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Chapter V - Saint Sylvester's Shrine

My brother Guiseppe became dissatisfied with his life in Italy and decided to return to America. Because he was my sister's and my guardian he would take us with him. This had to be after harvest. I could not have lived in the house, town, or country without a nervous breakdown. The news infused hope in me. Once I was far away the nightmare would go away.

The next few months dragged by very slowly. The mirage of new places softened my fears. I was counting the hours and days of when I would leave for the Promised Land.

In September I went to work with one of my stepsisters on a farm owned by her aunt. The work consisted of gathering hazelnuts. A man would shake the tall trunks of the clump with a heavy wooden hammer. The nuts would separate from the half opened soft outer shells and drop to the ground. We would gather them and put them in a basket, which we carried on our arms. They would be dumped into a large container, which would be picked up by the men.

The work was to be divided into two portions. I would go for two weeks and Emily the last two weeks so we both would have a little money when we sailed for America.

On the Sunday that my sister was to relieve me and take over the work of gathering nuts, my employer asked me to go to town on an errand. I ran to the town and back. I wanted to be there when my sister arrived.

When I got back, Aunt Agnes told me that my brother and sister had just left. They had arrived while I was in town. They wanted to visit Saint Sylvester's shrine before sailing for America and they had stopped to pick me up. I said, "Why didn't they wait for me?"

Aunt Agnes replied, "They had to leave in a hurry because they didn't want to be caught up in the mountain before it got dark." I asked how long ago they had left and she said it had been about ten minutes.

I said, "I want to go. I'll catch up to them."

She wrapped a piece of cheese and bread in a napkin and said, "Eat this on the way."

I left running. I was positive that I would catch up with them. I had wanted so very badly to visit Saint Sylvester's shrine. There was a legend that the saint performed miracles. If one had sores of any sort, he would be cured immediately by bathing in a well up on the mountain. Every summer there were many pilgrims seeking the saint's cure. Now this was the last chance for me to be able to visit the shrine. I ran as hard as my young legs would carry me.

When I got to the bottom of the mountain there was a feast in the town of Sumonte for the Virgin Mary. Thousands of people had gathered there from villages in the vicinity. I still wished to climb the mountain but now I was afraid because I had heard that wolves roamed the mountains in the winter. Nevertheless, I wanted to catch up with my sister and brother.

I asked a storekeeper where the road was that led to the shrine and he said, "Who are you with?" I told him that I was hoping to catch up with my brother and sister. He said they could not possibly be up there because the trail was closed for the winter.

I was stunned! What was I to do now? I decided to search in the crowd for Guiseppe and Emilia. I knew that my brother loved feasts and bands and he surely would stay to enjoy the procession and the music. I searched all over but it was useless.

By now the sun had gone down and I was afraid to go back home. It was a long distance from Sumonte to Avellino. I decided to buy something to eat and after eating I thought I would hire a buggy for the ride home, but then decided I did not trust a strange driver.

I went inside the church to pray and try to find a way. Once in church my fears seemed to disappear. I felt secure and protected by God. My decision was made. I would stay inside the church for the night and go home in the morning to Atripalda. My sister would take my place at gathering hazelnuts, and no one would know the difference. I dozed in church until I was awakened by a hand shaking me. It was the sexton telling me that the church had to be closed and I had to leave. He wanted to know whom I was with. I said to him, "I want to stay in the church for the night because I have no place to go and no one is with me."

He said he could not allow me to do that. The church had to be empty when he closed the door.

I refused to leave. Here was a sanctuary of safety. The sexton came back with a couple more men and they identified themselves as being from Atripalda. They would take me home. I refused. I did not trust anyone and I was afraid to go home in the small hours of the morning. My brother would not understand my predicament.

The sexton was at his wit's end. He went to his home nearby and came back with one of his daughters offering me hospitality and safety in his home. I would be sleeping with his two daughters and leave in the morning. I felt safe in their care and went home with them. His wife was very warm and solicitous and brought out a lot of food. I told them I had eaten but they insisted I should have more.

That night I slept with the two grown up daughters of the sexton. Their bed was very comfortable and I slept like a log the whole night.

When I awoke the sun was high in the sky. I looked around but saw no one. I called and the mother appeared and offered breakfast. I told her I wasn't hungry, thanked her and left. I was anxious to get home.

No one questioned my whereabouts. It was assumed I had stayed overnight at Aunt Agnes and left in the morning. I had not reckoned with Emily when she came back from Aunt Agnes. She wanted to know what I had done that Sunday when I had not caught up with them. I told her the whole story. She promised to not tell anyone but she held the secret like the sword of Damocles. Every time she wanted her way she would threaten to tell Guiseppe. Finally I got tired of catering to her and told her I would tell the story myself and she would not have to keep the secret anymore. After all, I had not done anything wrong! That ended the whole affair.

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