The satisfaction of having achieved my aims

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Michael Bornaschella

THE SATISFACTION OF HAVING ACHIEVED MY AIMS

FIRST EDITION


NARRATIVA

Acknowledgements

Though I might run a high risk of rushing towards ordinary places, I would like to express my gratitude to some people, not for the sake of a mere compliment or to remind them how valuable their cooperation has been, but to keep them in my heart forever.

To begin with, to my children. Their constant company, their love and their understanding have been the support of my life. Likewise, my constant goal has been to look after them and ensure their welfare. But like any parents I must have failed in some cases and though they might have been many or a few, I have always had the feeling that I should do something more for them. However, I have always done my best. But, I promise to go on doing even more. In every single event I intend to compensate for all those circumstances in which I might have hurt them. In spite of the fact that many of those events were inevitable, my sense of guilt is also inevitable.

Most probably, not only have my children been hurt along my way. I would like to apologize to them all sincerely. But it has happened that the events in my life have been meteoric and eventually I have not had time to smooth them, one by one, according to the decisions taken by the time...

To my parents. I want to thank them not only for their permanent presence but for their unlimited teaching as well. Neither did they dedicate to education a fixed place nor a fixed time. Their task was always done without warning, but so clearly that many of their beneficial effects have extended up until nowadays in such a way that I have mentioned them in many sheets in my book. For all this I am grateful to them since their cultural legacy will last and live in the next generations of my family and the families of those who know me.

To my grandchildren. I wish them a lot of happiness, the same I wish my children and I also hope they will keep their eyes, their ears and their hearts wide open to learn as much as their parents or even more.

To Marcela. She is my partner and my friend. I am grateful to her for her determination and honesty, for her great and incomparable human qualities and for having charged with the translation of my book from Spanish into English with great enthusiasm. But indeed I have got many more personal and major reasons to be grateful to her. After such a long way I have luckily met the person I have been dreaming of. Her labour, dealing with my personality, has not been easy, I am afraid. She has witnessed disputes of different types, she has been able to understand and interpret me by giving me confidence in my points of view. She has also discussed with me and in all the cases she has accompanied me with her good and kind heart.

To my sister, Livia. I would like to express my fraternal affection for her being so supportive with me always. I want to thank her for her willingness to solve the gaps which occurred in my mind while writing my book.

To Alberto Miramontes. I want to express my gratitude to him for listening to me and asking me eagerly again and again about everything in order to understand me better and accurately. This enabled him to register all the information and write my story.

Finally to all those who want to have a better country. I invite you all, from the bottom of my soul, to take part in making our country an endless field of opportunities, with your constant and honest work. Then our children’s migration and even our own one will stop being an option.

With sincere gratitud,

Michael Bornaschella

The scribe’s words …

Sometime after starting this adventure, Miguel suggested that I should set aside some space and time to write about my own experience. For a while I I have been struggling about which aspect or point I would like to emphasise. In a way, I may say, it turned embarrassing for me to make comments about him. The fact is that I am not exempted from the “general principles of law”. Not only am I the person who helped him express his feelings, attitudes, behaviour, aspirations and skills but, I am for the rest of the days, his employee. The truth is that I would like to greatly thank him for allowing me be part of both things.

At the very moment we started this task which is coming to an end today, I was lucky enough to learn first-hand a rich and eloquent testimony which has often impressed and moved me deeply. I met Miguel twenty years ago and he has always been good at re-telling anecdotes and stories. Most of them have been written here. Then I have pictured, no doubt, a very moving story.

And as time went by, he trusted me to carry out this historical and personal account. He also gave me the chance to ask him again and once more, he gave me the necessary space to intrude on his privacy, his feelings and know much more than what was needed but all that my curiosity required to get a comprehensive view. Thanks to all this I have been able to picture before my eyes a story so moving that I am not sure my pen will be able to provide an accurate description.

Right now I might highly praise Miguel, compliment his strengths or even stand out his skills, but without deepening any of those aspects, I would like to say that he is a different man. I might stand out his achievements, recall his failures and frustrations, but I assume that nothing describes him better or as precisely as the name that he chose for his book.

I feel grateful to him for the opportunity to share the experience of this book. I am grateful for all this and for these twenty years during which he has honoured me with his friendship.

Alberto Miramontes


Miguel and Alberto during the last stage writing this book.

Foreword

Before the holes of my memory go on increasing and finish breaking down the initial idea, I have decided to give my testimony. I have had this intention since long ago, but I have decided to rush into it because of different reasons and now it has become imperative follow this interior order.

