The Old Aunty’s Kerchief And the Power of Love

It was when the zia blew her nose with that nasy kerchief, using it to dry the cups that I started visibly gagging…

I can picture her still so old and frail, hobbling up the steep hill leaning on her pair of homemade walking sticks. “What do you have there Zia (Aunty)?” my husband asked, pointing to the open-mesh bag on her kerchief-covered head. While I just gaped, wondering how many other nasty things she’d carried on that seldom-washed, dirty head scarf! 

“Oh rabbit droppings for my plants,” she answered offhandedly. “Just let me set it inside the door here, and I’ll make some coffee!” she announced, clearly pleased at having visitors. New to Italy, I’d been dreading that obligatory cup of espresso, which I still hadn’t acquired a taste for.

And then the zia blew her nose with the nasty kerchief, plopping it back on her head.

And that’s when I started fighting to keep my breakfast down. And wondered if I even liked my husband’s hometown! 

Meanwhile, the aunty busied herself happily, arranging sugar and spoons on her finest tray. “It’ll be ready in a minute,” she assured us. Apparently unaware that her American visitor was, by this time, visibly gagging.

“That’s fine Zia,” Hubby assured her, “we’re in no hurry.”

“You can say that again,” I thought. I hoped that coffee would never come! But then again, if she hurried, we could get out of there. Away from the aunty and that all-purpose rag of hers!

But it was when she rinsed the cups and dried them with the kerchief (what else?) that I nearly bolted!

Never in my life had I been so horrified! Rabbit droppings, dirt, snot, and I was afraid to think what else! We could not drink that coffee. Why, it would be like signing our own death warrant!

And that was when I must have started making strange little choking sounds, for my husband finally noticed my obvious distress. “I cannot and will not drink that coffee!” my eyes flashed a silent message.

“But you have to,” his look answered. “She’ll be grievously offended if you don’t!” Even though I was fairly certain she would be even more offended if I vomited all over the place! 

But he was right. That distant relative was so happy that we’d come from America to visit her. And she was trying hard to give us her best.

So I started praying for strength. Strength to drink that coffee and keep it down! And a miracle, I needed a miracle! For I knew that kind of strength did not lie within me. But my faith is so small that I don’t always expect to receive what I pray for. And to this day I’m still amazed I got that coffee down!

Needless to say, we survived that coffee, and it did two great things for us. First, it made the aunty’s day.

And it taught us that it’s not really all that hard to deal with little difficulties that com our way, and even culture shock.

All we really need to do is take our eyes off our problems, think of others instead, and how to bless them.

That and similar efforts gradually helped us fit in, slowly endearing us to the people’s hearts. And them to ours! Which made even drinking unsavory so worthwhile!

We never know how much tiny acts of kindness can touch a heart! And they can also help us find our way through new and strange circumstances. And even start to feel at home in them!

When struggling to adapt to new circumstances, remember to look beyond yourself and your difficulties!

Note: The real aunty of this story, were she still living, would be over 100 years old. From an era when people bathed infrequently. They had to haul and heat water for bathing, laundry, and cooking. Rags got used and re-used, because washing them was a lot of work. Aunty wasn’t trying to be dirty. She just never moved forward with the times! And she was a sweet and caring person!

Image credit: Scarved women by Christian Wilhelm Allers – from Wikimedia Commons.

Author: Signora Sheila

Missionary blogger, wife, mom, nonna. Join my simple life journey of faith and missions in small town Italy!

13 thoughts on “The Old Aunty’s Kerchief And the Power of Love”

  1. Ciao, thank you for following my blog. I can’tpromise oodles of new material but something now and then will get through the busy days. Your life in Italy looks aas if it has been a wonderful adventure. I’m so glad you added the note to the end of this page. It would be so easy for others to judge la Zia otherwise.

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    1. Thanks Margie! Yes, I too thought it was important to add that note. I didn’t want her to be incorrectly judged, and her habits were really just a result of her cultural background. She, along with many of the older residents, had some very interesting ways about them. I’ll have to try to include some of the other stories! I’m looking forward to seeing more peeks from your window too!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I can’t imagine, having never been in a situation close to that. But I suppose all the more reason I can relate to your initial reaction in that environment. Praise the Lord for being your strength and using this as not only a lesson for you, but you can share with others. 💗💗

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  3. This had me laughing out loud. Your description was priceless. Dear Auntie acted as she normally did–and how often does my normal not gel with someone else’s. I love your take on how to approach new circumstances–we here in America are way too self-focused and need to choose to see things through the eyes of others. Then kindness will come more easily. You are a hoot and a holler, my friend.

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    1. Thanks Dayle! I laugh about it now, but then I just wanted to get away and return home. And I don’t think being self-centered is limited to any location. It’s just our human nature. The only thing that really helped me get past that was knowing that my reaction could make or break any future relationship with her and others in the town. And because we really did want to show her love, and God’s love too.

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