“Tinker, tailor, soldier, sailor, rich man, poor man, beggar man, thief,” Tracy sang as her grandmother unbuttoned her coat. “Does that mean I am going to marry a thief when I grow up?”
“No,” said her grandmother. “Maybe you will marry a rich man.”
“A thief could be rich.”
“You don’t have to marry a man who is one of those things. You could be one yourself.”
Tracy thought about this. The coats were neatly hung in the closet and Tracy was tired after having played in the park. She curled up on the sofa where her grandmother was knitting. “Tell me a story — a true one.”
“When my mother – your great-grandmother – was eighteen years old, she was what was called in Italian ‘nubile’ which only means ‘ready for marriage’. To acknowledge this, she insisted on being called Regina instead of just Gina and she began to behave in a queenly manner. There were few suitors in her village in the mountains of the Cilento, so Regina’s father began to take her with him on Saturdays when he went to the market in the neighboring village of San Lorenzo, where he would sell sheep cheese and the ricotta his wife made.
Regina was herself skilled at needlework. She was known in the village for her lace and had edged the linens for her trousseau and for those of her friends. To prepare for the Saturday market, Regina had made several white muslin blouses and worked various lace patterns for bodices, collars and cuffs. These she brought with her as samples.
Regina and her father left before dawn on Saturdays. They walked down from their mountaintop village to San Lorenzo. Their donkey pulled a cart laden with dairy products, but Regina carried her wares on her head. Her mother had taught her how to coil fabric to cushion the weight and help hold it up, so Regina could walk for long distances without tiring her arms or shoulders. That was how all the women carried baskets of fruit and vegetables.
When they arrived at the marketplace, Regina helped her father set up their stall. His space was next to that of Signore Pasquale the tin worker. Signore Pasquale brought his son Bepe after Regina had been coming with her father for a few Saturdays. It occurred to Regina – without too much reflection upon the obvious – that her father and Signore Pasquale were trying to make a match.
Bepe was himself a capable craftsman, even better than Signore Pasquale. Bepe quickly fashioned candle holders, bowls, serving platters from the sheets of tin that filled their stall. San Lorenzo was a rich town that lay in the valley between two mountains. The townspeople brought their pots for Signore Pasquale to repair, as well as their scissors and knives for him to sharpen. They almost always bought one of Bepe’s delicate tin baskets or a candle holder or even one of what he called his objects d’art. (Bepe read a lot and had dreams of going to America.)
When Regina began to grow restless in the afternoon warmth, her father suggested that she take a walk through the market. Perhaps she could find fabric or embroidery floss that would please her. He had already that morning taken a commission for a set of bed linens to be picked up at this stall this time next month.
San Lorenzo was only a few miles inland from the port of Salerno. Soldiers and sailors on twenty-four hour leave roamed the marketplace searching for gifts to send back home or trying to find young women to invite for a drink. They looked handsome in their uniforms, but Regina considered that their interest in her would be too fleeting.
She returned to the stall, loaded with sewing materials and also spices that she had purchased from an Arab merchant. The tinkers’ stall was empty, sheets pulled over their wares.
‘Are you hungry?’ her father asked her.
‘Well, when Signore Pasquale and Bepe return, we will go to the Café Sapienza for a small feast. They will guard my stall from market thieves, as I am guarding theirs.’
Regina wondered if Bepe and his family were well off, but decided only to observe them rather than ask. It was just as easy to love a rich man as a poor man, of that she was convinced. She would wait and see.
‘Babbo,’ she said. ‘Last night I dreamed about Nonna Francesca. She was making pizzelli and she offered me one. I did not know if I should accept it.’
‘That is a good sign,’ replied her father. We must buy a lottery ticket. That may help you decide.’
After Bepe and Signore Pasquale returned, Regina and her father covered the goods in their stall and made their way to the café in the town center. A decrepit and dirty beggar approached them and asked for alms. Regina’s father gave him a coin. ‘For good luck,’ he explained. Before they reached the café, they stopped at the tobacconist and bought their lottery ticket.”
“Did they win?” asked Tracy.
“Yes. Did you know my real name is Pasqualina, not Patsy?”