That memorable night, we started moving in the dark, walking down towards Canneto and the Prato di Mezzo. One of the families had a little donkey, an invaluable commodity and source of wealth for those who, like us, who had a little more than the clothes we were wearing. In the mean time, the cannons were roaring and we could even hear the bullets whistling. We had to hurry up; the always present danger was getting closer and closer. It was decided to wrap the hooves of the donkey with some rags so that they would not make noise; the noise could have put us in danger, if the soldiers who were camping in the area had heard us. We gathered all our belongings: a few worn out shawls and some ragged blankets. A loaf of bread was wrapped in a cloth and given to someone that would have protected it jealously and brought it down to valley. Another family had kept a can of oil and a can of wine hidden under the pallet. These things represented a source of wealth, perhaps more precious than any piece of jewelry, because they were absolutely necessary for the survival of a family.
They tied the cans to the donkey’s back. My grandmother Rosa was carrying a basket with a few more of the few things that we had. She put her arm inside the sleeve, covered her head and shoulders with the old shawl that she was always wearing, took me by the hand and we started walking in line, one after the other.
Some women had saved some wicker baskets; they filled them with the few things they had, placed them on their heads and easily carried them without having to hold them with their hands. Other women, instead, put their kids inside the baskets and carried them on their heads. We started going down the valley, in a blistering cold, with the snow and a strong wind, walking up steep mountain paths and down sharp slopes. I was only five years old.
We were walking slowly, in silence; no one dared to say a word. I was the only one crying because I was scared by the antiaircraft guns which were continuously shooting from a mountain to the other.
“Mammarosa”, to make me stop crying, told me to walk on the other side of the donkey, between the donkey and the mountain. She told me that even if they had shot in that direction, the donkey would have saved me. I stopped crying for a few minutes, but then I started again even more than before. So she said to me that if I cried, the soldiers would have heard me and they would have shot us for sure. Then she took her Rosary beads that she always had in her pocket and, almost whispering, started to say the Holy Rosary. At that point, I stopped crying and answered with a low voice “amen”.
A little after that, a cannon shot exploded next to us, making a lot of noise and its light lit up the path we were walking on. The donkey jumped and started kicking and the precious cans of oil and wine that were on his back fell and rolled down the slope, lost for ever.
Now, even more scared than I was before, I wanted to cry and scream. My grandmother noticed it and put her index finger on her lips saying “shhhhhhhh”.
I put a finger between my teeth; I bit it, but I didn’t cry and I continued walking with the others.
When we arrived in the Valley t was almost dawn. It was a cold day and the sun was shining. My mother, whom I did not see during the scary trip, stopped next to a stone, took the basket she was carrying on her head and placed it on the ground; she sat down and pulled me towards her. I hid myself in her arms and I felt her sweet maternal love; I laughed and said: “Ma`”, with a high tone of voice. Finally, I could talk normally. It was cold and my mother grabbed my hands to warm them up with hers and she saw that my fingers were bleeding. Since I could not cry during the nocturnal trip, I had bitten the tip of my fingers and I had penetrated the skin, but I hadn’t felt any pain. My mother’s face, which was already tired, became pale and immensely sad. She pulled me towards her again and she asked me how that had happened. She searched in the basked, took a handkerchief and wrapped my hands with it. Mamma got up and we walked towards the other relatives; together, we looked for a place where to stop. We never knew what happened to the famous loaf of bread that was wrapped in the cloth. Our family stopped in a cave on the other side of the Sanctuary, under a rock that stuck out the wall of the mountain. We stayed a few days and, thanks of the truce, I thought I had found some peace. I was able to sleep on a bed of leaves next to Mamma on one side and to Mammarosa, my grandmother, on the other side. Mamma covered me with her shawl.
But the rest did not last for long. The Germans ordered us to evacuate the area. They told us that the supplies that had to be brought to the front would have passed right through the area we were camping and for us and many other evacuees it would have been dangerous to stay there. We had to leave again and we started again our trip with only one thing in mind: finding some peace and some rest in a safe place, far from the war that was running after us everywhere we went.
We walked through minefields that were full of holes caused by the explosion of bombs.
I don’t know why or thanks to what divine intervention, but neither a cannon shot nor a bomb ever hit us.
DELIA SOCCI SKIDMORE