Whenever this idea had hardly happened to appear, it seemed to be an accumulation of experiences which got lost and then turned up once again along the long way made. By those days they were just a collection of anecdotes which I told whenever I thought it was appropriate or whenever some events occurred and brought to the surface a useful message of the anecdote. The daily events carried and brought back my memories from one side to the other in such an easy way that it was no effort for me to retell them, repeat them, and sometimes do all this to even the same people once again – though they interrupted me to make me aware of it … and thus pass my experience with the corresponding moral, even picturing it, to my children, grandchildren, friends, old and new employees and their families … Should I be arrogant if I tried to teach? That is not my purpose. Neither do I think I am arrogant whenever I say that I would like to leave my testimony.

The story of my life is simple. So simple and moving like the ones of any other Italian immigrant. But the great desire and will to outdo oneself is what makes the difference between one and other, and I feel I have the satisfaction of having achieved my aims. Neither because I have had some public recognition nor because I got over my fellows, but because I overcame myself. I will feel actually satisfied if I can make people understand that I overcame myself because this is how I feel like every morning and every night. And I still go on trying to do so day after day.

By coming back to the little particles that were the seeds of this story, the anecdotes have been appearing and accumulating in time with the same speed and the same unconsciousness as the years have gathered. My father used to tell me a lot of stories: of his, of his relatives and friends. I would listen to him, paid attention when he spoke amazed by the quantity! He always had a new story to tell … Once I told him about my astonishment and he replied that I would myself have a lot of things to tell in the future, he knew that since he had been able to see my personality. He also told me this was going to happen as soon as I was the appropriate age.

At this moment it happens to me that I do not want to gather more anecdotes. Watching everything from here and backwards, I can clearly see the guiding thread and I can imagine the story thoroughly finished. I will do my best to keep the chronological order and be quiet enough at the moment of showing emotions and feelings. But I cannot guarantee this.

Fortunately I have travelled through time connecting the suffering of learning new things with the time of applying the experience. In fact I will be giving myself my own testimony.

I would like to picture the life of the immigrant, but perhaps in a better way the life of the person who immigrated to Argentina as a life cut into two halves. This is a story of circular journeys. My immigration or my migration, depending on the side of the ocean people will read this, is like the story of so many people whose children-sons or daughters-have had to migrate. But even if this did not happen, the life of the immigrant is broken into two. Even still, as it happened in my case, this occurred at a very short age. A piece of your life remains in the other side of the ocean, wondering what would have happened if the exile had not taken place, expecting for the moments of meeting your relatives, and wondering as surely my father did, if that had been the right decision or, as my mother used to say, without being afraid of making a mistake, that had not been the right decision. Or if here or there things would have been easier or more difficult…

 

In fact, life was and goes on being circular. Growing up, losing, getting recovered, losing again but going on by standing up and suffering from endless tiredness, falling again but never getting depressed, crying enough in order to learn, laughing what was necessary to go on, being optimist by nature accepting the bad taste of hard experiences naturally, as an irremediable circumstance of life.

In this endless adventure, up to now, I have always remained at the sight of everybody, and though the consequences have been many times dreadful, I have never got hidden from anybody, neither to laugh nor to cry, things that have happened almost with the same frequency.

There have been a lot of lookers-on all through these years: faithful friends and others who did not believe in me. Some who have underestimated me, some others who have become glad of my successes and some who were waiting for my new failure. Some who would be ready to help me once more and others who would enjoy my misfortune.

“Doing” is difficult. Proposing your own aims, keeping certain order and shortening times seem to be easy, but soon the obstacles suddenly turn up, grow naturally and seem to be a joke of fate. On a more earthly plane and a bit more ungenerous, the economic policy has always injured with its claws and general policy has broken down most of the plans. Finally we suffer from their consequences, day after day and this makes our participation, the participation of ordinary people become less massive, less natural and less effective. This is also part of my testimony. Participation is necessary, essential to change our fate to end the way we deserve. If other people in other latitudes achieve what they are looking for, why we cannot do it? In those latitudes, with other climates, other grounds and other fortunes, there are equal human beings, with the same blood, the same sweat, the same tears, who have overcome themselves daily naturally, without crying or shouting and most of the times they can do it.

Shall we do it? Each of us will find the answer at the right time, in our interior, in privacy, from our own place, but what we should not do is being insincere with ourselves. From my place I would not be able to oblige anyone to think differently. The only thing, I think I can do is to put into words my own experience and all that I have learnt with it.

I hope to be able to be as clear as possible.

