Knees bent on the hard stone, she reached her withered hands into the cool rich soil and began to dig with a small spade a medium sized hole into the soft ground. When it was just so, she picked up the small red geranium plant from its place in the wheelbarrow next to her and gently set it into the hole she had dug. She carefully held the plant as she covered it up with the pile of soil next to it. She patted it down and picked up the watering can, sprinkling a hefty dose of water all around the newly planted dirt covered roots.
Dusting her hands, she stood up and admired her small garden in front of her. The storm last season had taken out what had once been her masterpiece. She had planted, built, and nurtured it for almost twenty years. It had taken some time this last year to build it back up, but she was happy with how it was turning out, even if it was taking longer than she had planned. She carted her tools and wheelbarrow back to the little shed next to her small adobe cottage sitting by the oceanside. Her life was simple now, nothing like the days of old or what her son used to tease her and call her glory days. A part of her missed those glory days, but the peace she felt left her satisfied with where her life was now.
“Mamma,” she heard a voice call out from the front gate.
“It’s open,” she called back, her face lighting up with happiness at the sound of her son’s voice.
“We’re here,” his voice boomed through the courtyard.
“Emberto, you made it,” Oria said with joy, seeing her son standing there.
Emberto looked up from underneath his always a little too long wavy dark black hair that he swept away from his eyes, as he dropped his bags on the ground to embrace his mother.
“Mamma, I’ve missed you,” he said as his mother kissed his forehead and his cheeks squeezing him so tight, not wanting to let him go.
“It has been too long, my son, too long,” Oria said, holding back tears of joy and putting her hands on the sides of his face, looking into his eyes. “You’re really here.”
“I am, Mamma. I am. So is Marianna, and soon your grandbaby will be, too.” Emberto said and turned to his wife standing next to him, gently pulling her forward, as he placed his hand on her stomach.
“My, Marianna, you look positively glowing,” Oria said as she reached her hands out to embrace Marianna and cradle her daughter-in-law’s burgeoning belly.
“Oh, how my grandbaby grows,” Oria said, joy lighting up her eyes. She reached up and put a hand on the side of Marianna’s face and kissed her on both cheeks, Marianna returning the greeting.
Emberto signed to his wife what his mother had just said to her. Marianna nodded and smiled wider and signed back to her husband.
“She says, yes, the baby does, and she also has my energy and spunk, as Marianna calls it.” Emberto said with a laugh.
“She?” Oria asked with joyous surprise.
“Yes, Mamma, it’s a little girl. And we are going to name her Orianna Emeli, kind of a mesh of her mamma’s and nonna’s names and…” Emberto’s voice trailed off, unable to finish his sentence.
Oria’s eyes filled with tears, “Oh, Emberto.”
“Don’t cry, Mamma,” Emberto said, hugging his mother again.
“Oh, you know these tears, they’re tears of joy. I’m so happy you are here and that means so much to me, so very much.” Oria said to her son.
Quickly she wiped her eyes with her apron and clapped her hands together. “Come, come. You must be tired from your journey and Marianna will probably want to rest.”
“Yes, that would be good for her.”
Emberto walked the familiar path behind his mother, as Oria led the way down the cobblestone hallways of the cottage and opened a door to a cool room that was freshly cleaned and the bed newly made.
Marianna followed her husband into the bedroom and nodded gratefully to her mother-in-law.
“Thank you, Mamma,” Emberto said to Oria.
“I’ll be out by the garden when you are settled, Emberto, if you’d like to come join me out there. I’d like to take you to the market before dinner.”
Emberto smiled at the thought and the memories from the all those years long ago when they had lived here as children before they were sent all over the globe with his father’s job. Every late afternoon they had made their walk to the little market in town only a half a mile from their cottage.
“I’ll be out in a few minutes, Mamma,” Emberto said, squeezing his mother’s hand before she left the room.
Oria walked out the steps and down the walkway to her garden where her little plants were soaking up the afternoon sun. She shuffled over to the two small chairs that sat looking out across the sea lapping up it’s small waves on the beach. She sat down as she waited for her son and her mind drifted to memories of long ago. Her eyes closed and she could hear a little boy’s laughter and the squeal of a little girl being chased around the cottage.
“Berto, Berto, stop,” called the little girl, with long curly brown hair and big blue eyes, giggling as she raced around courtyard and tried to hide from her older brother who laughed and acted like a big dinosaur tromping after his little sister.
