Enjoying Our Youth | Ben Breschi

     “Would you two like to come in and have a coffee?” asked the old lady, who had introduced herself as Signora Maria. With an empty notebook and pencil in hand, my friend and I stood in front of her doorway in the small Italian village of Pennadomo. She spoke in Italian, a language we both knew well, but her missing teeth and raspy voice mangled the words sound slightly mangled. Before I could politely decline, my confused friend answered, “Uh, sure.” Our assignment to interview the Italian about her everyday life took an unexpected turn, as the lady directed us toward her worn, two-story home. My friend and I did not have a choice, and we reluctantly stepped out of our comfort zones. 
    She led us through a scarcely-lit living room and past a staircase into the kitchen, where we were met with another elderly lady. Maria introduced us to the woman. I only understood that she was her sister. As we sat down at the kitchen table, a man, clearly startled by all the commotion, descended the stairs. As soon as he saw us, the man smiled and said, “Good morning,” as if he encountered two American teenagers in his house every day. Signora Maria ordered the man to prepare a pot of coffee. She then turned to us and said, “This is my husband.” 
    While we waited for the coffee, my friend and I explained how we were on a trip with seven other students from the United States. With a youthful eagerness, the old women listened. She had just as many questions for us as we did for her. The two of them had a way of making me feel as comfortable as I would be in my own home. Maria described how everyone knew each other in Pennadomo: They go to church every Sunday together, party on the holidays together, and often eat dinner together. As I continued talking to Maria and her sister, I realized that the town of Pennadomo and others like it represented what a perfect world would look like. People would be able to leave their doors open to others passing by, and to invite strangers into their homes. However, that world does not exist, and small towns such as Pennadomo are difficult to find in our insecure world. 
    Aside from answering questions about their hometown, Maria and her sister openly spoke about their personal life. This included going to church and watching the few channels they got on the television. They said that they had another sister who died recently and joked about how they would soon meet a similar fate. Maria reminisced about her childhood; her sister forgetfully commented several times on how beautiful our eyes were. Then, the women asked us questions, which were often hard to understand due to their fast speaking and our slow Italian. By the time my friend and I were served the coffee, it was time to rejoin the rest of the students, who were surely looking for us. We hastily drank the piping hot coffee, which was the best I have ever had. We thanked the trio for their incredible hospitality and information. The women made sure to tell us to enjoy our trip–and our youth. 
    Thanks to an honest mistake of my friend and the inviting nature of Maria, I was forced to abandon my comfort zone and relate to an elderly Italian family with no ability to speak English. I can easily say that it was one of the most beneficial experiences of my life, as we learned to expand our boundaries and see the world in a different light. Leaving the house, my friend and I had not taken a single note but will forever remember the encounter.