Life In My Tuscan Village – Chapter 2: The New School

I was one of the first students to use the new school actually built to be a school. Before this building was done, students met in some old house used as the school. My classmates consisted of 3 girls born the same years as me, Giuseppina, my first cousin, everyone called her Pina, Marilena, the daughter of our second cousins and Luciana. The rest of the class consisted of older boys and older girls that I am having a hard time remembering. I do remember children that came after me such as my brother Sergio, cousing Donato and his brother Egidio, Aldo, Renzo, Maria Elena, Meri, Aurora, Lauro and his older brother Luigi. I would say that the entire school class was less than 12. Our village at the time had an approximate population of maybe 300 people.

I started as a first grader; no kindergarten was available in our village. The teacher was sent to teach our classes from the head council for our village, Borgo a Mozzano.

The first three grades went from 9 to 1 and then lunch. After that we would go home; the fourth and fifth met again after lunch until 4.

We all wore black aprons with shiny clips to the front and a plastic white collar that fitted to our necks. My mother was the village seamstress and my clothes had to always be perfect. She would iron the apron and collar every day and made sure it was always perfect on me.   I remember using black ink from a fountain pen, of course not in first grade, but soon afterward. I did well in school and never had enough of it. Outside school meant chores and work. I loved to draw and would many times spend hours trying to draw by looking at real things such as scenery or flowers. My favorite flower was the blue lily. I intently drew it as I saw it and colored it with water colors. The teacher like it so much that she framed it and hung it in the school hall. It set there for many years after.

 Many times I would tell these stories to my twin daughters and they would laugh and ask me how far uphill I had to walk to get to school. The school was actually next door. Because all the homes were basically connected, I would walk around the block to get there; except when it was raining. If it rained, my mother would let me go to school from the lower street level of our house. This level was used for housing wood, food and wine. I would walk across the entire lower section of the house and emerge from a door at the back side. This door directly connected with the main entrance to the school.

Because we only had to go to school through fifth grade, our subjects covered many things and we learned complex subjects very early. This would turn up to be an advantage for me, many years later, while trying to learn English and the many other subjects presented in high school.

Around fifth grade we had a new teacher and I worked extra hard to impress her. She had some fresh ideas and made teaching fun. I remember drawing for her this mountain on a large paper. The mountain had lines across at specific increments going all the way to the top. She hung this mountain on the wall and each day there would be some type of scholastic challenge to gain a star. Each star would then be placed on the line of the day and so on. I remember reaching the very top way ahead of all the other students and receiving the prize. I forget now what that was.

After graduation, I was around 11 years old and I really wanted to study engineering or architecture, but my father had no means to pay for me to go to a higher education school. I was basically too young for full time work so my parents decided I repeat 5th grade even though I was the top student there.

This was probably the most fun I had in school. I was the teacher’s assistant and I would not need to worry about quizzes or tests. My passion was reading and I read each and every book our little school library had. I then went to the village priest and asked him if he had books I could read; he did. I read all of the books that the priest kept as a form of library in his home. I remember reading David Copperfield and other classics that would later resurface in my high school. My very favorite was Robinson Crusoe; I read that book at least 5 times.

In 1959, I had the very best time. I was working only when out of school or when my father needed me. Work consisted in helping in the fields and with other general chores.
That year, I was very intent in drawing an authentic panoramic landscape of my village. I secured the largest possible paper available at school and started working diligently.
Each Sunday, right after mass, I would take my paper and a flat wood board and walk across the village and over to the opposite hill. Here I would have a great vantage point and could see the entire village from a panoramic prospective.
I picked the best spot, sat on a grassy knoll and started working.
This process went on for the entire spring and summer of 1959. When completed, I looked at the work and realized that it could have been better. I remember thinking that I had rushed in the last few weeks to simply finish the work; the accuracy of the placement of each home was not what I had done when I started; but overall, I was pleased with the project. I neatly rolled the large drawing and put it in a safe place in my house.

 The upper floor of my home had 3 bedrooms and only two were in use; one by me and my brother Sergio and the other was used by my grandmother Carmela. Carmela would have to actually walk across our room to get to her bedroom located at the very end of the upper floors.
At the time, it never occurred to me to frame my work. I placed the drawing in a secret compartment of our large wood armoire. The armoire was so large that it had been built and assembled right in that very room many years earlier. Our house was built in 1728. I had discovered this date on the main stone inside the kitchen fireplace. I don’t remember what I was doing standing inside the fireplace, but it was probably curiosity to look up and see up the chimney. I remember getting my father and showing him the date carved in the stone.

As I said, my passions at the time were reading, and my favorite reading was cartoon books. Disney was very popular in Italy and I would read all I could get on Mickey Mouse and clan.

In Italian Mickey was “Topolino” I had many books that I kept in perfect conditions and as a security, I kept them in my secret compartment of the great armoire. I had discovered this secret drawer by accident when the main drawer I was using came loose and fell; no one knew of it, not even my brother Sergio.   When we left for America in 1962, I completely forgot the drawing of San Romano I had worked so hard to make. Years later in Chicago while looking for something in my aunt’s basement, I came across my drawing; it had been folded, but it was still intact. To my surprise, it had been my mother that neatly placed the drawing in her traveling trunk when we left our village. I have framed the drawings and today it hangs proudly in my Real Estate office. I have used that very drawing for some of the advertising for my company. I always get great comments when people see my Tuscan village as drawn by an 11 years old boy.

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