Don Paolo passed away before spring, before his daughter Graziella's house was finished and furnished, before he knew about her pregnancy.The town doctor pronounced him dead, and the funeral was held the next day. Nobody asked how he died, what killed him. A strong man had been reduced to such a puny size in no time, blind and weak in a matter of months.
The children spoke about the supper they had together the previous Sunday. Graziella returned to those words many times, feeling in her heart that he was blessing her and her unborn child.
“Forget tradition,” he had shouted amidst coughing fits, “What’s important is to give the child a strong name he can wear proudly. ”
“But Papa’ it would be blasphemous to dishonor our ancestors. If I have a girl, she’ll be called Marianna, like Mamma. And our boy, Natalino, like Mingu’s father.”
“Your poor papa’, God bless his soul, has been named already a half a dozen times, no?” He addressed Mingu with this question.
“There are four nephews named after my father, and two nieces, after my mother.” Mingu acknowledged.
“See? What are those boys going to think when your mother mixes them up? She won’t remember who is who?”
Within weeks after the funeral, neighbors and townspeople began to arrive at the house to talk about money owed them. Mingu tried to handle most of these with Donna Maria Rosaria, but in the end, it was Dolora who had to make sense of all the business affairs their father had left behind.
“ You’ll be paid in due time, can’t you see this is not the proper time? Don Paolo will keep his word even after death, you’ll see. Go on, go home. We'll find the money.”
After six months, a judge in Potenza passed judgment on the estate and the family’s future without meeting with anyone or understanding the pain he would cause.
Graziella went first into a deep depression and then one morning, while she was tending the garden, she doubled over with pain. Lina found her on the ground, amidst a pool of blood. She had no strength to move. The baby arrived twenty hours later, stillborn. She died from hemorrhaging.
“Did Graziella’s baby kill her?” Tiudo wanted to know.
Each child had an explanation for what happened. Tiudo thought his father got sicker as more and more people cheated him. If he had been older, his father wouldn’t have died, wouldn’t have been aggravated by the cheaters.
Lina thought Graziella’s baby must have kicked her too hard, to cause so much blood to spill.
The two of them made a pact: they were going to keep awake every night, somehow, to make sure nobody poisoned them, or caused them further harm.
“When I grow up, Lina, I’ll take care of you." Tiudo spoke with certitude. I’ll never let anything happen to you. We’ll go to America, and start new. You’ll see, nobody dies in America. Nobody suffers. Nobody can get away with cheating the way they get away here. I will find a way. I promise.”
Mussolini was expanding Italy’s military, and every able man was being called to active duty. Widowers and bachelors were taxed more and were obliged to get married or join the army. Their prostitutes were chased off the back streets and were forced to register properly and be controlled by the state police. Every single man was put on notice: stay home and have babies with your wife, your country needs strong men to compete in the world.
“With over forty million people, you’d think he’d want us to have fewer children!” Donna Maria Rosaria commented one night when she heard about Mussolini’s plan to enlarge families. “He’s putting more burdens on young families. Why he’s gallivanting with a mistress, while his wife is raising his children ! And he calls himself a just man.”
Mingu was twenty-seven years old. The love of his life had died, and he had nothing else to live for. His mother didn’t know where he slept or what he was doing in town. He had lost a wife, a son, and a fortune in a matter of months. She was not surprised when he told her his plans to re-join the calvary.