Back at the trail head where the van was parked, a woman carrying a large bucket of freshly-picked red cherries approached, juice staining her striped shirt. She offered us handfuls of the ripe fruit which we readily gobbled.
The family that had accompanied us to the grotto led us to the small courtyard of a nearby house and offered us a refreshing drink. It wasn’t straight limoncello, but rather some kind of limoncello-ade.
Although we had only known these people a couple of hours, it felt more like a couple of years. They seemed familiar, and we were at home in their presence.
Other family members streamed out of the house to greet us. We all chatted awhile, explaining who we were and why we had come to this charming town. All too soon, it was time to go. We waved goodbye to our new friends as Andrea steered the van back to the church.
Back at the church, we poured out of the van to say our goodbyes and thank yous to Don Donato. He had completed his afternoon priestly duties and rustled over to us. He and Tony hooked arms, both looking as if they’d known each other forever. In a way, they had.
After a farewell embrace, we were off, waving sadly as the town disappeared from sight.
As we made our way back down the mountain towards Salerno, Andrea expressed how honored and privileged he felt to have shared in this special day. “Many Americans return to Italia, but don’t pay their respects to their homeland in the way that you have done,” he told us. “You are different. You have honored your past.” I felt very proud of this little band of Americans.