My Grandfather, the Hunter

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GrandfatherThe clipping from an Italian newspaper is yellowed by time. A headshot of my grandfather looks out from it, staring straight ahead, somber, like those head-dummies in the windows of wig stores.

 Mario Rossato, my grandfather, was the oldest person in Italy to hold an active hunting license. All of Italy! Impressive, so much so it warranted this old newspaper article.

 He was a hunter back as far as I can remember. The picture of him with his hunting rifle and dog was taken right after World War I. Can you believe it? Back then they went hunting with hat, coat and tie. By the time I was old enough to hang around, he hunted sans tie or dog.

 One day I asked my grandfather why he didn’t have a dog. Apart from some birds, the only other animal around was a huge cat that belonged to my great-uncle next door. The cat would come around, its back arched, tail up in the air, totally disdainful of the birds. My grandfather called that good training. I thought a dog would be fun. My grandfather shrugged and said he didn’t need a dog for his type of hunting, plus he didn’t think my grandmother would be too keen on getting one.

 One evening after supper, with the dishes done, my grandmother sat in her wicker chair, her bad leg elevated on a stool. This was her habit as she settled in for a long, quiet evening of darning socks. I sat on a small stool beside her and listened to her stories.

 “Grandma, how come you don’t like dogs?”

 She looked up. “Who told you I don’t like dogs?”

 “Grandpa said you wouldn’t be keen on having dogs around.”

 “Oh, that’s what Grandpa said?” She adjusted her glasses and kept stitching a wool sock. After a while she said, “We used to have dogs.”

 “More than one?”

 “Your grandfather had hunting dogs. Very good hunting dogs as a matter of fact.”

 “Oh.” New and interesting information. “Did they all die?”

 She nodded. “There was this one dog name Roma. She was very special.” My grandmother looked down at the sock on the darning egg, but her hands had stopped moving. “Best hunting dog ever. Even won some competitions. Your grandfather was so proud. He raised her from a pup. There were many offers to buy her, even offers to breed her. He always said she wasn’t ready. I think he was afraid she would die giving birth—then two days into one hunting season, they killed her.”

 “Oh, no. The Germans?” There were many stories about Germans soldiers.

 She shook her head as if in a trance, pulled a handkerchief from her apron pocket and loudly blew her nose. She lifted her glasses and wiped her eyes. “No, this happened long before the Germans. Your mom was just a little girl about your age. She, too, loved Roma.”

 “Who did it? Did they go to prison?”

 She kept shaking her head then pointed at our massive front door down the hall.

 “That’s where it happened,” she said, “during the night, while we slept. They came to the door and Roma went to the door, barked and sniffed around. By the time we found her she was convulsing. Her death was slow and painful. The powder that killed her was on a sheet of paper, the kind of paper schoolchildren use for homework. The paper had been slipped under the door. She inhaled, maybe even licked the deadly poison.” Her eyes were dry now, but filled with sadness. “Be a good girl and don’t ask you grandfather about a dog. Roma was his last one. He never really got over it.”

 I never found out who killed Roma or why. I don’t even know if that’s the way it happened. I do know my grandfather had a hunting dog named Roma that died a sudden, mysterious death. I like to think the dog in the picture is Roma, and that she and my grandfather are hunting together in heavenly forests.

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