poppies by monet - wowzone.com

The Poppy Field - Les Cocqueliquots
by Claude Monet

In "Be a child", I mention the poppy field that had such an effect on me as a child that they still move me, whenever I see them - my beautiful poppies. 

Poppies make me smile because they remind me of a day, as clear as this moment, when I knew that a lifetime can be encapsulated in a single solitary moment. That was the day I connected with the poppies in a way that has helped me keep my sanity in a chaotic life, all through the years. I have paintings of poppies all over the house, and it makes people who don't know me wonder what that's all about. But everyone who knows me knows about the poppies, and they mean something altogether different to me. 

Like I said in my story about "Why I hate apples" my sister Maria and I was were in an orphanage in a small town in Italy called Bonefro, run by the Franciscan Order of Sisters for about 3 years. When we got there, I was about 2 and she was 8. Our brother Giovanni was 11, and was in the next town, about 14 kilometers away, called Casacalenda, in an all boy's college. Giovanni came to visit us whenever possible to keep our little family together. He was the big brother, and he felt responsible from that young age. I remember when he used to work his tail off during his time out from college to buy me chocolate covered marshmallows. It took him hours of work to give me something that I would devour in seconds - and would come to expect every time that I saw him. Pavlov was right, you do salivate at the thought of the source of your pleasure.

But I digress, as I often do when I think of my childhood. One memory pulls in another, and before I know it I'm a child again, dancing in the room all by myself with my eyes closed...

Bonefro Girls - wowzone.com

The orphanage was run by the Mother Superior and 6 other nuns taking care of girls only, of whom I was the youngest. The building was in the far south end of Bonefro, a small town in the region of Molise, Italy.

I learned so much when I was there, even though I didn’t realize it at the time. Looking back, I see how fascinated I was by these grown up women who all believed and supported each other as the Brides of Christ. They all loved this same being with such abandon that I became in a subconscious way - enamored with Him too. It was almost like being the member of a fan club…

They all wore chocolate-brown gowns and headwear, and a large crucifix as a belt. They were all "married" to Jesus, and wore a ring with a cross on it. The Brides of Christ…what an idea! For me, aside from the one incident mentioned in the "apples" story, the nuns were always a symbol of dedication and love. 

It saddens me to hear about bad experiences some people have with the Church,  because those are the stories that people remember. I’m here to tell you that I met many Sisters and priests throughout my youth and they were astounding and outstanding in infinite ways. They instilled the love of life in me - something I will never forget.

Which brings me back to my poppies. The Sisters often took us out to various places, in the country mostly, to enjoy the fresh air. And I remember the day that we were in a field of poppies and I was completely overwhelmed. All around me and as far as I could see, I saw poppies! Tall and colorful, bright and cheerful…

And then the Sisters taught us one of my favorite songs from that time…it’s in Italian and I still remember it. I’ll try to write it here without crying:

Tu sai che i papavari son alti, alti, alti
e tu sei piccolina, sei cosi piccolina
tu sai che i papavari son alti alti alti
e tu sei piccolina
che cosa ne puoi far?
You know that the poppies are tall, tall, tall
And you're so small, so very small
You know that the poppies are tall, tall, tall
And you're so small
What can you do about it?

I added the English version because so many people wrote to ask about it. 

It’s not a big deal…not the greatest song ever written…but it holds such memories for me. It contains that moment that equals a lifetime, when I truly felt that life was perfect. Because it was a beautiful day, the sun was shining, I was looking at something spectacularly beautiful, surrounded by people I loved and who loved me. What is life, if not a moment like that?

I can live to be 100 or die this next minute, but whenever I see a poppy or think of that song, I’m three years old…and back in that moment in time. That’s powerful!

I hope you find your poppy - the thing that takes you into a state of total love -  every time you see it.

Wishing Only Well,

Carmen Colombo
August 1999