Baltimore Post-Examiner is proud to present an excerpt from Between Two Lifetimes by Ann Bezayiff.
Between Two Lifetimes is a romantic, historical fiction story that takes place in the years between 1937 and 1939 in central California. It is the story of Italian immigrants, Giuseppe and Francesca Corgi as they face the challenges of raising first-generation American children.
Standing steadfast through all the turmoil is husband and father, Giuseppe (Joseph) Corgi. Proud of his ability to feed and support his family of three girls, two boys and his wife, he too sees a glimmer of hope on the other side of the Depression. Unaware of the female drama in his home, or ignoring it, he tries to reconcile the old ways left behind in Italy with the American ways of doing things. His greatest angst comes from his three daughters because, in American, with girls, there’s always worry.
The three sisters, coming of age before the advent of World War II, seek love and romance in a confusing, ambiguous time. Tessa, Josie and Gina each have their own ideas of dating, love, sex and courtship but must balance the “new, modern” American way with the expectations of their Catholic, immigrant parents. Each struggles to find love but are unable to do so without crashing through barriers of culture and religion.
The decisions, choices and subsequent consequences make for an entertaining and thought provoking story of family life between World War I and World War II in an emerging, immigrant community in Central California. You’ll laugh, smile, sigh and cry. Enjoy!
An Imprint of Whiskey Creek Press LLC
Copyright Ó 2016 by Ann Bezayiff
Francesca, the eldest of four girls, was born in a small village in the Canavese region of Italy, near the Lanzo River. She had two older brothers; Natale was the firstborn male child in the family and Giancarlo was the second.
The family lived in an ancient three-story, rectangular structure. The building had been erected centuries ago during the time of the House of Savoy. Thick tree trunks from the open woodlands, stones from nearby mountains, and layers of thick brick created the solid foundation and walls. Layers of plaster, recreated from an eternal recipe, covered the structure, but in sections, the thick plaster had peeled off, revealing the building’s inner skeleton.
Her father, Natale Casapietro, inherited the rights to rent the building after the death of his father and in agreement with the landowner’s conditions. The house came with four acres of poor soil, which was located outside the village. His crops of wheat and grains barely covered the rent, but he grew a large, productive garden in the open courtyard within the walls of their home. He mulched the soil with bags of decayed leaves, collected from the trees growing along the edge of the creek. He added vegetable cuttings from the kitchen, chicken manure from the henhouse and mixed in earthworms from the creek beds. His skill and knowledge of the land allowed him to produce a garden of tomatoes, garlic, onions, fava beans, potatoes, corn, peas, zucchini and herbs. Even now the memory of the Rosemary bushes and the rows of basil, oregano and mint reminded Francesca of her youthful home. The aromas of basil and garlic on her cutting board were a constant reminder of those days. They were the sweet smells of life, of food, of home.
The main level of the property housed the livestock. In the winter the barn substituted for sleeping rooms. Though snow was rare during the winter months, the winter air was cold, dry and penetrating. There was never enough wood to keep a fire going and a villager could be sent to prison or killed for stealing firewood from the Lord’s manor. Even the branches on the ground were forbidden.
So the children made straw beds on the dirt floor and slept beside the animals. The warmth from the animals’ bodies kept the children from freezing. The sweet smell of fresh hay mixed with the odors of dung, and human and animal scents, evoked strong reminders of cold, alpine nights and bodies sleeping among the animals for warmth. Even now, Francesca knew the smell of dung and straw in her hair. It was a good smell.
From sunup to sundown, Francesca worked alongside her family watching over the crops and animals in this remote area of Piedmont. Still there was never enough food to last through the cold winters. In the fall huge canvas bags, filled to the brim with chestnuts, emptied long before spring. In the better years, they had sacks of corn meal to make polenta and maybe fresh meat from a wild boar. If they were lucky, a confused and misguided animal might wander into the village, providing fresh meat for the villagers. During the harsher years, the landowner might give permission for the villagers to scour his forest for wild root vegetables, overlooked mushrooms, and half-starved animals—but that was rare. It was a struggle to feed the family, but the cow, goats and pigs needed food too. They needed to survive in order to produce animals in the spring.
Finally, in the spring, the dandelions, cardoon and the weeds of the fields saved them. The sows began producing piglets and fresh milk was available once the cow gave birth. The skinny calf had to share its milk with the household.
Life was a struggle, always a struggle.
There was no future for her. She knew this was the truth of her life. She attended school for a few years but had to quit to help at home. At least she could read, write and work numbers in her head. She was determined to leave the farm. The farm would go to her brother and if she stayed, she would become a burden to her brother’s family or a servant worker in the fields. Life in a convent or marriage were her only two choices. She chose marriage and prayed every day for a husband. It didn’t matter if he came from a poor family; her family’s status was barely above that of a servant class anyway. She did pray he’d be kind and young, like herself and not a widower, years older than herself.
Older widowers married younger women all the time. Such marriages usually benefited the girl’s family because these men had resources that could raise a family’s status or insure a supply of food for the entire family. However, being condemned to caring for old men with old bodies, was not her idea of romance and love.
