Tuesday, February 11, 2014

A Valentine's Day Love Story

They met in Austria during World War II - Frank, an Italian-American soldier and Maria, a young Italian woman trying to find her way home from Czechoslovakia with a group of other displaced persons. 

It had been a harrowing time for both of them: He fought his way through Europe following D-day, including the brutal Battle of the Bulge in Belgium. She endured untold indignities and fear, after being snatched from an Italian factory and sent to work in a labor camp, sewing uniforms for the Nazis.

But they found each other after his unit entered Linz, Austria, shortly after the war ended in Europe in May 1945. The attraction was instant, and three months later on August 15, they married in Nussdorf-am-Attersee,  a beautiful lakeside town in Austria. 

After reciting their vows, they thought the bells pealing throughout the town were in celebration of their nuptials, but in reality, it was to announce Emperor Hirohito's surrender of the Japanese to the Allies. Either way, it added more joy to their already happy day.

Eventually, they made their way back to her hometown near Piacenza, Italy. Her father had long since died, but her mother was still alive and jubilant when her daughter returned in the arms of an American soldier who was now her husband. 

Shortly afterwards, Frank returned to the U.S. to start the process of procuring documents to patriate his new Italian wife. During their separation, letters flowed back and forth across the Atlantic, with Frank writing in Italian, the language of his parents.

"Mi sono innamorato di te dal primo giorno che ti ho vista."  

"I fell in love with you from the first time I saw you," he writes in one letter. 

The letters contain many more romantic declarations, that will be left to the readers' imagination to ponder. I wouldn't want to infringe too much on Maria and Frank's privacy since Maria was my mother and Frank is my father. This is my story as much as theirs and I will never know all the background because when my mother died in 1986, she took those wartime details with her. For her, those war years were too horrifying to describe to anyone, even to my father, who had seen his share of war time atrocities.

But after my mother died, my father let me keep those treasured letters that she saved. Letters that speak  not of war, but of love and longing and separation and being reunited in the future. When I read them, I feel as though I'm secretly peering backwards into the lives of two young lovers in a steamy novel, except that they were real and they were my parents. 

I can only imagine how many countless stories exist similar to my theirs - including that of my father's brother Sam, who met his wife Irene in a small village in France during World War II. Thankfully, a professor and researcher from L'Universit√† degli Studi in Milan, Silvia Cassamagnaghi, has written a book called "Operation War Brides," detailing the history of this fascinating subject, including a part about my parents. The book will be available in Italian bookstores at the end of February, and I can't wait to read it. Especially since the book jacket features two people who are very near and dear to me - my mother and father as they appeared on their wedding day. 

You may not have a story as dramatic and romantic as my mom and dad's, but that doesn't mean you can't surprise the ones you care about, whether it's your lover, your spouse, your parents or your neighbor down the street - with a special treat on Valentine's Day.  

Love is our true destiny.  We do not find the meaning of life by ourselves alone - we find it with another. - Thomas Merton

Who, being loved, is poor? - Oscar Wilde

To feel the love of people whom we love is a fire that feeds our life. - Pablo Neruda

Time is too slow for those who wait, too swift for those who fear, too long for those who grieve, too short for those who rejoice, but for those who love, time is eternity - Henry Van Dyke

How did it happen that their lips came together? How does it happen that birds sing, that snow melts, that the rose unfolds, that the dawn whitens behind the stark shapes of trees on the quivering summit of the hill? A kiss, and all was said - Victor Hugo

Happy Valentine's Day to all my readers.

Buttery Sugar Cookies (from lifesafeast.blogspot.com)

printable recipe here

2 sticks unsalted, softened to room temperature (1/2 lb., 225 g)

3/4 cup sugar (150 g)

2 large eggs

1 T. Amaretto, optional

1/2 t. vanilla, increase to 1 t. if omitting the Amaretto

3 1/2 cups flour (525 g)

To decorate:

1 lightly beaten egg

colored sugar crystals or sprinkles

In a large mixing bowl, cream together the softened butter and the sugar until light and fluffy.

Add the eggs one at a time, beating briefly after each addition just to incorporate.

Beat in the Amaretto and vanilla and then about a third of the flour until smooth. Gradually beat in as much of the remaining flour as possible using the electric beater, then stir in the rest with a wooden spoon or a spatula.

Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead quickly; if you haven't stirred in all of the flour you can knead in the rest quite easily. Once you have a smooth, homogeneous dough, wrap tightly in plastic wrap and let it chill in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. (180 degrees c.)

Working with about half the dough at a time, roll it out to a thickness of not less than 1/8 inch (no less than .3 cm.), being careful that the dough is very evenly rolled out. Carefully cut out shapes with your cookie cutters. Gently transfer to a cookie sheet (I use unlined, ungreased cookie sheets with no problem at all). If you want to decorate, just gently lift the cookies one by one, brush around the edges with a beaten egg, then dip in the decorative sugar before placing on the cookie sheets.

Bake for about 10 minutes. They will be set and appear cooked but they will NOT brown. You'll know they are done because they will slide right off the cookie sheet when just nudged with a spatula. Remove from the oven and gently lift each cookie off of the baking sheet and place on a cooling rack. Allow to cool completely.

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