THERE WAS NO FIREPLACE
We climbed up the wooden stairs. My uncle opened the door to the kitchen; inside, there were other relatives. They came to greet us and they warmly hugged and kissed us. They had come purposely to see us and had prepared a sumptuous dinner. They asked us a thousand questions and we asked them a thousand questions. I didn’t know any of them, but they knew me. This surprised me a bit and I asked how they knew me, given the fact that this was our first meeting. They told me that they had read all the letters that I had written to them in my grandmother’s name. My grandmother was a very intelligent woman, but she didn’t know how to read or write. It was my job to read and write letters to her relatives and children in America.
At the end of each letter, I would always add a line or two from me personally to whoever the letter was addressed to. It seemed as if everyone liked this because they told me that they would hand the letters around among themselves.
They had prepared a wonderful dinner of pasta with sauce. We all sat down around the set table. While we ate, my father, who had a remarkable sense of humor, started to tell stories about the town, to describe the most interesting characters; he would add anecdotes and personal observations, most likely exaggerated, so that he could make more of an impression on those present. I liked seeing him this happy. For so long, I had only seen sadness in his eyes. We spent many pleasant hours together among laughter, stories and an apparently very good wine, noticing that the carafe was repeatedly refilled. The evening wore on, and the relatives said their farewells and went on their way.
We were left with my aunt and uncle and my little cousin. We were all tired and got ready to go to bed.
I took a look around. The kitchen was very beautiful and well organized. It was yellow with sheer curtains on the windows. On one side there was the refrigerator and on the other side the electric heater. Further on, there was the “stipone” (pantry), full of cnned goods and other victuals. Obviously, here you didn’t buy food every day. Everything was very organized and in its place.
In the living room, there was a sofa, two armchairs, a small coffee table in the middle and two small endtables on either end of the couch. In front of the couch there was a TV. “What a beautiful TV it was!” I said to myself. And yet, as beautiful and well-organized as the house was, it wasn’t warm or welcoming. Something was missing. I turned around and I didn’t see that thing I was looking for: there was no fireplace, no “focolaio” (hearth). The center of the house, the place where we would gather at night to talk, tell stories, or simply to think, wasn’t there. The fireplace with its flames that crackled and gave off warmth was missing. A feeling of coldness and solitude overcame me. A sense of bitter sadness.
I was tired from the long journey and from all the new things that I had seen, all the things that I had done and said. I got ready, said good night and went to bed. The others stayed up to talk.
Delia Socci Skidmore