Sunday, December 21, 2014


Umberto Pesci, my grandfather, owned a small shoe and boot making shop in Windsor Locks. One blustery winter’s day, when the snow was piling up in the still unpaved Main Street, he looked out his window and saw a familiar sight, a clubfooted man, the subject of some raillery in the town, painfully making his way through the snow. The man – let’s call him Julio – was terrified when, passing the Pesci boot making shop, the door opened and he was collared by Umberto, who dragged the astonished Julio into a large, warm room. It was the Saturday before Gaudete Sunday.

Umberto quieted Julio’s fears and made him sit down in a wonderfully wrought chair that my father later painted white and put on the Pesci porch, where it remained until his house was sold after my mother had died. That chair had cradled all my uncles and aunts, as they sat on the porch talking up a storm – This was before the advent of television, which destroyed interpersonal communication – later moving into the kitchen, where they played cards until midnight and beyond. My bedroom wall and the kitchen wall were the same. I recall leaning my cheek against the cool plaster wall, straining to make out what was being said, but the plaster and the lathes behind it captured and muffled the sound, so that it reached me on the other side of the wall as an indistinct angelic murmuring in which I could hear the laughter of my aunts nesting in the baritone voices of my uncles. Ever since that time, I have been consoled by the sound of the human voice.

Julio trembled. Had he done something wrong? My grandfather was a big man for his time, five foot nine, with powerful arms. Tenderly, he loosened and pulled away from Julio's twisted foot the right shoe – if such a mess of burlap and leather could be called a shoe. Julio turned his face away in embarrassment. Umberto bathed his misshapen foot. When Julio several times struggled to pull his foot away, Umberto gently told him to be still.

“I am going to make you a shoe that fits.”

There was something else the matter with Julio that did not come through the story told by my father as he sat in the very chair that years earlier had held Julio prisoner to his father’s kindness. Was Julio also dumb? Could he have been simple-minded? Or was he just one of those poor souls that life had clawed and clawed and frightened to his frozen bones?

Umberto made a cast of Julio’s misshapen foot, from which he made a boot. A few days later, he chased Julio up Main Street, caught him in front of a pub and steered him back to his shop, where he fitted the new boot on Julio’s foot. Before he left the store, Julio, who was poor and could not afford new boots, pulled out of his pocket what little money he had, which he pressed into Umberto’s bear claw. He bowed three times and ran – HE RAN – up the street.

Both my father and his father paid special attention in their devotions to the Blessed Virgin Mary. I remember them often around Christmas time, and it is in memory of them that here, just before God kissed the earth and flowers bloomed in the desert, I offer Andrea Bocelli’s beautiful rendition of Schubert’s  “Ave Maria .”

You say, the dead are dead and cannot hear. But truly, love has a voice that will wake the dead. That is why Umberto made his shoe for Julio – when the world slept and there was none to witness his kindness but the one who gave birth to the Word of God, faithful always to his Father’s promises.

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