A young man, a new land, and a dream that threatens to destroy him, his marriage, and his family . . .
Pisano, Sicily, 1896
Dusk fell in Luca Tonetta’s tailor shop as he counted his meager earnings from his past week of work. His revenue had dropped fifty percent in the last week alone. Not good. Especially since he had a wife and three young children to support.
And two months of back rent due to his landlord, Silvestro Lamponi, the man who owned the building in which Luca’s shop was located. At this rate, Luca would soon be bankrupt if he didn’t do something fast.
Besides, Silvestro was none too happy and had made it clear that, if Luca did not pay up, he’d be evicted.
Luca’s stomach tightened as he returned the few coins to the leather pouch in which he kept his earnings. Prospects for a financial turn-around here in Pisano were few and far between. With Italy’s recent devastating defeat at the hands of Ethiopia in the Battle of Adowa, Sicily had felt the blow more than the mainland. No wonder so many were leaving the island for better opportunities elsewhere. The newspaper headlines that very morning had warned of an imminent economic collapse and reported a mass exodus of men from the island.
Luca rubbed his face. What would the mass exodus mean for his business? Already, the clothes racks of his tailor shop, usually full of finished projects by the end of the day, now held only a few items, while the coffers at the end of the workday held one-fourth the revenues compared to this same date a year ago. In recent weeks, the number of customers had dwindled drastically as more and more men left Pisano—and the entire island—for better opportunities abroad. At first, it had been the lure of wealth that drew them. But now, it was the lure of
Luca raked his fingers through his hair. He had to do something fast—something that would allow no option for failure. If he failed in his role as provider and protector, he’d never be able to look himself in the mirror again. Nothing else mattered more. As if the economic decline were not bad enough, productivity from Bella Terra, his wife’s family farm, had dropped drastically. Last spring’s drought had nearly destroyed the entire orange and lemon crops, and their vegetable staples of green peppers, zucchini, and string beans had fallen far short of yielding their usual bounty.
Things did not look good.
Luca exhaled a long breath. What could he do that would assure him of financial success and, at the same time, not put his family in difficulty? Should he join those who were leaving the island, or should he make a last-ditch effort to rescue his business from a looming death?
The latter choice seemed pretty bleak. Among the large numbers of the population leaving Sicily—and especially Pisano—were those who would have been potential customers.
He shook his head as the weight of the decision settled in the pit of his stomach. He placed the leather pouch in the wooden box where he
stored his weekly earnings and locked it. The thought of having to close the tailor shop he’d taken over from his late father and built to a thriving business sickened him. Made him feel like a traitor to his father.
And a coward in the face of challenge.
Luca’s mouth went dry. Yet, what was worse: Leaving Sicily for work in America or facing the collapse of his business?
He drew in a deep breath. Perhaps the better part of valor would be to join the emigrants. Reports had already trickled back from fellow Sicilians in America that wages there were three times what they were in Sicily. Tripling his wages would mean enough not only to feed his children but to educate them as well.
And to allow his wife Maria to buy a new pair of shoes once in a while. Not that she ever complained, sweetheart that she was.
He rubbed a callused hand across his forehead and turned to his young son Nico, working at his side. “Meager earnings this week.”
Nico looked up from the trousers he was pressing, his thick, dark brows furrowed into a question. “Sorry, Papa. What can I do to help bring in more customers?”
Luca smiled at this wonderful son of his heart, if not of his flesh. “It’s not that customers are lacking. People still need their clothing altered or repaired, even if they want to forego a new suit of clothes. The problem is that money is lacking. People don’t have the money to spend on having suits made or clothes altered. Sicily’s economy is fast collapsing.”
Nico placed the iron on its trivet. “What are we going to do, Papa?”
Luca knit his brows together. “Looks as though more and more of our men are leaving Sicily.”
“The economy of our island is in fast decline. Between Italy’s recent defeat in Ethiopia and our government’s mismanagement of funds, it’s becoming more and more difficult to support one’s family. As a result, our men are leaving for America, England, and other parts north.”
