The Courtship (1930s continued)
Off we went and the chauffeur took us to the best hotel! The waiters wore gloves. I said to my mom and sister, but not too loud because many of the waiters there spoke English, but I said to them, “Well this is going to cost us!” But we talked to the waiter before getting to our room and he told us there was a cute hotel close by that was much more reasonable priced called “La Rosetta.” So we went and stayed there instead.
We got to the top floor at La Rosetta; there was a huge room that had two twin beds and a sofa that pulled into a bed. Leticia, we called her Lettie, who was an old friend of the family, was the French teacher and she from northern Italy. Since we came from the south we decided to meet in Rome, which was only an hour train ride to Perugia. We told her that we would meet her in Rome, so she was at the station waiting for us and we met there. From there we went to Perugia and reached the hotel with her. Instead of using the fold out couch we had the hotel bring in an extra bed and set it up in the corner of this huge space of a room. She was originally going to act as our chaperone when we didn’t know that they didn’t have dormitories. She was really like a sister to us.
Anyways, so we got settled and we were happy. From the balcony we could see all of Perugia! We could look down into the garden of the hotel where the meals were served and we could tell when the meals were going to be served and what not.
After getting settled, the postman came to the hotel and brought a letter that had been expressed delivered to the other hotel we first arrived to, but it was figured out that the “American tourists” had been taken to La Rosetta instead, and that’s why they brought us the letter.
He started the letter by saying, “Signorina, I don’t know what I am doing or if I should be permitting myself to write the following words. So I beg of you to tolerate my words. I have not been able to sleep, I have not been able to eat, my veins have been racing through my body as though I had a fever, all because I did not know if I should write this letter to you. But I can not control myself, so I must write this letter. Maybe you won’t believe it, but this can happen in life. The moment my eyes fell upon you, I felt something and I immediately knew that I had found the girl that I had been dreaming about. I am asking you permission to write to your father to ask for your hand in marriage.”
We debated on how to answer the letter; Lettie, Laura, our mother, and I all debated how to respond.
In the letter that Felice sent to me he said, “I would like to ask your father for permission to marry you.” I thought to myself that he had a lot of nerve. Then I became suspicious. I thought I bet he thinks I’m a rich American girl, and he wants to marry me because I will bring American dollars and all that. I took that letter and threw it in the waste basket. I knew though that this was not going to be the solution. So my mother told me I had to answer the letter. But I also knew I must respond because if my mother has to go see his father, the notary, I don’t dare be discourteous to the son and make it unpleasant for her. So I waited, discussed it with my sister, Lettie, and mother, and then finally responded.
At this time, I had my own little business cards and that’s when I truly learned that our way, our culture, does not necessarily compare to another. I figured I would put a simple, “Sorry but I think this can’t be settled. Maybe if I come back and we have another chance to get to know one another. You can’t give a simple yes or no to this question, but we can discuss this when I come back.” Then stupidly, in an American business letter if you want to be formal, at least that’s what they taught us, you end with ‘sincerely’ instead of ‘best regards’ and so forth. So I got my little business card with my name, turned it around and wrote my message on it: “You can’t give a simple yes or no to this problem, if we are to meet when I come to Sant Agata and the occasion rises I can explain why. Give my regards to your family. Sincerely, Laura.” The next day I got an express letter back stating, “Thank you for your yes!” I was shocked! I hadn’t written yes. He said, “It has always been my policy that whenever I have problems I think positively and expect positive responses.” He took my response as a yes!
He went on to say, “I lost who I am, how long do I have to wait until you come back? Will my nerves help me to be calm and wait.” But he also said, “I want to thank you, I knew you would say yes and I will keep the little card inside my jacket pocket like a holy answer. The Madonna must have looked kindly on us.” I remember thinking, “Oh my lord.” My sister had retrieved the letter and had my mother read it because his writing, until you get used to his writing, was difficult because he wrote big and extravagant. Sometimes I think he used the old fashioned writing, like the Germans who use the double ‘S’ and so forth. So I said, “Mother, you read it.” She borrowed my glasses and read it and said to me, “I told you not to answer him that way!”
Well we were supposed to go to Paris, because when we made the plan originally to go to Europe for a refresher course, I also wanted to have a refresher course in French. But my mom said forget about France, we are going home because if daddy was there she would know what to do, but since he wasn’t, she wanted to go back home. She couldn’t wait to go home and told us that we will go to Paris for a little but not to study at the university. My mother said to me, “I have a funny feeling that he is going to come here to Perugia, so let’s hurry up and get out of here.” We packed up in a hurry to leave. I had to go to the school though to retrieve a letter that acknowledged that I spent some time there at the school. We took the train to Paris in the afternoon and he arrived that evening to La Rosetta looking for us.
