Once the washing machine was installed, I didn’t mind at all hanging out the laundry. I have always enjoyed the fresh smell of naturally dried clothes, even if they do end up somewhat stiff. It also gave me a chance to stand on the kitchen balcony in the sunshine each day, to experience the sights and sounds of the farm. Zio Remo's chickens clucked and pooped in the courtyard below, and swifts whistled as they zoomed by my head to nest in the eaves of the barn. Mosquitoes buzzed and nibbled my face, my arms, my thighs. Flies dive-bombed my ears, while the dog barked under the portico and, always, a rooster crowed somewhere. After we installed netting along the kitchen balcony railing, Margaret Ann and Matthew sometimes joined me, riding their plastic toy tractors back and forth along the balcony and calling down to the boys, or their grandparents, or the chickens.
We could see Paul and James as they rode their bikes around the bumpy courtyard—thus the barking dog. (He wanted to play too, but was kept tied up.) Or they sat on the rusty wreck of an old tractor, pretending it was a race car, or a tank. Or in the afternoons they would hammer nails into pieces of wood to make cars, or trucks, or guns. The nails, the wood, and the hammer provided by their grandfather. I would see my mother-in-law shuffle off to her vegetable garden in the early morning or down to pick fruit or nuts in the late afternoon. Often the older boys went with her. In the summer months, George and my father-in-law were usually gone early, out to the land somewhere, chopping trees and clearing brush. Zio Silvio left early too, driving his tractor and trailing machinery to plough fields that he rented from Marino. From beyond the courtyard I could hear the faint drone of tractors moving back and forth, back and forth, across the fields.
This connection to the farm was important, as it was sometimes the only connection I had. I look back and think that I stayed too much inside, cleaning, cooking, and doing daily laundry, and spent too little time outside. But then I wonder: when would I have gone outside? We were not on vacation. Our apartment upstairs at Gabi was not a hotel, but our home, where we had to maintain our everyday life. There was no maid service; with George off working in the fields, the household chores were my job. After lunch, when the morning tasks were finished, Margaret and Matthew slept for two hours. I couldn’t leave them in the house by themselves while I wandered around outside. Later, there was an hour or two for activity, and I sometimes did stroll with the twins, but I had to return soon to prepare dinner. There was no McDonalds nearby to pick up a quick meal, nor a pizza place to call for delivery, even if we’d had the money. During the summer months, George worked hard physically, and he had gained muscle, increased his flexibility, and lost weight. He had returned to active life after years seated behind a desk or a steering wheel. By late summer, his six-foot-two frame carried just one hundred seventy pounds, instead of the two hundred twenty-five that he arrived with. He looked good and felt good, but he needed a solid meal each evening. At Gabi the natural division of chores meant I was in charge of meals. So I cooked and cleaned and hung laundry, and got outside for a dose of country life when and where I could.
But the one chore George and I did together was painting the inside of the house .
|The twins play with Zara, the second dog tied under the portico. Zio Silvio's tractor behind them.|