On that particular occasion, we carried a washing machine engine home. My father suggested connecting it to the handle of a tool used to sieve tomatoes.
The invention not only allowed us to save a lot of hard physical work, but it also reduced preparation time for the tomato puree.
Every year, one day in the month of August was dedicated to preparing bottles of fresh tomato to be kept as a supply for the winter.
The evening before we would take advantage of the cooler temperature and prepared the battlefield for the long, busy morning that awaited us.
We would set-up several tables, placing numerous items on them, including empty bottles, piles of metal caps with which to cap them, a modified tomato sieving machine, a capping machine, large saucepans, a stack of firewood to make a bonfire, boxes of tomatoes and basil.
The following morning, we would get up at six o’clock.
Every year, my mother wore the same red dress, so that the tomato stains would not show, she said, but I knew that it was the dress that my father liked most on her.
She was beautiful, with her black hair pulled back in a ponytail, leaving her neck and back uncovered.
When my father thought that nobody was looking, he moved closer to her to kiss her neck and she laughed because it tickled. Then he began to give orders like a colonel: «Come on boys, let’s hurry. At ten o’clock the sun will be beating down on our heads. Come on, you can do it! We need to be finished by then.»
My mother coordinated the line of attack. «Matteo and Tommaso, you wash the bottles and put a few basil leaves inside them. Mum, you can wash the tomatoes.»
My grandmother kept the crew’s spirits high by joking around.
«Enough of the games, you three. Fozza travagghiamu.» (come on, let’s get to work) Then my father would join in with the water pump and ended up soaking us all.
My mother watched him entranced.
«Now let’s clean up.» My father shouted, brandishing the water pump as if it were a fireman’s hose.
We would finish by tidying up the garden, with laughter and bucketsful of water.
«What have you done to yourself, Tommaso?» My grandmother asked when I came back from the ciumara with my forehead covered in blood and the wound still open.
«He fell over like a fool.» Matteo added.
«If you and Serafino hadn’t made me fall over, I wouldn’t have hurt myself. Don’t you agree?»
«Come along. Stop it now. Come and I’ll clean up your cut before your mother sees it.»
Our games were dangerous. We played with tools that were not suitable for children, but we survived unscathed and our parents never made any fuss about a couple of scars here and there.
One afternoon, along with my brother and aided by Serafino who acted as a ladder, we tried to unscrew the light bulbs of the street lights in the square, but a spy must have told our father, who came out of the house to look for us.
We fled along the little village lanes as he chased us, yelling threats. «Go home, you little devils. Vi mmazzu i bastunati.» (I’ll beat the living daylights out of you.)
After an incredible race, we got home and my mother was in a rage, telling my father: «Your sons are a danger. They’ll come to a bad end si non ci stai i supra.» (if you don’t keep them under control)
The village had seen the wrath of my father yelling along the roads, sure to give us a beating, and that was what he wanted the neighbourhood to believe.
Instead, with his proverbial calm, he said: «Carmela, sunnu figghioli. (they are boys) I was just like them when I was their age. It’s curiosity that makes them do these things.»
«Yes, it makes them hurt themselves. What if they had been electrocuted?»
«Cammiliiina,» – followed by a two-second pause – «Come on! Do you think it’s easy to dismantle a street light?»
My father’s calm nature was unparalleled. It would have irritated anyone, and my mother was always annoyed when he made light of her reprimands, as if she were a silly child and he had to explain everything to her.
My grandmother poked her head into our room, where we were hiding out, with the door ajar, listening to what our parents were saying.
«Boys, you’re adults now. You need to think before you do things. You must help each other, not lead each other into danger.»
Her words were worth more than any scolding. She succeeded in making us think without yelling at us. That way, we stayed calm and understood our mistakes. We had got away with it that day and luckily my father did not lose his temper.
But things went very differently when he bought a new, bright red Fiat 500. Shiny and clean, it was parked in the garden near the flowerbeds that my mother tended to with passion.
One afternoon, when my parents were not at home, Matteo’s diabolic plan kicked off.
«Come on, Tommy, get the keys and we’ll drive it around the garden. What do you think could happen?»
«No! Dad will be angry.»
«Don’t be such a chicken. I’ll distract Grandma and you can get the keys. We’ll meet downstairs in the courtyard.»
A few minutes later, I was in the garden with the car keys in my hand.
«Grandma’s in the kitchen. Start it up», my accomplice whispered.
When my brother organized these missions of his, he was like Lucignolo, Pinocchio’s naughty friend: he carefully prepared his strategy, but it was I who then had to put it into practice and take all the risks.
«Because I don’t know how to drive.»
«Do you think I’ve got a driving license?»
«No, but I’m only thirteen.»
That was true.
«Oh, go on Tommy. You know that you’re the force and I’m the mind. Come on, before Grandma gets suspicious.»
Why didn’t I remember my grandmother’s words that day? “You’re adults now. Don’t lead each other into danger.”
I started the engine with Matteo sitting on the passenger seat.
- Her Name Was Aprile - April 18, 2021