At 97 ½ (she adds the half,) Zia Peppina is the oldest person in her village. A village where she was born and raised, married at 17, had 8 children, and worked her buns off!
She is dressed in traditional Sardinian black. A black v-neck t-shirt covers her large, relaxed bosoms that lie generously on her round belly dressed in a black and white apron that she surely made herself.
Her face is a world and a lifetime and a story of love and loss and joy and peace.
I instantly fall in love with every contour of her face. The white whiskers that stick out all over, the long eyebrows you could run your fingers through, and her 3 teeth that she proudly shows me and then shrugs as if they’re both a badge of honor and no big deal.
She is surrounded by her family, as she is everyday.
She is clear and lucid, and smart even though she only finished 3rd grade on account that they were giving all the children vaccines and she didn’t want one. She’s deathly afraid of knives, and in those days, they used knives to administer the vaccines.
She says now that she thinks about it, all the children who had vaccines died much younger than she.
For most of her life, Zia Peppina had 6 cows and grew her own food on a lot no bigger than what looks like a modern 2 story town home with a long, concrete driveway.
She would wake at 5am to make bread from her husband’s wheat. First, she’d light the large outdoor fireplace and then work nonstop until 1pm. After lunch, she headed out again from 3-8pm working her land and taking care of children who also helped with the land. On Saturdays she made the traditional Sardinian thin bread and on Sundays she cooked.
She’s never traveled outside of Italy, but she can tell you all about the Universal human experiences of love and loss, child rearing and marriage. She makes jokes and throws her head back when she laughs like a young girl. When we ask her to smile for photos, she grimaces instead, and thinks it’s funny. We certainly die laughing.
Her husband was orphaned at 7 years old because of the war. He immediately went to work on a farm in order to take care of his 5 year old and 3 year old siblings. He was a good man. Zia met him when she was 17 and smiles when she tells us that she married for love. They were married for 63 years.
Although he’s passed, she still dreams about him. In her dreams, he comes to her and she tells him she’s ready to go, but he tells her it’s not her time. She cries when she speaks about how much she misses him.
When we ask her if she wants to live to be a hundred, she shrugs. Yes, if she’s still as independent as she is today. But not if she’s bed ridden.
When I ask her what her ingredients are for a happy life, she says, “Don’t be mad. Be peaceful,” and then she pauses.
She tells us that even though she says to be peaceful, that she herself suffers. She lost her son when he was in his 40’s to a tractor accident. She cries again and says she worked so hard and sacrificed so much only to have her child die so young and so tragically. The seven of us listening cry with her.
I rub her back and feel so honored to be able to comfort this beautiful woman.
In the middle of our conversation, a woman comes in to give Zia her lottery ticket. 2 to 3 times a week, this lifetime saver bets a dollar on the lottery. She always uses the birth or death day of both her husband or her lost son. Sometimes she even wins.
She asks us if we know of a rich American man, because she’s looking for a husband…but only if he’s rich!