This story that I am going to share with you today is actually not mine, but my grandma’s.
It’s a story that has stayed with me throughout my childhood. It has been repeated over and over again at every Christmas dinner.I feel this story is such a big part of me that it is almost as if I had been there when those events were taking place…
Venice, Italy, 1942.
The Second World War has been covering Europe with blood for three years now, Italy is on the forefront of the fighting and suffering, and Venice is of no exception. On the contrary, its access to the sea and its vicinity to the northern war front-line makes it one of the places most likely to be badly hit by the combat. Therefore, this makes its people some of the most desperate to escape the brutality of wartime.
Liliana, my grandma, is 18 years old. She is the oldest daughter of a once successful banker who is now financially in despair. She lives on Venice’s biggest canal in a once beautiful house that is now becoming increasingly empty as more and more furniture is being sold to buy food. Liliana is stunningly beautiful, with green eyes whose fame has gone well beyond Venice. She is so beautiful that she might have been an actress if she just had born in another country at another time. However, she was born in Venice in 1926, and instead of pursuing her dreams as any other girl at the age of 18 should, she had to adapt herself to wartime and began to work as nurse for the Italian army.
Despite this not being her dream, she grew accustomed to the work and actually began to really enjoy it. Working as a nurse made her feel that she is doing her part for the country; she felt as though she was doing something good for those young men who fight and suffer daily, and she gets strength from her work to continue on.
It is through her work as a nurse that one day she meets Damiano. He is just 21 years old. He is a tall, vigorous and beautiful young man from the countryside of north-eastern Italy who ended up in Venice while serving in the Italian navy.
They meet one day in one of those dancing halls created in time of war to alleviate the suffering, and as my grandma always loved to repeat, it was love at first sight. It was one of those love stories that happen once in a lifetime and one of those fairytales that stay in our hearts forever. She would say how it was one of those love that goes straight to our souls and change our lives as we had known it until that moment.
Liliana and Damiano got married one year later and it seemed as if the world would be a magical place from that moment on. Unfortunately, the war had other plans. With the hostilities becoming increasingly harsher and with Mussolini’s position becoming weaker, all the young men were called to the arms and Damiano has no choice but to fight for his country.
They spent almost three months apart while Damiano was on the frontline and everyday my grandma would wake up hoping the war would soon be over. But life does not always go as we wish it does , and one day my grandma receives a fateful telegram saying that Damiano had died in combat.
It was the end of my grandma’s world; It was the end of all her happiness and hopes.
And though, the amazing thing of life is that it has the potential to surprise us at every moment, when we least expect it, and a couple of months later my grandma’s suffering is replaced by joy as she finds out that she was expecting a child. Life had brought Damiano away from her, but it was now giving her the fruit of their love and another reason to live – my dad Gianni.