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Thursday, June 3, 2010


Man Talk

After her wedding, Graziella moved in with Mingu, at his mother’s house. Lina spent her school days there too. Tiudo and Dolora remained at home, in the ghostly place still known as the Loggia.

Don Paolo was happy that with Graziella's marriage, his children were now connected firmly to a family that would support and protect them as he got closer to his end.

When Mingu came to talk to him, Dolora saw a chance to plead her case again. The men spent hours behind locked doors, as she waited patiently in the kitchen, helping Gemma, keeping an ear and an eye on the goings on in the salotto. They could only afford paying Gemma to come in once a week to help with the laundry, but she would stay overnight and helped Dolora with some heavy tasks. Winter was the time for families to butcher hogs and make sausages. Not this winter. Every minute was spent cleaning and tending to Don Paolo.

On this day Mingu brought a couple of people from town to help with routine tasks of pruning and spraying vines. Dolora was miffed, knowing that these people had to be paid, and be fed, all additional expenses. He knew what difficulties they were having this year.

Mingu and Don Paolo talked for a while, the conversation moving in many directions.

“The new house in town and la vigna vicina are your wedding presents. I will need to sell the wheat fields to pay my doctor’s bills; so, I can’t hire but one person to help you with the vineyards and olive groves from now on. Tiudo can help in a year or two. It’s been tough meeting our obligations right now.”

“I didn’t want to bother you when you were so sick.”

“We need to remedy the fact that you haven't been paid for a while either. But the next harvest should be better...”

“I don’t need much.  But, with a new wife, we will need to furnish the house, get feed for the horses. I want Graziella to return to her studies but she has made up her mind.”

“She hasn’t talked to me!”

“With due respect, Don Paolo, I’m the man she needs to talk to now.”

“Yes, yes. Of course!”

“I plan on taking care of her. If she wants to continue her studies, I’ll arrange it.”

“How are you going to do that, Mingu, without an income, without a dowry? I don’t mean to insult you, but you have no trade, no skills. Except as a contadino, a man used to working with the land. These lands used to feed all of us; now, it’s not so easy. I hear Mussolini is planning a land reform. Who knows how that will break us even more. We used to have means to send our children to school, and marry them to suitable suitors. No offense, Mingu. She wanted to marry you. I didn’t object. Her mother, God bless her soul, stepped down to marry me. She made me most happy and never brought up our class difference.”

“Not the same, Don Paolo. You were, still are, high class in these parts.”

“Well, in a way. Marianna’s family was full of professionals, people with intellectual skills. I couldn’t hold a decent conversation in that house, though I went past elementary school myself before I joined the military. I almost wish we had settled in Naples. Our children would be educated and exposed to a better group of people. No offense, Mingu. I don’t mean your family at all. I knew your father and mother before you were born; buona gente, the Ambros. Loyal and honest. I wouldn’t have anybody else marry one of my daughters. Now, promise me something…”

“Yes. Anything…”

“Losing a mother is hard enough. Now, with my bad health,…”

“No need to ask. She is …”

“And another thing…”


“I’m …” Don Paolo couldn’t continue as a harsh coughing fit stopped him mid sentence. Mingu got him a glass of water and waited for the cough to stop. Dolora walked in and Mingu turned to her:

“Your father gave us la vigna vicina, the one on the way to Melfi. Who has been working that piece?”

“It’s been leased.” She said. She must get a detailed list of all the holdings before things get worse, she thought.  Why did her father split the land so? That piece was their Mother’s dowry, meant for the daughters, all of them. Graziella is already getting a new house, and now the vigna vicina. How is that fair? What’s left for her, for Lina?

“I’m running that for Graziella and me, exclusively.” Mingu told her.

“I have to stop the lease, then.” She said, not really sure what that entailed. She was learning about finances one problem at a time. First thing to do, was to make a detailed list of holdings. She tried to stay focused on that thought, as things were quite fluid around the place.

“All we need now are the furnishings. Usually, that’s what my side of the family provides. But I haven’t gotten paid for the last year.” Mingu had been rattling on and on before she understood.

She noticed how different she felt for him now that he was part and parcel of every discussion they would be having. This feels strange, too strange, she thought.

