As the weeks passed, I worked hard, and my Italian improved, but not nearly as fast as Paul and James’. I hesitated to practice with strangers for fear of looking the fool, when really that was foolish. Practice was exactly what I needed. Most of my time was spent on the farm where my only contacts were with our family and the friends and tradesmen who came to call. One of these was Piero, George’s friend, the owner of the local furniture store.
We had ordered a rocking chair for our living room, and Piero delivered it. George was working in the fields that day, and my in-laws were out, so I knew I would be forced to talk, to practice Italian on someone young and cool. I ran a comb through my hair, put on a little lipstick, and dusted my charm.
Piero was a couple of years older than George and his other friend, Renzo. When the three of them had hung out together during their teen years, Piero was far more advanced in his pursuit of the opposite sex. George told tales of their escapades: of waiting with Renzo, in Piero’s car, outside a young woman’s home, while he “visited”; of Piero being chased by irate fathers; and of visits to bars where Piero always managed to attract the good-looking girls. All the tales were funny, with Piero charming his way out of trouble.
I quite liked him. The funny stories gave me another perspective on his personality, and he was really good–looking and very friendly. Just twenty-four, looks were much more important to me then than they are now. I enjoyed a mild flirtation with him, in front of George, which signified nothing, except that it reminded me I was still a woman in spite of the stress of cooking, cleaning, and corralling four children.
When Piero arrived that day, he carried the chair upstairs and placed it on the carpet that defined our living-room space. We stopped to admire it as behind us twenty-two-month-old Margaret Ann ran around with her doll, throwing it into the air and trying to catch it. I played the multi-tasking mother, watching her, while translating and responding in the conversational thread, thrilled at my ability to do this. I stuttered and stopped, and occasionally struggled for words, but Piero was patient and I soldiered on. We talked of the transition from the States to Italy, and I tried to explain to him the difference between the home we had left and the one we were trying to make in his country. I wanted him to know who I was, where I came from, and how I fit in. I remembered the words, my verb tenses were correct (I think), and he wanted to hear what I said. I felt better than I had in a long time.
While we were talking, I noticed Margaret Ann behind him removing her panties. Since she and Matthew were trying to toilet-train themselves, we had put them in training pants, which Margaret Ann enjoyed taking off, but couldn’t yet put back on. Tired of playing toss with her rag doll, she had switched to her panties. While I listened to Piero, I saw the panties fly into the air, and I heard my daughter giggle as she tried to catch them, then ran to pick them up. I moved quickly to whip them up under her dress while still talking, trying to keep the conversational rhythm, and hoping Piero didn't notice exactly what I was doing. No sooner had I stepped back to the carpet, than down came the undies, and up they flew as she giggled wildly. Still talking, I whipped them back on. She kept dropping and tossing, and I kept moving, trying to keep Piero's back to her antics. Not only was it distracting, but it was really hard to appear urbane and sophisticated with this man-about-town when I was monitoring a toddler striptease behind him.
Suddenly the panties came flying over his shoulder, and Piero snatched them mid-flight. He laughed with a “Brava!” as he turned and tossed them back to her. Embarrassed, I reddened and smiled, the rhythm broken. My cool demeanor, my other persona, disappeared. Once more I was just another mother.
He cheered Margaret Ann, and then said goodbye. One side of me could see the humor, but the other regretted the lost chance to resurrect my identity as a rational being with interests and desires beyond those of wife and mother.
But I had started. I had established another connection, however brief, with an Italian, in his own language. But it was not enough; I wanted more. Then I remembered: Dario, the stone mason, was due the next week to begin work on the central heating.
|Margaret Ann trying to take off her diaper while Matthew helps George load the water bottles into the Fiat.|