From My Tuscan Window

Chapter 13
Four Long Years
Before we could afford to return to Italy and visit our little house in Gioviano, it would take four long years of hard work for me in Texas building up the little filmstrip company that my father had started in our garage in 1953, into a viable business. Educational Filmstrips had to be capable of supporting two families, as well as the filmstrip-producing adventures of my elder sister and brother-in-law.

I was extremely anxious to show my parents that they had erred in refusing to lend us the money to purchase the properties in Gioviano. Sue and I were also anxious to return to the land of Anna’s birth and to show Jane, now nearly four years old, where her sister had lived. So, the family made reservations at the Golf Hotel in Tirrenia which had been our temporary home when we first arrived at Camp Darby in 1971. On the morning of May 28, 1978, we purchased picnic supplies and drove around the walls of Lucca, past the Devil’s Bridge at Borgo a Mozzano and up the 28 or so curves along the steep road leading up to Gioviano.

My mother, Marjorie, has written letters and taken extensive notes of the family’s many travels, and from time to time I will rely on her “memos” to more accurately describe certain events.

My mother wrote, “It was a pretty day and the drive beautiful. The poor little house is falling to ruin. Last winter during the terrible rainstorms, part of the roof caved in. It really is a cute little house and the furnishings make it homey looking. It made us all sad to see the state it was in. George and Sue considered selling it, but they can’t bear to part with it. George talked a long time to the townspeople. They are friendly and nice, and the little town is clean and story-book like. A Mr. Adenaco Lotti speaks good English and has offered to help anyone who comes to work on the house.”

Actually my mother understated the magnitude of my “sadness.” I had never worked so hard in my life as when my fellow soldiers and I were rebuilding the roof, oftentimes after rain had frozen and made the work especially slippery and dangerous three floors up and at the edge of the steep slope falling hundreds of feet to the valley floor.

How could the roof have leaked, when it had been so painstakingly and carefully rebuilt? Anyone who has spent much time in Gioviano in winter should be aware of the fact that hundred-mile-an-hour gusts can lift up even heavy terracotta roof tiles and blow them away. The esperti (knowledgeable ones) placed heavy rocks on the roof tiles of their houses at the eaves to hold the tiles down. I failed to follow their example.

Because we had not used any modern sealer other than a light coat of tar on the surface of the oak decking, weathering had created cracks that allowed the rain to pour in. Today, when ancient roofs are repaired or replaced, they are either sealed with a thin layer of impervious concrete or with rubber sheeting. We live and learn, sometimes the hard way.

As the house was uninhabitable, we drove on to Lerici where we found a hotel, and my mother wrote the following: “Well, at dinner in our dining room high above Lerici with a view of the sea, there was a long table of men banqueting. They were swarthy and different looking, and George began talking about how descendants of pirates had settled these parts. In the hotel across the way, many were drunk and one man passed out. So we were a bit uneasy about all the goodies we’d left in the car.”

Updated December 21, 2009
Copyright 2005-2009 George H. Russell
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