Tag Archives: Italian stories

A Cornerstone No More

It has been a long time since I’ve posted anything. I’ve had serious writer’s block as the past nine months have been challenging, full of emotion, a time to recast and reset patterns that have become destructive, a time to pull up every plant and look at the roots to see if they’re healthy for replanting or need to be tossed away.

I’ve been reading Elena Ferrante’s incredible tome of four books about a friendship that has lasted 60 years. And it’s hitting close to home. My “best” friend and I nearly made it, except that she died last year at 59. And we had had a terrible falling out five years ago. I’ve had a lot to think about and look back upon. A lifetime, in fact.

At 60 now, I finally feel like I can let go of a lot of shit, to put it bluntly. And that includes people who have been toxic for me. I’ve always been a giver, but after giving my entire life, I now know that I’ve chosen takers all too often, and as a giver, it’s time to set some boundaries because the takers won’t. One of the roles I’ve played, and am giving up now, is that of a cornerstone for people.

The problem with being a cornerstone in peoples’ lives is that they come to expect that you’ll always be there, strong and whole without chips or broken pieces, securely in place with cement all around, never worn down smooth from constant use over the years.

I admit I wanted to be a cornerstone for a lot of people. It brought gratification, acceptance, approval, love even. To be there always for someone gave us both strength. But it held huge responsibilities and guilt at times. When we moved to Italy 16 years ago, this same friend sobbed on the phone and said, “How can you move so far away and leave me? You’re my cornerstone.” Talk about guilt.

And when the cornerstone crumbles just a bit, changes position and becomes jumbled among other stones and bits of brick, who’s there to pick up the pieces? Where’s the cornerstone for the cornerstone? Not from the people to whom I’ve been one, apparently.

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My original post as I wrote it was full of details about this person or that, those who had “wronged” me with their selfishness, those who never called me to ask how I’m doing, those who have gotten pissed off at me if I don’t call even when I’m in a difficult phase of my life. Ahem.

I realized that it sounded whiny and that I was feeling sorry for myself. I’m not. On the contrary, after the horrible break with my life-long friend who accused me of all sorts of terrible deeds that I had done to her, it was the kick in the ass I needed to let go and change my behavior. It was actually a gift, though a painful one.

I’ve learned a lot about life from building fires every night in our wood-buring stove. If you keep messing with it, trying to make it light more quickly by fussing and trying to control it, it won’t light. The best thing to do is let it catch by itself and then watch it glow and eventually brighten into a beautiful, roaring fire.

So, the cornerstone has been put away in a safe place where even I can’t get to it. It can crumble on its own, wear down, eventually slip away. And I won’t have to take responsibility any more for making sure it holds.

And I truly appreciate even more the other two wonderful friends I’ve had for over 40 years. One I met in junior high, the other when we worked together in our late teens. We’re always there for each other even if we don’t talk or write for months. I know now it’s because we’ve never considered the other to be a cornerstone, rather we’ve been more like gentle wild grasses that bend in the wind, grow and die with the changing seasons, then come back greener than ever, breathing with life, sometimes with surprising gifts, caressing each others’ hearts with brilliance, color, and love.

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Dawn | Early bird

Dawn. 6:00 AM flight.

From my kitchen window, sipping a cappuccino. Glad I didn’t have to be on that early bird! For the daily prompt.

Early bird trail

Weekly Photo Challenge: One shot–two ways

Statuesque views, more or less, of the Montone countryside.

Cat tales – the things we do for love

So much for crocheting that afghan. Recently, I discovered what Piero had been up to for the last few weeks. It’s not a pretty sight.

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When I carried him upstairs and asked him what he thought he was doing, he looked at me and ‘told me’ that he did it for love.

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Huh?

And then I melted when I saw what he meant.

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All sunshine makes a desert

My father died 10 years ago today. Losing a parent is huge. Even though it’s the natural course of events, you’re never fully prepared for the enormity of the event itself and the emptiness you feel inside. The emotions that flood into you consume every waking moment for whatever time it takes to grieve. You go through all the emotions of death reactions—disbelief, profound sadness, depression, more depression, emptiness, fear, anger, confusion, wonder, and finally acceptance.

21_oakWhen I buried my father’s ashes under an oak tree, the tree was only 3 or 4 years old and kind of spindly. Today, his oak tree is tall and mighty and will soon dominate our meadow with its huge branches. I like to think that his ashes have helped “his” tree grow into a gentle giant.

I wrote about my dad in my book, The Field Stones of Umbria. I look back on the chapter about him, “The Oak Tree”, and take comfort in the words I wrote. I’m hoping that these words will bring comfort to all of us who have lost our parents, and especially to a very special childhood friend who just lost her father; he was a second dad to me and such a wonderful man that I can scarcely put words to how I feel about him leaving our lives and this world. Here are some excerpts from my book:

“My father’s and my relationship was probably typical of most father-daughter relationships. It had its ups and downs, laughter and tears, great talks and terrible arguments. We had some estrangement and reuniting, some good heartfelt connections and some polar-opposite philosophies. But above all, he was my dad, I was his daughter, and those words alone imply a special relationship.

“My dad’s greatest strength was his humor. He said it got him through the roughest times of his life, especially during World War II in the South Pacific. He also had wonderful sayings that could wipe away the small tragedies in my life. I got stood up once for a date when I was 17 years old, and I was crushed. My dad held me and let me cry, then he told me all sorts of funny stories about how rotten guys are, and how my heart would be broken time and again. He told me that I had to find something in my life that would never let me down, something that I could always fall back on. It could be anything—painting, crocheting, writing—anything to call my own. He told me that was the only way to get through the rough times, like when people let you down.

