Wary Buon Giornos and Crusty Bread
THE summer before I started college, some time ago now, had the fiscal benefit of $28.50 a week unless I lost time when it rained. I helped build a road for the State of Maine. The contractor had headquarters in Connecticut, but the boss on the job was an Italian named Rossi from Lynn, Mass. As a consequence of this the work force was made up of 35 Italians from the Lynn area, myself, who had a job because my uncle knew a senator, and two backwoods Maine ridgerunners named Ben and Newt.
Ben was a scaler and kept count of truckloads of rock hauled to the crusher. Newt had charge of the traffic flares, which he set out each evening and collected each morning. The Italians and I built the road.
The Italians lived communally in tar-paper shanties put up temporarily for the 10-mile job. Ben and Newt had a shingled camp that had been moved on - a tight shelter with some conveniences, including a stove. I had found a secluded nook on the shore of a small pond and had set up my tent - I was woodswise enough. I made a stone fireplace and I had an awning for it and a reflector oven. There was a store near enough so we could all get supplies, but the Italians had a bakery truck that came every Wednesda y from Lynn with good, crusty Italian bread. Thus things were.
My only Italian was a cautious buon giorno, and Ben and Newt didn't know that. All 35 Italians didn't have enough English to make a simple sentence, although Andy, who ran the rock crusher, could "make out" with the help of waving hands. So the morning the blasting crew blew the ledge at the top of the hill, a bit of granite took off, sailed a quarter of a mile, and plunged through the roof of the camp where Ben and Newt were standing shoulder to shoulder at the sink washing their breakfast dishes. The r ock brought some shingles down with it, and then plunged through the dishpan, the camp floor, and six feet of the State of Maine.
Ben and Newt were undamaged, but the caper had pulled the dish towel out of Newt's hands - Newt was wiping. To forestall a possible lawsuit against the contractor, Rossi instituted immediate amends.
Before Ben and Newt stopped trembling, the roof was patched, the floor restored, the sink and dishpan replaced, and a new set of dishes provided. That morning, if Ben and Newt had asked for a piano, they'd have had a piano. Then, after a small delay in starting work, we were on the job, and all was well. But the incident brought us all together in common concern, and I could see that adversity can have its sweet side.
I baked bread every Tuesday, and the next Wednesday morning I took a loaf and walked up to make Ben and Newt a present. I had breakfast with them on their new dishes, and Ben said my bread was better'n Newt's, but not so good as he made if he decided to make any. After these pleasantries we went to work, and somehow during the day Andy heard that I could bake bread on a campfire.
That evening, as I was lolling after my bath and my supper, Andy came for a visit. "You mak-a-da bread?" he inquired, waving his hands eloquently. I showed him my bread pan and my reflector oven, and my stone crock of flour. Andy shook his head and looked my camp over. "What you do for moskeet?" he asked. I handed him a bunch of sweet fern, which helps keep mosquitoes at a distance, and after some small efforts at eloquence he went back to his camp.
The next Wednesday I took a loaf of bread to Andy, and the next day he made me an invitation to come up to the Italian complex for supper. Andy was able to explain that this was not a personal thing with him - the whole gang wanted me to come.
The Italians had a common fire on which each man cooked his own food. (No women in that camp.) I was urged to try at least 16 kinds of pasta asciutta and related delicacies that evening, along with good crusty bread from Lynn. As it grew dark Andy threw wood on the fire and played his squeezebox. Rossi did fine with bel canto from Rossini, and it was very late for a working boy when I crawled into my tent. All that and $28.50 a week!