I
Montaquilla, birth town

Almost seventy years later I go on repeating the same phrase to locate my birth place, my origin: “Between Nápoles and Rome, between the Adriático and the Mediterranean”. With these words I locate Montaquilla in the world and in Italy.

Montaquilla is a city in the Province of Isernia, in a region called Molisse, twenty-one kilometers far away from the capital city of the province and 464 meters high over the sea level, in the west side of the mountain range called Mainardi and in the south of the Meta mount. Montaquilla must have existed since the wind started to blow, but the first register that men have intervened can be found in some documents by the year 778. The first proximities to its name can be read by that year: Montem Aquilam, Montis Aquili in 1150, or Mons Aquilus in 1168. Some have translated it as Mount of Aquilone, referring to the northern wind. On the other hand the evidence which was given as valid indicates that these lands belonged to the vast Monastery of San Vincenzo of Volturno. Later, after different sales and some other donations these lands have been having different owners and heirs. Among them, Andrea d’Isernia, Giovanni Caracciolo and his brothers and Ugo di Rocca and his brothers. It is supposed that by the year 1305 Andrea d’Isernia was able to buy all the territories of Montaquilla joining the property that later was inherited by Landolfo, the youngest of his sons and who became the last owner between the years 1316 and 1325, when he died. The descent of Landolfo is uncertain, but it is supposed that in the second half of the XIV century Montaquilla became a fief of a family who finally adopted this surname. It is thought that it could have been the same family d’Isernia who used this name to adopt the noble title in order not to be involved with other genealogical branches of the family d’Isernia.

The first data of census of population was in 1561, when “fuochi” (chimneys) were counted, not people and there were 53 in that year, 50 in 1608 and 55 in 1669. In 1795, 590 inhabitants were counted, 790 in 1848, 1271 in 1861, 1706 in 1907, 1857 in 1911, being at present 2600 inhabitants, more or less the same quantity as when I was born on February the fifth in 1948.

As it was usual by those days, I was born inside my parents’ house which was the one that my mother had inherited from her own family. I was the last of four children that Giovanni Bornaschella and Filomena Ricci had decided to bring to this world. Though according to my mother –she told me once after I had grown up and in her natural way, without adding any other unnecessary phrases– my arrival had not been, let’s say, actually planned. But well… when I was born my other three siblings had already arrived, Angel of eleven years old, Livia aged six and Josefa of three.

Our house was built in 1853 and is still there, very well kept, in Via Piano 4 in Montaquila. The town had been built around the mountain. It is thought that it was strategically very well planned. It had aimed to defend the inhabitants since from the height people had a better view of those who would have wanted to invade them in remote times. Even more, the town had an enormous gate which was closed at night and people could no longer leave or enter the town after that. In the morning this gate was opened and the usual tasks started, basically farm work such as cultivation of the ground and breeding the animals.

There was no unemployment in Montaquila. Everybody had something to do at all times, every time. And there was always something else to do. In Montaquila there were not and there are not any industries. Most of the things and almost everything was produced and came from the ground and from the animals. The valley crossed by the Volturno River was the most productive land, the most fertile. Everybody had, including my family, their own small pieces of land along the river, and with a bit of quick-thinking and another bit of intelligence people made it quite productive. Whatever was got from the ground was simply and kindly sold or bought among the neighbours. Things were exchanged among them and if there were any which were not, they were carried to nearby towns to be commercialized with different fortune. The value of each thing had been fixed since remote generations, by some unknown and invisible decision, but nobody dared to discuss or argue about it, and nobody thought that it would be necessary to change these regulations: one thing of something was worth two of another thing and thus, all the things had a price, and were quietly commercialized. Money was limited so it was kept in small quantities just for certain important occasions, and even the doctor was paid for with a basket of vegetables or with other things or services, consequently money was not used. Wheat was grown and the harvest was taken to the mill. Part of it was left there as payment for the flour that was taken home. Whatever somebody lacked, somebody else had. In this way everybody had the necessary goods. Eventually the labours were exchanged whenever someone happened to go and work in somebody else’s field. And everything was done under an ordinary state of order and brotherhood and if any argument arose, it did not last long because the judge acted immediately and the dispute came to an end.

