About ten years ago my husband and I decided to build a second home on a piece of Calabrian hillside that’d been in his family for 100 years. Applying our efficient, urban, multitasking attitude and abilities to this traffic-free, rural setting, we complete a week’s worth of errands in a morning with time for a cappuccino in the piazza before a lazy lunch and an afternoon nap. The town, Belvedere Marittimo, is big enough for a mayor and a post office yet small enough to hold town meetings where most citizens attend, if only to gossip about the absentees. A typical afternoon finds the piazza humming with shrunken-apple-faced men playing cards outside the café and their wifely counterparts calling to each other across the alleyway while shaking tablecloths out their windows — yes, the quintessential southern Italian town.
On one such morning, a thin, bald man cooed “Hiiii,” coming over to us as we bought tomatoes from a farmer’s truck, turning his cheek to me, first the left then right, kiss kiss while my husband visibly cringed. “How are you? Re- re- remember, remember when I was walking up the hill and you gave me a ride?” he stuttered without embarassment and smiled.
“Yes, I remember” I told him.
Holding out a paper sack with one hand and pointing to his chest with the thumb of his other, he nodded as if to convince himself and said “Andrew eats everything.”
“Bravo,” we responded, “you eat everything.”
Andreuccio — Littly Andy — didn’t play cards with the other retired or unemployed men. He walked around town, smiled, complimented the ladies, and oohed at small children like a proud grandfather. Raised as the dirty child of an unfortunate prostitute, in middle age, the town adopted him much like they might have renovated an abandoned building that had long been an eyesore. The medical clinic gave him lunch everyday, and the widows and spinsters took turns giving him dinner. Walking by the café in the piazza, without fail one of the regular patrons offered him a candy bar or ice cream cone. The town sent a person to clean his house and launder his clothes twice a week. He had cable TV and two cell phones: one for each girlfriend he explained.
Active in the local parish, the priest gave him a gold ring adorned with Jesus, and during parocchial processions honoring the town’s patron Saint Daniel or the Virgin Mary, Andreuccio had the honor to carry one of the banners at the front of the crowd. He visited Lourdes eight times with the local parishioners.
In the summer, he would walk two miles from town down to the beach in the morning and in the late afternoon, someone like me would give him a ride back up the hill although he’d have just as happily walked, with no appointments to keep he could stroll as slowly as needed to bear the August heat.
A local sculptor carved a bust of Andy; it resides in a private garden. I once asked if I could see it, and he exclaimed, “No, you can’t see it. You can look at the real thing — I’m here in front of you.” He was similarly offended when asked his age, “You can’t ask that,” he'd respond, almost angry, and wander off muttering to himself.
Last year, he wandered to the front of the church during my stepdaughter’s wedding, while unknowing guests gestured and raised eyebrows in question, “who is this?” and those of us he knew smiled and mouthed, “it’s okay, we know him.”
A few weeks ago, word arrived that Andreuccio had died. After a week in the hospital for bronchitis, he was sent home. The following morning, he didn’t answer his door and upon entering, he was found lifeless on his bed. I was unable to attend his funeral but heard it rivaled that of a head of state; the entire town came to pay their respects. Little Andy lived 80 years debt-free and without modern responsibilities, appreciated his neighbors’ help and repaid them with kindness. And they called him the village idiot.