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Pater Familias

Updated: Mar 5, 2022

My mom, my younger brother, Pippo, and I always waited for my father to come home on his re-welded bicycle to have dinner. He usually arrived before sunset.

We always knew the days when my dad was late. He usually stopped at the newspaper stand on Friday nights to buy my favorite pocket-size magazine,'Il Monello, and, on Saturday nights, he paused at a salumeria in Messina to purchase uncommon food for mom to cook for our traditional Sunday lunch together.

But on rainy nights, sunset came, and my father did not come home. We waited for a long time in the kitchen. Not hearing the noise he made carrying his priceless bicycle up the stairs, we moved to the bedroom and sat facing the armoire's mirror. To keep warm, we covered our laps with my father's mother's blanket embroidered for mom as a wedding present.

As it got to be pitched dark, we wandered with unsettling emotions, "Did something happen to dad?" As the charcoal in the brazier became sparkling ashes, we asked, "Where was dad?"

For some unexplainable reason, I imagined that beyond our reflection on the mirror, from a black hole past the mirror, my father was pedaling furiously uphill to make it home before I fell asleep.

Some nights, there was no respite. Finally, my father reached the Portella refuge upon the MontI PeloritanI. Once there, he warded the rain. If the rain never stopped, he never came home. Instead, he would fall asleep in the windowless and doorless refuge, cold, hungry, and with no way to let us know where he was.

On Sundays, my father kept working. He fixed things around the house, cleaned the chicken coop, or plowed the rocky hills that my mom had inherited to grow potatoes, corn, or beans. Unfortunately, he could not hire a hand, so I became his apprentice.

There I was doing the usual menial jobs: carrying things, cleaning up, and listening to my dad's bestemmie, blasphemies, because things were not working out the way he wanted. I did not like it. I couldn't wait for the moment my mom shouted, "Il mangiare e' pronto!" "Food is ready!"

After lunch together, I usually approached my father while he was still working and asked, "Posso avere 25 lire per andare al cinema?" "May I have 25 lire to go to the movies?" Then, with a brunt, my father pulled the 25 lire coins from his pocket and gave them to me, never saying, "Have a good time!"

My father was my hero. I truly believed that he could have raced in the Giro d'Italia and been as good as Gino Bartali. Yet, there I was, riding comfortably bus # 22 going to school, and there he was pedaling as fast as he could to keep up with the bus. Once the bus sped down from Colle San Rizzo to Valle San Michele, my father smoothly passed the bus. He rode with the wind, seemingly floating effortlessly in space with rhythmic motions. He was in his realm and at peace with himself. He was my hero!

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