I can picture her still so old and frail, hobbling up the steep hill leaning on her pair of homemade walking sticks. “What do you have there, Zia (Aunty)?” my husband asked, pointing to the open-mesh bag on her kerchief-covered head. I just gaped, wondering how many other nasty things she’d carried on that seldom-washed, dirty kerchief!
“Oh rabbit droppings for my plants,” she answered offhandedly. “Just let me set it inside the door here, and I’ll make some coffee!” she announced, clearly pleased at having visitors.
New to Italy, I’d been dreading that obligatory cup of espresso. And when the aunty used that nasty kerchief to blow her nose, I became certain I’d never get that coffee into my now churning stomach!
But it was when she plopped that snotty rag back on her head, that I started fighting to keep my breakfast down! And I started wondering if I even liked my husband’s hometown!
Meanwhile, the aunty busied herself happily, arranging sugar and spoons on her finest tray. “It’ll be ready in a minute,” she assured us. Apparently unaware that her American visitor was by this time visibly gagging.
“That’s fine Zia,” Mario assured her, “we’re in no hurry.” That’s for sure, I thought. I hoped that coffee would never come! But then if it hurried, we could get out of there. Away from the aunty and that all-purpose rag of hers!
But it was when she rinsed the cups — then dried them with the kerchief (what else?) that I nearly bolted!
Never in my life had I been so horrified! Rabbit droppings, dirt, snot, and I was afraid to think what else! We could not drink that coffee. Why, it would be like signing our own death warrant!
And that was when I must have started making strange choking sounds, for my husband finally noticed my obvious distress. “I cannot and will not drink that coffee!” my eyes flashed a silent message.
“But you have to,” his look answered. “She’ll be grievously offended if you don’t!” Even though I was fairly certain she would be even more offended if I vomited all over the place! But he was right. That distant relative was so happy that we’d come from America to visit her. And she was trying hard to give us of her best.
So I started praying for strength. Strength to drink that coffee and keep it down! And a miracle, I needed a miracle! For I knew that kind of strength did not lie within me. But my faith is so small that I don’t always expect to receive what I pray for. And to this day I’m still amazed I got that coffee down!
Often the greatest miracles are those that take place in our hearts.
Like that one that helped me put the aunty’s feelings before my own. It made the aunty’s day, and that made it all worthwhile! Sometimes all it takes is a little extra effort. And we may never know how much tiny acts of kindness can touch a heart!
Who do you know that needs you to show this kind of love today?
Note: The real aunty of this story, were she still living, would be about 100 years old. From an era when people bathed infrequently. They had to haul and heat water for bathing, laundry, and cooking. Rags got used and re-used, because washing them was a lot of work. Aunty wasn’t trying to be dirty. She just never moved forward with the times! And she was a sweet and caring person!
Images: Italian women “Capri” von C.W. Allers, Public Domain.