His feet were purple from August to October. After the harvest, five of them would form a circle inside the colossal vat, steady each other hand-to-shoulder. An ancient dance pounding pulp in California heat. Folksongs accompanied their pigéage. Tales of distant alpine mountains and the Po plains, memories vivid for some. “We scrubbed our feet with salt afterwards, but it never seemed to make a difference,” he said. “Sweat stained our socks for days afterwards. People always knew.”
There’s my dad, a young boy sitting on unseen adult shoulders and pointing to a sign. Highlighted by steel nails it reads: HOSPITAL ZONE. A shy smile, like he’s not sure about the joke. In front, closer to the camera, three Italian women stand tipping wine bottles into white ceramic coffee mugs. It’s 1933 and Prohibition has ended. I recognize my grandmother, looking happier than I ever saw her.
When my grandmother visited us, she cooked. Perched on a stool, I watched, chewing torrone nougat that she slipped me from a dress pocket. She made each dish an art. Later, I helped flip the frittate, rolled crocchette or gnocchi, stirred creamy risotto. She whirled around the kitchen whispering instructions in Piedmontese. “Speak English,” my dad said each time he passed through the kitchen.
At eight or nine, I chose Piedmonte for a geography essay and asked my dad for help. I placed the globe ahead of him on the kitchen table.
“Can you show me?”
He frowned. “Find a U.S. national park or someplace close to home.”
I found Italy and pointed along the boot top. “Here?”
He lifted my hand and spun the globe. Countries melded into a blue-green splash. He patted my hand. “It’s easier this way, you’ll see.”