Under the Shade of the Mulberry Tree among Songs and Tobacco
Sotto l'Ombra del Gelso tra Canti e Tabacco
In late March, as I pruned our small mulberry tree, my taste buds took off remembering things from childhood my mind had almost forgotten.
My childhood was spent in Abruzzo, post World War II. We lived in the city but we also owned a small farmhouse (masseria). The farmhouse was open from early spring through late fall and mainly used to provide shelter during the harvesting of wheat, tobacco and grapes. In front of the farmhouse, there was an impressive and ancient mulberry tree.
It was beautiful but it was also functional. Its fruit-laden green branches shaded our family and others from the hot summer sun, especially during the tobacco harvest.
Harvesting tobacco took place from late June through September. It was grueling work because the green tobacco leaves had to be gathered at dawn and stringed, all within the same day. My father, together with other family members, would do the “cropping”, (pulled leaves from the base of the plants). The large leaves slapped their faces and dark tobacco sap, which dried into a dark gum, covered their bodies.
The “stringing” was done by my mother, female relatives and myself. We sat on the ground in a circle under the mulberry tree and at the center laid a mountain of delicately assembled green tobacco leaves.
|Women and children "stringing"|
|Stringing needle (Ago)|
After filling the needle, one hand held the tip of the needle and the other pushed the row of leaves to the bottom of the string creating bundles or necklaces (crolli). The women’s movements were quick, methodical and mechanical.
Once bundled, the necklaces were hung on wooden structures (telai) in such a way as not to touch the ground. Now, the tobacco was ready for sun-curing.
In the sweltering afternoons, not to fall asleep, the women sang in chorus. Once in a while, with bitter-tasting hands from the tobacco sap, we managed to reach for some plump and sugary mulberries.
Every summer, I seek to recapture those childhood memories by reaching for a few mulberries and singing few verses that remain engraved in my heart.
http://youtu.be/CQhnBBVuGk0 - Reginella Campagnola
https://youtu.be/T0VFLONPr3U - Calabrisella