“I was feeling so bad about crying, but then he said that the tears were good because “all sunshine makes a desert.” To this day when I cry, I’m convinced that I’m filling my life with rich forests and lush greenery.

P1000051“I look at the oak every day from my window and smile at him. I sit with him and tell him that there were good times and bad, laughter and tears, comfort and struggle. That we did our best with each other, and above all, that his memory lives inside of me, and I love him.”

I’ll go sit with my dad today under his mighty oak tree, 10 years later, and wish him a very special Father’s Day.

The day after La Befana…remembering Vladimir

vlad_bench_wThe day after La Befana will always be the day we put down our beloved Vladimir, who had been gravely ill with intestinal cancer. Five years ago on a sunny January 7th, his time was up and my heart still cries a little.

Vladimir, “so dignified and pure of heart” as our brother-in-law, Eddie, wrote, will be forever etched into my life and soul. Our beginnings here in Italy were made all the more wonderful with his presence.

An excerpt from my book, The Field Stones of Umbria, describes his last two days with us:

He spent the last few days of his life resting in the gardens, in the sunshine. He had stopped eating again, and this time we knew it was the end. The day before we put him down, I sat with him in the Japanese garden for an hour. We listened to the horses in the field, the sheep and their bells in the hills, and he watched the birds with his usual intensity.

A large woodpecker landed near the bamboo, and he leaped off my lap. Even though he couldn’t eat and was down to nine pounds from twenty, his instinct as a great hunter flashed for another moment. He was poetry in motion and I momentarily forgot that he was about to die.

The next day, when it was time to go, I found him in the lower meadow near the stream. I picked him up, his poor skinny body weighing nothing, and he draped himself on my shoulder. We walked all around the grounds, and I talked to him about the fields, the stream, the olive trees, the meadow, the lavender and rosemary, the bamboo and Japanese maples. I told him that all of “his nature” would miss his beautiful presence. He touched his nose to my lips, our secret kiss that we’d coveted for 12 years.

It was time to go. Pavel and I didn’t talk on the way to the vet. What is there to say? You have to do this, and there’s no turning back.

I held him while he was going under, Pavel at my side, both of us crying. The roller coaster of emotion had taken its last uphill climb. Our vet was amazing. Vladimir didn’t feel anything. He died peacefully. She cried with us.

We remember all of his antics, his playing, his purrs in the night. He still kisses me in his secret way. But most of all, we see his beautiful eyes gazing directly at us—questioning, understanding, loving, and connecting as no other animal has ever done.

Vladimir. So dignified and pure of heart.

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I want to be in Italy when I’m 80

A caravan pulls up to our neighbor’s house and the music starts. Bells are ringing, people are singing and shouting joyous greetings. The house is lit up with all the outside lights (which is very special here since electricity is so expensive!) to welcome the local bandwagon of people, gifts, and good cheer.

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This Christmas Eve mission? To visit each and every house in this tiny valley where someone (or more) is at least 80 years old. And there are a lot of them! At least 20 people out of a population of 100 or so.

I stand on the terrace and watch and listen. My heart fills with joy, I smile. And I think to myself, I want to still be here when I’m 80.

Merry Christmas to all.

Late summer

As I wrote in “The Last Firefly”, the season continues to move on. And since both the lavender and fireflies are gone, I’ve said goodbye to that header photo and replaced it with a late summer one.

This summer has been beastly in Italy. Our hottest since 2003. We’re watching the crops dry up and die, animals that don’t normally come down this far into the valley are desperately searching for water, and we’re living like cave people inside our shuttered house every afternoon. I don’t dare venture out until early evening.

In spite of the intense heat this year, late summer brings its own beauty and gifts. Local garden ingredients for making Ratatouille and glazed apples for desert.

My basil looks like a forest this year as it laps up the sunlight and heat.

The fields are rolled, leaving tracks that look like waterfalls…I can’t get enough of this scene in our little valley.

The sunflowers enjoyed the heat a lot more than I did!

And the biggest gift of all: a second blooming of my white roses.

The last firefly

It’s mid-summer. The season is changing. I felt it this morning all of a sudden, a bit like seeing sheep on the hillside that don’t seem to move, but you look again and they’re in an entirely different spot.

But yes, of course. The sunflowers are drooping their poor heads and the wheat has been rolled.

The shadows are longer in the afternoons.

And this morning, our last firefly. I hope he had a good night, blinking his last blinks. I’m sure he sparkled for weeks, but his reason for being has been accomplished.  Farewell little one. Summer moves on.

So far away…

So far away.
Doesn’t anybody stay in one place anymore?
It would be so fine to see your face at my door.
Doesn’t help to know you’re just time away…

-Carole King, Tapestry, 1971.

One of the hardest things (perhaps really the only hard thing) about living in Italy is that we’re so far away from our loved ones. I wouldn’t trade living in Italy for anything else, and yet… If only we could beam everyone here for the weekend!

At night, when I go out on the terrace to hear the footfalls of the deer in the fields, the night birds, the rain, or look at the moon, I think of our family in the U.S., our friends, my mom. So many things I want to tell her about, but alas, I can’t. At least not in reality. I can still tell her about the music we’ve just listened to, which she would love. Or the full moon–her passion. Or something our little Olinka did today, like climbing the olive tree.

When one lives as an outsider in a foreign country, it takes courage to keep the spirits up, to make new friends, to keep appreciating the amazing things one has. At least we made the choice to live here. The thought of the millions of refugees around the world who have been tossed out of their homelands because of tyrannical governments, religion, slave-trade, or war…well, it’s just impossible to fathom their cruel fate.

So, the moment of sadness passes, the thankfulness we feel for our lives returns, and the good memories dance in my mind. They warm the heart. They make it all worthwhile being so far away.