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Once upon a time, there was…….THE RIVER


Once upon a time, there was an old river that flowed gently yet inexorably wending its way through the rocks and alongside the field.

As the water flowed it formed small whitecaps where it broke against the rocks in its riverbed. Its murmuring flow, accompanied the passersby like a song, as they passed by and drank at its banks.

Along its banks, after their long journey, pretty girls who made the pilgrimage to the river's banks used sit to comb their long dark braids in the reflection of the clear water.

Their long hair fell over their shoulders, smooth and lustrous; they used to comb and straighten their hair, each helping the other to do it. Then, they would take a hair of hair and working with their skilled fingers, they would recreate their beautiful braids again.

They used to tie them back or would fix them on the sides of their heads, and joining them at the nape of their necks, creating crowns over their young faces. All the girls, while they were doing this, used to show off, strutting while tossing their long wavy hair. They never look 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 a last look at themselves, buttoned up their dresses or their costumes, cupped their hand and drank the water of the river. Then, smiling, they would go to prepare lunch.

How many times did I sit with my friends to comb my hair and look at my reflection in the water of the Melfa? And how many times did we quench our thirst with the clear ice-cold water of the river? I still remember that endless blue sky, as it still is today. The years have passed, many years indeed; however, we have never forgotten the Sanctuary of Canneto, or the river that once flowed murmuring its song across the field.

I have a bittersweet mix of emotions as I reflect back on those times, from a past youth that will never come back, like the water of the Melfa. At the edges of the field, under the shelter offered by shade from the rocks, we used to consume our meals. The fire burned under the steaming pots. The tablecloth was arranged on the ground just 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 always present glass of wine. The tray of maccheroni covered by cheese was placed in the middle of the green grass, and we would all start eating with hearty appetites and joy. Between the entrees and after a few more glasses of wine, the relatives started telling us stories of their dreams and their youth. The older ones remembered about when they used to go there to gather wood for the fire. They would point towards the exact point where they had cut down the trees and would tell us exactly how many “taccarelle” they have gathered. Those who had a donkey used to tide the wood on the back of the animal; or instead, those who did not have one would carry the wood on their heads, walking up old pathways in the shade of the beeches. Others would remember about the days they went hunting and would tell about how on this specific day of the week on that exact date, they had shot not less than four rabbits, gray partridges and even a deer. 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 in 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 on 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 stream of water was much faster. Every time, one of us would always fall and, in her attempt not to fall in the water, would hold on to the one girl that was closest, and we would both end up in the ice-cold water. Now we had a problem; being completely soaked with water, we could not go back to the other side of the river where our relatives, who had sternly told us not to cross the river, were camped. However, since we believed we were smarter than our parents and grandparents, we would not listen to their warnings, which were always the very opposite of what we wanted to do. It was the eternal resistance to the authority of our parents and our desire, typical of adolescence, to establish our independence and autonomy. To avoid being reproached, we would first stop by the church to say a Hail Mary and then we would go to fix our afternoon snack. We would light up the fire and set the table again, as if we had done nothing wrong. But sometimes, I had the impression that our parents would look at us out of the corners of their eyes with suspicion. To avoid any problems, we would sit there quietly, clearing the table and cleaning up.

Later in the day, when we had gathered up all our stuff and had loaded the donkey, we went to say goodbye to the Virgin Mary and then we would leave at sunset.

The night was falling, everything around us was silent. From behind the mountains the moon rose and in the night sky, the light of bright stars would reflect upon the water of the old river Melfa and we would tell each other stories of love, joys, hopes and faded dreams. You would listen, but you would not say anything; the river would calmly flow on its eternal journey, but you would never forget about a shy girl that one day saw her reflection in its waters.

 Delia Socci Skidmore