Both men embraced each other, exchanging kisses on both sides of the cheek. They remembered the night of the Vigilia when Isabella’s father had given up his seat for Giovanni’s father. They were as old friends now and Isabella’s mother insisted they join them for the meal and the special dessert of zeppole.
At first, Giovanni was embarrassed by the offer, and even more so, by his father’s eager desire to accept. They did not have spare coin to pay for such a treat and it did not seem like any sin was being committed in the accepting of such a gracious offer. And then, there was always the zeppole.
And so they dined together, and together with other families who had come to the mountain for whatever reason on this day. They laughed too hard, the men nearly coming to tears, after several glasses of the recently-made wine. Their cheeks were ruddy and red and the women watched their men with a cautious eye. The children made friends after some initial awkward moments and then went off to walk around the church to the well-known butterfly sanctuary.
It had happened by accident. Years ago, monks had planted a special garden in the back of the hurch, all with the hope of enticing butterflies to come and aid in pollinating the beautiful flowers they had planted. And their prayers were answered and, over the years, there were more and more butterflies each year. And the flowers grew wildly but only in that small patch behind the church; they never strayed too far from the butterflies, each dependent upon the other, as a child is upon her mother.
The men had decided to walk around to offset the alcohol’s effect and watched from a distance as their children chattered and laughed at something the other would say. They looked at each other and smiled. Too bad they lived too far from each other. Too bad they were in different economic circles. Too bad, just too bad.
At the end of the day, the two families made their way down the mountain, Isabella’s father’s car the more stable of the two and therefore the one to lead. At the bottom of the mountain, one went one way, and the other went the opposite way, hands and kisses waving wildly out half-open windows.
But Fate was not through with these two families yet, and the families had agreed that every feast day of San Giuseppe, weather permitting, they would meet each other and that, in the future, Giovanni’s family would bring the zeppole.
But as years went by, one feast day Giovanni’s family did not come. Isabella’s mother chided her husband for worrying so about them. They, too, had brought their own zeppole, knowing how expensive they were at this time of the year. They always brought extra of everything, and, at the end of each picnic, would give it to Giovanni’s family to bring back home. It had become a tradition. To refuse would have been maleducato, and far be it for such a long-time friendship to be marred by such a faux pas.
But worry Isabella did and she would not let mother alone until she promised to try and phone them when they went back home. If only to know all was well. If only to know if Giovanni had missed seeing her. She had grown quite into the signorina, bella, blonde, with huge blue eyes. Isabella had come to anticipate the annual pilgrimages and she and Giovanni had become good friends.