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Rose Masciello's Autobiography - Chapter Two

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Giovanni’s Arrival

 

When the war-weary troops finally reached the seacoast city of Palermo, they bid each other farewell with affectionate parting words,
Arrivederci, Buona Salute, Buona Fortuna”. They parted, each one eager to start the journey that would bring him back home and into
the arms of waiting families. They scrambled to board ships or trains. Those living short distances away waved and rode away on horseback.

Giovanni was soon settled on a train. He looked out of his window, almost unaware of the beautiful Sicilian scenery that stretched along
over one hundred miles to his hometown of Misterbianco, Catania. His thoughts drifted from the intriguing girl on the balcony to his parents,
brothers, and sisters, and back again to the girl waving her flag– or was it a fan?

In the meantime, Giovanni’s parents, Rosa and Antonio Consoli, and his brothers and sisters had gathered outside their humble stone house.
Friends, relatives, and neighbors joined them to welcome home their brave, young hero whom they dearly loved.

Suddenly their chattering stopped. They seemed to hear the sound of wagon wheels in the distance and excitedly cried out, “It must be
Giovanni”! Yes, it was Giovanni riding in a carriage pulled by two horses jogging along the familiar dirt road leading right to his parents’ house.

The carriage stopped in the midst of the waiting crowd. Out stepped Giovanni, straight and tall in his uniform. They had not seen him in
three years so they embraced him, kissed him, and he tasted his mother’s salty tears as they mingled with his own.

His parents and siblings gazed at him with pride and love. They touched his hair and his uniform, and laughed at their own uncontrollable
excitement over this beloved son that God had returned to them.

Rosa and Antonio were poor, but with the help of the town’s people, most of whom were also poor, they managed to prepare a welcoming
Festa
for Giovanni that he would always remember.

Long wooden tables covered with red and white-checkered tablecloths were set out under sunny skies. Some neighbors brought chairs or
benches that were needed to seat everyone. More tablecloths were placed under the nearby trees for the children to eat picnic style.

The women, so proud of their cooking, brought out platters of pasta smothered in different kinds of tomato sauces. The cooked varieties
of vegetables had been grown on their own small farms. Different types of cheeses decorated the tables, and luscious dark grapes
cascaded over the apples and oranges, as if waiting to be painted by a great still-life artist.

Loaves of homemade bread were broken and passed around. Glasses of wine were lifted, and, as was the custom, many poetic rhyming toasts
were proposed, some in gratitude for the food that they were about to eat, others asking God for His blessings and thanking Him for Giovanni’s safe return.

They ate, drank, and made merry for hours. The sampling of their homemade wines went on until their feet loosened, and they were beckoned
by the sounds of the accordions to dance The Tarantella. The children joined in and danced until they became exhausted. Their eyes started to
close as the stars began twinkling in the dark cool night.

It seemed as if no one wanted the party to end, but it was late; so with contented hearts and having had their fill of Momma Rosa’s delicacies,
the generous well-wishers lifted their sleepy children in their arms, and wished Giovanni, his family and one another, “Buona Notte”.

That night, safe and sound in his bed, Giovanni looked around the small bedroom. This wasn’t a dream; it was real. Everything in the room was
just as he remembered it on the day that he left for the army three years ago.

He glanced towards the tiny clothes closet, which till had no door. His dusty uniform was hanging there. He quickly moved his gaze to a
small wooden crucifix that hung on the concrete wall opposite his bed. He let his eyes rest on the cross for a while. Although Giovanni’s
parents were devout Catholics, he had never been very religious. With a twinge of guilt, he recalled the many time bombs had exploded
overhead while he muttered the prayers of an “atheist in a foxhole”. He asked himself, “To whom do you turn when it seems there is no
one to turn to?” Now he knew the answer, and felt a deep sense of peace. As sleep crowded out his wandering thoughts, he snuggled his
head deeper into his pillow. Never before had it felt so soft and comforting as on this night.

Morning came; Giovanni had slept peacefully though the night. As he awakened he was greeted by the sun’s rays streaming into his room.
Still half asleep he squinted and shaded his eyes from the glare. For a moment he gazed at the familiar objects in his room– were they a
dream? No– he was not in his barracks. He was home in his own room. A feeling of gratitude swept over him. He was now free to
continue his life’s journey that the war had interrupted.

He was also free to roll over, pull up the covers and enjoy the luxury of being in his very own bed. He needed time to think of a plan for his
life. His thoughts rambled on. In spite of his new found freedom Giovanni felt compelled to help his parents and brothers with the work
that the family farm required. His two older sisters had been a great help when they were living at home, but now they were both married
and had families of their own to take care of.

Rolling over in his bed again, Giovanni wondered where the course of his destiny would lead him. His thoughts continued to wander
into space like slowly moving clouds. He reflected on his childhood. Giovanni, being the last born of five children had been too
young to be of much use on the farm. Unlike his brothers and sisters he had been sent to school at an early age, and being a
good student he was encouraged by his parents to continue his education. Then came the war; and three years spent in the military.

Now he was older and stronger and felt obligated to join his brothers with sowing, reaping and bringing in the harvest. His conscience
bothered him, as he had no real fondness for farm work. He might enjoy feeding the chickens, goats and horses— maybe!

There was one returning question left– the girl on the balcony. Not for one moment had Giovanni forgotten her. He asked himself, “Will I
ever see my dream girl again”? He prayed for guidance and asked his Dear Lord, “Am I destined to be a farmer? Will I ever return to school
again? If I return of Roccamena will she be waiting for me?”

As he prayed for a sign from God to guide him he heard a soft knock on his door. He hurriedly threw on his bathrobe and with bare feet
and tousled hair, he opened the door. His mother cheerfully informed him that she had a delicious breakfast waiting for him – and then
handed him a freshly laundered and pressed pair of farmer’s overalls. Giovanni graciously thanked his mother, but inwardly he thought,
“How ironic! I ask God for a sign and I am handed a pair of overalls!” Fortunately Giovanni had a good sense of humor and smiled all
the way to the kitchen where he ate a healthy breakfast-wearing the farmer’s overalls.

After breakfast Giovanni joined his brothers who were doing their usual chores on the farm. They were grateful for having their younger
brother home again, safe and sound after his three years in the army. Giovanni felt blessed that he was now able to assist his family. Yet
with each pitchfork of hay that he tossed to the animals, Giovanni wondered if this was to be the end of his life’s journey. He raised his
eyes to the heavens and humbly whispered,” Thy will be done.” He continued feeding the animals and reflected on the fickleness of life.
Yesterday he had taken off the army uniform that he had worn in the line of duty, and today his new uniform– baggy farmer’s overalls–
were a constant reminder that his duty had changed as well. He continued to work with his two brothers on their farm, but as he fed
the chickens, goats and horses, is mind was many miles away longing for the girl he could not get out of his mind.

Giovanni seemed cheerful as he labored on the farm and although his conscience was at ease his heart was in turmoil. As time
passed Giovanni’s family noticed he was becoming despondent. He was pleasantly surprised one day when his parents decided
that they were doing well enough for Giovanni to return to school. His brothers also encouraged him to continue his education
and reassured him that he was not needed on the farm. They teasingly added, "We didn’t like the way your overalls fit you anyway!”
Giovanni felt that this was the right moment to confess his strong desire to return to Roccamena to find the girl of his dreams.

His parents sadly felt their youngest son was not destined to remain at home. They had suffered a separation from Giovanni
when he was taken away from them to serve his country– and now this trip! Giovanni, with a grin on his handsome face and a
twinkle in his bright blue eyes promised that he would return with a lovely bride.