The Little Red Car and the Old House in Molise: A Memoir

A whirlwind in my brain.  That’s what happens when I time-travel. 

Stop, block this, I demand urgently, don’t go there, too painful, can’t change the past, etc, etc…

But one can’t delete the memories, even the ones that claw at your heart. Especially the ones that claw at your heart.

But I’m sticking to childhood stuff now.  Because it’s kinder.

My uncle gave me a beautiful doll stroller as a gift.  I was six or seven, and the present was overwhelmingly exciting.  Pushing it proudly along the paths of the local park, a pretty doll in the seat, and I the proud mommy.

But my brother got a super-cool, shining red sports car.  With pedals.  Zipping on the walking paths, he’d pass me strolling carefully with my ‘baby’, mocking me for being slow, while he owned the world.  And, yes, okay, a bit envious I was (who wouldn’t want to be behind the wheel of a dashing red car?), especially since it was a major project to be allowed to give it a spin  (please, please, just a quick drive?).

pictureMy brother grew into a taller, confident boy, a bit reckless perhaps.  The little red car didn’t, but it was always there.  Transported to my father’s country ancestral home in Colli al Volturno, a tiny village in the heart of Molise.  Now, this house was located in a exceedingly narrow vicolo, an alley not set up for modern automobiles, but efficient for donkeys carrying various wares.  Yeah, dear readers, going back a couple of centuries here.

But, good Lord, what a track it made for my brother’s little red race car!  He no longer fit in the seat of the car, so he worked it out in a different manner.  Just sat himself on top of the toy car, grabbed the steering wheel, lifted his legs over the front, and took off.  He couldn’t reach the pedals, of course, and the only brakes were his feet which would hit the ground when he was ready to stop.  The alley was on a hill, and a perilous curve was only a few meters away, as the narrow road plunged down, past our house and the dark barn that housed a restless, bad-tempered pig.

Guardatemi, shouted my brother, parto!  Here I go, pay attention.  And we did, my sister and I, our hearts beating with anxiety (he was bloody crazy after all), but somewhat excited by the fact that he was going to hit the speed of light with the little toy car, and perhaps smash into something or other, which would be quite entertaining  (we were young kids after all).  Screeching and rattling, the car and my brother rushed by us, and he deftly steered the wheel to avoid the stone walls.  Wow, what a rush! Honestly, I wish I could gather up the courage to emulate him, but no, just wasn’t going to happen.  Boys will be boys; girls, well, should be girls,ecco, and skinned knees were not on my priority list, budding fashionista that I was.  No matter the thrill.

Of course my sister and I (after the fact) eagerly reported to our mother about my brother’s irresponsible behavior, and a serious lecture was sure to follow, in addition to a couple of good knocks on the head, Sei matto, incosciente?

The ancient house is still there, the walls darkened by the passing of time, moss growing in the shadows, and the scent of the old and forgotten embraces the cheerless building.  There was vibrant life here, decades ago.  Then it became solely a summer house for us kids, not much appreciated, alas, often despised for replacing our beach vacation.

Now it sits there, gray, heavy with the lingering thoughts, secrets, joys and heartaches of generations of Di Sandro’s.

If you listen carefully to the silence of the stone walls, you will hear there is silence no more.

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