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Thursday, May 27, 2010

Don Paolo's Health

When Don Paolo’s health seemed worse, Mingu traveled to Naples to bring Graziella home. The grandparents remembered him as a youngster participating in hunting parties, helping his father who managed the Masseria before him.

“Mingu, congratulations! I hear you are going to name that first born after me.” Doctor Fabrizi joked.

“It’s Graziella’s choice on the first one. I promised my mother that if we have a girl she will have her name.” Mingu responded.

“It’s been done this way, the first one is always on the father’s side, the second on the mother, and so on like that, keeping the names rolling so no one is hurt. Marianna was named after both my mother and Amedeo’s mother, whose full name was Adrianna. We shortened it so it could fit. So, some things have to fit the circumstances. Anyway, with Paolo's poor  health, I don’t suppose you know when you’ll return Graziella to us?” Nonna Fabrizi said.

'I just wish..” Graziella was going to talk about her father, when she turned to Mingu and exploded:

“Why didn’t you send a letter? I could have gotten there a few weeks ago.”

“We didn’t know it was so bad.”

The return trip took longer than the four hours, delayed by roads  full of debris and military checkpoints.  Mingu had none of his military papers discharge in his possession, and the two of them pretended they were already married to skip through the interrogation.

Only Tiudo made a point to tease them after this encounter: "I'm telling Papa'!"

"Well, it's practically true. We are engaged; that's as good as being married in my book." Graziella said forcefully, staring the boy down. She was going to talk to her father about the impertinence of her brother. It was not fit that he took that tone with her. Yes, she said, I shall have to take charge again.

Within hours of her arrival, the household was buzzing with activity. The old iron bed was moved downstairs in the salotto, where Father had his favorite books, and a roaring fire was maintained day and night. No matter how many days or hours, she was going to make her father's life very comfortable. She talked to Lina and Tiudo, explaining that everything had to be kept precisely in the same place, so that Father could move around in a familiar place and not encounter any hindrance. She kept praying that his eyesight would improve soon.

That evening, the family joined him for evening prayers and everyone recited the rosary together, adding a prayer to the Madonna, for the health and welfare of each of them. When it was over, Don Paolo added:

“The dowry, my daughters, the dowry is not…” He couldn’t finish his thoughts.

Just thinking about the economic situation he was leaving behind made the conversation he needed to have with them more difficult. Graziella jumped in to stop this painful conversation. What she wanted to broach, before this came up, was the subject of Tiudo acting up. Instead, she knew to soothe the dying man.

“Papa, Mingu and I do not need a dowry. We don’t need anything.” She looked at Dolora to obtain her support.

“There are bills to doctors and various merchants. Last harvest didn’t pay off the bills.” Dolora interrupted, wanting this entire situation to be understood, adding: “ Graziella, you have been away from all these worries. You don’t know what we are going through.”

Graziella gave her a stern look. No, don’t inflame the conversation, she wanted to yell out.

“Papa’ these things will work themselves out. Everything will work out.” Graziella adjusted his pillows and helped him under the covers.

She dispatched Tiudo to stoke the wood, and to close the curtains just by pointing at things. Lina had curled up  next to her father, with the  new doll in her arms. Don Paolo kept talking, stroking his youngest daughter's hair:

“Mannaggia! Quei cugini!” He was swearing, naming his cousins accusingly.

“Papa, nobody did anything wrong!” Dolora added, “ we just didn’t get a good price on the olives.”

“Take Mingu and talk with the directors.” He whispered. Then, he waved them out without words. They walked out, silently.

Graziella could not believe how thin and sick her father had become. She let Lina fall asleep next to her father,curled up like a second pillow, holding his arm, sensing his distress.  She remembered that she had not had time to get presents for anybody. This is not good, she thought.

Dolora wanted the conversation to continue the minute they were out of hearshot.

“This is not Mingu’s business!” She declared, "he hasn’t been part of these talks. Nor does he need to know about our affairs.”

“He’s practically my husband. Whatever is ours will be his too.” Graziella was now angry at how insensitive her sister was.

Dolora went on ignoring her sister's anger. “You’re getting ahead of yourself. Tiudo will inherit the property that belongs to Father. You, Lina and I will get whatever is left of Mother's dowry. If I remember right , she left a will with an equal share of the property that was her dowry. So far, those vinyards have not been been used for collateral.

“Are you saying that all this land and the Loggia will go to Tiudo?”

Tiudo had followed them out, and when he heard his name, he came closer so he could get in the conversation.

“I get the Loggia? Everything will be mine?”

“If I’m right," Dolora continued, " the Ambros have some land coming to them because of the water rights they gave us. I saw the paperwork that Papa’ signed.” Dolora was stating the obvious, but both Graziella and Tiudo were now questioning how she knew so much.

All Dolora said was, "The property would be contested for years. Don't count on anything."

Graziella changed the subject, turning to Tiudo who kept asking questions.

“Don’t you start! Go do your chores and don't bother Papa'.” She told him in anger. She wanted this boy to know his place; this talk about who gets what was premature. She turned to Dolora'.

“I can become a teacher. It’s easier and faster than becoming a doctor. I’m not sure I want to stay in school that long. ” Graziella was thinking out loud.

Dolora yelled back: “I need to tell you that it’s hard. I’ve already sent the young ones to live with Donna Maria Rosaria in town during school days. They’ve gotten into difficulties. I don’t know how to manage here.”
“I won’t think of leaving you with Papa in his condition. I’m staying.”
"Good. "
"Lina will be good for Papa'."
"She gets up in the middle of the night and goes to him anyhow."
"What does she know about his condition?"
"I explained that he is going blind and we will all need to help him. She accepted that. Now that he has become weak and fragile, she doesn't know what to think. We thought he had years to adjust to blindness, a bit worse each day. Instead, it's happened all at once."

The sisters remained talking, trying to console each other, until the early hours of the day, when they heard noise from the salotto and they sprung to action together.


  1. i loved this story

    i'm new to your blog (and the blogging world) but i am so happy to have found another memoirist!!

    Greeks have a similar tradition with family names (“It’s been done this way for centuries, the first one is always on the father’s side, the second on the mother, and so on like that, keeping the names rolling so no one is hurt.)


    if you can, please stop by my blog sometime to read about Greece!

  2. My Greek father named me Paul after the then king of Greece. I named my son after my father. He gave greek names to his son and to his daughter although none of us speak Greek or have ever been to Greece.