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Oggi Ricordiamo (Today We Remember)

Essay by Isabella Salandra


35 Sunbeam Road. On that street lays a factory and a shop. The factory contains men and women from different walks of life, each with an unknown story that has yet to be disclosed. The shop sits cutely in front of the domineering white and green factory. As you enter, you see a sign hanging, nostalgic of those that hang on the doors of a massage parlour. Glowing in red, ‘open’ is inscribed, welcoming those who have ventured for a taste of paradise, home, Italia.

A set of bells ring as the glass door, decorated with the achievements of the partnership between the small shop and monumental factory, is hauled open. The bells resemble those which accompany a panettone, specifically the lemon doves or fruit muffins. The store resembles an Italian’s heaven and smells like history. The walls are now a hopeful white, covering the previously moody grey, which replaced the original red, a similar shade to a slice of homemade dried salami. If you know where to look, you can see the piece of that past left, yet never to be forgotten. You can hear the hustle and bustle of Nonnas and Zias with their husbands, who keep straying from the list, raking the bill up from ten dollars to one hundred. The customers converse in Italian, acting like family – most of whom are distantly related through marriage or through their common paese, which most likely is Benevento. The white wall, which one would assume to be isolating, stores the warmth of every interaction between the old Italians. Soaking up the history, storing it so it shall never be forgotten even once the store is long gone and the building is just the skeleton of whom it used to be.

The store is filled with a variety of cheeses from all around the world, each a form of art that is made to be appreciated by the tongue and stomach. The door, which sits adjacent to the serving counter, is a portal between the shop and the factory, providing a glimpse into the inner workings that fuel the shop’s success — highlighting that they are part of each other, like two vital organs powering the human body. The brain and the heart, the factory, the hard-working machine that works with the shop, the love and relationships and sense of community he generated through them. The people of the factory use that door to transport fresh trecce, nodini, and bocconcini, the preferred snack of young Italians who gladly come with their parents after Saturday sports. The balls of soft mozzarella can be peeled away like the endless layers of an onion; the ragazzi pray that it lasts forever, savouring the fresh taste of Australian milk. The taste of the mozzarella is interpreted by the pungent smell of freshly grated parmesan at the customer’s request.

There, in front of the grater, sits an old Italian man with a permanent scowl on his face, his wrinkles produced from years in the sun working manual labour, telling a unique story of his life, his journey, his past, present, and future. Around his neck hangs a gold chain with a crucifix at the end, resting on his chest. Only visible through the opening of this black shirt that possesses the company’s logo that is located where his heart would be. The black shirt is decorated with specks of grated cheese like the stars in the night sky. The wrinkles of the older man contort to fit a smile as he laughs at something an older man joyfully articulates in Italian.

Customers come and go throughout the day like the changing tide; however, the warmth never leaves as stories of daughters and sons are shared, accompanying the purchase of ricotta. The man can be seen changing like the weather as he interacts with pleasant and unpleasant customers asking for champagne when they can only afford beer. Above him stands a miniature statue of his favourite saints, Sant’Antonio and Padre Pio. The only saints he holds any respect towards, that same respect that not even God is granted.

The man’s white hair is captured in a blue hair net – the same ones the factory people wear – and an apron unsuccessfully protects his black work shirt. His hands, covered in sunspots and occasional scratches, sit interlaced on his stomach as he waits for the clock to strike at 11 am. Once it does, the bells ring again, and a little girl and boy with their father enter the shop. The girl is dressed in netball gear, and the boy is submerged in layers to keep him warm during the winter. Their laughter is contagious, and a discrete smile shifts onto his face as he verbally embraces his grandchildren. He passes them each a bocconcini watching them as his son-in-law greets his wife. The shop has quietened down from the hustle and bustle of customers, and the family intimately converse about their daughter’s netball game and the working day. The man gazes around the shop, looking at his family; the shop contains the memories of two generations, a shop built on sweat and sacrifice. He jesters with his family using their nicknames, Nicola senza cuolo and Maria Capatosta, a symbol of his love and respect for his family. He discusses them coming over for dinner and ordering one of his favourites – KFC or Ferrari’s pizza.

Saturday comes and goes, no different from the last, a little valued tradition formed, working in the shop, seeing his grandchildren, and having dinner together. Saturday’s now the old man’s favourite day in the week, surrounded by the warmth of family.

Today the shop is still the same, with the glowing open sign and the set of bells, the white walls, and the vast variety of cheeses. Only now can the man be seen elsewhere, in a frame on the counter, with a candle and set of flowers by his side. A symbol of respect as he watched from above with his favoured saints. His wrinkles tell a story of his past, permanently now contorted into a smile, leaving his legacy of the shop and factory behind.

Riposa in Pace Nonno Gerardo.