Known and loved around the world for her sweeping Big Stone Gap trilogy and the instant New York Times bestseller Lucia, Lucia, Adriana Trigiani returns to the charm and drama of small-town life with Queens of the Big Time. This heartfelt story of the limits and power of love chronicles the remarkable lives of the Castellucas, an Italian-American family, over the course of three generations. In the late 1800s, the residents of a small village in the Bari region of Italy, on the shores of the Adriatic Sea, made a mass migration to the promised land of America. They settled in Roseto, Pennsylvania, and re-created their former lives in their new home-down to the very last detail of who lived next door to whom. The village's annual celebration of Our Lady of Mount Carmel-or "the Big Time," as the occasion is called by the young women who compete to be the pageant's Queen-is the centerpiece of Roseto's colorful old-world tradition. The industrious Castellucas farm the land outside Roseto.
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May 30, 2005
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Excerpt from The Queen of the Big Time by Adriana Trigiani
Today is the day my teacher, Miss Stoddard, comes to see my parents. She sent them a letter telling them she wanted to come to our house to discuss ' the further education of Nella Castelluca. ' The letter is official, it was written on a typewriter, signed by my teacher with a fountain pen, dated October 1, 1924, and at the top there ' s a gold stamp that says pennsylvania education authority. We never get fancy mail on the farm, only handwritten letters from our relatives in Italy. Mama is saving the envelope from Miss Stoddard for me in a box where she keeps important papers. Sometimes I ask her to show it to me, and every time I read it, I am thrilled all over again.
I hope my parents decide to let me go to school in Roseto. Delabole School only goes to the seventh grade, and I ' ve repeated it twice just so I can keep learning. Miss Stoddard is going to tell my parents that I should be given the opportunity to go to high school in town because I have ' great potential. '
I am the third daughter of five girls, and I have never been singled out for anything. Finally, it feels like it ' s my turn. It ' s as though I ' m in the middle of a wonderful contest: the music has stopped, the blindfolded girl has pointed to me, and I ' ve won the cakewalk. I ' ve hardly slept a wink since the letter arrived. I can ' t. My whole world will change if my parents let me go to school. My older sisters, Assunta and Elena, stopped going to school after the seventh grade. Neither wanted to continue and there is so much work on the farm, it wasn ' t even discussed.
I was helping Mama clean the house to prepare for our company, but she made me go outside because I was making her nervous. She ' s nervous I don ' t know if I will make it until two o ' clock.
As I lean against the trunk of the old elm at the end of our lane and look up, the late-afternoon sunlight comes through the leaves in little bursts like a star shower, so bright I have to squint so my eyes won ' t hurt. Over the hill, our farmhouse, freshly painted pale gray, seems to dance above the ground like a cloud.
Even the water in the creek that runs past my feet seems full of possibility; the old stones that glisten under the water look like silver dollars. How I wish they were! I would scoop them up, fill my pockets, and bring them to Mama, so she could buy whatever she wanted. When I think of her, and I do lots during the day, I remember all the things she doesn ' t have and then I try to think up ways to give her what she needs. She deserves pretty dishes and soft rugs and glittering rings. She makes do with enamel plates, painted floorboards, and the locket Papa gave her when they were engaged. Papa smiles when I tell him about my dreams for Mama, and sometimes I think he wishes he could give her nice things too, but we ' re just farmers.
If only I could get an education, then I could get a good job and give Mama the world. Papa says I get my brains from her. She is a quick study; in fact, she taught herself to read and write English. Mama spends most nights after dinner teaching Papa to read English, and when he can ' t say the words properly, Mama laughs, and then Papa curses in Italian and she laughs harder.