Friday, April 13, 2012

Tocco da Casauria

This is the last assignment of this semester's writing class. The assignment was to write a lyrical essay. I am still struggling with essay writing but essays are my favorites to read and to write.

At the top of my list of the most admired women is my maternal grandmother, Emilia. She was a beautiful woman, full of grace, class and courage. Most of my childhood was spent at her side, my fondest memories began in her home.

Its Monday morning, from the little yellow radio in the kitchen I hear the familiar theme song of one of her favorite shows….”sing everyone sing, sing everyone sign, all of your troubles will vanish like bubbles, sing everyone sing”………

After many trips to central Italy, we made a very good decision one late Autumn and spent a lovely week further south, visiting Sorrento and the gorgeous Amalfi Coast. Our plan was to drive directly north at the end of the week, to our final destination of Orvieto before returning to the states to prepare for our Christmas holiday.

As I enter the door to the kitchen, I see the mounds of pasta dough on the black Formica counter. The long narrow rolling pin is whirling to the tune…..sing everyone sing….

Was it the romance of Sorrento or the call of the open road that set my dear husband Joe to his generous offer of a side trip. "Let's set the GPS for Tocco da Casuria". My heart leapt and my response needed no second thought. Very soon after, we were on the road. The unusually warm November weather that we had enjoyed was changing and we left Sorrento with clouds over our heads and the threat of rain.

After sharing our greetings, I walk away from the kitchen, down the long hall that leads me to the “Little Room”, that which belonged to my mother and aunt so many years ago. I glance into the big bedroom and see the special sheet, draped the entire length and width of the bed, the pasta sheet, now holding almost the weeks’ worth….sing everyone sing…..

Tocco da Casuria is a tiny town in the province of Pescara in the Abruzzo region of Italy. It’s patron is Saint Eustachio. A small town with a current population of 3,000 inhabitants, located high in the mountains. The birthplace of my grandmother whose grandfather came from the nearby town of Capistrano as a stone mason. He left his home for the job of creating the relief work for the Municipal Building in the center of Tocco before meeting her grandmother. We knew little more than that when we set out that day for our drive through the Gran Sasso mountains along roads that were more modern than we could have imagined.

My grandmother Emilia was educated by the nuns. In my mind as a child, I was sure that she meant that she left her home, taken by the clergy women, never to return. I thought that she only learned how to embroider but as the years went by, I realized that she was smart, nicely educated in many areas, and especially classy for an immigrant…..sing, everyone sing…..

If you ever find yourself in Italy and you do not like to miss lunch, you should know that it is necessary to plan your day very carefully because lunch time is sacrosanct. The entire country shuts down for it and it happens at the same time every day, everywhere. So, from noon until two, streets empty and the serious work of preparing, eating and relaxing starts. It was at this very time that we saw the sign we had so anticipated and headed off the highway and up the hill to the official blue and white "Tocco da Casauria" sign assuring us that we were in the right place. Slowly, we proceeded, around the curves and into the center of the tiny but pristine town. Empty streets, this was not a tourist town and this was lunch time.

When I was still a teenager, my brother became ill and my parents had to go to California to help him, leaving me behind. My grandparents came to our house to stay with me and my grandmother continued to do her domestic duties which now included reorganizing some things for my mother. One day, I opened the pantry door and found that she had labeled some canisters, her way of helping my mother as she tended to her child….The flour canister now had a perky new label which ready "Flower" remained that way for years to come......sing, everyone sing……

As we wound our way, we easily found the Municipal Building with relief work , a row of the most heavenly stone cherubs encircled the building, my great-great grandfather’s work, beautifully adorning it. My heart started beating, faster and faster as I tried find anything that would be familiar to me from my childhood memories. I had so few. I just knew about the convent, the church of San Eustachio, and the houses with the dirt floors, now long since replaced.

My grandmother had stomach problems. The doctor across the street in the Bronx had the solution. Routine surgery. Some news about Potassium loss. We’ll be there tomorrow to visit her. All of your troubles will vanish like bubbles…. A phone call, instant heartbreak. I was the one to tell my mother….sing everyone sing.

Slowly, we walked around the paved stone road in front of the church. I tried the ancient door, it was locked. My disappointment lifted as I allowed myself to realize that I was touching the very same door handle that she had touched, walking on the very same pavers as did she, looking out at the very same snow-covered mountains that my grandmother observed every day for the first fourteen years of her life. I studied this view, took it all in for what seemed like a very long time before I realized that the sun was shining, the clouds had lifted.

She’s here….here to greet me…..all of your troubles will vanish like bubbles so sing everyone sing.

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