It was a late August afternoon, humid, hot, sticky and I was in the kitchen while the others were on their break, mine was in a half an hour or so, and all I could think about was seeing the others walk up the road to the Locanda indicating that soon I would be off for 45 minutes to shower and power nap when Ricardo walked in the kitchen. He had lived on the property since he was a child, with the exception of the two years he spent as a POW in WWII, first with the English then with the Germans when Italy switched sides, and at age 80, knew every inch of the vineyards, gardens, orchards and cellars of the entire town. I had arrived in the little village of Cicoccaro in March of that year, the American kid from Georgia, very proud of it’s peaches and with my newly acquired facility in Italian, none too shy about boasting on how great Georgia peaches were.
I shared an apartment with Ricardo. I had a room, he had a room, and we shared a bathroom. We took a liking to one another pretty quickly despite the disparity of our ages and upbringing. He was the winemaker, gardener and vineyard keeper and I helped him with anything he ever asked, and listened to his stories of the war, his opinions of food, other wine makers (they were generally all bad, with a few exceptions) and mostly about how wrong I was about peaches. He often explained that it was okay because I was American and just couldn’t possibly know better, so I always countered with the best argument I could muster, which was “Georgia is the Peach State!” That did not have the profound effect on him that I had hoped for, but he was always very kind and had been humoring me politely for the whole summer.
So, he walked into the hot sweltering kitchen in the late afternoon after we had cleaned up after lunch service and I was thinking to myself that I really didn’t feel like hauling anything or driving him somewhere or listening to his pontifications regarding peaches. I glanced up at him and he was grinning ear to ear, not a tooth in his head, and he had something in his hand covered with a handkerchief that seemed like a softball. He came up to me and said, “America,” because that was what he called me about half the time, “this is a peach!” He removed the handkerchief and revealed a peach that was indeed almost the size of softball. “Mangiala subito,” he said, “eat it immediately,” and I was rather content to comply with this request. It was probably 90 degrees outside and so was the peach. I stood over the sink and savored every bit as it dribbled down my face and neck; I have never had anything like it in my life to this day as I write about it, 25 plus years later. When I finished, Ricardo said to me, “I have been watching that peach since April, America, for you to really understand what a peach is.”
Ricardo was a heavy smoker all of his life and somehow was never sick a day in his life until somewhere in his late 80’s when he was diagnosed with lung cancer and died shortly thereafter. He was a very simple man, never married, a farmer and winemaker, he lived on the same plot of land for his entire life and was by far the happiest person I have ever known in my life. He watched that peach for months, not to prove me wrong, but to put a smile on my face. He was my friend and he taught me more about myself and happiness than I could ever have imagined. Grazie Ricardo, mi manchi!