I was born in Calabria, in a village called San Costantino Calabro.
When I was 7 years old, with my large family: my mother Caterina, my grandmother Anna, my seven sisters and my brother, we moved to Genova, in the old town: Salita del Prione.
I had already attended the first class of elementary school in Calabria but as I had been unable to finish the year I began again in Via Fieschi, with my brother Domenico. The first day we were a little scared as we knew nobody, but we were welcomed at once by our teacher, Sergio.
He was immediately good with us.
We were part of a group coming from the south of Italy; we were “southerners” in origin and although we were still children we were already facing social and economic difficulties. Against this background, our teacher Sergio was very generous to all of us. We were looked after like the pupils that came from rich families.
At the beginning I did not attend school very often. I remember that I played truant with my classmate Cristoforo and other children. We used to go to the newsagent in Via Fieschi; we stole newspapers and went to sell them near the port. Later, we succeeded in stealing the fishermen’s bicycles by the pier; we would ride to the school when all the pupils were leaving classes for lunch; we would eat with them at the school refectory and then, while they were playing after lunch, we would enter the empty classrooms. We ran away as soon as the children came back for their lessons.
This did not last for long. Our teacher Sergio knew what was happening but he did not blame us. He began to come to fetch us at home before school and take us back home at the end of the lessons.
Our class was very special. Sergio believed in us; he became very important to us. He involved us in many physical activities – with the main aim of keeping us off the streets, and stopping any criminal behaviour. I remember, for example, building a model of the town of Genova, making masks with papier-maché, and acting in the plays that we wrote. He gave us great enthusiasm and passion. He read history to us; we learned mathematics by playing games.
We began to go to the house of our companion Alessandro Palau in the afternoons. This was to finish preparing scenery for our comedies and to rehearse our parts in the plays. We met Elisabetta Fagiuoli, Alessandro’s mother, who helped Sergio to make us do many other things that would otherwise have been impossible for us.
During summer holidays, Elisabetta took us to her farm in San Gimignano. I have many happy memories of vacations there. We walked in the woods and we built a hut on a tree where we spent hours playing. There was a pond near the house full of fish and we used to throw pebbles in the water. When there was the market in San Gimignano Elisabetta and Sergio used to take us to the village; it was hard work for them as we were very lively and touched whatever was at hand.
When we came back home we would have lunch and were then sent to bed for a rest. The doors were left open and Sergio sat in the corridor reading aloud to us: chapters of history or fiction (my favourite was “Zanna Bianca”) – but we were soon asleep.
We all loved listening to him: his way of reading was enchanting.
And we were dumbfounded when he told us stories of his youth, his actions as a partisan, and how he crossed valleys when he was teaching up in his mountains.
When we woke up we had a snack and next we performed small plays.
In “Little Red Riding Hood” I played the part of the hunter.
In the evening Sergio wrote poems till very late.
I spent so many unforgettable moments with him. Sergio took good care of me; he also helped me later by pushing me away from bad company. And when I was 16 he helped me to obtain my navigator’s licence: I was able to work on board ship.
I met my wife and had my daughters but I continued to see Sergio and Elisabetta. In fact, they, too, have been my family; I will always be grateful to them.
Antonino De Luca