MY NOTES FROM STORYTIME AT THE VILLA MARIA INTERVIEW:
I looked around the room and smiled at the senior citizens.
“Thank you, everyone, for letting me join you for your weekly storytime. I’ve heard wonderful things about it and I hope you don’t mind my questions.” There were murmurings and a great deal of head nodding, but no one spoke. I really hoped it wasn’t going to be like this throughout the entire interview. I glanced at my prompt notes, decided I wasn’t going to follow a script, took a deep breath and launched right in.
“I’m going to ask each of you a bit about yourselves, and after, I’m going to sit back and listen, and I’m sure, enjoy your Storytime.” I looked at each of them -- trying to decide who would be the best opening for my article. “Artie?”
“I hear you like ghosts.” At his puzzled expression, I decided to rephrase. “Or, maybe it’s not that you like them so much as they won’t leave you alone?”
Artie looked down at his boots and then up. “It’s not so much that I like them – it’s that I never really thought about them – about them being real, I mean, until that one day. I still think about it – if it really happened or was it my imagination. My Uncle Billy – he reads a lot and knows more than me and he says lots of things in this world can’t be explained.” Artie looked down at his scarred hands. “I kinda think he’s right.”
I waited and when the slight man didn’t volunteer more I figured he was finished.
“Thank you, Artie – I’ve had friends who think the same way.”
The woman sitting next to Artie nodded her head. “Believing is something you sometimes have to do – no matter what, and no matter what others say. That’s sometimes the only thing people have. You know what I mean?”
I briefly looked at my notes.
“Yes, I am.”
“I hear you make wonderful apple pies.”
“She does.” A man’s raspy voice interrupted. “We’ve all tasted them.”
“Dominick Ricci. Like I was saying, Ella’s pies are the best. Got to be that there ‘secret ingredient’ she puts in them.”
“Don’t you tell on me, Dom. You folks here in Villa Maria are the only ones who know about it. I never told anyone before.”
“Make us another one, Ella, and I promise never to reveal the secret.” He laughed and touched Ella’s arm. “Deal?”
Ella patted Dom’s hand. “Deal.” She looked around. “My husband Calvin, he loved my apple pies. And I loved making them for him – sweet juicy apples, a bit of lemon, cinnamon, sugar, nutmeg, cardamom and …” She winked at Dom. “The secret ingredient is just for us to know.”
“They do sound delicious. Thank you, Ella.” I quickly took notes. “Dom, I’ve heard about how you married the most beautiful woman in the world. Was she really?”
Dom held on to his cane. “She was…she really was. I wish you had met her – then you would know what I mean.” My children and grandchildren always described her as ‘The Beautiful Rosalia.’ When I first saw her in the 1940’s – we were both young then -- she took my breath away.” He smiled at his memories. “I was so lucky to have married her.”
“Isn’t that a beautiful thing to say about a wife?” The white-haired woman with a half-finished green knitted sweater in her lap, asked. “It’s like a love story – like one of those romance novels my granddaughter likes to read.”
I had to agree. “Yes, it is.” I wrote a few sentences in my notebook. “Are you Sophie?”
“I’ve heard you’re a very strong person.”
Sophie thought for a moment. “I am. I had to be. During the War many of us learned how to be if we wanted to survive.” She took a deep breath and looked at me. “You’re young – like my grandchildren -- and I hope you never have to learn under the same circumstances. You know -- no, you wouldn’t know -- but I sometimes talk to God and I tell Him that children should always be safe and the world should be safe. That there shouldn’t be any more wars and no more wounded or dead in far-away places.”
“You’re so right, Sophie.” Artie spoke quietly. “Almost all the men…and some women…who live here at the Villa Maria are World War II veterans. That was our generation.”
The group became quiet and I reached for a tissue my purse. “I hope so, too, “Sophie.”
“Geez! I wish I had brought my saxophone. We could use some music now.”
I looked at the tall, thin man.
“You’ve got to be Tom, and I hear you play a mean sax.”
“I don’t know about that but I did play for a lot of dance bands in the 40’s and 50’s.” Tom smiled at me and somehow that smile made me wonder what he was like as a young man.
“I was told you’re also quite a… a…”
“Yeah, I knew a lot of women.”
“And married a lot, too.” Frank’s comment made everyone laugh. “It’s one of the first things I learned about him when I came here – everyone told me about you, Tom.”
"Hey, what can I say? But, I’m glad you joined us, Frank. Didn’t think you would move in.”
“I didn’t either.” Frank shrugged. “It was such a big change. I didn’t want to leave my home.”
“Some of us felt that way, too. But, you soon learn it’s not the end of the world…or our life.” Ella smiled at her memories. “It’s just a new beginning.”
A new beginning! That was it! I had my story and my angle: Getting older, leaving long-time friendships to make new ones, moving away from the family home and all its remembrances may be difficult but it was really “just a new beginning.”
I gathered my notes.
“Thank you, Sophie and Dom, and Ella and Tom and everyone here for allowing me to join you at STORYTIME AT THE VILLA MARIA! It's been a pleasure!"
"STORYTIME AT THE VILLA MARIA…
Dominick, who married “the most beautiful woman in the world”…
Sophie, who is haunted by terrifying memories of the Holocaust…
Ella, who made “sweet apple pies” for her war veteran husband…
Tom, whose music lured women into his arms…
Artie, who is plagued by the ghosts of long-dead soldiers…
Frank, who can't let go of his yesterdays, though a better tomorrow beckons…
Join them and others as they gather every Monday night in the library at the Villa Maria to share their memories, their fears, and their dreams.
STORYTIME AT THE VILLA MARIA—the unforgettable book about life lived and still to be lived, and about the mysterious threads of joy and heartache and love that are woven into every life—including your own!
A charming novel of senior citizens, storytelling, nostalgia, and a world gone by but not forgotten."
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Thank you, Constance, for visiting the Garden today!