In Awe of Stars and the Moon

Our family’s matriarch, my mother Clara, will celebrate 91 years of age this December. Mom was at the helm of every holiday and celebration until the last few years where changes necessitated her giving up things she loved. Sadly, sewing, writing, cooking, baking, gardening, and reading had to be delegated to others.

My Sundays at Mom’s are spent doing chores as she patiently waits for me to sit and read to her. My favorite is “Le voci di Civitanova,” the annual publication from my family’s hometown in southern Italy. It updates my Mom on the town’s news along with poignant personal stories, poetry and pictures. The stories have her reminiscing and recounting her childhood tales of growing up in this small Italian town until her emigration to America at age 18. Once a serious and stoic lady, mother and wife, I can always elicit her laughter at my attempt to read Italian with my very American accent.

Coming across this story from Enzo Meccia’s childhood in Civitanova took me back to my own childhood of carefree days spent playing with friends outdoors until the streetlights came on. My Mother instilled in me an awe of the glorious moon, giving this story an even deeper meaning.

Following is an excerpt and translation from Enzo’s story:

Le stelle grandi come lampadine e la luna come Civitanova - Enzo Meccia

Nei lontani anni della mia fanciullezza amavo divertirmi con i miei compagni di allora in giochi niente affatto sedentari. Avevamo un soddisfacente repertorio: trisbirri, santuss, santuss’  a nasconne; e poi, il gioco principe, basato su particolare destrezza e agilità: ‘l camb. Il terreno d’elezione per questo gioco era il Terrapieno (le Terrajine), che però nella buona stagione dovevamo usare con rigidi limiti di orario, poiché per diverse ore del giorno si trasformava in una specie di circolo per adulti, dove questi passeggiavano, discutevano garbatamente o giocavano a tresette e briscola seduti ai bei tavoli levigati e lustri del Caffè Cardarelli. La posta del gioco era in armonia con le frugali abitudini dei civitanovesi (ai tempi del sommo clinico Antonio Cardarelli consisteva in una “presa d’anice con la mosca”-chicco di caffè-; ma i giocatori s’impegnavano nelle loro partite quasi dovessero superare importanti esami.

Nel tardo pomeriggio, quando rinfrescava e i tavoli venivano ritirati dentro il Caffe, il Terrapieno diventava las nostra palestra, il nostro Campo; e certamente le nostre voci erano assai più vivaci de quelle misurate e discrete dei giocatori di tressette e briscola! Ci avvicendavamo nelle nostre veloci gare; il Terrapieno, centro del paese e cuore della societa cittadina, accoglieva indulgente quei fanciulli, che “gridando...e qua e là saltando, fanno un lieto rumore”, come avrebbe descritto con i suoi versi melodiosi Giacomo Leopardi.

Naturalmente, non ci limitavamo ai giochi dentro il paese; spesso andavamo ad arrampicarci su per gli scoscesi pendii della Costarella, per il naturale e quasi istintivo piacere di salire più in alto. Alla fine, scendevamo verso il paese, raccontandoci le straordinarie imprese di Giovanni Senza Paura e di altri eroi, mentre nella diffusa luce del crepuscolo si accendevano timide le prime stelle.

Noi dalle stelle eravamo incantati, un pò meno dalla luna, che ci appariva più vicina; discutevamo sulla loro grandezza e distanza, finché il più saputello fra di noi sentenziava: “Le stelle sono lontane più di mille metri e sono grandi come lampadine, non le lampadine di case ma quelle che illuminano le strade.” “E la luna?”, chiedevamo in coro; e il sapiente astrofisico rispondeva deciso: “La luna e grande come Civitanova.” Beata commovente fantasia de quella fanciullezza, de quella “età fiorita!”

Stars as big as light bulbs and the moon like Civitanova ~Enzo Meccia 

In the distant years of my childhood I loved to have fun with my companions in games not at all sedentary. We had a satisfactory repertoire: trisbirri, santuss, santuss’ a nasconne; and then, the main game, based on dexterity and agility: ‘I camb. The terrain of choice for this game was the Terrapieno (an embankment in front of the caffe), but in the good season (nice weather} we had to use it with strict time limits, because for several hours of the day it turned into a kind of adult club, where they strolled, politely argued or played tresettes and briscola (card games) sitting at the beautiful polished, lustrous tables of Caffe Cardarelli. The stakes were in harmony with the frugal habits of the Civitanovesi in the age of the supreme Doctor Antonio Cardarelli which consisted of taking an anisette con la mosca (with coffee beans); but the players engaged in their games as though they had to pass important exams.

In the late afternoon, when it cooled and the tables were placed inside the Caffe, the Terrapieno became our gym, our Camp; and certainly our voices were much more lively than those measured and discreet players of tressettes and briscola! We would compete in our fast races; the Terrapieno, the centre of the village and the heart of the townspeople, indulged those children, who "shouting... and here and there jumping, making a happy noise", as Giacomo Leopardi would have described with his melodious verses. 

Of course, we weren't limited to games within the town; we often went to climb up the steep slopes of the Costarella, for the natural and almost instinctive pleasure of climbing ever higher. In the end, we descended into town, telling stories of the extraordinary feats of Giovanni Senza Paura and other heroes, while in the diffuse light of twilight the first stars lit timidly. 

We were enchanted with the stars, a little less by the moon, which seemed closer to us; we discussed their size and distance, until the most knowledgeable among us said: "The stars are more than a thousand meters away and they are as big as light bulbs, not the light bulbs of houses but the ones that illuminate the streets." "And the moon?" we asked in unison; and the scholarly astrophysicist answered decisively: "The moon is as big as Civitanova." A blissful moving boyhood fantasy, from that "blossoming age!"     

I hope that Enzo’s storia della sua fanciullezza who grew up in un tempo più semplice will delight you as much as it did me.