“A blood relative or not, he’s my relative. Pasquale is everybody’s relative: he’s “il nonno di Ustica.” Nonno Pasquale’s blue eyes – the same color as Ustica’s sea – twinkle at friend Gaetano’s affectionate words. A smile spreads ear-to-ear across his gentle face, pink cheeks still smooth with only a suggestion of wrinkles. Pasquale Palmisano will be a hundred next May. “Just over a thousand of us live on the island and I’m now the oldest”, he told me proudly.
We can’t imagine a Sicilian vacation without a few days on the volcanic island of Ustica, north of Palermo and I can’t imagine a stay on Ustica without hearing Nonno Pasquale Palmisano’s stories. What a relief to know he is still here. On this visit, though, I didn’t find him out on the Palmisano farm land, sitting on a rickety wooden stool like last time, whittling the reeds for the baskets he made, shaded by his huge, wide-brimmed straw hat.
He lives in the village now – “I have to take care of my wife who can no longer walk” – and was sitting in Ustica’s main piazza with his card-playing cronies, shaded now by the leafy gnarled arms of the centuries-old ficus trees. Nonno Pasquale spends the days with his bed-ridden wife and only goes out to the piazza and his friends at 5 pm when a caregiver comes in to watch over his wife… and so he continues to face serenely the hardships life has delivered. Maybe one of the reasons he is nearly a hundred?
As we were catching up, Gaetano interjected, “…and he doesn’t even need glasses, and what a memory!” Pasquale protested, “But I don’t remember this signora americana who’s here to visit me again.” One of the card-players chuckled, “O, Pasqua’, I wouldn’t even remember a woman I’d met yesterday!” All the men laughed.