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THE LAST STOP
Our exodus lasted about six months; six months of roving between hills and mountains, valleys and forests. All the while we were persecuted by war, hunger, cold, fear and every type of anguish imaginable and possible. Finally one day, we arrived at Veroli. We arrived tired, beat up and starving. Veroli had been lucky enough to be located somewhat away from the main path of conflict, and although the war had passed through even this city, it had not suffered as tragically as Settefrati had. Our group of 10 people, composed entirely of relatives, was given hospitality by the kind family B. They had a windmill with 2 large rooms at its top. They put these rooms totally at our disposal. Imagine what we felt when we saw a room with walls, a floor, and a ceiling. After 6 months of roaming through the cold, snow, ice, reduced to living in huts, stables and caves. It was as if those two rooms, even though they were moldy, were the most beautiful palace to ever exist.
The women looked around incredulous; there was even a small field where potatoes had been planted. They surely believed we had died and Divine Providence had welcomed us to Heaven. It was spring and the sun felt warm. Finally, a bit of sun and tranquility. We entered the rooms looking all around, as if we were admiring some immense work of art; yes, there was everything, even a door and two small windows. The women put down their sacks, bundles and chests, placing them delicately on the floor, as if they didnít want to hurt the pavement. My mother had carried little Livia in a chest she had placed on her head. Livia had been able to find some milk from other mothers that we had met along the way, who had also been searching for a place to seek refuge. Mothers prepared long beds for everyone. The smaller children slept with their mothers and grandmothers, the older ones, two young boys, slept in another bed. These two brothers were the only boys; the rest of us were all women. The first night we slept soundly, even though we could hear aircraft pass over us the entire night, and the thundering of the artillery in the distance. The next day, the other small children and I went out to run through the fields, happy and carefree, as we hadnít done in such a long time. Mrs. B. had two small children, one girl that was my age and a boy who was younger. Mrs. B took my hand and brought me into her house, took one of her daughterís dresses and put it on me; she even gave me a pair of shoes.
I looked at my new dress, my new shoes and then at Mrs. B with wide eyes. I could not believe my eyes. After months of being dressed in rags and a pair of boots that were too big for me, which tied to my feet with some string (mother had found these for me after I had lost my shoes running through the forest and the snow to escape the cannon fire). I could hardly contain my happiness. It was as if I had been allowed to travel back in time six months, when, still at home, I had pretty dresses and shoes. But more importantly, we could eat hot vegetable soup. The women would set out in search of chicory.
From the inhabitants of the city we learned that many people of Settefrati had been loaded onto trucks and brought to refugee camps for war victims. They had been brought to Rome, Viterbo, Florence, Piedmont, Lombardy and even to Sicily. The poor people of Settefrati had been scattered all over Italy.