08 May 2011

LIFE: The Sweets

SARONNO, Italy - When Antonella’s 46 year old husband Robbie unexpectedly died last year, the men in her life stepped up and did what guys do best.They took care of her.
Up until the week before he died, Robbie ran the stationary store across the street from my apartment. His death was so unexpected and happened so fast, that everyone, me included, was in shock. The store was Robbie’s love, and he treated everyone who walked through the door like they were a long lost friend that he was just delighted to see. 

With Antonella left alone to run the business, her father and her father-in-law turned into Roman Centurions, lending comfort and support to the young widow. One would come in the morning and stay until lunch time, the other would show up just as the doors opened after lunch and stay until closing. 

Luca and Marco, the two young guys who work in the store, became their Tribunes, the foot soldiers. They did all the heavy lifting – in every sense of the word.  The four of them surrounded Antonella like a protective moat, keeping her safe, keeping her steady through those difficult days.

Robbie and Antonella were probably the first people I met when I moved to Saronno. If there is anything a writer needs it is paper, ink for the printer and all the assorted bits and pieces that hold everything together. So how lucky was I to have a stationary store right across the street. But it was more than ink and paper that brought me into the store, and it wasn't long before Robbie became my go-to guy. When I needed a new printer, I went to Robbie. He didn’t sell printers but he could get one for me – and at a good price. When I needed a scanner, he gave me one. It was a present, he said, for having helped him search out motorcycle internet sites in English. 
The Buffetti Store
When I was having a problem hooking up the high speed telephone line to my computer, he sent Luca over to help me. Poor Luca. He diligently ploughed through all the tiny print of the instructions trying to find the key step that would active the hook-up. He finally figured out that they had somehow forgotten to include that information in the instructions, but he managed to get me connected anyway. 

Probably the best favor Robbie ever did for me was to introduce me to the computer fixer guy who has a little workshop in the basement of the store. That guy has saved my life, I cannot tell you how many times.   

In addition to all the favors and advice, Robbie always insisted on giving me a discount on everything I bought, even the smallest thing, like a dozen photocopies. If Luca or Marco, waited on me, they would never tell me how much I owed until they talked to Robbie. Even Antonella insists on giving me a discount, or sometimes she doesn’t charge me at all.  I know they still making money off me, but still. 

I’m not sure how I got into the habit of bringing them cookies and cakes. It probably started when I was having one of those days when I just wanted to bake something, but not necessarily eat it. Anyway, the first thing I brought them was a tray of brownies. Real, rich, chocolaty American brownies, and they absolutely loved them. They had never seen, or heard of, brownies before. “This is American?” they asked.  

Then I brought them a rolled chocolate cake filled with raspberry jam and whipped cream. Yum. They licked their lips, the forks and practically the dishes too. "We thought American food was all hamburgers and hotdogs," they said.
Hrumph, I thought, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

And so it began. I soon learned that Antonella loves apple strudel, Robbie preferred anything with chocolate in it. As for Luca and Marco, well they love everything. And when the computer fixer guy is in the store, he seems to love everything too. What is it with guys, anyway? 

As I stand mixing and stirring and melting chocolate and whipping up cream, it is such a pleasure to have them there, a pleasure to see those similes when I walk through the door and hear Antonella say, “ragazzi, la Filis ha portato la merenda,” “hey guys, Phyllis brought us a snack.”

But after Robbie died I found that I had lost the will to bake. Too many people I cared about died last year, and Robbie's death was just one too many. The losses were piling up and becoming unbearable and I felt myself retreating into myself. So months, many months went by with nary an inkling of desire to whip up something sweet and walk it across the street. 

 Mine kind of looked like this, but different
The long, gray days of winter passed very slowly this year, but then the sun began to shine, the weather started to warm up and the world righted itself. Then one day  the stands in the outdoor market were piled high with rubber banded bundles of fresh asparagus and boxes of bright red strawberries wrapped in cellophane. It was officially Spring, and without my realizing it, the baking bug was back.

When I walked through their door a week or so ago with a fresh strawberry, whipped cream and marscapone tart the mile wide smiles on their faces almost brought tears to my eyes, and it was then that I realized a very simple truth:  it was time to put the past where it belongs and get back to the business of taking care of the now.

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