Continued from October 2, 2016
It took weeks but little by little the hostilities between Rosalia and her mother eased as Rosalia again promised to send money to the family. But only when her mother brought in from the shed the cracked, leather-strapped trunk did Rosalia knew she could leave home with a clear conscience.
“Take this. You’ll need it.” The resignation Rosalia heard in her mother’s voice told Rosalia that at last her dreams would become reality.
Rosalia slowly walked through each of the four rooms of the home she had grown up in. She looked deliberately in each room, trying to fix in her memory the place where she had spent the last 19 years.
Holy pictures in elaborately hand carved frames hung on caulked wooden walls. Traditional pictures of Jesus and Mary were propped in the center of a small altar next to photos of family members who had died. A candle that was always kept burning in a glass jar cast shadows against their images. A braided palm from the previous Easter lay in front of a wood-mounted crucifix, the back of which had fascinated her as a child with its tiny door. Once more she picked it up and stroked its smooth dark wood; opened the little door; breathed in the waxy aroma of two tiny hand dippede candles. She removed the small vial of holy water…ready to bless the next family member to whom the village priest would administer last rites, opened the bottle and blessed herself with the water as if it were perfume.
In the kitchen bunches of dried herbs and ropes of garlic hung on nails over the wood burning stove. She crumbled marjoram and dill between her fingers, lifting them to her nose and inhaling deeply.
“Here, Kaczka. These are for you.” Her mother handed her a sack of herbs and spices from the vegetable patch Rosalia had helped tend. Inside were small packets of parsley, chives, caraway. Rosalia’s eyes brimmed with tears; a peace offering? A blessing? It didn’t matter; her mother had used Roslia’s pet name from years before. She knew her mother had accepted the loss of this daughter.
Time to pack. Wool babushkas…two for the trunk, one for travel. Bulky, but warm. An extra pair of heavy hand-knit stockings. A blanket, a small pillow, the tny rosary from her first communion…and the formal photograph of an older sister whose wedding dress Rosalia had sewn. She could use this as proof in America that she was employable.
A slow walk through the village took her to the church and its little cemetery. Intricately hand carved grave markers, each erected within a few inches of its neighbor, told of talented woodworkers. The poverty of her village was apparent in sagging fences, broken gates. But wood was free and talented village carvers had created detailed carvings that marked burial spots, some as old as 150 years. Gently she stroked the small face of the weeping angel her father had carved after the death of an infant brother years earlier.
Rosalia walked into the wooden church. The hard soles of her shoes echoed on the floor as she breathed in deeply the aromas of old wax and incense. She lit a candle and said a prayer, but for what she wasn’t sure. For the baby brother who had died? For safe passage to America? For fulfillment of what she had heard, that America promised a good future?
Even though she’d never considered herself religious, like so many Catholic peasants she took comfort from the fourteen Stations of the Cross. The small carvings by members of the little congregation hung on the walls of the church where her parents and her sisters had been married, in which she had been baptized. She found herself pondering with fresh eyes the story of Jesus’ life during the three days from the time he was condemned to his crucifixion.