The Ice-Cream Makers | Chapter 8 of 24 - Part: 1 of 8

Author: Ernest van der Kwast | Submitted by: Maria Garcia | 1155 Views | Add a Review

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‘The Spirit That Creates One Object’

The hallway of our house in Venas di Cadore boasts an impressive Native American headdress. The feathers are those of an eagle, ‘the biggest and strongest of all birds’.

The headdress is said to have been brought back by my great-grandfather when he returned from America. Upon his arrival in Castle Clinton, he joined a group of immigrants to work on the construction of a skyscraper. The bricks are probably still in place, but the name of the tower, with its many windows, hasn’t been passed down to us. Next he is thought to have worked with other Italians on a railway up north, felling trees and putting down sleepers, the track lengthening and disappearing into the distance. After that it gets more nebulous, the picture blurry. It is said that he went to Wyoming, where he hunted buffalo, the cattle with the large heads and mighty horns, the long and stiff brown coats. I imagine it was while doing this job that he encountered the Sioux, the Blackfoot Indians who were already living on a reservation in South Dakota by then. The legendary Chief Red Cloud had led his people there after the Treaty of Fort Laramie, each feather in his war bonnet symbolising bravery in battles against other tribes — the Pawnee, the Crow, and later the colonisers, too. White feathers like bolts of lightning, representing land conquered and reconquered, and ultimately lost forever.

To the first man Giuseppe saw on his return to the Northern Italian mountains, he said, ‘Greetings, paleface.’ That, at any rate, is the story which has been passed down from generation to generation to generation.

My father, the other Giuseppe Talamini, walks past the Native American headdress and down the steps to the basement, which has been further excavated and reinforced with new pillars. He presses the switch. The light bounces off the cement mixer and on to the pillar drills, past the thousands of screwdrivers, monkey wrenches, files, pliers, and brackets on the walls, and against the chisels and brushes, the sanding machines and workbenches. A treasure trove of tools. This is my father’s life’s work — or, rather, his life’s revenge. He worked as an ice-cream maker for fifty-seven years, but he’d really wanted to be an inventor.

My grandfather was an intractable man. He had no faith in his son’s dreams and ambitions, and besides, he needed his son in the ice-cream parlour. At the age of fifteen, my father had to cycle through the streets of Rotterdam with an ice-cream cart. ‘Some days the ice-cream would melt faster than you could sell it,’ he used to tell us at the dining table when we complained about work. ‘Not only would you have a sore back and arms at the end of the day, but your legs would ache, too.’

During the winter months, he would busy himself in a workshop in Calalzo fashioning nuts and bolts from large chunks of iron, his eyes screwed up a little, his black shoes planted among the filings on the floor. Every year he spent the money he earned on new tools. It began with the basic items all households have — except a bit more extensive, perhaps — but once he had taken over his father’s ice-cream parlour and started earning his own money, he bought his first drilling, sanding, polishing, and cutting machines: screaming monsters with large benches, as well as lovely little adjustable wrenches and the minuscule instruments used by watchmakers and engravers. He bought everything, absolutely everything he didn’t have yet, including seven-inch nails, cap nuts, lock nuts, rivet nuts, right-threaded screws, left-threaded screws, double-ended screws, endless screws, blind bolts.

One day a lorry driver pulled up outside the house in Venas, having been directed here by the ironmonger in Belluno. The man had been looking for a particular nut for years. My father listened to the driver’s description the way a child listens to a fairytale and then escorted him down into the basement. When he switched on the light, the treasure chamber sparkled in all its glory. The lorry driver’s pupils dilated instantly. He couldn’t believe his eyes — and it probably contained only half of all the tools there are now. These days the double garage is full of shiny metal too.

Except for that one occasion, my father never showed his collection to others, ‘because nobody understands’. Most people think it’s an illness. But the driver congratulated my father on his wealth of tools and machines.

‘I’ve never seen anything like it,’ he said.

There probably wasn’t anything like it.

My father rummaged in a couple of metal trays and a minute later retrieved a nut.

‘Yes,’ was all the driver said at first. ‘Yes.’ Then his eyes filled with tears. ‘Unbelievable,’ he said. ‘This is it. Yes, this is it. This nut …’

It was the best day of his life, and probably of my father’s life too.

He liked to tell the story whenever my mother expressed her disapproval of a new drill or sander.

‘I hope one day you’ll find the screw that’s loose in your head,’ she would reply.

‘Nobody understands, not even my own wife.’

Once she gave him an ultimatum. ‘If you buy that workbench, Beppi,’ she declared, ‘I’m leaving you.’

My father bought the workbench, my mother stayed. My brother and I didn’t get it. We were young and knew little about marriage — about the threats, the compromises, the cracks. My mother never said another word about my father’s collection, but the grooves in her forehead deepened, looking as if they’d been chiselled there.

My father used the life he led as an excuse to buy tools. He had never wanted to be an ice-cream maker and had never wanted to take over his father’s ice-cream parlour. But he had done so anyway.

‘For seventy-five years I didn’t have a summer,’ he often said after he retired, before opening a box with a spirit level or a metal saw. For over half a century, no long, sun-drenched summer, no early summer, no empty summer, no sultry summer, no cool summer, no sweet, melancholic summer and no summer by the seaside. That was his lament — or the mantra with which he tried to convince himself and others.

Many are the occasions when I had fruitless discussions with him. ‘Why didn’t you do something else?’

‘It was impossible.’

‘Nothing’s impossible.’

‘No, not in those days.’

‘You should have carved out your own path.’

‘That path had already been mapped out for me,’ he said. ‘And when a gap opened up, when there was finally some space, you scampered off.’

Comments

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Alice
Great book, nicely written and thank you BooksVooks for uploading

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