“I’m going to get you, Emeliana, ROAR!” Emberto said as he playfully charged after his sister who couldn’t stop laughing as she ran from him.
“Come, come children,” Oria called to her little ones, carrying a big platter out into the courtyard to place on the large stone table in the middle. “Dinner time.”
“Yes, Mamma,” Emberto had answered with a giggle as he tugged his sister towards the table…. “Mamma….Mamma….”
Oria opened her eyes and saw her son standing over her, older yes, but still that boyish twinkle in his blue eyes.
“Emberto,” she said, her eyes misty, she looked up to see her son standing next to her. She grasped his hands in hers and pulled him around to the chair across from her. He sat down and looked at his mother, whom seemed to have aged so many years since he had last visited her.
“Mamma, are you okay?” Emberto asked her.
“I’m fine, just sometimes I get lost in the past, that is all. The curses of getting old and having so much time on your hands, you get lots of chances to relive the past in your mind. But enough of that, how is my son, how is mi bambino?”
Emberto chuckled at this, “I’m good, Mamma. Marianna and I are very excited and a little terrified at the coming arrival of Orianna. I worry that I won’t be, that I won’t be good enough, that Orianna won’t have…”
“Emberto, stop, that right there, that worry, that is what already makes you good enough, what already makes you the wonderful father I know you are going to be. Your Papà, God rest his soul, mi vita mia, would be so proud of you. You know, you are so much like him.” Oria said, thinking of her husband, the lover of her life, gone too soon.
Emberto smiled sadly thinking of his father. “They would want us to be happy, Mamma.”
Oria looked at her son, the pain in her eyes, the pain that stayed there always present and creeped up when least expected. “I know, Emberto, I know.”
“Their garden, Mamma, what happened to it?”
Oria looked back behind her at the newly refreshed garden, that had been once flourishing and overflowing.
“A storm, a storm last season, took it all away. I’ve been trying to restore it, but these old bones aren’t what they used to be.” She said as she held up her old and withered hands.
“Mamma, these hands have carried the world in them, have carried life and death. Let me help you, let us go into town tomorrow and we shall build it back to the brilliant tesoro it once was. They would like that.”
“Yes, they would.” His mother nodded and smiled at her son, “My, how much you have grown into quite the man, my little Berto. It will be so wonderful to hear laughter in these walls again. They’ve been quite silent for many years now. Have you decided to stay?” Oria asked cautiously.
“Yes, Mamma. I spoke to Marianna. She wants to raise Orianna here and as many other children as we can have. I will take over father’s business from Uncle Leo.”
“Yes, Leo spoke to me recently, asking me some questions about handing it off to you, but I didn’t know if you, if you wanted to come back here, permanently.”
“It was hard at first, there are so many memories.” Emberto said quietly.
“I know, I surely know,” said Oria, memories that constantly followed her daily around her life in this little cottage.
“But after Marianna and I talked a lot, we decided, Mamma, this is home. Marianna has no family and you are my only family. This is where we belong.” Emberto had taken his mother’s callused hands in his now.
Oria was crying soft tears and her son wiped one away from her cheek.
“I love you, Mamma. I’m sorry I stayed away for so long. I’m home, now, I’m home.”
“It’s okay, mi bambino, everything is okay, now that you are here with me.” Oria understood so much more than he knew. “Come, shall we go to market, before Marianna wakes up and supper is upon us and the market closes for the night?”
“Yes, let’s,” Emberto said, getting up and squeezing his mother’s hand. He went to retrieve the small metal rolling cart they always would take to market, that she kept near the front gate.
Oria walked slowly to follow her son and looked back at the newly planted red geranium to see a small bud starting to open up. Just like that small bud, she felt her heart starting to warm again. She walked with a smile on her face to take her son’s hand and go with him to market like they had done so many times before when they were a family of four and would skip down the streets of their little village, their happy family. She smiled at the thought of her little family growing again and filling this little lane with the laughter of children again. She squeezed her son’s hand and looked up at him.
“Finché c’è vita, c’è speranza. As long as there is life, there is hope.” She said to him, full of life, and renewed hope as she walked down the street, hand on her son’s arm.
Photo Source:Mikki Senkarik
Song Inspiration – Andrea Bocelli and Céline Dion – The Prayer