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Once Upon a Time in Pescara
by Cookie Curci
When I was a kid, my nonna Isolina would baby-sit me and my cousins by telling us fascinating family tales. Nonna had an endless supply of these intriguing Old World family stories. My cousins and I were happily bewitched by these wonderful tales. But of all the stories there was one I enjoyed best of all.
Whenever this story was told, nonna gathered us beneath an ornately decorated wall tapestry where we sat huddled together anticipating the story that we were all about to hear.
As far back as I can remember the huge, hand-woven, wall tapestry decorated nonna's living room. The dramatic art work on the tapestry depicted a romantic scene from the Arabian Nights: powerful horsemen riding their steeds at full gallop, their strong, dashing, leader mounted on a great white horse leading the way as he boldly reaches down from his saddle with one powerful arm and carriers off his waiting sweetheart.
It was easy to see why grandma loved the aged old tapestry so much. Its timeless charm was obvious, but it was the romantic scene that paralleled nonna's own true life family story. Grandma loved using the colorful tapestry as a backdrop for her mama and papa's true life love story.
The story begins in Abruzzi in the region of Pescara in the mid1800s when my great-grandma Antonia Flaminia was a beautiful young peasant girl.
A good marriage was a most important consideration for a youthful maiden and for her entire family, who would benefit greatly from the essential gifts offered to them by the potential groom. Horses, or cows, maybe goats or chickens given to bind the marriage proposal were all welcome offerings to a poor peasant family.
It was this kind binding proposal that Antonia's father had accepted from a young villager who requested Antonia's hand in marriage. Sight unseen, Antonia was betrothed to a young man in the village who was looking for a wife to help tend the crops and raise his children, Both families approved of the proposal and the deal was set!
It was just about this time that great- grandpa Leopold D'aurelio came into the story. He was a dashing, rugged, older man. who had come to town from a far-off city to buy wheat from Antonia's farm. When their eyes met, it was love at first sight. Although Leopold begged the young maiden to marry him, she had to say, no, for she had been promised to a young villager who had generously given her father a healthy milk cow to bind the deal. Despite her love and admiration for the older, handsome, stranger, Antonia had little choice but to obey her father's wishes, To break their word now would do her family great harm in the eyes of the community. The marriage arrangements were final. Her father's word was binding and final. To break it would bring disgrace.
It was the morning of Antonia's wedding when the youthful young girl walked to the farmhouse water well to get a drink from the spring well. The well was located high atop a rugged hillside. She had been crying and wanted to refresh her face with the sparkling cold spring water and wash away the tears she had been shedding because of her love for Leopold.
Suddenly, the thundering sounds of mounted horsemen echoed under her feet and up the hillside. It was her beloved, dashing, Leopold, only this time he wasn't alone, he had brought his robust brothers with him, brothers, Rico, Franco, Salvatore and Rocco. They had all come to rescue great-grandma from her impending marriage. In a matter of seconds, Leopold came flying over the hilltop, in one grand move he bent down from his horse (just like the tapestry) and snatched Antonia up in his arms, carrying her away with him. They rode like the wind, far into the mountains to hide out in the many caves and caverns of the hilly Pescara landscape. They were married that night in a small church hidden deep in the Italian forest.
To say Antonia's papa and her village fiancée were upset is putting it mildly. They mounted their horses and searched for the run-away bride until dusk.
In time, Leopold came to own several of the semolina mills in which he worked and eventually became a very wealthy land owner. It took some time, but Antonia's father found it easy to forgive a rich man as a poor one. He forgave Leopold and Leopold gifted him with a herd of cows and his own semolina mill, where most of his children were put to work. The jilted young villager, that great- grandma Antonia had left at the altar, ended up marrying her younger sister and having a large family of little villagers.
Despite Antonia's youth and Leopold's middle age when they married, they were blessed with 15 children and lived to a ripe old age together. Or should I say, as in all happy endings.... "And they lived happily ever after".....
My grandma, Antonia's daughter, was one of those 15 kids and when she and her young sisters became teenagers, they set off on a journey of a lifetime, a voyage to America to find their own true loves, but that's another story for another column.
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