“A year?” She was trying to remember when was the last time she had handed him money. She had taken over the finances  in the last few months. Maybe Don Paolo’s health is confusing everything.

“Two, last harvest and this harvest.” He emphasized.

“Why didn’t you say something earlier?” She asked him with a tinge of anger in her voice.

“I didn’t want to bring more concerns up. Anyway, if you are doing the books now, you need to know all these things.” He had caught her mood swing and attributed it to all the confusion in the house.

“Fine. I’ll check into this.” She mumbled.

“We’ll be gone for a week on our honeymoon. My mother will come and stay with you guys.”

“That’s kind of her; but we are doing fine.”

“I want to convince Graziella to stay in school. She thinks I would object; but I would be so proud of her if she became a doctor.”

“This is a bad time…” Dolora was growing more and more anxious. How does he make all these decisions without consulting us, she thought. Now, he is deciding for Graziella too.

“You know that nobody can help Don Paolo. We need to accept his fate. But, your sister had this opportunity of a lifetime. Why do you stand in her way? What can she do that you or I can’t do for your father?” And with this last statement, he left the Loggia. There was no money for his labors and no dowry either. He better think of some other way to provide for his new family.

Dolora didn’t bother her father with her concerns. She went looking for Tiudo instead.


  1. I see where this is going, now. Great story.

  2. I feel I'm beginning to understand why my father left Greece and came to Canada. His parents had decided he would be a professor he wanted to be a lawyer. He got a Ph.D. in pedagogy and ship out as a cook on a freighter.
    Disembarking in Montreal he went on to washing dishes in a restaurant, to directing one of two Greek schools, where he met my French Canadian mother who taught French and English in that school.
    For a time he was secretary to the General Consul of Greece in Montreal...and went back to the restaurant business managing and rebuilding failing restaurants all the while earning good money gambling and keeping ahead of the police for illegal gambling. In one small town the police force were his best customers.
    I guess he found here a freedom he was denied in his home country...but , as far as I know, (he left us in 1941 and we never saw him again but I know he died in Canada) he never became a Canadian citizen and remained a Greek to the end.

  3. Paul, that's what I am trying to do here, understand the decisions my parents made. I'm trying to recreate their circumstances and the impeding motivations. This exercise is helping me find peace and understanding, knowing how circumstances affect decisions. My mother, Dolora', was a practical woman, but sad and burdened with her stories, her guilt of what happened to her family.

    The younger children, Tiudo and Lina ended up hating Mingu and bringing this up to me. I'm recreating this history of theirs where each of them felt victimized.

    I can see how your father never felt at home in his new land. He was prepared to do one thing, with a professional degree and a status to uphold, and could make more money gambling. Quite conflicting. I didn't know he left you.

  4. Always fascinating! I have really been enjoying your story. That photo is wonderful as well.

  5. There is so much tension in these stories, Rosaria, tension between women and men, between classes, between family members. I wonder on how you are able to draw it all together, really, so many elements to tend to. I think I should take a moment to fill in the gaps and read back a post.


  6. Erin,
    Writing this story from my perch, at this point in my life, this is what I have to offer, these memories of tension and sadness, and twists of fortunes. This is what I heard and felt growing up when I heard these shards of lives. It is a very sad story. I can't break the tension, even if I wanted to. This is the truth of their lives.

    Your perception is very valuable here,btw. Unlike fiction, where we can build a balance or an exit strategy, real stories are doomed from the beginning to stay put as they came to us.

    Thanks for the visit.

  7. sad, full of emotions...
    thank you for sharing part of yourself with us!

  8. You are so descriptive and honest! I adore memoirs. How exciting to read parts of one in a blog!

    The dependency of the harvest for payment of various things comes up here and there in these posts. It must have been so difficult to have to rely on something potentially so inconsistent, especially with Don Paolo's poor health.

    Thanks for sharing!

  9. What a great story with revelation.

  10. i am so enjoying learning about this intricate web of relationships - so rich and so tangled - with 'characters' (i know they are real people) struggling to become liberated from it, and not succumb to being strangled by it.

    your use of dialogue is expert and through it the lives and personalities of your family members emerge full-fledged. wonderful.