When he arrived to Perugia, he went straight to our hotel and asked for us and they told him that we had left that day. He asked them if they were sure and if they knew where we were going? He asked them for a forwarding address, but they told him they did not know. Well of course we didn’t leave any forwarding for him to find us! He was clever and he took over our room because he knew we weren’t coming back; so he could talk to the ladies/chambermaid and spy and get as much information as he could about us.
Well Felice got sick in Perugia, but he happened to be fortunate enough to know the governor of the province of Perugia, of course he would know him, and the governor came personally to visit him and called his personal doctor. The governor got his personal doctor to go and see him that same day. Cause otherwise he wouldn’t have been able to get the doctor right away. I learned this because he wrote a letter and sent the letter to Sant Agata thinking I would be there because he didn’t know we would be in France.
Well in the meantime, we didn’t know this because we didn’t get that letter until we went back south to Sant’Agata, after leaving France. But we did get a letter from my aunt who was terribly upset who said to my mother, “I am very upset with you. I had to learn it from the rumor in town that your daughter is engaged to the Cavaliere.” My mother wrote back, “She isn’t engaged to anybody!!” Also my aunt had said that he was leaving town and she had a feeling that he was going to find Laura up north, this was all while we were in France already.
Later on, I asked my husband how come the town was saying I was engaged to him. And he said that he spread the rumor. He said that he knew the other boys were talking about me and waiting for me to come back. He was at the bar with all the boys and figured he should squash their thoughts, so he told them all that I was his fiancé. He said, “I am engaged to Signora Laura.” Nobody in town had the name Laura, so they knew it was me. After he did that he knew those boys wouldn’t dare send for me. Which is exactly what happened. Because my uncle was amazed that nobody approached him for my hand. Before for a while they were all really curious about when we were coming back and wanted to know if they could call on me, they even asked my uncle permission. That’s when my husband told everyone he was engaged to me so not to even bother.
In the letter that he wrote was also the letter that he had sent ahead to Perugia but that I did not receive in time. In the letter he said that he was coming to see me but that he did not deserve me. He wanted to find out if I would permit him to court me. Or at least give him permission to come talk to me. If he realized that I didn’t want to be bothered he said that, “I would admire you from afar and love you even though I can’t come near you.”
I was still in France when I finally received these letters. We were going to go to Sant’Agata before leaving to come back to the states anyways. My mother was going to stay in Sant’Agata while we studied in France, because we didn’t have a dormitory in Paris. The college gave her a list of families that would be willing to have us live with them. Originally, she said that she would settle us in there and that she would stay with her mother in Sant’Agata and wait till the semester was over with so she could spend time with her mother and her sister. My mother said that when these letters started coming, she thought she better not go at all though. Also, since we weren’t going to stay the whole semester anyways we just opted for staying in a hotel to be more comfortable.
So my mother stayed with us in the hotel with all the change of plans, we were so comfortable and we could do anything and we enjoyed the hotel very much. With the promenades in the evening the boys would come to the hotel. If we were still eating dinner they would wait for us and then we would all go to the promenades. I think that Europe, at that time of the year, is meant to be romantic
. I was not the only one being sought after by Felice, there was a young boy that was so handsome, his name was Aldo. Blondish hair and blue eyes extremely handsome, he was courting my sister but my sister, as usual, was very cold to him.
Then Mario Bellini started courting me. In fact he even did something he was not supposed to do. He came to class with me and sat next to me. The professor called him out and said, “Senor Bellini what are you doing here?” He didn’t belong there and Mario argued with the professor and finally the professor invited him to leave. I was so embarrassed because I didn’t know he was going to come and do that!
There were also two Chinese boys! We didn’t have individual benches, we had rows and you sat down wide enough in case somebody came they had room to sit and walk around you. The Chinese boys chose to sit next to me.
Then there was a boy from Arabia who would tell me a lot about his father and showed me pictures of him and his house. It was a big house with a lot of rooms and I told him that he has a huge house and he agreed and explained to me that his father has several wives. He said that each one has their own apartment within the house; they all have their meals together but other than that, they were independent. He told me when he gets married that he would have his apartment and his wife could do anything she wanted. They would live independently except with certain things. So I asked about the children, and he said we are all brothers and sister. I thought that was nice.