it off.”
Graziella returned to the Loggia with a lighter heart. She knew what she must do. Her whole future depended on the next few days.
Tiudo met her at the door and after she handed him a pastry, she sent him to bring Mingu to the garden. She gathered a carafe of cold water and the rest of the pastries and went out to the rose garden to wait for Mingu’. The arbor outside the kitchen provided enough privacy without being compromising. Everyone can see them, and her brother and sisters will be nearby. Soon everything will be ok, she thought.
Lina had taken her stuff to her room, and had reappeared with her Sunday dress and her new shoes.
“Lina, you look stunning! Now, go change back; we don’t want to mess this lovely dress. You’ll be the best looking child at the Festa. Go tell Dad I’ll be up in a while. Wait for me up in his room. Go.”
Graziella was making sure that none of her siblings would spoil the conversation she had planned to have with Mingu’.
Mingu heard the girls' carriage as they passed on the way to the Loggia. Usually, Graziella would have stopped at the Masseria to have Mingu take care of the carriage and the animals. But today, she was in a hurry. She wanted Lina back at home, and she wanted time to figure out how to approach Mingu'.
A few minutes later, when young Tiu`do came around with an enormous piece of pastry in his hand and tried to tell him he was needed at the Loggia, it took him a while to figure out what the boy was trying to say with his full mouth. Mingu took him out to the water basin and both of them washed up before leaving for the Loggia. Something told him to wear a clean shirt.
Mingu arrived at the arbor and noticing some errant vine, pulled out his clippers from his back pocket and began pruning. Then, he saw her move toward him, illuminated by a setting red sun behind her, with a halo similar to the one of the very Madonna she was named after.
Madonna mia, this heart of mine is going to burst right here and now.
He waited for her to speak, not wanting to break the spell.
“Mingu, I saw your mother today.” Graziella started.
“How is she?”
“She gave me some advice.”
“Yes, I asked her if I should go to Naples to run away from my feelings. And do you know what she said? She said I should stay here and confront them. Only then, I can decide what to do next.”
“So, I will talk to Papa' and get everything out in the open.”
“Mingu, what’s happening to you? You just keep saying Oh?”
“I don’t know what this is about, between you and my mom”
“Yes, you know! Don’t pretend! I have seen you looking at me, pleading with your eyes. I have guessed how you feel.”
“Oh? Oh? That’s all you are going to say? You sweet talk everybody around here. Now it’s your turn to sweet talk me, and you just say ‘Oh’?”
“You want me to sweet talk you? Why? You are promised to the lawyer in Barletta.”
“There you go again. Assuming something you know nothing about. How do you feel? That’s all I am interested.”
“How do I feel? About you or what?”
“Don’t play dumb. Yes, about me, truthfully!”
“Madonna mia, I never thought it was going to be this hard!”
“What’s hard? What’s hard?”
“Now, Graziella, just be quiet for a minute. I need to catch my wits. Everything has changed and I have to adjust. You took me by surprise, that’s all. By surprise.”
“No, let me finish. Just wait and I will get to it. O.K. now. Well, all my life, you have been the one and only girl I have been attracted to. But since I work here, I did not want to make it awkward for either one of us. I have been waiting for the right moment.”
“Now, let me finish.”
“Wait, before you finish…”
“Let’s do this right, Graziella. It’s the man that says the words first. So, Graziella, I am in love with you. God has chosen you for me. I hope you feel the …”
“I do. I do. Mingu, I can’t sleep, I can’t eat. I am sick in love thinking of you all the time. I told your mom, I told the maids. Everybody knows.”
“Everybody? Does your father know?”
“No, he is the only one. But my grandparents know.”
“And what do they know? That a Padronessa, is in love with a stable boy? I don’t have anything to offer you like those other men. I don’t have any land or houses, or an education.”
“You are offering your heart, the heart of a good, decent man, who loves his mom and is good to animals. That’s enough for me.”
“Let me talk to your father when he returns.”
“Mingu, I know how things are done around here. Men talking to men about women! But that’s not how I like it. We are going to talk to him together. ”
Mingu left Graziella with the world weighing him down. He thought revealing his love was going to lighten his load. That’s what the songs say.
This felt like his breathing was going to stop any minute.