Excerpt from “Peppino, Good As Bread” by Ann Rubino
As I raced around a corner in the piazza kicking my homemade ball, I crashed into Vituccio, the banditore, town crier, whose shouts echoed off the stone walls. He was a funny old man with baggy pants, retired from being a soccer referee, with a voice that you could hear a mile away. Everybody called him Vituccio u’ca caat, Little Vito poopy pants. He hated that baby nickname but everybody used it. Over and over he shouted: “All metals must be turned in tomorrow in the piazza. Pots, pans, even jewelry. The war effort requires sacrifice. Il Duce’s orders.”
“I saw two police walking our way, looking at me. I had to keep moving.
“Scusi, Vituccio,” I said. “I’m late for dinner. And watch out in back of you.”
Bending lower, Vituccio whispered, breathing his tobacco breath into my face. “Tell your mother, Peppino. They’re serious this time. The war isn’t going well. The police will be coming house to house. You don’t play around with the government!” He straightened up and kept shouting, checking over his shoulder from time to time.
I headed across the little park, and burst into my house at the end of the street. “I just talked to–”
“I heard it,” my mother, Lucia, said. She reached up to push her dark hair away from her face, leaving a smudge of flour. She looked worried and angry. “I have to hide my good pans somehow. I can’t lose everything I’ve sweated for. They squeeze us like grapes and we’re supposed to be grateful. After three years of a stupid war we’re worse off than before and now they want my best pans. What do they think we’ve been doing?”
“Just hide them, Ma’. Put them in a hole or something. They can’t check every place in town. Maybe inside a wall?”
“You’re right! Go find the muratore, Giovan’. Tell him we have an emergency. Say our wall needs fixing. He’ll understand. Don’t get caught.”
“The fascisti are out there watching, Ma. What if they get me? They’re right in the piazza and I’ll have to go past them.”
“Here, I’ll give you a note. Say you have to bring it to your aunt. She’s needed to make cheese tomorrow. Say your mother forgot to tell her. Then just run. You can get back before curfew.”
I’m faster than those bullies, I thought, but my heart was thumping as I slipped out the side door and around the corner.
Giovan’ arrived just before sundown, carrying his shovel in his calloused hand, his mason’s tools dragging down the pockets of his dingy jacket. “I hate to break into this wall. I built it to last.” But he went right to work, chipping a hole through the tufa wall, and I carried the stone scraps and the dirt outside and scattered them in the garden.
Into the hole went Mamma’s beautiful copper, the big pasta pot, the little frying pan for fritatte, the pans for sauces and a brass braciere almost a meter wide. In went a cake pan and a small coffee pot. She added her earrings from her wedding. Any good metal that could be melted down went into that hole. Giovan’ filled the wall hurriedly, carefully resetting the stone pieces he had knocked out. “Be quiet in the garden,” he warned. “People are listening.”
ISBN 978-1-942247-00-5 (paperback) 978-1-942247-03-6 (hardcover) 978-1-942247-01-2 (digital)
copyright 2014 Ann Rubino