True Vines by Diana Strinati Baur is a tale of grief, betrayal, love and second chances that takes us from the bucolic but unyielding vineyards of Northern Italy to the stony banks of Pennsylvania’s Delaware River.
Shortly after she finds her magnanimous, strong-willed husband dead in their vineyard in Piedmont’s wine country, a heartbroken Meryl Kramer turns her back on Italy and Francesco’s loving family to return to her hometown in Pennsylvania, hoping to find a safe place to heal and start over. Instead, she discovers that distance and misunderstanding have undermined the bond with her own family, that she sacrificed important parts of herself through living her husband’s chosen dream and that consequences from past choices can’t just be ignored. And Italy, with its harsh, unforgiving beauty, will simply not allow itself to be forgotten. At the same time, Meryl steps carefully – and slowly – toward embracing life’s second chances in a small coffee shop that she comes to see as home, bringing the hard-fought lessons of the Italian countryside with her.
Chapter Nineteen (excerpt)
On the Saturday after I returned from the States, Francesco was late coming home from the bar. I had planned a surprise dinner for him, his favorite, risotto con asparagi, with herbs and greens from the vineyard. I stewed for a while trying to keep the risotto fresh and soft, ladling spoonful after spoonful of broth. The kitchen window was open to let the late spring breeze wash through the apartment. I loved this time of year. Too late for snow, too early for mosquitoes. In other words, perfection.
When I heard the Land Rover pull up, I looked out to see Francesco leaning into the back seat; Tony was helping him with something. I sighed.
Romantic evening down the tubes.
I opened the front door just as Francesco put him down, and he came running to me with such force he almost knocked me over. In an instant, a champagne colored ten-week-old Labrador retriever puppy was in my arms.
I scowled at Tony and Francesco, trying best I could to be mad. They looked like schoolboys, and I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. In my world, a dog wasn’t something you spring upon another person as a surprise gift. But in their world, a dog was the perfect way to assure that all past transgressions would be forgiven. Forget the work; there was no part of Francesco’s behavior that remotely suggested any understanding of the commitment this little guy came with.
I swallowed my American pragmatism and tried to act the part I had chosen: an Italian wife whose husband was trying to make up for having been an asshole. In any event, it was already too late. The puppy was here now, and I could barely stop myself from hugging him to death.
Francesco dragged in the new crate, dishes, and food. I questioned Tony with my eyes, but he just shrugged his shoulders. “He wants you to be happy, Merla. That’s it.”
I looked down. Wonder Dog had just taken a huge dump in the middle of my kitchen. The smell of burning risotto combined with the earthy, musty smell of dog shit. I didn’t know what to do first, douse the rice with more broth or clean the floor. I looked at Francesco, who was eyeing the cacca as though it were something deposited by an alien.
“There you go, tesoro,” I smiled, “Now, on your knees, clean that up and tell him what a good boy he is.” I turned around to tend my risotto.
“Ah, no problem! I love the little shit!” I wasn’t sure if he was talking about the poop or the dog. He got off his knees and came up behind me. “So what do we call him?” he grinned.
I had thought of it as soon as I saw him. “Fredo.”
Francesco looked at me quizzically. “Cold? You want to call him cold? Why?”
“No, not cold. Fredo after Fredo Corleone in The Godfather. Remember? You know, the brother that Michael whacks in the second one?”
Francesco wasn’t altogether convinced. How could I tell him why? Because something in me related to that concept, not only on my behalf, but also on my husband’s as well?
You know, Fredo, the fool who tries to do the right thing but fucks up?
I just looked down at the most adorable puppy I had ever seen and said, “Fredo, vieni! Hai fame?” Fredo came running towards me like he had never seen me before.
Francesco frowned. “No, no, Merla. Let’s take something like Tiny, maybe. Or Dino. Like Dino Martino!”
I wouldn’t budge. “No no. He’s no Dean Martin. He’s Fredo. Punto e basta. You brought him here. You didn’t give me a choice, and now I’m not giving you one. Where did you find him?” I asked as I poured some more broth into the burned risotto, blowing on a spoonful to cover Fredo’s kibbles.
“Some foreigners near Agliano have two Labs and were trying to get rid of the pups. He’s not, how do you say, cento per cento. He’s ninety-percent Lab. The other ten percent, we don’t know. A real bastardino! ”
I couldn’t care less what the other ten percent was. To me Fredo was absolutely perfect, especially as he proceeded to chew the leg of my mother-in-law’s favorite chair.
Diana Strinati Baur is an American writer, artist, life coach and innkeeper living and working in Northwestern Italy. In 2003, she and her husband sold everything and bought an abandoned Moscato farm in Acqui Terme, Piemonte, Italy, transforming the derelict property into an elegant, top rated bed and breakfast. She used her day journals as the basis of her first blog, and has written two books: Your Truth – Changing the Path Back To Yourself, a self-published ebook about embracing risk and life change as a motor for personal growth, and True Vines, a novel published by Gemelli Press in 2012. Diana sells her hand crafted ceramics internationally, and you can find her at http://dianabaur.com.