I spent most of my teenage years with my maternal grandparents. They lived in the three story house my grandfather built—the same one mentioned in my Love Thy Sister book.
Life was good. We still didn’t have TV, phones, and the only movie theater was owned and managed by the parish and open on Saturday and Sunday afternoons.
I was fifteen, never been kissed and even then I liked to do my own thing. I arrived at my grandparents house after living in Belgium and that made me a bit of an outsider in this small town where everyone knew everyone else.
I assumed that was one of the reasons I was getting serenaded often. I say that because my cousin who was my age and lived one house up, was cute as a button and owned better shoes/clothes than I did, never got serenaded.
But back to the serenade—serenata in Italian. Here is the way it worked. A group of men in their twenties would get together, one would play the guitar (always a big plus around there), another one would play the accordion, sometime there would be a harmonica or a mandolin. I loved their mournful sounds… Let’s not forget the singer, there had to be a singer, not hard to find where I come from, every family had a singer.
You now had 4-5 people. Add to that the ‘fans’, the men, mostly younger, who picked who was to be serenaded. This was a well organized task. They would serenade 3-4 girls in one night and because they were on foot, they usually picked locations close together. All this went on very late at night when we were asleep, most often on a full moon night because we didn’t have street lights.
So the group would be on the street below the house. If they were too close, it would be hard to see them because Italian homes have the yard with vegetables, flowers, vines and trees on the front of the house. So these men would set up on the street, close to the little gate separating the property from the road, and they would sing. They sang until the object of the serenade would switch on the bedroom light, open the window, and wave. If they were really good singers/musicians, all the lights would be turned on and the parents of the young woman would offer refreshing wine to everyone. Yes, there is no age limit for alcohol consumption in Italy. We all drink wine as soon as we chew our own food. Often it is wine made from our own grapes.
My grandmother, who was a big romantic, was the wine dispenser. I couldn’t care less. The first few serenades I went through all the required rituals, then I limited myself to switching the light on and off. At some point, I would sleep through the whole thing, and my poor grandmother would do the light trick while scolding me for ignoring the performance.
I never knew who the men were until forty years later. I was in Italy visiting my sisters, had my grown kids with me and we all went out to dinner to a new swanky restaurant my sisters said was owned by a town boy who had ‘done good’. The town boy being in his fifties like we were.
At some point during dinner, the owner came to say hello—not that unusual in Italy. He acted like he knew me and confessed he was one of the young men who serenaded me often because I was his first crush. I wanted to lie and tell him I also liked him, but since I didn’t even knew his first name that would have been difficult. So I thanked him, told him he made my day. A bottle of top quality bubbly was delivered to the table, courtesy of the owner. We all drank happily under the watchful stare of the owner’s wife.