I’ll never forget the first time Zia Rosa (my father-in-law’s neighbor) invited us in. “Look, I even have a washing machine,” she said, proudly waving her work-worn hand toward her pride and joy. “And it’s still like new!” Like new, after 10 years! She was afraid to use it — for “it would get old and ruined!”
Seems rather silly, doesn’t it? Buying something you’ll never use. But to her, that washer implied wealth and well-being. Her son, who had done well in Switzerland, could even buy his mother a washing machine!
It was 1989, you see, in a different Italy, in so many ways.
What counted was having that washer to show off. Most of the older folks had little, if any, education. Schooling was hard when it took every hand just to keep food on the table. So many of them could barely read or write.
Like Pasquelina (Little Easter), who had my husband write her name, just so she could see what it looked like. And thereby teaching our kids one of those great life-lessons we never learn in classrooms. That some people never have the privilege of learning to read.
But best of all was seeing Aunty Rosa watch her first videocassette!
Italians, southerners in particular, delight in filming every moment of a wedding day. From the time the bride awakens, until they leave for their honeymoon. The bride fixing her hair. Doing her makeup. The ceremony, then the entire nuptial meal and dance. That film, like most, was 3 hours long!
Why, we wondered, did they want to torment all the neighbors? I mean, 3 hours watching a bunch of people we didn’t even know!
Imagine our relief when it started near the end, just as the dancing started!
“Oh no,” our hostess exclaimed. “It started at the end!” We hastily tried to convince her it was OK, but to no avail!
“No, no, you’ll miss most of the wedding!” she insisted. It took 3 of them to figure it out, but they finally got that film rewinding—but with the video still playing!
Now, for those of you who never used a VCR player, the cassettes took forever to rewind that way. Much faster to stop, then rewind. We exchanged agonized glances. How long was this going to take? And that’s when things got interesting!
Aunty Rosa had never seen a VHS player before. Let alone one playing in backward motion!
“Why are they dancing like that?” she puzzled. “What kind of strange dance is that, anyway?” And when the dancing stopped, “Why are they walking backwards? What’s wrong with these people?”
But when they took food out of their mouths instead of putting it in, Aunty really lost it!
And so did we! We had to get out of there! Finding an excuse to leave, we dashed home, laughing till our sides ached! Glad to get out of the 3-hour video. And wondering how we’d ended up in a place where people had never even seen VCR players!
But this delightful woman from my husband’s hometown, to me, embodied the simplicity found in those mountain people. A lasting memory of times gone by. And of a simpler world that is fast disappearing. One where frugality, lack of chasing fads, and neighborly caring were parts of everyday life.
A simpler world that maybe, if we work at it, we can still bring back! How about it?
Disclaimer: Name has been changed to protect the privacy of this woman (now deceased).