“Will we have to leave, too?”
Luca placed his arm around his son’s shoulders. At eleven years of age, the boy was fast growing into a man. “I don’t know, son. To be honest, I have been thinking about it.” He gave Nico’s shoulder a squeeze. “Thinking about it quite a bit. I’m concerned that, before long, I won’t be able to make enough of a living here to take care of our family.”
Nico’s eyes widened. “It could be exciting.” His lips broke into a smile.
Luca smiled back. “Yes. Indeed, it could.” Nico had a childlike faith that inspired Luca. “I guess it depends on how one looks at the situation. There’s a lot at stake. A lot I have to think about as the head of the family.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean that if Sicily’s economy collapses, I will be left without a means of earning a decent living. And that would mean it would be difficult to take care of you, Mama, and your little sisters.”
“But God will provide for us. You always tell us to remember that.”
“Indeed, He will, son. But sometimes He provides by sending us to where the provision lies.” Luca patted Nico’s head. “My honor as a man, a husband, and a father demands that I do all I can to take care of you.” Luca’s voice caught. “I would no longer respect myself if I did not do everything possible to take care of my precious family.”
“I respect you, Papa.”
Luca’s heart warmed. One thing he never wanted to lose was his son’s respect.
Nico grew pensive. “What would happen if we don’t go to America?”
“We would likely go bankrupt.”
“Then we should go to America. That settles it.”
Luca smiled. “Thank you, Nico. But I will seek God’s will in the matter. One does not uproot one’s family simply out of a desire for more. Unless God is in this, I won’t make a move.”
A broad grin crossed Nico’s face. “Moses once said the same thing. I read it in the Bible.”
Indeed. So, Luca would be in good company by waiting on the Lord for a confirmation of His will.
Nico returned to his pressing. “In geography class, I’ve been learning about other countries of the world. The world is so big, and there are so many beautiful places to see. Imagine how wonderful it would be to see them in person instead of only in a book.”
Luca pondered his son’s words. Convincing Nico to leave Sicily would be easy. But convincing Maria? That would take a miracle. “Yes, my son. God has created many beautiful places on this earth. To be able to see them is a blessing.” Luca cleared the counter in preparation for closing the shop for the day. “But I’m not sure how your Mama would feel about leaving Pisano and, especially, Bella Terra. She’s spent her whole life here.”
Nico laughed. “That’s precisely the reason she should leave.” He placed a hand on his father’s arm. “Besides, Mama loves you. She’ll go wherever you go.”
Luca hoped that were true. But when he saw how happy Maria was after five years of marriage and two more children besides Nico, he had his doubts. Even though she’d loved him enough to marry him, she’d had reservations when, before their marriage, he’d told her he was planning to go to America. His simple mention of it had been enough for her to refuse his marriage proposal. Only when he’d decided to remain in Sicily had she agreed to marry him. But now, what would she do if he told her he thought God was calling him to move his family to America?
A shudder ran through him. He locked the cash drawer and placed the key on the hook hidden underneath the counter. “Your Mama loves Sicily almost as much as she loves me.”
Nico looked up from his work. “Almost means she loves you more.”
Luca chuckled. Over the years, the boy’s incessant optimism had brought great joy to his life. “Well, I’ll talk with Mama about it and see what she says. But my hunch is, she’ll think it’s a bad idea.”
“You don’t give her enough credit, Papa. Mama is practical and level-headed. Once you convince her that moving is the best thing for the family, she’ll go along with the idea.”
“I hope you’re right, son.” Luca sighed. “I certainly hope you’re right.”
“I’ll pray, Papa. God will show you the right thing to do.”
Truth was that God had been showing Luca what to do for a good while now. But Luca was struggling to obey Him. Lord, give me a sign. I need a clear and unmistakable sign.
“Thank you, my son. Praying is always a good thing to do. Especially before making a big decision.”
But would God answer Luca’s prayer in time to avoid a catastrophe
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