Mr. Rodolico was waiting for us at the bus stop. He was a short, chubby man. He had a coppola on his head and was wearing a red, checked shirt and black trousers that had some sand on them.
«I offer you my respects.» He said, greeting us in typical old-fashioned Southern Italian style. «I’ve just come from the shipyard, so please excuse me for not wearing my good suit», he continued, giving us a hug. «So, why is stu picciriddu naked?» (this child)
«Maatrii!» My grandmother exclaimed raising her eyes to the sky as she burst out laughing. «We left the wet t-shirt on the bus. I knew your mother was a cucca.» (jinx)
We told Mr. Rodolico about the Cassata Siciliana that we had also left on the train and we all laughed about it.
«Don’t worry about the cake, my wife has made some Cannoli. I think I’ve got a t-shirt that belongs to my granddaughter, Cettina, at home for stu picciriddu.»
Cettina was eight years old, and her t-shirt was quite loose on me, but that wasn’t a problem. The real problem was the colour: it was pink! It also had little pink satin bows on it and also flowers embroidered in white lace.
We went to the beach before lunch and Mr. Rodolico bought some fresh fish from the fishermen, who had just arrived in their boats after a fishing trip.
My grandmother was sitting on one of the many boats aground and I sat on the pebbles of the black beach. Standing beside us, the old fishermen were playing cards in front of the prow of a boat, which they used as a table, while others watched, commenting in dialect on their every move.
«So Grandma, why is the town called Acitrezza?»
One of the old men turned to my grandmother and said: «Curiusu stu picciriddu. Voli diri ca è ndiliggenti.» (This child is curious. That means he’s intelligent)
My grandmother began to tell me the story: «Aci was a young shepherd in love with Galatea, a nymph who lived in the sea. However, Polyphemus was also in love with her.»
«Is he the one who threw the rocks at Ulysses?»
«Yes, that’s him… the Cyclops. He was a bad giant and when Galatea rejected him, he killed poor Aci. So, the nymph prayed to the Gods, asking them to bring him back to life. The Gods transformed Aci into springs of water that flowed from the slopes of Etna, the volcano, and ran back into the sea to embrace the beautiful Galatea once more.»
The old man approached us, moving the attention away from the card game that his friends were playing.
«Do you know why the name of the towns around here begin with Aci? There are nine of them: Acitrezza, Acicastello, Acireale, Acicatena and others.»
My grandmother waited.
The old man said, accompanying his own version of the story with theatrical gestures. «Aci’s body was dismembered by Polyphemus, who tore it up into nine parts and threw the pieces all around this area and that’s where the towns now stand.»
He had been trying not to speak in dialect but giving the sentence some kind of grammatical order was an almost impossible challenge.
Mr. Rodolico caught up with us and greeted the old man who had told us the legend of Aci: «Peppino, don’t pester the lady.» He said, turning to my grandmother and exclaiming «Minghia, quannu attacca…», meaning that Peppino had the habit of talking too much.
«E cu fici nenti?» (I’ve done nothing wrong) Said Peppino as he went back to the card game.
At lunch, I told Mrs. Rodolico the legend of Aci. She told me that there was a nearby spring called Sangue di Aci (Blood of Aci), because of the reddish colour of its water.
She was a small woman, shorter than her husband, but she was energetic and never rested for a moment. After lunch, in the small garden overlooking the sea, I helped her arrange the tomatoes on the tables, which had been put outside in the sun, in order to be dried.
Before leaving, Mr. and Mrs Rodolico gave us a bag, in which there was a bottle of olive oil and a bottle of wine from their own land.
«Ora quannu ni viremo?» (when do we see each other again?) Mr. Rodolico asked, using the present tense instead of the future.
Verbs have no future tense in Sicilian dialect. The verb is conjugated in the present and it is preceded by an adverb of time that indicates the future, like dumani annamu (tomorrow we go), for example. It is said that the reason for this is that there is no hope in Sicily.
«Ni viremu prestu.» (See you soon) Grandmother hugged her aunt and uncle and I did the same.
Later that evening we arrived in Messina by train, where my father was waiting for us with his car. He was horrified to see the pink t-shirt that I was wearing.
«Take that off right now. Here, put my pullover on.» He took off his sweater with a serious look on his face. Then he looked at my grandmother and said: «Throw that thing away immediately.»
She obeyed, without saying a word, and threw the t-shirt into the nearest rubbish bin.
My father had always been strict about the distinction between the sexes: he was disgusted by the idea that his son could, in any way, appreciate a feminine object. Finding his son wearing a little girl’s garment with lace and flowers on it was really too much to bear.
A good Sicilian must respect his role, he would say, the role that nature gave him: men should do manly things and women should do womanly things. Such roles should never be exchanged, not even by mistake, not even for a joke.
In my village, little boys were brought up like the children from Sparta: they were not to cry in public, or complain, or be overly sentimental and they were not to love flowers or butterflies.
The role of the woman was that of housewife and mother – nothing more.
My mother was frowned upon in the village. She was one of the few women that worked. I think the other women envied her really, because they saw her as a symbol of financial independence and emancipation, which was almost always denied to most of them. Some spoke about her with disdain, assuming who knows what sins my mother was committing in the city. According to their insinuations, she had had dozens of flings with colleagues whom they did not even know.
Sinning would have been just about impossible anyway, with my father always there, breathing down her neck. In the office, my mother only worked alongside female colleagues and whenever he had a free moment, my father would pass by to check up on her.
«Tommaso, you must remember», my grandmother always said. «Never to envy anybody. Envy is a feeling that wears down the person who harbours it.»
I was born in Messina and raised in a traditional Sicilian family. I am the youngest of three sisters. I worked 10 years at a travel agency and then as a tour guide. Travelling is my passion. My writing career began somewhat by accident when I participated in a literary competition and won first prize. Two years later I tried my hand at the writing competition once again, my entry won first prize again! My first novel, "Her name was Aprile" was born after chronicling stories from a boy’s youth and the disappointments of lost love. In writing about these events, the characters came to life and the story wrote itself.