Wednesday, 3 November 2010
I’ve paraphrased what he said but as I heard his words I was taken back to walking the Camino. The times when tears sprang easily to my eyes or I felt a flash of long forgotten anger and resentment I thought had gone away. Often I had memories of antics and escapades which made me chuckle and reminiscences of the past which made me smile.
That night in bed I took stock. My parents may not understand me, I thought, but, well, most of the time we are ok together… after school the next day I was back home. My first bid for freedom was at an end.
Of course it was years later before I realised the plot my clever Aunt Susan had hatched to make me understand the grass isn’t always greener on the other side. Later in life she and I were to become firm friends and the memory of her making me do my homework and washing always raised a smile.
Aunt Susan’s funeral was today. The last of the generation is gone. She lived her 88 years to the full. A life well lived.
I will continue to think about her often and I know that when on Camino that memory will still come to mind and raise a silent smile.
I was telling a friend about the Camino and how memories just pop into my mind when I am walking. He wisely said that all we can hope for is that amongst the array of thoughts of the past we always have ones which make us smile. He wrote about one of his own. Whenever I think about it I smile to myself. Maybe it will have the same effect on you.
Because the adults in our family spent so much time ‘in the shop’ we usually had someone ‘over from Italy’ staying with us - cooking, cleaning, learning English, sending home some money. When I was 13 Ermenia arrived - she was 17 and beautiful like Sophia Loren - and I fell in love with her. She was vivacious - loved to talk, and though she had no English this did not deter her. She would lean out of the window and hail passers-by - when they stopped she would declare happily “Sorri - no speaka Inglese.” She discovered the phone and took to calling total strangers. I would retrieve it to hear someone say, “It’s some crazy foreigner.” After a while it became clear she wasn’t settling - that she was homesick. “People here no talk,” she said. She took to collecting jam jars compulsively - filling her room with them. Then from time to time she’d weep quietly, which made me very sad. Eventually we agreed with her mother to send her back. On the day, it fell to me to take her by taxi to the Waverley. 17 year-old girls know when 13 year-old boys fancy them. She kissed me full on the lips - my first such kiss, it stayed with me for three years. It was 1953 and Tony Bennett was top of the ‘hit parade’ with - “Stranger in Paradise”.
In 1999 I am in Italy visiting our ‘tribal homelands’ - lunching in the hotel where Sunday families gather. On the way to the toilet I am stopped by a vision - a clone of the 17 year-old Ermenia. In shock I ask the owner, “Is that girl called Ermenia?” “No,” she says, “Ermenia is her Nonna - over there.” Another shock - the girl who gave me my first kiss - is an old woman. I don’t introduce myself. She was with us less than a year - probably doesn’t remember. But the owner must have said something - on the way out she pauses - she calls me Lorenzino and smiling asks, ‘do you remember the jam jars?’ We laugh. She has many grandchildren - grabs them as they pass - recites names proudly. Everyone’s talking at once - the noise is deafening. “Has life been good Ermenia?” With a big smile, she says, “I thank God every day.” Leaving, she kisses me. I smile - “You once kissed me 47 years ago.” Her eyes flash mischief –“I know,” she says."