The invitation had arrived three months before the event. First, by word of mouth; later, a printed card and RSVP. The wedding of Marisa and Tommaso. Marisa’s family were from a nearby town in Beata’s Lunigiana. Her paesani were the closest people she had next to her few relatives.
She and Federico had talked about the wedding costs and had agreed to attend although it involved a bit of a financial sacrifice. In terms of the gift, there was an expectation that its value would be in proportion to the cost of their attendance. Given there were four of them, they had settled on spending about seven pounds. She and Federico had their good clothing, although he would need a new white shirt; and the boys needed new outfits, since they had outgrown what they had. Beata would make those. She also wanted to go to the hairdresser for a comb-up. Altogether, expenses would amount to more than her fortnightly wages, but Federico would share the costs with her.
Beata had spoken to her cousins about the wedding: it seemed that the entire Toscana population in Melbourne was going. It would be an opportunity to see people they rarely saw. The boys would get to spend time with their few cousins and it would be a chance for some celebration. However, in her gut, she worried about trouble from Federico.
Five weeks before the date, Beata started making the boys matching suits. She found some navy blue, woolen suiting and white cotton shirting at a fabric warehouse in the city. The evening she brought the fabrics home she took them out to show everyone while they were waiting for the pasta to cook in the minestrone. The boys had set the table and were sitting at their places chatting about something in English. She took the brown paper parcel from the kitchen sideboard and opened it over the kitchen table, at the opposite end to where Federico was reading Il Globo.
‘Luca, Carlo. Look what Dad and I bought you for your wedding suits. Federico, guarda anche te; you look too.’ The boys’ eyes darted to their father, checking for his reaction. He nodded benignly, folding the newspaper and stretching his chin to look at the parcel.
Luca got up and leaned his body against Beata’s. She folded an arm around him. ‘Do you like it, darling?’
He lay his fingers on the dark suiting and stroked it like a cat. ‘Come é morbido, mamma. It’s so soft.’ He looked up and smiled at her. ‘What will my suit be like?’
Federico stood to look more closely: ‘It will be like Dad’s suit, won’t it Carlo?’ He placed a gentle hand on Carlo’s shoulder as he examined the two pieces of cloth. Carlo shrugged in agreement.
‘It’s a very nice navy… and it looks like good quality fabric.’ Federico picked up the white material. ‘And these will be the shirts, right?’ He looked at Beata with an earnest smile.
‘Si.’ She noticed Carlo looking by turns at her and his father.
‘Saranno molto belle, they will be very beautiful,’ Federico said.
‘Will my suit have pockets, Mamma?’ Lucas’ voice tinkled.
Beata laughed. ‘I will put two, real pockets in the trousers, but the jacket pockets will be false, so that you won’t stretch them and the jacket will keep its shape.’
Federico walked over to check the progress of the pasta in the vegetable soup. He turned off the gas. ‘É pronta,’ he said and began to ladle it into the bowls waiting by the stove.
Each weekend Beata devoted some afternoon hours to the suits. It was an elaborate process, which she fitted into her spare time, after the housework. First she took the boys’ measurements. She found some pictures in a magazine, to help them get an idea of what the suits would look like, finished. She made some rough pencil drawings, after which she started marking the fabric and cutting. She carefully cut everything slightly larger than the actual measurements, to compensate for mistakes and growth spurts. After the cutting, she hand-tacked all the parts, starting with the shirts, and moving consecutively to the trousers, leaving the more complex jackets till last.
After the first fittings on the boys, she made small adjustments, and took everything to the factory, where she made arrangements with the forelady and her friends, to do the overlocking and buttonholes at lunchtimes. The women helped each other with their private sewing. Beata used several lunchtimes in the factory to do the plain stitching; to add the zippers in the trousers; the stiffening in the shirt collars and cuffs; the facings and shoulder pads into the jackets. She also used the steam-irons and pressers to open out the seams and give the work a tailored finish.
The shirts and trousers were ready three weeks before the wedding. She took them home where she hung them in one of the wardrobes in her bedroom. With two weeks to spare, she took home the finished jackets. She laid them on her double bed: the shirts under the jackets on their hangers, the trousers placed at the waist point over the shirts and under the jackets. At the breast pocket of each jacket, she arranged two black satin bow ties. She’d made these as a surprise and she called the boys in to see.
Carlo picked up his bow tie. ‘Mamma, they’re beautiful. I can’t believe you made these.’
‘Mine’s better. Mamma, when am I wearing it? Can I wear it on Sunday to Mass?’ Luca’s words tripped over each other and his eyes sparkled.