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ALL SOULS DAY
The first of November had arrived and along with it a penetrating cold, with the wind blowing down from the mountains, whistling among the narrow streets of the village. The trees, which were now almost leafless, were losing the last of their leaves and, and almost completely bare, were being bent over by the wind. On the tops of the mountains there was already some snow. It seemed as if the winter had decided to visit early, a visit that no one wanted. Today was All Saints’ Day and the following day would be dedicated to the deceased. Rather than a holiday, this would have been a commemoration of all the dearly departed. On All Saints’ day, after the services at the church, we used to go to the people in the village who still had some flowers in their gardens to ask for some flowers to put on the graves of our loved ones. In the afternoons, we used to go to the cemetery to clean up around their graves and place memorials on them; the following day we would go there early in the morning to pray for our deceased loved ones. Very early in the morning, a little after midnight, the bell-ringer and a couple of boys rang the bells which boomed like thunder in the cold of the night. In small villages and towns, the bells played a specific role in their communities. On that night their role was to ring to wake up the people in the village so that they could prepare for the visit to the cemetery. The tradition was, I don’t know for what reason, to go to the cemetery in the morning before dawn. The people of the village would walk towards the cemetery in groups with candles and lanterns that had already been lit. They walked in silence, bundled up in their scarves and their jackets. Once they arrived at the great gate, this had already been unlocked by the caretaker, everybody would push it and the gate squeaked as it was pushed open. The tall cypresses on the side of the pathway swayed gently in the wind. Even when it was not that cold, entering in the dark and going through the lonely cemetery made you shiver and shudder. The smell of musk and cypresses pervaded the air with a sour scent. As soon as I entered, I wanted to go back. This was not a place of good things or of good smells. Inside the cemetery, each of us walked towards the graves of our dearly departed to pray and cry and light some candles and lanterns. After we did our duty near the graves of our families, we, the girls of the Catholic Action group, went around the cemetery to pray and say the Holy Rosary. There were graves that were very old and ravaged by time; and others, in contrast, that were very recent. Some were incredibly ancient and had just a humble rusty iron cross where the name of the deceased had been erased forever by the ravages of time. Some of the people passing by felt pity for the old neglected graves and left a flower or lit a candle on it. The mausoleum and the chapels were beautiful, big and imposing compared to the humble graves on the ground. Many candles were lit, but not all the graves had flowers. Later, at dawn, when the priest arrived to celebrate the Mass for the dead, he stopped to bless the tombs and the mausoleums. While I was going around among the flower beds, I saw a lonely woman who was on her knees in front of a small and modest tomb. The woman was carefully cleaning up the grass and the pine-needles around it. She was moving away the leaves that had fallen on it so that the grave was completely and totally clean. The tomb was small and without any signs of ostentation. There was only a simple stone and a small rusty iron cross. On the stone, which had been obliterated by time, the name of the person buried there was no longer legible. While the woman was cleaning up, she was tenderly caressing the cross and the stone, mumbling something that sounded incredibly sad. She had a lot of lanterns with her and she lined them up, one after the other, following the rectangular shape of the small and humble tomb. She lit the lanterns with love, placing them on the ground gently, as if she was scared to disturb the person who was buried there. The lanterns sent out a weak reddish glow which would shed light and shadow on the tired face of the woman. She was alone. I stopped for a second not too far from her, moved by that lonely and sad character. The woman bent to kiss the ground and called out a name repeating “My son, my son”. I remained there for another moment; then, in silence, I continued my rounds praying the funeral hymn, but I have never forgotten that woman who was so alone and so sad. Shortly afterwards, the priest came with all the altar boys and a bucket of holy water. They went around cemetery blessing and praying. Then the priest celebrated Mass in front of the great iron cross in the middle of the cemetery. After the service and after a last look at the graves, the people silently left the cemetery. Outside, we could still see a few stars shining in the sky as the day was breaking. The day was coming, it was Dawn.
Delia Socci Skidmore