In the sleepy little town of Camigliano, Italy, which is the next town over from the one my mom grew up in, and the town in which her mother, and her mother's father grew up in, we took a walk with some relatives to the cemetery. On the streets all that could be heard was the sound of the warm breeze blowing between the buildings, birds singing in the distance, and the occasional car passing on a parallel street. It was so quiet that the sound of the rubber squeaking against the pavement could be heard as tires rotated to steer through the town's narrow passages.
We happened across a few people, none of them under fifty years of age. Each of them said something to us about the cemetery, without our asking.
"It opens at 4 o'clock."
"Is the cemetery open?"
It was 3:15. As we walked towards the cemetery, I wondered to myself,
"Are we really going to go there and just wait forty five minutes for it to open?" Apparently so – after our leisurely, elderly stroll, we arrived at 3:30 and sat down. And I thought to myself,
"Waiting for the cemetery, just like my poor old grandma."
Every time you see her, the first thing and the last thing she says is that she wants to die – she's waiting for la morte. And as we sat there waiting for the cemetery to open, I couldn't resist but to say sarcastically to the others,
"Aspettiamo il cimitero" – we're waiting for the cemetery.
In this old town of old people, I was struck by the irony. The people there are devout Catholics who live a very simple, very quiet life based around God and family, good food, and good wine. Hidden in the middle of Italy, far from international culture and institutions of higher education, I was struck by a feeling that all of these old folks living this simple, quiet life, seemed in a way to be waiting for the cemetery. And then Rosa said,
"It's important to pay respects to the dead," and as I nodded in agreeance, my mother commented, half-jokingly,
"Around here, there's more respect paid to the dead than to the living!" And here with the deteriorated family situation my grandmother lives in, it's an unfortunate truth. She'll only get the respect she deserves when she's in the cemetery. But she's also to blame for her sad fate – one of the main reasons she doesn't want to go to live with my mother in the USA, where she would receive the care a ninety year old woman needs and deserves, is because her death here in Italy is already arranged and paid for. Apparently there's no refund on the funeral, the coffin, and the place at the cemetery, and her well being after la morte is more important to her than being happy while she's alive.
We waited only five or ten minutes, when the gatekeeper of the cemetery, a young, slick guy in sunglasses arrived early to open up, and to my great relief, we're in by twenty till four. I was also relieved to see someone young in this town, who came early to fulfill his duty to open that gate so that he could sooner get on with the rest of his day. Right after opening the gate he hopped back on his scooter and sped off.