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Chapter Ten – A Budding Love Story
When I woke up the next morning at Gabriele and Franca’s house, everyone had already left for work. I could hear my grandparents talking outside. They were waiting on the porch to see how I was doing. I tried to put my foot on the ground and immediately felt a surge of pain. I yelped and began to weep. I couldn’t even put my big toe on the floor, let alone take a step. Somehow, my knee seemed even more swollen than the day before. This was a nightmare. I didn’t even want to face my grandparents. I brought them here, so I could keep an eye on them, not the other way around.
Within minutes my grandmother came into the room to see what was wrong. She couldn’t believe the size of my knee. And I just cried some more. Grandpa went to buy us Italian cookies at the pasticceria on the corner. Food, at least for most Italians of his generation, is the best medicine, after all. My cousin the doctor appeared once again like my heroine. This time she gave me shots in my rear end to quell the swelling. I iced the knee every 20 minutes like clockwork. There was no change. I phoned America to let my parents, brother, sister, and all the aunts and uncles and cousins know that I was fine but the swelling was continuing.
The next day was much like the day before. I still couldn’t walk and folks helped me from one room to the other. I mostly sat out on the porch taking in the sun, reading, and chatting with my grandparents and the relatives who came by to see me and who all lived right there in the homes next to Gabriele and Franca’s. In the evening, Gabriele and Franca handed me a pair of crutches that they borrowed from a friend down the street.
My grandmother had to help me get dressed. But being a woman of privacy, she didn’t want to see me naked. She would throw down my underwear in front of my feet, turn her back, and wait for me to pull down my pants and old underwear and pull up the new pair. It was laborious work getting on those underwear without letting my grandma see me in the buff. After that, I got Franca and her daughter to help me into the shower and with my clothes. They could take the scare of my nudity. This certainly was a humbling experience to say the least. The injectable medicine I was drowning in to bring down the swelling was making tiny holes in my tush and giving me the runs, which is ironic considering I wasn’t able to run anywhere. Often, the runs beat me in the race to the bathroom.
Still, I held out hope that my knee was going to improve, and I’d be able to enjoy the last few days of this so-called “vacation.” One of my goals was to visit La Mortella, beautiful gardens in Ischia that I longed to see. Roberto, Tony, Lisa and I had discussed the possibility of going as a group while at dinner before I injured myself. I told my grandmother it would be the first thing on my to-do list once the swelling went down and I could walk again.
While we were discussing this, Franca came running into the room. She was flush with excitement, and shouted, “We must get you dressed in nicer clothes and do something with your hair.”
“What are you talking about? I can’t even walk and only one or two pairs of pants can even fit over my leg at the moment. Why do I have to get dressed up?” I replied.
“Tony is coming here tonight. He invited himself to dinner, and he never comes here. I’m certain he’s coming to see you. I think he’s interested in you.” Franca said. “We have to make you beautiful.”
“That’s crazy.” I replied. “I guess you can do my hair and I can put on a clean shirt.”
That’s just what we did. And within an hour Tony was at the house. He brought holy water blessed by the monks in Naples, CDs he had made for me, and baba’ with strawberries and cream, of course. Looking back, that night was essentially our first date. It played out just like the Italian song, most famously sung by Renato Carosone, “Io, Mammeta e tu.” In that song, “Me, Mamma, and You,” Carosone sings in the Neapolitan dialect about a young lady who brings her mother and some of her other relatives, including siblings, grandparents, and aunts and uncles with her on their dates. Back in the day, some families insisted on these family outings instead of traditional dates to protect the virginity of the women.
On this night, Tony and I were having an old-fashioned date and the theme song of the evening easily could have been, “Io, Mammeta e tu.” Tony sat at the dinner table with Roberto, his sister, my grandparents, Gabriele, Franca, me and my knee, which now was big enough to require its own separate seat at the table.
During the meal, Tony sweetly tried to fix my camera, which had broken when I fell in the street and injured my knee. There was no fixing that thing, but it was sweet all the same. He also made sure to let us all know that he was single and interested in finding someone new. Before he left for the night, he came into the room where I had my knee elevated and would soon drift off to sleep. Offering a hug and two kisses – one on each cheek – he handed me the pamphlet for La Mortella and suggested we go on Thursday, his day off, if my knee was healed. I agreed. When he held the embrace for a second more than most would, I felt that there might really be something more between us.
While I dreamed of a lovely day walking the garden at La Mortella with Tony, Roberto, and Lisa, I couldn’t have possibly known that I’d be heading to Ischia’s only hospital the next day and would not make it to La Mortella for another two years.
Tune into this Web site, Two Worlds, every Monday for the latest installment in my blog about my experiences in Ischia, and every other Monday to ItaliansRus.com for the latest Our Paesani column about all things Italian. Di Meglio is also the Guide to Newlyweds for About.com.