I was travelling earlier this week on a slow train between Naples and Rome. I happened to sit opposite a Polish woman and we got talking. Her English, which she apologised for, was almost flawless – and she speaks Italian and Polish as well. I speak neither of them and had reason to apologise for that.
Two of the things she spoke about struck me. She spoke about reading when she was a child, during a time when Poland was under communism, and how they would occasionally get little clandestine books smuggled into the house, printed on flimsy paper. No pictures or borders or eye catching colours, just printed words making up stories. They treasured these books.
Her uncle was a truck driver so he would occasionally get outside the borders and bring back treats. The one she told me about me was a bar of chocolate. A simple, small bar. She unwrapped it carefully and took a small bite out of it each day. The bar lasted for weeks. Once it was finished she folded the wrapper, not one bit of it torn and used it for the next two years as a bookmark, so that every time she read she would be reminded of the delicious taste of the chocolate.
I could see in her conversation that this appreciation of life and small things had remained with her till this day. She now lives in Italy, has children of her own, and loves her life. She loves her adopted country and the people who live there, the food, the way of life and even the craziness that is Naples.
If you happen to be reading this, train companion, thank you for sharing that small bit of your own life with me, and remember to write down the stories you told me so your children can know a little of what you experienced as a child.