From Eternal by Lisa Scottoline
Setting: Rome, Italy at the end of World War II. Rome was ravaged by the destruction of the war. Communities, neighbors, and families were torn apart. Jews that had been doctors, nurses, shop keepers, the corner baker, and someone’s best friend were ripped from their homes in mass and sent to death camps like Auschwitz, never to return. Of the thousands that went to Auschwitz from Rome, only 16 survived. And many families lost fathers and sons who went to war to fight the Nazis and didn’t survive. The loss and grief in Rome were overwhelming.
Now, the long horrific war is finally over, and it is the wedding of Marco and Elisabetta who were best friends along with Sandro as children. As they got older, both Sandro and Marco fell in love with Elisabetta. She chose Sandro and they planned on getting married. She was pregnant with his baby. But Sandro was Jewish and was killed by a Nazi soldier when he tried to escape on the way to Auschwitz. Marco asked Elisabetta to marry him and raise Sandro’s child together in his name. Whether Jewish or not, everyone sitting at this wedding table had suffered unthinkable violence, betray and loss during the war.
This quote is from Maria, Marco’s mother, who had lost a husband to a violent death defending the Jews in his neighborhood and a son who was an anti-fascist assonated by Fascists. Maria and her husband ran a bar. She was the cook. She is about to make a wedding speech and toast.
Maria: “I look around on this happy occasion. The Marriage of Marco and Elisabetta. We are glad for God’s blessing on this day. I look around the table and I see eyes with tears. So many of the people we love are missing. Friends and neighbors…people we have lost, we are missing them, but here we are. We do not have to deny the bittersweet. Not all of you know me well. I am in the kitchen very much…either in the bar or in the home. I am not a fancy chef. I was hired as a cook because I cooked for free. I mean to say that I am only a normal cook. I open the refrigerator to see what I have. I am always missing ingredients that I need and really want. I am missing them all the time. That has never been truer than right now…with the war. So, every day, before every meal, the question is ‘What can I make with what I have?’ I ask myself that question every time I start to cook. ‘What can I make with what I have?’ Anyway, every day, every meal, I put the ingredients together – whatever leftovers, bits and pieces I have. I make a meal from my scraps. It always comes out better than I thought. It surprises me every time, every meal. Please don’t think I am boasting. God works through me, and every time I end up with a meal, I am proud to serve. Life in mourning is like that. We do not have everything we want. We do not have everything we need. We are missing those we lost. Our hearts ache for them all the time.” Maria’s lips trembled. She didn’t know if she could continue. She forced herself, swallowing the lump in her throat. “But I look around the table and I see some wonderful ingredients here.” Maria focused on her family. “I look around the table and see ingredients that go very well with other ingredients. I know if we come together like we are now, with God’s help, we will make a beautiful, delicious meal that will sustain us all with the love we have for one another.” Everyone smiled…with tears of happiness not sadness. “I propose a toast to my beloved son, Marco, and his new wife Elisabetta. We love them and we respect their marriage and the family they make today. I think their future will be so delicious it will surprise even them.” Maria raised her glass – “To Marco and Elisabetta” …and everyone raised their glass too.