My brother was three years older than I, and for about five years, my only sibling. Our sisters came later. He was in fourth grade by the time I started school. School was only a block from home, and we walked there and back together. At that time in my little hometown in northern Italy, classes were from eight a.m. to twelve-thirty p.m. six days a week.
Girls wore black smocks with white collars. Boys wore black shirts also with white collars. On arrival, off came our shoes and on went slippers to avoid scratching the floors. No exceptions.
A good student, I loved school, the discipline and regimen—not so my brother. On many occasions he delivered me safely then left to spend the morning down by the river. Because boys and girls were separated, I had no idea this was going on. At some point my parents learned of his absences and punished him. By then the school principal even made it a point to check up on our attendance.
In our small town everyone knew everyone else by sight. It was hard to be sneaky and get away with it.
Hence, my brother’s idea.
One rainy morning, of which there were many in our region, Mother made us wear our hooded rain capes. Mine was bright yellow, my brother’s blue. The minute we turned the corner from the house, my brother stopped and turned me to look at him. “It’s not a good day for school.” He was most sincere. “It is a good day to go down and throw stones in the river.”
We walked on and by the time we stood at the bottom of the school steps, he had convinced me.
Was it too late to leave? Had we been spotted?
Time for my brother’s next bright idea: trading rain capes. My smaller cape on him looked like a shrug, while I dragged his on the ground, tripping on it a few times. We walked quickly as, behind us, someone called our names. We made it to the river, waddled in the mud, and skipped a few stones across the water. Eventually we grew bored, hungry, wet and cold.
The sun came out and my brother suggested we walk to the train station to watch the trains go by. There was only one train per hour, but the park across the street had a pond so we spent some time checking for goldfish, pesci rossi or red fish in Italian.
Little Miss Goody-two-shoes missed school, wanted to leave, and started to whine. I’m sure I was relentless. My poor brother couldn’t take it and finally gave in. His third brilliant idea of the day? Bring a bouquet to Mom in case she found out about our escapade.
He chose roses for his offering and didn’t hesitate to rip a few from the park garden. He gathered a handful of other flowers when a burly city guard wearing an impressive uniform grabbed him by the ear. He marched us straight home where Mom waited.
We both got a whipping, but the sympathetic guard did allow us to keep the flowers for my mother. Needless to say, that was my first and last time playing hooky. My brother however…well, that’s for another story.