After 22 years of Benito Mussolini’s fascist oppression and nine months of occupation under Nazi boots, the sweet taste of liberation was worth more than a simple peck on the cheek. Italian women from the age of 16 years and older wanted to kiss their hero, every G.I. marching or riding into Rome. “Viva GIs.” Italian women know how to kiss, a seven second lip lock!
Let’s call the woman pictured in the black wool dress Rosa. She’s mourning the passing of her husband or a close relative. Yeah, yeah, I know it seems like all the grandmothers in Italy are issued uniforms, ankle-length basic black dresses. She’s not a fashionista.
In her younger days, Rosa’s natural wavy black hair came to the middle of her back. Now her hair is nature’s platinum in a bun with several barrettes, an age-appropriate hairstyle.
The skin on Rosa’s face, right forearm and hand confirms the story of her life.
She worked long hours every day for decades to earn every line on her skin. Severe arthritis has disfigured her finger joints.
Look how trim she is. She did not go to aerobics, Tabata, wet sweat or zumba exercise classes to stay trim. No, Rosa worked harvesting, bailing and storing hay in the loft. After harvesting fruits and vegetables, she toiled long hours in a hot kitchen canning similar to squirrels storing nuts for the long winter months.
Before dawn on June 4, 1944, rumors were bouncing from one part of Rome to another. The Romans heard Nazi armor vehicles rapidly high tailing it northward. Soon there was a new sound entering Rome from the south, every type of vehicle from the “Arsenal of Democracy,” America. As GI vehicles entered the Eternal City, ecstatic Romans, male and female, climbed onto every vehicle even tanks! The June 5, 1944 edition of Stars and Stripes, the armed forces daily newspaper, reported on its front page at least one 65-year-old female climbed onto an M-4 Sherman tank traveling through Rome. She was too happy to act her age.
Rosa did not act her age, either. She behaved like a woman decades younger. The driver of a jeep stopped to avoid hitting several ecstatic Romans in the street. Rosa seized the moment, “carpe minutam.” Come hell or high water, she was going to kiss a handsome GI, her hero. Completely disregarding the fact he was her grandson’s age she thought to herself, “He rescued me from that pig, Mussolini, and those Nazi snakes! I want to show this handsome GI that a seasoned Italian woman can thank her hero.”
Rosa completely surprised the GI in the picture after she placed a scarf around his neck. Quickly, she kissed his left cheek and then his right. Each kiss was tender but sensual. Speaking Italian, she whispered in his right ear, “You saved me from those Fascists pigs. I will say nine rosaries for you every evening. You are my knight in shining armor!”
The GI riding “shotgun” in the jeep appears to be 19 or 20 years old. Maybe he has been shaving for a year or two. Being inexperienced with women, he was completely surprised by a woman old enough to be his grandmother. Notice, he has a sort of smile but a “caught off balance” facial expression.
His right arm is around her, but his left hand is resting on his right thigh not holding her right arm. His two buddies in the back of the jeep have real smiles on their faces.
This picture could be considered the story of two lives brought together for a brief moment by accident. Or the GI’s grandmother in the states was about to pass away and used Rosa to kiss her favorite grandson goodbye. “Love comes from the most unexpected places.”
Rosa told her G.I., “Grazi, grazi a tante.” Elvis was not the first person to say, “Thank you, thank you very much.”
Ken Beaton of Carson City contributes periodically to the Nevada Appeal.