A Winter Day in Ordinary Time
No big holidays appear on the Italian calendars in the little hill town for mid-January until Lent. That means that the days take on a sameness, but sitting brightly in the middle of ordinary time, are special days, such as name days and very special saint days for those who watch the calendars marked with these dates. In the little hill town, the calendar from San Nicola Chiesa hangs on the kitchen wall over the desk where Mama writes in her journal and keeps the account for her catering business. The end of January brings a very special day for the children of the town…St. John Bosco’s day, the patron saint of children and magicians.
About a week before the special day, January 31, a flyer appeared on the church door telling all readers that a special celebration for St. John Bosco would occur. Pietra and his friend Giovanni picked up the flyer on the way home from school one afternoon after they had completed their duties of helping Father Luis with cleaning the sacristy and the candleholders for mass. As the boys read aloud what the event was to include, behind them came Neroni and Mr. Gray Gatto, both lovers of churches and all kinds of magical events, such as the warmth of the church on certain days and the appearance of warm cream outside the grocer’s door on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Both Neroni and Mr. Gray thought maybe humans had something to do with this magic, but a cat could never be sure about such gifts of warmth.
The boys, on the other hand, read the handout with a little misbelief and lots of interest.
San Nicola Parents Group
Gladly Invites all Youth to Witness
Salesian Father Joseph Anthony
Tuscany’s Great Magician
Monday, 31 January, 2007
Following the 6:00 Mass at
7:30pm at the Parish Hall
Books, Magic Kits, and DVD’s for Sale
Following the Magic Show
ADMISSION: EUR 2.00
Proceeds to Salesian Boys’ Home in
As the boys turned to each other and excitedly said, “Do you want to go? Let’s go ask first your mama and papa and then mine to see if we can go,” Neroni and Mr. Gray looked on and meowed that they, too, would want to see this grand amusement and wondered what could happen in such a show. Both cats scampered to the fish market to beg for a scrap or two of their favorite catch from the sea, octopus. Now this was some magic, octopus or other sea creature in a bowl, all cut up and ready for gulping down. Then, as it was by now 4:00 pm, the two cats meowed their goodbyes and began the run home to a soft chair and blanket in front of the window for that lovely late afternoon nap.
Neroni awoke at 6:00 to the happy conversation around the Ricci dinner table. Nonni had worked some slight-of-hand magic herself that day by turning the little lentil peas and tiny pasta, along with tomato sauce, carrots, and onions, into that soul-filling meal, lentil zupa, or lentils and pasta soup. Also, the crustini and olive spread made the taste and smell of dinner even more special. The talk around the table moved from person to person as Pietra, Simone, Cecelia, and Giovanni, who had been asked to stay and have dinner with the Ricci family, discussed the upcoming magical event.
For Giovanni, the event would be the highlight of his day as January 31 was his onomastico or name day, as he was named for Saint John Bosco or Saint Giovanni Bosco. Now with the magician’s show, he was sure to have a wonderful onomastico. In fact, his parents were instrumental in getting this particular priest/magician to come to San Nicola, as Giovanni’s papa had been an orphan and street youth whom the Salesians folded into their school and brotherhood of love. Giovanni’s dad had learned his trade of leather making as well as getting his formal education from these loving and kind teachers. Eager to give back to these servants of children, Aberto and Abriana Turrini always managed to provide a generous donation to the Salesians and were tickled to learn of the touring priest/magician. Not everyone was aware that St. John Bosco is the patron saint of magicians, too.
Both Mama and Papa Ricci and Mama and Papa Turrini knew that the children would be excited about this event, but they also wanted the children to earn the admission money, or as much as they could. That evening, around the table, the children picked tasks to earn some extra money to have the Euros to enter the show. Pietra agreed to help Papa organize some papers in his office and to enter the information into the computer data base for him, while Simone thought she would enjoy delivering the special cookies that Mama and Nonni made for the Resturants Familia and Carne further up the hill. Little Cecelia knew that cleaning their huge front door and steps took time away from Mama and Nonni’s baking, so she volunteered to clean that area for the next week, although she would have to use the stool to reach the second level of squares above the huge door knocker. Giovanni called his parents and told his dad that he would sweep the leather shop for the next week, thus earning his admission.
