Our house was always the gathering point for all of the kids in the neighborhood. Looking back on it, I could have opened my own school.
We were Grand Central Station servicing forgotten lunches, last minute homework assignments, band-aids and hair braids, as well as an occasional wipe with the mappine* across a dirty face.
Special note here – as we are southern Italians, we have a habit of dropping the last vowel on most words. The proper word is mappina and that means dishtowel.
However for as much as we gave, we always received equal measure in return. All I can say was thank goodness for all of those extra children who appeared on our doorstep every morning as regular as clockwork. In fact they were better than clocks. I owe more than one of them a huge debt of gratitude for keeping my children off of the tardy list. I especially owe my adopted daughter Patrizia big time.
In a big, old, drafty house in winter it was always tempting to stay in bed – and not just the kids. There was more than one occasion when we would all oversleep only to be roused by banging on the front door. It was Patrizia. “Get up! Get up! We’re going to be late for Mass.” And by we, she always included herself in that group because she would never leave without my oldest daughter and the rest of the kids in tow.
Oh and lest I forget, where there are kids there’s usually a dog. And our family dog, Pete, was always one to tag along with the group. In fact, Pete was also known to attend both Mass and school. It wasn’t unusual for me to get a call from the local priest or nuns at the school. “Louisa, come and get Pete, he’s in school again.” Or “Louisa, come and get Pete, he’s in church again.” I’m betting Pete was probably St. Francis of Assisi in another life.
But Pete could sometimes be mysterious and disappear for days. I suspect he had a girlfriend in the next block. Sometimes he would be gone for weeks. But he would always come home.
He had instinctual radar for that big house and all those kids. There was never one without the others. They were always together.
My kids have that same radar and so do their friends when they show up on my doorstep in the suburbs on a regular basis. Just like Pete, they still know how to find home.