Back then, during the cold winter evenings, the five women would gather in Ida’s barn to keep warm. They looked forward to this time of day when they could meet and talk; seated on wooden chairs huddled close together in a circle amidst the familiar scent of manure, feed and dust.
The body heat off the cows and other barn animals supplied some much needed warmth to their frozen fingers, as with bent heads they worked on mending, knitting or embroidering by gaslight.
They were a tight-knit group (Ida, Marcella, Elisa, Gina and Margherita) having known each other all their lives. Years shared with bent working backs, caring for livestock and crops, raising families and generally making ends meet had solidified each one’s inter-dependency of and love for the other. Life here was about deep roots and strong bonds.
Except for the terrifying war years of whispers and fear, loss and deprivation, life had always been noisy and boisterous in the courtyard. Feasts, prayers, conversations, laughter and singing was what had met each friend upon arrival into this world and the same sounds would accompany each one of them on the way out.
On summer evenings, with cricket song in the background and warm air brushing bare sun burnt skin, the men would play cards and smoke their pipes here. The older children who were allowed to stay up late, still full of energy at that hour, chased the kittens and ducklings about and played practical jokes on the adults.
Sometimes, Elisa would turn on her battered old radio and the friends would kick off their clogs or work boots, grab a partner and take a twirl under the stars, heads thrown back with wisps of, now greying, hair slipping out from their buns or kerchiefs.
The men, looking on, smiled remembering when those wisps of hair had been brown and blonde and had come undone on other occasions while young and in love, or while soaring down a hill at breakneck speed seated on the handlebars of a bicycle.
Life was full in the square meters of the courtyard. Full of work, dreams, ambitions and disappointments. Full of births and deaths, achievements and losses.
Today, the buildings are crumbling and leaning into each other, in a last ditch effort of support. The barn’s roof has caved in and the spot where the five friends used to sit and work by gaslight on cold winter evenings, is now a mass of broken beams and rubble. The once lovingly tended garden plots are now an overgrown tangled mess of weeds and grasses.
As I stand by the stream, that runs along the back of the property, with the warm summer breeze caressing my bare back and legs, I believe I feel the presence of those five friends, going about their daily routines in a different time when the world was a different place.
And I hope, with all my heart, that one day soon, others will arrive and breathe life back into this now abandoned old courtyard that had once so vigorously existed.