All this time Neroni listened and wondered what he and Mr. Gray could do to help get ready for this event. After consulting the other gatti of the town the next day, they decided that the mouse population was growing too large at the garden of the nuns’ convent up near the top of the hill and they sprinted up the cobblestone walk to the door of the garden nun, where, out of breath they meowed for her to come to the door. She knew they would help her out if she gave them cream, so, of course, five large bowls were set outside the door for them. After a lovely mid-morning sunning in the garden area, they spied the mice gathering the seeds and nuts that had fallen around and into the garden. Quickly they jumped into action and began the fun game of cat-and-mouse to earn their admittance to the magical event, as they were sure that Sister Concetta had discussed their entry to this event with Father Luis and the parents groups, as they were always arranging interesting events in the little town. And she, being a cat-lover, always wanted the gatti to have fun and food. Spinning around the hard, cold ground chasing and nipping at the mice, the gatti mostly wanted to scare away the little brown creatures, and they succeeded. “Thank you, darling gatti,” Sister Concetta said. “I will see you on January 31 at the celebration for San Giovanni Bosco. Be at San Nicola Chiesa at 6:00 for the evening mass.” She rubbed and petted each cat as if each one were her own.
The days passed, the children earned money to go to the show, and the cats just dreamed of more cream, octopus, or mice.
Finally the special day arrived, and at 6:00, the church of Saint Nicolas filled with parents, children, and cats. The cats had agreed to enter quietly and to find places on the side of the old organ and to sit still and dream as they often did during the mass. The parents and children also sat as still and quietly as children can when they know an exciting event is only minutes away, but they listened carefully when Father Luis explained about the life of Saint John (Giovanni) Bosco, of how his dad had died when the saint was young, of how he had to work in the pastures as a shepherd to help his mother and sisters, of how he yearned to be in school learning, and how his parish priest helped him learn to read and grow until finally he entered a seminary and became a priest. He looked with love and respect on the local orphans and untrained children, and with the help of others, developed the Salesians who now care for and teach children all over the world. The parents and children knew that their donations from the offertory and later the proceeds from the magic show would be put to good use.
With the singing of the closing hymn, the cats and people filed into the parish hall, paid their admission, and ate a delicious dinner of panini and soup, followed by hot chocolate and fig-filled cookies. Yum, the cats were given any left-over cream from the hot chocolate.
Finally, after cleaning up, at 7:20, the audience turned their chairs around to face the little stage where the curtains opened and Father Joseph Anthony began his magic show. The whole show demonstrated God’s love for all. The disappearance of coins showed God’s forgiveness of sins. The cups and balls, where the balls turned into a little chick, showed how lives can be transformed by following Jesus. The three separate scarves that waved wildly in the air and then magically were tied to together taught the children that the Trinity is the three persons of God united into one. The rabbit that was pulled from the hat demonstrated that God blesses common every day people to become special and capable of giving joy to others. The show ended with a slide show of the children at the Salesian home in Turin and of the Church of Mary Help of Christians where Saint John Bosco’s remains lie. The whole audience clapped and felt happy that they had enjoyed this special magical act and helped other young people in need.
To add to the evening, the local cats participated by bringing the chick back to Father Anthony, rolling the balls and cups around on the floor, and running and jumping into the pile of scarves that sat at the edge of the stage. Neroni, interested in the big black hat, managed to get it on his head and neck, and ran around meowing loudly as the audience laughed so hard that they were nearly rolling on the floor. Finally, Pietra came to Neroni’s rescue and removed with a flourish the large hat and POUF, Neroni disappeared, only to reappear by a table holding a large name day cake in the back of the hall. Next to the table stood Mama and Papa Turrini, and they welcomed Giovanni, Father Anthony, Father Luis, and Sister Concetta and the other patrons to come and share a slice of young Giovanni’s cake. They also had for him one of the DVD’s showing how to perform the easier magic tricks and a kit with some equipment. Father Luis announced that between the offering at mass and the admission to the show, San Nicola that night had gathered a donation of over EUR 1,000 for the boys and girls in Turin.
A loud “Hoorah!” went up and the families, and cats, began to file out into the late January cold, to walk on the cobblestones to their homes in the little hill town south of the home of Saint John Bosco, apostle of the young.
Neroni smiled as he followed his dear family home to their warm apartment behind the big wooden door with the lion-faced knocker, which little Cecelia had cleaned for a week. As the family enjoyed their evening espresso, he turned around three times on his blanket on the chair, snuggled his nose under his paw, and began to dream of that special moment when he was transported from the stage and being tangled in the hat to freedom beside the table holding the cake. How did that happen? Why, magic, of course.