Patrizio: Italian meaning noble
They called me Patrizio as a joke when I was a baby. Or maybe it was wishful thinking. Instead of being a round, roly-poly thing that laughed and gurgled, I was quiet and thin. Not one to make unnecessary noise, even as a child, the family worried I was “slow.” Until they caught me watching them.
“Patrizio, he looks at us from his throne as if he we are peasants.” My grandfather, a gregarious man who loved to sing opera and drink wine, was confused by me, I think. As a child, I thought he didn’t love me, not like he loved my brothers and cousins. On his deathbed, when I was the last of the “bambinos” willing to sit by his side – everyone else left as quickly as they could without incurring the wrath of a mother or aunt – he whispered his love to me, and his concern.
“I worry for you, Patrizio. You take the world too seriously.”
I couldn’t disagree with him.
My grandmother, Nani Rosa, spent most of my childhood stuffing me with food. After my grandfather died, it was worse. My brothers and cousins were big, strapping boys who worked the vineyard with the rest of the men, carrying on the family business he’d brought from Tuscany to New York a generation before. I, however, was not cut out for the work. Nor did I have any desire to toil with the grapes and in the sun.
Nani Rosa, when she wasn’t feeding me ever-growing plates of rice and gravy – the red sauce you’re probably most familiar with – slipped me blank sheets of paper and freshly sharpened pencils. She understood I was different, even if she couldn’t understand how or why.
“Patrizio, sweet boy, you stay here. I’ll take care of Enzo.”
Enzo was my father, a good man but rough. He was more confused by me than my grandfather had been. That confusion came out as disgust and anger. It would take me many years to understand this. As a child, I believed he hated me. I stayed out of his sight as often as possible. My nani’s offer to sit at her antique desk in a sitting room so rarely used was a blessing. It would be many years before I understood what it cost the family to allow me this rare luxury.
Everyone worked in our family. We lived and died by what we were able to produce and sell. The wine was only part of it and not where the bulk of our income came from. The wine was about family pride and heritage more than business. The other produce we grew and harvested was financially more valuable but had much less of the family’s heart.
My father fought with my grandmother every time she allowed me to stay inside with her. He derided my “scribbles” as he referred to them, his lip curled in a derisive snarl. His voice dripped with contempt, or so I thought. I was the useless son, the one who cared so little for our family’s history that I refused to work.
The women in my family understood I was different. They could see that the time spent outside slowly killed my soul and did little for my thin frame. Some touch of women’s wisdom, a thing my grandmother had impressed upon me from the cradle, allowed them to give my spirit room to grow and move in a different direction.
I believe even they despaired of me, though. What good could all this scribbling possibly do for the family? For the vineyard? For the farm?
Days after my sixteenth birthday, when my parents, my grandmother, brothers, and cousins gathered around, more out of duty than joy, to wish me another year of health and happiness, I finally proved my worth. It was then that I finally unveiled what I’d worked on for the better part of a year, what all those years of “scribbling” had lead to, the thing I’d toiled away in secret for fear of rejection and anger.
It was a simple enough thing. A brochure detailing the vineyard and its history, along with our family and the most beloved wines. I trembled as I handed it first to my grandmother, who I believed would, at the very least, read it without judgement.
From Nani Rosa to my mother to my father, the thing spread like wildfire. Only the cousins and my brothers were confused. Good-hearted men, but never the type to indulge in reading anything more than a few words and only when necessary. My father could see the benefit immediately.
He grabbed my shoulders and kissed my cheeks. “This, my boy, is exactly what we need! I was about to hire a company from the city to produce such a thing. So much money I would have spent. So much time explaining who we are, for these city men in their expensive suits to misunderstand it all. And you, my Patrizio, can do it for us!”
There was laughter and wine shared around the table at dinner that night. A big celebration more for the family than for me. They finally saw how I would contribute, what my purpose was. For me, I was surprised it had taken so little – of my time or effort – to find acceptance. My mother and grandmother beamed at me across the table while wine was pressed upon me throughout the night. I was a man now, in the eyes of the family, finally contributing something meaningful. The younger men still couldn’t see it, but because my father was happy, they were happy.
I couldn’t tell them what their acceptance meant to me. It would be years before I was able to admit to myself I was both filled with joy and resentment at the turn of events. I was a man because I could write, as long as it benefited the family, but anything else was a waste of time and made me a lazy boy.
For years, I hid my personal writing, the novel of war and love I penned in secret at night, the fantasy stories I submitted to magazines, even this, my dear journal, leather-bound and filled with my thoughts and fears. As long as I continued to produce a few lines of copy to sell more wine, I was left to my own devices. I thought my secret was well hidden, and maybe it was from all but one.
When I graduated from college, the last of the boys to do so, although the only one to eschew agriculture and business classes for literature and writing, Nani Rosa presented me with a gift.
“It is called ‘Patrizio’ and I knew it was meant for you.” The surprise written across my face was as clear as words on paper. “You think I don’t know what you’re meant to do, where your passion lies? You are meant to do more than write a few words about wine or tomatoes. You will become one of the great writers, and one day the family will understand that what you do is as noble and important as working with the land.”
This pen, used for many years now, wrote my grandmother’s eulogy for her funeral. It penned the first novel I ever published. And now, worn soft and dull by my hand, it continues to write up the little brochures and sales material for the family business – the business I inherited from my father who said of all of us, I would be best suited to keeping it going. He wrote, in his will, that I would never force anyone into a role for which they weren’t suited, and he believed I would use my “good sense” (words that shook me) to keep our heritage going for years to come.
It wasn’t a role I wanted, but I’ve come to cherish. I did as he hoped I would and placed the right people in the right jobs. These days, I’m little more than a figurehead which works well for me as I still sit at Nani Rosa’s antique desk, although now it’s in my personal office, to “scribble” each day with my beloved pen, a symbol of her love and faith in me.
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Written by Michaela Mitchell, freelance writer and pen lover