In considering the simple furniture of my in-laws and the uncles—a kitchen table and a few chairs—I can only suppose that the hard life of a farmer left little time for leisure, so there was no need for a soft couch to sit on. The workdays were long, especially in summer, and the animals had to be fed after the fieldwork was done. After the evening meal, there was barely time for a game of cards at the table, and then off to bed. On Saturday night Zio Silvio, and sometimes Zio Remo, would visit the bar at the bottom of the road to socialize with others from the area, but they never stayed late because they had to rise early to feed the animals. My in-laws were also early risers, so they retired early. Their only excursions at night were occasional forays next door to play cards with the uncles. None of us on the farm owned a television, so there was no need to provide a comfortable place, like a couch or easy chair, to sit and watch it. I never saw either of my in-laws read books, but if my mother-in-law wanted to read a magazine, she either did it at the kitchen table or in bed.
But such a Spartan life was hard on us. In California, after the children were in bed, we liked to watch television or read, while sitting in a comfortable chair. In Italy, we had no television, few English-language books, and no comfortable chairs. We floundered at first, trying to find a way to fit into our evenings. If either of us spoke, our voices bounced off the hard surfaces of the concrete walls and tile floors, echoing up to the ten-foot ceilings and back down. There were no carpets or soft surfaces to cushion the sounds, and we felt self-conscious about what we said, knowing that George’s parents downstairs could probably hear every syllable sent into the silence around us. I sat at the dining room table in the stillness and studied Italian on some evenings, and wrote long letters home to our family and friends on others. George sometimes visited with his parents or rifled through their Italian newspapers and magazines as he sat next to me at the table. In the early days, while he was adjusting to the hard physical labor, he often fell into bed early, utterly exhausted, leaving me to finish my letters.
Each evening, after the sun went down, we closed the shutters to help contain the warmth within the house. After George went to bed, I sat by myself, the windows around me dark. There was no lamp, so I wrote from the light of the overhead fixture. It was an eerie experience. Without George to talk to, the silence clicked and ticked around me, interrupted by an occasional mumble from the children’s room or a snore from George. The sound of my ballpoint pen sliding across the surface of the paper hissed around the room, and every shuffle of the page was an explosion of sound. Occasionally, I’d hum a tune, just to fill the silence. I’m sure if anyone heard me, like my in-laws, they must have thought me mad. The good thing was the amount of letter writing I did, especially to my sister. In more than forty long letters to her, I detailed much of the everyday comings and goings of our life on the farm, and when we returned to California, she gave most of them back to me. They became a journal of our life there, a realistic portrayal that punctured our mythic memories. But soon I had written to everyone on our list, and I stopped to wait for replies. It was at that point that I missed my books, or television. I was glad when George became fit enough to stay awake in the evenings.
Card-playing was a popular evening past-time in the farm community, usually Pinochle. George had refined his Pinochle skills during his days at San Fernando Valley State College, where he and his friends often skipped classes to finish a game. In the evenings, when George’s stamina improved and he could stay up longer, he would occasionally venture out to play with his father and uncles. George and I also played cards, usually Gin Rummy, a better game for two people. We became quite competitive, watching for inattentiveness so we could leap in and trounce a sleepy partner. Sometimes, for a change, we’d play cutthroat, competitive double solitaire. But after a while, cards in general became boring, and the chairs were hard on our backs. We needed more. I envisioned a “proper” living room, with a couch and an easy chair or two, with the dining-room furniture set off to one side—just like the arrangement we were used to in California and in other places I had lived.