“My parents live on a very small island,” he is saying, “it lies off the northern coast of Sicily. That’s where I was born.”
We are waiting in the same checkout line in Home Depot where Mike is buying wire, and somehow we have started talking. Outside it is sunny, and people are hurrying by. The parking lot is thick with cars and trucks, and someone is talking loudly on his cell. Yet here is a man telling us about a place where there are no cars, where the only gasoline-driven machinery is farm equipment.
“There are less than 7,000 people living there.” He is of medium height, a pleasant looking man on the cusp of middle age. He has brown eyes and hands that dance when he speaks. “You know, there was once talk about building a bridge between the island and the mainland—it’s really not far— but the people voted against it. They voted to keep cars off the island, too. Once,” he chuckles, “my grandfather cannibalized some discarded tractor parts and built himself a convertible. Nobody liked it. It was frowned upon. So he took it apart and built a cart instead.”
It’s hard to imagine in busy Raleigh that there is such a place. Not, he says quickly, that the conditions are primitive by any means, for on this island there are homes, many with modern plumbing and television sets—not new, mind you, but TV sets nonetheless— connected to the mainland. There are radios, of course. And nearly everyone has a cell phone.
But life on this island is definitely different. It’s an agrarian society, and each Saturday the farmers take what produce the community doesn’t need or use to the mainland. “People on the mainland are waiting for them,” he tells us, hands mimicking baskets and boxes of produce. “Their grapes and peaches are amazing, and the vegetables they bring are top quality, so the farmers make a good living.”
He sounds nostalgic, so Mike asks why he left. “My parents sent me to Canada to go to school, learn something.” A shrug. “When I went home, there was nothing for me—no future. So I came to America. I visit when I can, but I have to fly into Palermo and then make my way to the island, and it’s expensive these days.”
During our busy daily lives, I think, we meet so many people but hardly ever learn anything about them. A pity, indeed, for everyone has a story to tell—like this man from a little island near Sicily. A part of me envies the life I picture there: no snarls of traffic, no outrageous prices at the service pumps, no hurry—and in the evening the serene hush of a twilight that harks back to another, simpler time.
I want to ask if he has found the American dream, or whether in his heart he wishes for the rolling acres of farmland, the steady clip-clop of cart-pulling donkeys and mules’ hoof beats on the road. But we have reached the cash register, so there is no excuse to linger.
We say goodbye and prepare to leave, but then he calls us back. “It really is a great place, that island,” he says. “And there’s a terrific view of Mt.Aetna. When it starts to throw up smoke, let me tell you, it’s something to see. Better than TV anyday!”
I suppose that there has to be some excitement even on a small, faraway island.
In my mind I see
Stars and a peaceful twilight…