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Some weeks passed and my mother and aunt dedicated themselves to taking care of Livia, who was growing without any problems.
At night, when Livia cried, my mother would also get up to help in any way she could. Grandmother took care of the rest.
On December 15, 1943, my grandmother got out of bed earlier than usual. Some passersby had informed her that her country house in Vico had been occupied by German soldiers who had cut down a number of fruit trees to make a fire and, even worse, had set up an anti-aircraft cannon in front of the large door. She had become infuriated, disturbed, very angry. She would wander around the house muttering to herself: “Who do these Germans think they are?” How dare they step foot in her house! She would show them a thing or two!
I would look at her in a somewhat apprehensive way; I had heard her talking to herself before, but this was different. There was something strange in her tone of voice that sent a shiver of fear through me.
She got ready; she had dressed in the typical local style, long skirt with corset, white dress shirt, black apron. She put on her cioce, rustic shoes of the area, grabbed some bread and butter, wrapped it in a towel, threw her shawl on her shoulders and she set out, sure and determined, towards Vico. A short while later, my mother grabbed a clothesbasket and she went out as well, heading towards the warm water spring at Canala.
It was almost 11:30; Livia was asleep in the crib by the hearth, Aunt Tina was preparing lunch and I was playing. In the distance, you could hear the rumble of bomber planes; at this point, the continuous rumbling that ploughed through our skies had become a daily event. Suddenly, nine Spitfires broke off from the planes’ formation and homed in on the town, dropping bombs that were exploding everywhere with enormous booms. The German anti-aircraft cannon responded with a blast that shook valleys and mountains. The first bomb fell on the nursery school. The nursery school was not far from us; from our kitchen window, we could see all of it. The exploding bombs shook our entire house, the glass of the windows and balconies shattered and flew through the rooms like splinters; even bomb chips hissed into the house, and shattered on our walls with shrill whistles and deafening noises. My aunt was petrified and in a state of shock; I ran taking refuge under the stairs while Livia slept peacefully. My aunt came back to her senses quickly, took Livia into her arms, grabbed me by my arm and brought us under the shelter of the stairs that led out onto our terrace. I don’t know why she chose that particular spot as a shelter, maybe because it was the only place where there weren’t any windows or balconies. Something enormous was knocked down onto our terrace not far from where we were sitting, causing a deafening crash. Little Livia awoke crying. I had been clinging to my aunt’s skirt and was weeping and sobbing. Crying, I called for my mother; I wanted only my mother. My poor aunt didn’t know how to comfort me and she held me close to her with Livia, but I didn’t even notice; I wanted my mother. The bombing lasted only a few minutes, though the damage that it inflicted on the town was enormous, and the people’s terror was complete. Miraculously, the sisters of the Precious Blood, as well as the teacher Giuseppe Terenzio, were able to crawl out unharmed from the rubble of the collapsed school, covered in mortar and dust. Little Gina Fabrizio, who lived near the school, was wounded. Another bomb took the life of a young mother and mortally wounded her small daughter, who died a few hours later. A column of acrid black smoke rose up and enveloped the entire village. People would run out of their houses screaming and would scramble out trying to get as far away as possible from the danger that surrounded them.
Then, there was total silence. A calm that was almost nerve-racking, as if something worse were about to happen. We came out of our hiding place. We went downstairs, walking carefully so as not to trip on any splinters or chips in the wreck that our once beautiful house had become. My aunt looked around incredulous, and with eyes full of tears and immense sadness she looked at me and said: “Delia, what do we do?” What could I say to her? I myself was still terrorized and trembled like a leaf.
We were stirred by the unmistakable clattering of horse’s hooves on the pavement of the village square. We knew who was arriving. I ran to the door and saw him, tall and strong on his horse, my indomitable uncle Michelangelo. Wearing his park ranger uniform, and seated so straight on his horse, he looked like a general to me. He came to the little square in front of the house, dismounted and without even thinking about tying the horse to the railing, ran to me; with my arms outstretched, I ran to him and called zizi. He hugged me to him and said: “But you’re all alive? Are you all here?” My aunt also appeared at the door with Livia and, upon seeing all of us, my uncle, the strong, indomitable, rough man, burst into sobs. He had seen the bombardment from the top of a hill, he had seen the village enveloped in smoke and feared the worst. He immediately ran to us, at great risk to himself. Now he anxiously urged us: “Let’s go! Right away!” he said “It is too dangerous here now.” Then he entered the house and looked around astounded at how our beautiful house had been reduced in just a few minutes of bombing. He and my aunt grabbed some necessary things to bring with us and they wrapped them in a towel; seeing that my aunt was lingering, he turned to her anxiously: “Let’s go! You have to move, they’re going to come back to bomb again.” Then he took Livia in his arms, took my hand, and we set out on foot towards the end of the village.
We walked up the path that led to Canari and arrived at a stable; my uncle opened the door and said that we would be safe there. We looked around; it was a stable where shepherds would keep their flock for the night. It was empty now but the stench of livestock was powerful. My aunt looked at my uncle with entreating eyes and burst into tears. He stared at her and said: “Titì (that’s what relatives called her), this is not the time to act like a baby, you have to be strong: for now, you’ll be fine here and then we’ll see. Now I have to go and see where my mother and Triestina are.” He turned and set out with long strides towards the Canari ditch and disappeared from view.
DELIA SOCCI SKIDMORE