The Halloween Project 2020 - Story 7: Longing Eastward
For the last seven months I’ve been walking the beach of Long Island Sound. The beach is replete with stories. So, the next three tales this year will all be beach stories. Who says that all supernatural tales need to be horrific? Let’s start with one that’s simply melancholy and sweet…and unexplainable. The next two will be a bit more, let’s say, horrible.
This on is dedicated to Luigi. So here is:
Marco Montini left Italy in 1914, a young man, but an unhappy man. He did not want to go to America, but his parents insisted.
“Opportunity!” his father would shout and follow with, “A war is coming!
“But I love it here in Ostia! We have the beach! We are so close to Rome! Why should I go!?” Marco protested.
But a 16 year old, the youngest of the family, in 1914 Ostia Lido, did not disobey his father. One April day Marco sailed into New York harbor, his fellow emigres cheering the lady standing tall in the harbor. He was dressed in a linen shirt, dark wool pants and jacket, a cap turned down over his dark hair. Marco turned his face to the East.
In time he moved to Connecticut to a town called Stratford, at least a town that had a beach. Marco took up the trade of bricklayer, learning from a cousin. He learned the language which he always spoke with a thick accent, rolling r’s and sounding too singsong.
Each Sunday at Mass he prayed that he would return to Ostia one day, not just to visit his mama and papa, his brothers and sisters, but to stay. And he prayed hard. A priest once told him that Saint Jude was the patron saint of desperate causes and from that day on, Saint Jude was the object of his entreaties.
He met Maria and they married. He was happy enough, just not content. He would tell Maria all the wonderful things about Ostia. The festivals and the beach, the market and the many friends and neighbors. She would nod and smile at him and they would have two children, a girl first and a boy.
And Marco prayed, “Lord, and Saint Jude, thank you for the blessings you have given me, but let me take my family back to Italy. Let me show them what it is like there. Let them be happy and let me be happy. For the rest of my life.”
1929 brought the depression and little work. Marco did what he could. The war of the 40’s brought work, but not enough money for a trip to Ostia. He would take a bus to the beach in Stratford and stare resolutely. Sometimes he would sit and cry, but just a little. He would peer across Long Island Sound and see the shoreline of Long island. He pretended that it was Ostia and if he could only swim 20 miles he would stagger ashore to his home.
In time he would receive the letters from his brother to say that his father, and then his mother had passed and that he should offer prayers for them. He spent time in the church, the beads of the rosary passing through his fingers time and time again.
“Please, Saint Jude, let me visit Ostia. Allow me to place a flower on the graves of my parents. Let me hug my brothers and sisters before they, too, are gone.” But that was not to be. In the next decades, one by one, letters arrived, sending notice that a brother or sister had died. A nephew he had never met sent the last note.
Marco’s time at the beach in Stratford grew. His hair turned white and he moved more slowly. His children, now adults and married with their own children would join him from day to day. He would bring a chair and sit now that he was well past 80. Maria often joined him and they would bring a bottle of wine, sometimes talking, mostly silent.
And then Maria was gone as well. Grandchildren in school or even college, his own children busy with work, came less often.
But Marco continued his sojourns at the beach. He often spent his time in prayer that sounded more like conversation.
“Jude, returning to Ostia was never to be, but why? I have been a good man. I have worked hard my entire life. All I wanted was to see my Ostia again. Place my feet in the sand. Laugh with my family. Sing the songs at the festivals. Sit in a room with many people and enjoy a great meal. Make my own wine. Why is it that I could never have that?” And his words floated from his lips to the water a few feet away.
One chilly October day in 1994 several young people walking on the beach in Stratford came upon a man lying in the sand next to an overturned chair. The man ran to get help while the others stayed. A young woman knelt down next to the man. She touched his shoulder.
“He’s not breathing,” she said simply.
One chilly October day in 1994 several young people walking on the beach in Ostia Lido came upon a young man lying sprawled behind a dune. He was dressed in a linen shirt, dark wool pants and jacket, a cap turned down over his dark eyes. A young woman knelt down next to the man. She touched his shoulder.
“Sta respirando,” she said.