This is a story about greed and how greed within a family can affect generations that come later. Let’s say that it happened in Southern Italy, in the family of “Domenico.”
More precisely, the story begins with his mother’s family. Her grandparents owned several pieces of valuable farmland. As a result, they were able to give a comfortable life to their two daughters and two sons.
In time, Dom’s great-grandmother died. The oldest son got into a financial jam that could have landed him in jail. His sisters pooled their resources and paid off his debt. Family loyalty, right?
There is something about the expectation of an inheritance that really tests family loyalty. When their father died, the four siblings came together to discuss the division of the money and assets that he left. To the brothers’ surprise, their father had left a will in which he had bequeathed nearly everything to their sisters.
Nothing that the brothers said convinced their sisters to equalize the inheritance. The brothers could have gone to court to challenge the will under Italian laws of succession, I suppose. But Italians in the old days rarely resorted to the courts, and, without money, the brothers could not have hired a lawyer anyway.
The brother whose debt had been paid off had expected to repay his sisters from his inheritance and to use the leftover funds to open a car repair shop. Instead, he was so disheartened, he left for America, never to be heard from again.
The other brother – let’s call him “Gino” – nearly broke off his engagement when he realized that he would not be able to provide for his bride as well as he had expected. Still, they did marry and went on to have six children. Through trial and error, Gino learned how to farm, but the best he was ever able to do was to rent a small farm and to pack his family into a tiny house on the land.
Dom’s mother was the oldest of the children. She married young and with her farmer husband raised seven children. Dom’s parents worked from sunup to sundown and were always on the brink of ruin. One year, when Dom and I were about 7, a heavy rainstorm swept through our area and drowned mostly everyone’s crops. My dad had already harvested some fruit and vegetables, and he had other things like apples and potatoes stored away. Dom’s father didn’t. For months, my mother and other women would leave baskets of food for Dom’s family, always at night or in the early morning, so as not to face Dom’s father, who would have been humiliated.
I remember my parents whispering about how Dom’s mother had begged her aunts for a little money to buy medicine for her youngest child, who had the croup, and they had turned her away. Fortunately, the pharmacist heard about this and paid for the medicine himself.
So how did Dom turn out? He did all right in school, not a brilliant scholar, but he learned to get by on personality. By networking, he was able to get a municipal job. Eventually, he entered politics, which helped him move up the ladder. He is some sort of administrator now, wielding a little power. I run into him sometimes when I return home to visit. I never ask him if the rumors about him and graft are true, but I do wonder how he has acquired so much property on his municipal salary.
I can’t help but ask myself how life would have been different, first for Gino, then Dom’s mother, and finally Dom, if those sisters hadn’t been so greedy. And what ever happened to the brother who went missing?