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Rose Masciello's Autobiography - Chapter Three

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                                                  The Marriage Proposal 

 

 

Preparations were made for his journey. He decided to make the long trip on horseback for it would be faster. A horse and rider could
travel over fields and streams, whereas a horse and wagon could travel only on dirt roads. Early the next morning Rosa and Antonio
bid their son farewell and watched him ride away on his galloping horse. Giovanni arrived at his destination just as the sun was rising.
The little town was deserted. It was very different from the scene he remembered from his first visit. He rode through streets and alleys
searching for the balcony he remembered so vividly.

As the first rays of the sun shone through the morning clouds, the sleepy town yawned to the sound of rattling milk cans. The storekeepers
opened their doors. Giovanni’s senses stirred when out of a nearby café streamed the aroma of freshly baked bread and the fragrance of
strong black coffee. The red and white striped awning that shaded the shop’s window caught his attention. For a moment he was back in uniform,
marching with his troops; his eyes unconsciously taking in the image of the colorful awning.

He quickly entered the café and asked the shopkeeper about a family that he was certain lived nearby. He described the young girls and a man
with a handlebar mustache who had come to the balcony for a moment. The shopkeeper, wanting to be helpful to the clean-cut young man,
said, ”I’m sure you are looking for Stefano and his wife, Lucia. They have four daughters and a son. They live in that house across the street
from me, but Signor Stefano’s brother, Alfredo, lives next door to me. I will take you to him if you like”.

Giovanni felt that things were moving along a little faster than he had expected, but answered that he would very much like to meet Signor
Alfredo. The shopkeeper brought the nervous young man to Giovanna’s uncle, made the introductions and quickly returned to his café to take
care of business.

Hoping he didn’t sound young and foolish, Giovanni confided to Alfredo how very much he desired to meet his niece, the girl he had seen on
the balcony as he was marching with his troops through this town on his way to Palermo. Alfredo, a romanticist himself, took pity on this love-sick
suitor and made arrangements for Giovanni to meet his brother, Stefano, and his family the next day.

It was a long night for Giovanni, but the moment arrived when he was presented to Signor Stefano and cordially invited to stay for dinner. He
could hardly believe he was soon seated around a dining room table surrounded by Stefano, his wife Mamma Lucia, and the Palmeri family. The
four sisters looked on, barely able to conceal their curiosity and excitement: Giovanna, the eighteen-year-old dark beauty of the family, Anichia,
the thin, self-assured, fair-skinned sixteen-year-old, Nina, a nine-year-old blond with twinkling, laughing eyes, and Margarita with straight brown hair,
already wearing glasses, although only eight years old. The middle child, a son of fifteen was named Pasquale, but friends called him, “Romeo” for
obvious reasons.

As dishes clattered and food was passed back and forth around the table, the conversation came alive with the many questions that the curious
children asked their guest. Giovanni was a likeable fellow. The shy glances he exchanged with Giovanna, who was sitting directly opposite him told
her he was a loveable fellow too.

Signor Stefano, observing Giovanna and the young guest, recognized the strong attraction between them. Mamma Lucia, as she sipped her
hot minestrone, also watched her daughter and the infatuated young man. He entertained the family with his adventures in the army and
with tales of his efforts to chase the chickens and goats on his farm while his family waited for the eggs and the goat’s milk. Mamma Lucia saw
that Giovanni had eyes only for her eldest daughter and knew this must be love.

Giovanni tried to make a favorable impression on the Palmeri family with his funny stories, but he could hardly eat as he thought of the moment
he would ask Signor Stefano for his daughter’s hand in marriage. It was the custom in those days for marriages to be “arranged.” Giovanni hoped he
could persuade Uncle Alfredo to arrange this one. Giovanni imagined bringing the young girl back home to Catania where they would settle down
near his parents and have lots of children.

The dinner ended when they finished their last cup of espresso coffee laced with anisette and had eaten, down to the last crumb, the almond
cookies that Giovanna had baked for them. She had a Mona Lisa smile on her face as she handed him a bag of those cookies for his trip home.
Giovanni would soon discover the reason for the sadness in his beloved’s eyes.

Signor Stefano, knowing what was on the young man’s mind, took Giovanni aside so they could speak privately. He was not surprised when
Giovanni nervously blurted out, “Signor Stefano, I know that your brother Alfredo has told you that I am in love with your daughter, Giovanna,
and I am here to ask you for her hand in marriage.”

Signor Stefano looked at Giovanni with sad and understanding eyes and said, ”Giovanni, I must explain, and I am so sorry but I cannot give permission
for this marriage to take place. I am waiting for documents that will permit me and my family to leave for America.”

Giovanni was speechless. Signor Stefano understood his silence, saw the disappointment in his face, and said, “Giovanni, don’t be so sad.”
Then as he twirled the ends of his handlebar mustache he jokingly added, “However, I would prefer taking my daughter to America as a married
woman. With a husband, she would not be my responsibility. You are twenty-one ears old. You spent the last three years in the army and have
no trade. How can you support a wife and family? Go back to your hometown in Catania and think about what is best for you.”

Giovanni was still silent and Signor Stefano was moved by it. Placing his hand on Giovanni’s shoulder he asked, “Have you ever thought of going
to America?” The disillusioned and heavy-hearted suitor barely managed to whisper, “No, Signor Stefano.”

The evening ended. The Palmeri family bid Giovanni “Farewell, Arrivederchi, Buono Fortuna” Giovanna held back her tears and silently prayed that
this was not Addio!- Good-bye!

Giovanni started on his journey homeward, his horse trotted slowly over fields and streams. The unexpected outcome of his proposal for
Giovanna’s hand in marriage had left him dazed and dejected. He pondered his situation and thought of his parents, his married sisters, and their
families and his two older brothers. None of them had ever expressed a desire to emigrate to this new land, America. Giovanni asked himself, “Are
the streets really paved with gold? Is it the land of opportunity?” He was at the crossroads of his life’s journey. If he decided to stay with his
family in Catania, he would continue his education and receive the degree he had always dreamed of. But that would mean losing Giovanna;
never seeing her again. He knew for certain that if Giovanna went to America without him, she would be taking his heart with her. Suddenly
the horse’s slow trot turned into a fat paced gallop. By the time young and impetuous Giovanni was back in his parents’ embrace he had made his decision.