During a whole year the families bred their pig to get the meat. Then it was chopped into small portions, kept in big vessels made of stone called “pila” covered with fat, in the rooms that every house had and was assigned to keep the goods and preserves, till the following year. Among other things dry tomatoes were stored or tomato sauce already processed was kept in bottles after the ritual of the harvest. This ceremony was a kind of party in the town in which all the neighbours gathered and helped each other to process their own production, and thus obtaining the corresponding exchange of labours. All the members of the family would participate and it was one of the entertainments of those days. Not only were the tomatoes processed, but also the wheat and the maize were peeled and the vegetables picked up and gathered. When the job was finished some neighbours played some music and others danced. My father used to take part of this and all the other different tasks quite lively. He was a very hard worker, tireless but also well-known in town for his ability at playing the accordion with eight keys. My mother did not use to celebrate this ability of his. Once when she was pregnant, the scenery to play his musical instrument had become a bit complicated. My father and his friends thought they had been original when they decided to play a kind of comedy in which some neighbours came to fetch him, he rejected the invitation but they would finally persuade him. The comedy was developed late in the evening with some of them speaking and shouting from the street while my father was replying from the inside, they were obviously exchanging lies. My mother let them act for a while until her patience was over, then she gave him permission to go with them making him believe, as she usually did, that he had finally convinced her… But the night was long and my father did not arrive home. The time for permission had finished and my mother went for him, imagining without any mistakes what was happening: the famous phrase “the one who plays, does not dance”, was not carried out on this occasion. In fact the accordion, my mother and my father came back home very quickly. And the accordion was not played outside of our home for a long time.

With the fruit grown and collected, with the animals bred and sacrificed, with the exchange of goods and the labour of manufacturing, with the ability to ration and administer what people had, everybody ate well. The distribution that my mother used to do at lunch time and at dinner had the same fairness as the one used by people in the town when they exchanged their goods. At home the proportion of food eaten was according to quantity of work done. Nobody would dare to argue about this distribution, because the only one who did not receive the right share was my Mum, Filomena… The consequences of that diet could be seen in her very small and scraggy body, though she was always quite healthy. Only because of the logical damage that age causes had I seen her ill or in bed, not even taking a rest or had I heard her groaning. I had never seen or heard her complaining or boasting of taking the decisions at home or of doing any kind of job, neither in Italy nor in Argentina. She never fell ill in bed because she herself had decided not to do so. The idea of getting sick or ill was like stopping the cog-wheel of a clock. The colds, the influenza and the aches in her bones did not affect her. In fact she suffered from all those things like everybody else, but she did not get sick or ill. She went on doing her duties without complaints. During the last stage of her life she used to say that people saw her very well, and flattered her: “Yes, of course you have always seen me well”, she used to say, “but the fact is that I have never complained because my complaints would not have changed anything. It’s no use…”.

She worked as much as my father did. Very early in the morning she milked the cow and later prepared the curd and the cheese. She prepared breakfast for her children, passed my milk from one cup to another to cool it and then sent my brother and sisters to school. Another ordinary task done daily by her was going to the fountain, she carried a tub made of copper and walked three hundred meters to put some water in it. The water was brought from the highest part of the mountain flowing through tubes to get to the center of the town.

 

During the winter meanwhile the melting was very slow and gradual the water flowed and hardly came out from the faucet at the end of the tube, this made the activity of the town become more slowly. Because of this there were long queues full of patience, there were also exceptions… From a positive point of view a social approach was created, this included a convenient excuse when the young ladies gave some hope to the young men and this sometimes ended up into an engagement. But not all the relationships were so friendly. There were few families who could pay for having all this work of carrying the water done by someone else. The problems did not last long to arise from time to time when any of the vessels suddenly turned up before others without any rights of their owners, then some violent arguments and brawls started and some vessels were kicked and battered. Finally my Mum came back home with twenty litres of clear water in the vat. She carried it on her head. She put a piece of cloth on her head as if it were a crown. Mum was not out of these kinds of quarrels and her vat also had the corresponding beats. She had an unmatched skill and perfect balance not to lose a single drop of water. When water arrived home we all used it to cook or to wash ourselves.

The clothes were washed in the river with the soap which, as it could not be different, was also made by my mother by cooking the fat of the pork and some caustic soda. The routine went on with the preparation of food at lunch time which she later carried to the piece of land where my father was working. While he was having lunch, she went on with the labours in the field and when he finished his lunch she still went on working. She came back home to prepare dinner, waited for my father, and eventually got ready, just in case, to carry out the compromises of marriage, which could not be rejected – as she used to tell my daughter, Lorena, many years later. Not even of any of these tasks did she ever complain. Her nature, her spirit was to make sacrifice naturally and in so many other respects, assimilate this sacrifice without blaming or making any recriminations for her fate.