Francesca’s idea of love and romance came from the youthful spring of idealism and happy endings. It certainly didn’t include a priest, or an almost priest, at least not at first, but Providence works its own schemes.
She was fifteen when Paolo Marcelo saw her outside the village. He noticed her sitting upon an ancient Etruscan stone on the edge of the forest, half-watching the grazing cow, its calf and a group of spring lambs. The clouds played a chasing game over her head, first blocking the sun’s intensity and then releasing it. She was terrorizing an ant colony with a bony tree branch, twisting and turning in the hill of the nest.
“Hello,” a voice said.
Francesca jumped up, startled, looked around, but didn’t see anyone. “Hello?” The stick tightened in her grasp.
I hope I’m not having one of those Mary, the mother of God, visions. Those poor girls end up in a convent the rest of their lives.
She turned around and a handsomely built, young man appeared out of the forest. He was muscular and lanky, without being skinny.
Now that is a vision!
Instantly, Francesca recognized his wealth. His wore a shirt woven from silk and his jacket of felted wool fit faultlessly around his torso. His pants were tailored and fit his body perfectly. He held a wool cap in his hands. His boots were exquisitely handcrafted leather while she wore no shoes at all. Only the wealthy could afford the luxury of wearing shoes especially during the summer.
Immediately, she bowed her head and curtsied which was expected of someone born into a lower class status.
His voice was deep but soft. “No need for that,” he said. “Please sit down. I didn’t mean to startle you.”
She looked at him puzzled.
French? He’s speaking French.
She answered him in the local dialect.
“Can you speak Piedmontese, my dialect?” She pronounced the French words carefully and slowly. “I can speak a little French, but my skills are limited.”
He repeated in perfect Piedmontese, “I said there is no need for bowing. Please sit down. I didn’t mean to startle you.”
“Sir, even though I was sitting on this rock, I was watching the animals. I don’t let them wander into the forest, ever, but I’ll move them farther down the hill, if it pleases you.”
He laughed. “The animals are fine. Don’t worry. I’m not here to tell you to chase after them.” He looked at her and then asked, “What is your name?”
Her eyes narrowed and she cautiously tilted her head before answering.
“Aren’t you going to ask my name?”
“Yes, if you wish. Sir, what is your name?”
“Marcelo, Paolo Marcelo.”
“Are you from the master’s country house? I don’t think I’ve seen you before.”
“Visiting, yes, for now. I’m related through my mother’s line. I had to take a walk and get some fresh air. Such a beautiful day and no need to waste it on privilege disguised as laziness.”
She looked up at him, searching his face as to the mystery of his words. His smile was wonderful and ignited a sensation of heat throughout her body. Her face turned bright red and she turned her face down, towards the stone.
“I was sitting on this ancient Etruscan stone, watching the animals, Sir.”
He laughed. “Etruscan? What do you know about Etruscans?”
Stubbornly, she explained, “From stories; my bisnonna, my great-grandmother, she told us the ancient stories. Our people are descendants from the old ones, those who escaped the massacres and lived in the caves over there.” She pointed towards the soft rows of Alpine Hills. Several outcroppings of stones were within walking distance. “Sometimes, the caves give up shards of pottery or bits of broken jewelry or a coin. But not very often. One has to know where to look.”
“Well, Francesca my apologies. You obviously know more about the Etruscans than I thought.” He teased her with a smile. “May I sit with you upon your family’s ancient Etruscan stone and contemplate the destiny of these ants with you?” Her face reddened. She put the stick down and the ants swarmed.
“Yes, Sir, of course. The stone is long and wide, enough for a family to sit upon. It must have been part of an outside wall, I think.”
He walked over to the stone and polished it with the palm of his hand. “I think you’re right. It’s oddly large. Please,” he said and motioned for her to sit. She did. He sat a full body length away from her, clasped his hands together, leaned his back against the rock behind his head, and breathed in the fresh air. She stared at him, wondering.
“This is divine,” he said. “A beautiful girl, a grassy hill and an ancient stone.” He said the words in French.
“You understood every word I said, didn’t you?”
She only smiled and watched him close his eyes.
Silently they sat, not uttering a word. She didn’t know what to expect or what to do. Slowly she relaxed—the calm and peace between them was enough. She wondered.
Perhaps he’s an Etruscan prince of old who has come to rescue me from my fate and take me to his manor as his wife.
The horn sounded. Its call woke them from a sweet serenity and back into consciousness. He opened his eyes and looked at her fully. The intensity of his gaze shook her very being. The horn sounded again.
She jumped up. “It’s a signal to the herders,” she explained. “It’s time to herd the animals and return to them to the village. Good-bye,” She said and raced down the hill skillfully herding the animals towards home. She looked back once. He was watching her. That would be enough of the fairy tale to last a lifetime.
Ann Marie Bezayiff received her BA and MEd from the University of Washington in Seattle. She is an author, blogger, columnist and speaker. Her columns, “From the Olive Orchard” and “Recycled Recipes from Vintage Boxes”, appear in newspapers, newsletters and on Internet sites. Ann Marie has also demonstrated her recipes on local television. Currently she divides her time between Western Maryland and Texas.