Friends of Montecchia

By Janet K. Brennan aka jb stillwater

Author Comments: Published in "Different Worlds, A Virtual Journey", 2006, Cyberwit Publications

"Oh no," I sobbed. Will I ever survive living in this strange and far away country?" Everything about it was foreign, and all I could think of was, "I want to go home!"

We had lost a daughter the year before to asthma, and the family was still in the midst of grieving, when military orders arrived for my husband, Arthur. They were sending us to the Veneto area, outside of Verona, Italy. I had lived in foreign countries before, yet this was very different. This tour of duty included no military housing, or friends nearby with which to communicate. Indeed, we were the only Americans within a fifty-mile radius, and no one in the tiny village of Montecchia di Crosara could speak English.

My children, Katie and Nicholas, took the train from the nearby village of San Bonafacio to school each day. Nicholas went west to his school in Verona, and Katie caught the eastbound train to the city of Vicenza, where her high school was located. Art's job took him fifty miles into the mountains. This he drove, in a tiny fiat. The fog was sometimes as thick as Pea Soup! Meanwhile, I stayed home in our villa for long hours each day. Often my family did not return until eight o'clock at night. We felt isolated in every sense of the word. Looking at this new assignment as a great learning experience seemed like an insurmountable task. Because of the stress of attempting to heal and return as an intact family after tragedy, we were most definitely, a family in crises. A hardship assignment to medieval Italy was the last thing in the world we wanted.

Many might say they would have envied out situation. Montecchia is an ancient village in the Soave province, nestled in the Valle di Alpone. It is surrounded by glorious vineyards, which produce both the red and green grapes that are used to make the delectable Soave wines. From the beginning of recorded history, this area was used for just such a purpose. In the distance, snow capped Alps ringed this Veneto area, and indeed the village itself enjoyed a mountain topped by a huge, wooden cross which seemed to stand guard over Montecchia.

We would need to adjust. We knew this. We would need to learn the language, and mingle as much as possible with our neighbors. This proved difficult as our Italian neighbors were as much intimated by us, as we were by them.

We had only been in our villa a few days when our Landlord, Signor Marcello Manubosco arrived at our door with his family. Introductions were made, and before long, we came to feel very much at home with the Manubosco family. They brought huge bundles of firewood for the cold winter, which lay ahead of us, and aptly demonstrated the art of baking Pizza over an open hearth. They invited us to their home to enjoy their fine hospitality, while sipping delicious wine which they produced themselves from their own vineyards.

In the spring, the Signore and his son, Giuseppe, plowed the area beside our home to make way for a garden. Both my husband and son new nothing about working the land; However, Giuseppe was kind enough to get them started. He showed them which vegetables did well in the rich, Italian soil that had already been farmed for centuries. Before long, vegetables were sprouting up from the ground, and as our village neighbors passed by on their evening strolls, they would stop to inspect the American Garden "Bravo . . . Bravo," they would shout. My husband and son were more than just a little proud. Working in the garden turned out to be very therapeutic. They spent long hours talking and working.

"A garden is more than just putting seeds into the ground," Signor Manubosco would tell us." It also produces food for the soul."

How right he was! We soon came to understand why every family in the village spent long, hours with their hands buried in the dirt of their own gardens.

Giuseppe often brought friends and relatives to our home, and our children soon began to meet the Italian children of the village. Children came. They were interested in learning how Americans played. Before long, friendships were established. Nicholas taught them the fine points of baseball, while they taught him the game of soccer. Katie spent afternoons on the front piazza, giggling with the Italian girls, and exchanging fashion ideas.

In the fall, the harvest of the grapes began. The Manubosco family invited us to join their entire family, cousins and all, to partake in picking the luscious fruit from the tender vines. They taught us to drink the natural juice from the grapes as we picked them so that we would not become thirsty. They also demonstrated the importance of singing while working. One could not work without at least one, good tenor amongst them. Often, if we were away for the day running errands, we would come home to find a huge basket of luscious grapes sitting in our foyer. It was wonderful to know that even though we were not out with them working in the vineyards, they were thinking of us.

It did not take long before we forgot that we were a family in mourning. We were, in fact, learning how to live again. We had become so busy with the challenge, our hearts, indeed our souls, forgot to cry. What we thought would be an impossible and sad experience suddenly became joyful, as we watched these beautiful villagers farm their land and harvest their grapes. We learned to dance with them at their festivals, and sing with them in their fields.

Needless to say, we will never forget the kindness of our wonderful Italian friends We are a lucky family, who learned the true meaning of friendship and love, and how easily it can transcend any cultural barriers.

We lived in Montecchia di Crosara for two years, all the while learning and growing as a family in a wonderful cultural exchange with our Italian neighbors. When we left that beautiful and ancient village, we felt secure in the knowledge that what we were taking with us, as well as what we were leaving behind, were memories of the richest sort. Oh, yes. Nick also left his baseball glove, Katie her teen magazines, Art his Fiat, and I, of course . . . left my heart.

(C)opyright 2002-2005 Janet K. Brennan and JB Stillwater, Inc - All Rights Reserved

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