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A cart, a donkey and a little too much wine

an origin journey

By Michèle NardelliPublished 27 days ago Updated 26 days ago 3 min read
Top Story - May 2024

I’ll start by telling you a story. It is a true tale from a different time in a land about as far from where I live now, a modern city near the sea in the southern hemisphere, as you could imagine.

It starts with a small mountain family. Blessed with just one child, they were an unusual couple in their generation, but at least he was a son, a blessing to his mother in a world where women rarely worked for a wage.

The boy grew strong and was diligent at his school work, but more than that, he had a curious mind, and a solid sense of his potential in the world.

And then everything changed. His father died and at the age of 13 he was left to support his mother in whatever way he could.

So, in a time before supermarkets, before everyone owned a car or even a horse, he became a salesman – bringing household items to tiny villages high in the Italian Dolomites – pots, pans, cloth, sewing implements – all carried on his back as he walked the steep tracks from village to village.

When he had earned enough money and with some ambition in his heart – he bought a little donkey and cart allowing him to carry more goods and progress more quickly.

Almost a century later he told me a story about the donkey, it was one of many, but it will stay with me forever.

So, after a morning of steady travelling with his new donkey and cart, he stopped for lunch at a small osteria. Feeling for his donkey, but understanding little of animal husbandry, he bought some panini and softened them up with a little wine for the donkey.

When he finished his own lunch, he returned to his cart, eager to make it to the next town before nightfall.

You can probably guess the rest, the donkey was decidedly drunk and wavering this way and that, precariously close to the deathly edges of some breathtakingly steep mountain paths.

The donkey and the young man, my grandfather, lived to tell and retell this story, it made him chuckle every time, and it lived large in my imagination for decades.

But last year, my imaginings were made real, when I discovered the towns where my grandparents had lived the first two decades of their long lives.

Italy is dotted with small villages but it is in the mountains that we redefine small. They appear in the nook of a mountain, rise up at the head of a valley, little three-storey adjoined houses, built from the local timber and stone, curving and winding around little stone laneways that could hardly be called streets.

There is a tiny church in each one with enough seating for congregations of 30 or 40 people. And often there are gravestones that tell the precarious and sometimes wonderous survival of these people – the stones reveal the sweep of plagues, the disaster of the harshest winters, or simply the lack of wealth and resources that help communities thrive.

There are those perfect little alcoves built into the buildings with figures of the saints, the Madonna and child, St Francis or St Joseph, hundreds of saints, revered with a modern electric candle or a bunch of local wildflowers.

And there are flowers. Purple violets poking through the cracks in strong walls, as though delicately binding the mortar to stay in place. Geraniums and petunias in pots in every window box, tulips bursting through the small pieces of dirt between cement courtyards, camellia cascading over broken walls, espaliered fruit trees clinging hopefully to walls to capture all the available sun.

Oh yes, it is picturesque. But my grandfather’s village was so quiet. In the hour I spent there, we saw one other person.

I imagine there are still descendants living there, none close enough to say hello to, but I suspect there are more holiday rentals than family homes here today.

Walking the steep incline to the top of the town, it is hard to fathom that it was ever bustling.

I picked up a stone to carry this memory with me, but as an origin journey it is still somewhat mysterious to me, how the man I knew, the adventurous, entrepreneurial, distinguished story teller, my grandfather, ever lived here.

He was formed in this fairy-tale village clutching to the edge of the deepest forests and snowy peaks, but there is little trace of him, husband, businessman, father, and grandpa.

But for a moment I can imagine a 13-year-old boy with a backpack bursting with yarn and fabric, tinkling with frypans and scissors, trudging up the hillside, yearning for the cash to buy a cart and a donkey.


About the Creator

Michèle Nardelli

I write...I suppose, because I always have. Once a journalist, then a PR writer, for the first time I am dabbling in the creative. Now at semi-retirement I am still deciding what might be next.

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Very well written. Keep up the good work!

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Comments (9)

  • Difference loveth10 days ago

    Congratulations 🎉

  • shanmuga priya22 days ago

    Congratulations 🎉

  • FATIMA KISSAMI22 days ago

    I hope you like my article, support me Guys the the article oh-grandpa https://vocal.media/families/oh-grandpa

  • Congrats on your top story!

  • Sweileh 88823 days ago

    Interesting and delicious content. Keep posting more

  • I love this so much because you told a story, rather than giving a blow by blow of your trip like, “And then this happened.” You’re an incredible storyteller. Must run in the family, because it sounds like your grandfather was too.

  • JBaz24 days ago

    He lived a life few of us can imagine. And for you to make it back to his village is a special trip. Congratulations

  • The Dani Writer24 days ago

    This story was a complete and utter surprise! I did not expect all of that in it, which made it all the more enjoyable. What a precious one to share! Congratulations top story-an!

  • Your narrative had me hooked from the very beginning with its lighthearted tone and vivid imagery. The way you described the quaint setting and the endearing characters brought the story to life in such a captivating manner. I felt as though I was right there alongside you, experiencing the whimsical adventure firsthand. What truly stood out to me was the wonderful blend of humor and warmth throughout your story. The antics involving the cart and the donkey, paired with the humorous consequences of a little too much wine, had me smiling from ear to ear. It was a delightful reminder of how even the simplest moments can turn into the most memorable experiences. Additionally, your ability to convey the deeper themes of family, togetherness, and the joys of life's unexpected turns added a touching layer to the narrative. It's a beautiful reflection on how the bonds we share with our loved ones can turn any situation into a cherished memory.

Michèle NardelliWritten by Michèle Nardelli

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