A girl named Carmela

Osvaldo Zappa was formally educated in Italy. After graduation from the Istituto Tecnico (Geometri) in 1956, he immigrated to Canada to join his family in Vancouver. While working at several jobs he enrolled in studies at night schools and in the early sixties he attained a Certificate in the airline industry as Station Attendant (Segratario di Scalo) at the Central Institute of Kansas City.
Later he enrolled at the University of B.C. While still at UBC, he was hired by a forest company as a trainee to work in Forest Engineering. Worked in forest administration until his retirement in the year 2000. In the same year he published Giovanni’s Journey, a book of memoirs and in 2014 published Cosette, the Wilted Rose in which he portrayed in real overtones the ravage of dementia that had affected his wife.
Osvaldo’s publications have appeared on Bibliosofia Canadese and three AICW anthologies. (Association of Italian Canadian Writers).
Presently he has completed his third book, an epistolary novel titled The French Letters and a number of short stories yet to be published. Osvaldo is a life member of the Italian Cultural Centre of Vancouver. He is a gold member of the Confratellanza Italo-Canadese, and member of both the Canadian Legion and the association l’Amicale des Anciens Comabatants Francais. Osvaldo lives in West Vancouver where he plays Lawn Bowling as sport. Osvaldo loves travelling.

What I remember of a country girl named Carmela has remained with me for many years. She was the prettiest and the smartest girl in my village, a rural town far from many amenities, lacking even a movie theater where one would invite his date on Saturday night. She was barely fourteen when I first cast my eyes on her: I was a skinny, lanky boy of fifteen- already smoking, and Carmela was blossoming into puberty like a flower attracting bees at spring time. Although a year younger than me, we attended the same classes. At that time, rural schools were mixed classes, and often boys like me, would naturally be distracted by thinking too much about girls like Carmela. I would frequently be admonished by la maestra, the teacher, for not paying enough attention in class. After school, merry as a lark, I would wait for Carmela streaming out of the classroom, and offer to carry her books and dream to be with her studying or simply reading fumetti comics, something her father would not approve of: comics would distract her strict Catholic upbringing. Despite our youthful relationship at school, I never found the way to truly express myself in a way to steel a kiss from her. Then, soon after the Second World War that had interfered in our lives, many residents displaced to different parts of Italy returned to the village, including scores of soldiers who had been interned in parts of Africa and Russia. The new Italian government had instituted programs to help veterans resettle in society. To benefit them, new associations were soon formed all over Italy. These were the Associazioni di Reduci di Guerra, known as Veterans /Legion in English. The only requirement for membership was to sign up and pay a nominal fee of one hundred Lira annually to the local section’s secretariat. Being a member would entitle an ex-soldier to certain benefits: for example, he could send a son or a daughter to a summer camp for free. My father, who was a brainy sort of guy, but considered an outsider by the neighbour, had been appointed secretary of the chapter in my village, but quoting Agatha Christie: “… people who are brainy are bound to be impatient.” His task was to sign up all the veterans who paid the required amount to join. One night, my father went knocking from door to door. All joined, with exception of the neighbour ex-soldier, who had been briefly in uniform, but had been discharged from the army for reasons unknown. That only holdout was no other than the father of my schoolmate, the girl named Carmela. “I am not going to join” said he. “I rather spend one hundred Liras on something else than join an association run by a gypsy, signor Secretario!” Ignoring the remarks, my father again stressed with him the importance of being a member, citing the values of the benevolent group that the Association was stated to represent. Stubbornly, the man refused to join, and closed the door on my father‘s face without even saying sorry, or Buona Sera. Well, gypsy or not, that wasn’t a smart thing to do to a smart guy like my father. A few weeks later the same year, the government went ahead with its program to send four children to a summer camp for two weeks at a beach resort on the Adriatic. Our town was one of the lucky ones. It did not take long for Carmela’s father to come knocking on our door one evening. (On hearing about the program, he unexpectedly wanted to speak to my father about becoming a member of the Veterans’ Association– a change of heart?) I was at the door when he knocked. Looking at me with a false smile but, appearing contrite at best in his heart, he had a one hundred Lira note in his hand. When father joined me at the door and recognised the man, suspecting the reason for the visit, asked a hasty: “What can I do for you?”
“I want to become a member of the Associazione,” responded the man, quivering.
“Why do you want to do that?” my father asked, and not expecting a response, father continued: “Not long ago you refused to join, man!” Still at the door, but repentant of sorts he went on: ‘I have been told that you are sending your son, this one, who goes to school with my girl, to the summer camp and three other children to the camp. I want to send my girl too; here is a hundred Lira to join the association.” In disbelief, my father looked at the man: “You cannot send your daughter to camp because you are not a member of the association, and I cannot accept your money at this time. So, good man, keep your Liras and buy your girl a new dress” and leaving the door open, father added: “Another time, perhaps.” The man, now with anger in his eyes poured out: “You cannot do this to me. I am a veteran too!” Looking straight in the man’s eyes: “Yes I can!” my father replied. Realising the rebuff, the man abruptly changed tune, and looking at me with a mocking bravado said: “Anyway, the last thing I want to do is to have this son of yours here, chasing after my daughter on some beach on the Adriatic.” And left the door in a huff.
From that day on, whenever I saw Carmela, at school, or in the street, on her way to fetch the milk from the cows, she always avoided me, and I worried that the rift that had been created by our fathers had now had swallowed our innocence. Nevertheless, as we grew up and we went our separate ways. You might say that I had a crush on her. And after I was sent to enrol in a high school far from my town, while she was sent to study to become a teacher in a different city. We only saw each other again when we returned to our village during the summer break. By then, she had matured and looked much more attractive. Despite our parents quarrels over participation in an association that was meant to bring veterans together, I never lost my sense for the girl that had become an idol for me. In the next two years she would be selected to represent the community: to do a presentation about ‘Belonging and Forgiveness’ on the feast of our patron St. Rocco on the 16th of August, in the open piazza, in front of hundreds of people, including a Bishop that came for the occasion of the Festa celebration. The choice to have selected her had been the right one well deserved and brought honour to her father and to our town. I regretted my father’s intransigence in not signing up her father in the Association.
After that, the lore of America was too strong to resist. Many young people left their towns in the hundreds for the new countries that needed strong hands and strong wills. Two years earlier, Carmela accepted to marry a visiting local boy who had immigrated to in Pennsylvania to work in the coal mines. I was away wring my final exams Rome when the wedding took place. She left soon after with him and never returned to the village. As for me, my path took a different direction and we would only see each other again only years late. After I graduated, I too left my town, but for Canada, and only almost forty years later I saw Carmela again when I traveled to Pennsylvania with my wife, to visit relatives there. In Pittsburgh, Carmela was in the throes of arranging the wedding of her daughter. The invitation to attend the wedding came while I was visiting friends in New Kensington, but, for reasons of travel arrangements I had previously made, I could not attend and I had to decline. However, our long separation had left me heavy hearted.
Carmela passed away two years ago, dearly remembered by a school boy who attended her classes in both primary and high school, and had an eye for her. I will always cherish the thought of having known her.
Good bye Carmela!

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