On my wedding day, some thirty-two years ago, my new father- in- law, Giuseppe, declared to all in attendance that San Martino in Pensilis, his much loved home town, is the center not just of the world but of modern civilization. San Martino in Pensilis, Molise, Italy is my husband’s birth place, my in-laws’ home in their heart and my first introduction to the authentic Italy. Giuseppe reasoned that since Europe is considered the bread basket of the world with Italy at its center, his home village, San Martino in Pensilis, at the heart of Italy, is logically the center of the world.
I have been blessed to have visited San Martino on four occasions. During my first visit in 1986, with five other young women, we plied its narrow cobblestone streets under the watchful eye of my 90-year-old nonna- in- law. This tiny power of nature led us from house to house, visiting family members all whose connection to my husband I could never figure out despite the dramatization in charades of the blood line. After crossing the threshold, through a beaded curtain similar to a six-foot-long fringe of macaroni strings, each host received us with an offering of brandied cherries. In the days before messaging and social media, the other social network, the Nonna network, was alive and well as each host served us exactly one more cherry than the previous host. Drunk on brandied cherries I fell in love with all of it--the beaded entries, abundant food and the open arms we were met with.
My second and third visits were no less charming. This time with three children in tow, we visited family and friends, saw our children play soccer in the street and quench their thirst at ancient water fountains. There were no brandied cherries in sight but, there was amarena or black cherry gelato aplenty, each scoop lovingly served by a “cousin” from a local gelateria. This was a cherry intoxication of a different sort for our children.
Fast forward to 2016 and a return trip with my now 85-year-old widowed mother- in- law, Concetta. For her it was a visit home, to the place where she fell in love, had children and set forth on her Canadian adventure 50 years ago. For my husband, it was a trip he was begrudgingly making to deal with property remaining in his father’s name. My role, required the depth of my diplomatic skills. I was to keep my husband and mother-in- law from fighting, be the buffer and enjoy Italy. The last was easy, the first two required super human skills. This time, holding my mother- in- law’s hand, relationships were easily pieced together. There were no cherries of the brandied variety, just the fresh ones picked earlier that day from the orchard near the end of town.