LA FESTA DEL CANNETO
Italian version English version
The old Melfa river flowed steadily and rapid, among the rocks. As the water flowed, it formed foamy waves as it broke against the boulders.
Along its banks, in the morning after their long journey, pretty pilgrims used sit to comb their long dark braids in the reflection of the clear water. Their long hair fell over their shoulders, straight and luminous. They would get a strand of hair and, working with their skilled fingers, they would recreate their beautiful braids. They used to wind them back or affix them at the sides of their heads, joining them at their napes, creating a crown that framed their faces. While they were doing this, all the girls used to show off, tossing their long wavy hair. They never looked directly at anyone, but they were aware that the boys, from a safe distance, were looking at them.
When they had finished, they got up, gave themselves a last look, buttoned up their dresses or the "costume," cupped their hands, and drank the water from the river. Then, smiling, they would go home to prepare lunch.
How many times did I sit with my friends while combing my hair and gazing at my reflection in the water of the Melfa? How many times did we bend over the water looking for the legendary "little golden stars"? And how many times did we quench our thirst with the refreshing ice-cold water of the river?
I feel myself getting emotional and overcome by a vague sense of nostalgia when I think about those days of long ago, full of innocence and simplicity. I can see the immensity of the blue sky, the green forest spread out before me, the white river flowing steadily again.
Then, I think about my friends, who are also spread out all over the world: England, France, the Americas, Italian cities far from our home village. We all left for far away, unknown lands. Some left alone, headed to other countries, where strangers waited for them. These are bittersweet emotions of a past life that will never return. But the memories will always remain, memories that are all mine.
At the edges of the field, under the shelter offered by the shade from the boulders, we used to eat our meals. The fire burned under the steaming pots. The tablecloth was placed on the ground just as neatly and formally as if it were the table we had at home. The men were already seated around the tablecloth and were picking at donuts and other sweets, with an ever present glass of wine from the bottle of Gian wine that we kept fresh in the cold water of the river.
The tray of maccheroni covered by cheese was placed in the middle of the green grass, and we would all start eating hungrily and joyfully. Between the entrees, our relatives would tell stories of their youth which had inexorably passed never to return again, like the water of the Melfa.
The older villagers remembered when they used to come to gather wood for the fire. They would point towards the exact spot where they had cut the trees and would tell us exactly how many "taccarelle" they had gathered. Those who had a donkey used to tie the wood on the back of the animal; those who did not have a donkey would instead carry the wood on their heads, walking up old pathways.
The middle aged men remember the days they went hunting and would speak about how on a specific day of the week on a particular date and at a particular hour, they had shot no less than four rabbits and gray partridges. I had nothing to contribute to that conversation and so I could only listen, wondering if what they were saying was true. I was not very interested in their stories; I wanted to finish quickly so that I could get up and take a walk with my friends. Together, we used to go exploring the woods, walking up mountain paths and slopes, climbing rocks, light and agile as squirrels.
We also liked to cross the river from one side to the other to, then, walk in the field. Two or three of us would cross it holding our hands together. We used to walk through the water with ease, up until we got to the middle of the river, where the water flowed much faster. Every time, one of us would inevitably fall in and, in her attempt not to fall into the water, would grab on to the one girl that was closest, and they would both end up in the ice-cold water. Or a brazen boy would throw a rock in the water so that the water splashed by impact would soak us.
One way or another, we would always end up wet.
Now we had a problem; being completely soaked, we could not dare to go back to the other side of the river, where we had left our relatives, who had told us not to cross the river. But since we believed we were smarter than our parents and grandparents, we would dismissed their warnings, which always at odds with what we wanted to do. It was that eternal struggle, resisting the authority of our parents and our desire, typical of adolescence, to establish our independence and autonomy. Now the challenge was to be able to sit in the hot sun long enough to dry our clothes before we went back. And we had to do that without anyone seeing us. But how can you hide a girl in wet clothes that is lying out in the sun? Around late afternoon, after we gathered all our stuff and loaded the donkey, we went to say goodbye to our friend Mary and then we left to go back home.
Now, tired after a long day, we had to travel along the same road back, and now it seemed much longer and harder than it was in the morning.
Delia Socci Skidmore