This town was, like many others in Italy and in Europe, crossed by war leaving some memories which were transmitted from generation to generation because due to the accumulation of damages it was impossible to keep them in silence. The narration which was quite plain and natural under the sight of the children and grandchildren took the dimension of the tragedy once more, and though it was obvious, it had not been easy to bear. The common place to say that the suffering had been terrible, was not enough to show the real dimension, the scenery, the length in time and the irremediable consequences.

In the First World War my father lost his father when he was six years old. Not long ago I myself was able to regain some pieces of information. I got a copy of his Certificate of Decease: Angelo Bornaschella died on the 19 th of October in 1918, just some months before the end of the war due to a bronchitis which turned into a general infection. He died in the Field Hospital Number 56, in Gubbio, a mountainous region in Zangolo. I also knew that his registration number was 20.562 and he had served in the Second Company of the Brigade of Messina.

Sometime later my father’s mother married my grandfather’s brother, called Angelo. By those days this form to reorganize the families was something natural and necessary. Among some other natural intentions, the main one was to protect the woman, take care of her children and keep the family. Under the protection of this new marriage and new love, my father had three more brothers and one more sister … But not all the new familiar organizations had the same fate.

In some houses fatal stories were heard, with epilogues difficult to be told. The man who went away for war, during the First or the Second, left his good will to the convenience and caprice of fate. Hope was missed when the family did not receive any news, and then his location seemed to be like the wind that blows and goes somewhere, without knowing where… He might have been taken as prisoner and be working in that state in another country, or be dead without a tombstone, or could have lost his mind and not remember the way to come back home. But if it happened that God’s mercy helped him come back, after having left for so many years, being suspended in his wife’s and children’s oblivion, his old house was no longer his house because his children would be sharing the table with the new children his wife might have had, or his wife was no longer his because since he did not exist any longer, she had become the wife of someone else who might have been his neighbour in the past, before the war had put them all on the same stairs step of the tragedy.

The memories of my mother also gave me the details to understand how much and the way the resignation of the people had fitted in their souls. During one of the advance posts of the German soldiers, an uncle of my father’s together with other neighbours in the town, tried to repel their enemies by throwing pieces of stones at them from the highest post in the mountain. But instead, they were repelled by the German machine guns. The splinters hurt him, but with a quick treatment and with his still bleeding leg, he was able to come back to the improvised shelters in the wood and the mountains, until some days later the Red Cross took him away to assist him in better conditions due to the serious infection he had. The fact that he was not in the refuge for more than seven months was also taken as some kind of resignation and there was no surprise or fright, there was no difference between his presence and his absence during those days… My grand uncle came back to the shelter and his own life went on as if the gap in the history had never existed, but not for the indifference or lack of affection, but for the only and clear feeling of helplessness and pain of everybody.

When the German soldiers took the decision to attack, the town was filled with fright, running from one side to the other looking for shelter in the holes and caves in the mountains. During one of those escapes my brother Angel informed my father that he had lost his left shoe. My father wanted to recover it, but it would have been easier if my brother had mentioned it as soon as it had happened, three kilometers before. The mission to recover the shoe was useless, suicide, so the unfortunate and poor Angel lived the following six months with a piece of cloth around his foot and ankle tied with some ropes, replacing the lost object.

Once the Second World War was finished, apart from the damages seen and those which could not be seen, there remained other consequences more concrete and less painful. Due to the advance of the American troops towards the north, perhaps because the Germans needed to rush away or because they might have looked for a safer place, during their retreatment, they left different things along their way. After the calm had come back and the whole town and neighbourhood was no longer occupied by the troops of one or the other side, pieces of their possessions were found spread everywhere. It was very common to find pairs of boots, dirty shirts, great quantities of missiles which astonished everybody because they were kept in cloth bags, useless tyres, pieces of jeeps and trucks for the troops and even a war tank. The pieces of iron were picked up and sold as scraps in different places in the country. By doing this, people could manage their economic situation in some way. The rubber was used to make a handmade kind of shoe called “scarponi”. They were real certificates of poverty, but since there was not another thing, they became quite useful. People’s legs were covered from feet to knees with a piece of cloth made of linen. Then the pieces of rubber, well cut according to the size of the foot, were fitted leaving an edge with small holes and finally some leather strings were passed through them. They were the usual strings of the “modern age”, with the same idea this continued up to the knees. Those who found tyres of motorbikes were luckier because since the rubber is narrower, they fitted the feet “anatomically”. Apart from this, nobody cared for having them brushed and polished or think which one was for the left or the right foot.