A Girl and Her Wolf: Based on the True Story of my Husband’s Grandmother (The Spadafora-Dodaro Family)

In the sleepy mountain town of Parenti, Calabria, Italy, in the first years of the 20th century, little Teresa lived on a large estate. Although her family was not very wealthy, they were the caretakers of the estate. Her father took care of the lands, while her mother took care of the land-owner’s household. She shared her tiny home with her younger brother, Giuseppe, and her sisters, Angelina and Luigina. Although she had her sisters to play with, little Teresa often found herself feeling lonely. At night she would sit by her open window and listen to the wolves howl as they gathered nearby, and she often felt that their woeful howls echoed the loneliness that she felt in her own heart. She wasn’t afraid of the wolves, after all, her father was well-known as a sharp-shooter and whenever a wolf wandered too near to the village in the valley below, her father was always called on to hunt the mischievous wolf.

One evening, her father got word that a wolf was threatening the villagers. So he took his rifle and went hunting through the woods. After hours of tracking he finally came upon the errant wolf and, true to his name, he shot the wolf dead. But to his surprise, as he watched with regret, a small pup approached the dead wolf and nudged the carcass with its nose. Feeling sorry for the little pup who had just lost its mother, he lifted the small ball of fur into his strong arms and carried the little thing all the way back to his house. In the middle of the night, Teresa woke up to a commotion in the house. She found her family surrounding a tiny little wolf pup. Her mother didn’t look happy to have the wolf in their home. But Teresa could not take her eyes off of the little wolf. Slowly, she entered the room, and as she neared the pup, he looked up at her. Something passed between them and the pup happily scurried over to her and proceeded to lick her, as any good dog would have done. From that day on, Teresa and her wolf pup were inseparable.

The wolf pup grew much quicker than Teresa did, and at times, she would ride on his back through the village. At first, the villagers were frightened and they cautioned Teresa’s father against the folly of this friendship. But as time passed, they became accustomed to seeing little Teresa ride on her wolf. As the years passed, and Teresa grew too big to ride on her wolf, they still would be seen as he followed dutifully at her heels. But at night, her wolf would hear the wild wolves howling in the mountains and he would howl back to them. Teresa’s father would often let the wolf out at night to run through the woods with the other wolf-packs. But every morning, Teresa’s wolf would return to her. Until finally, on one occasion, he did not. Teresa waited each morning to see if her wolf would return, but the days turned into weeks, then into months, and finally, she had to understand that he was not coming back. Her father tried to explain to her that now that he was a full grown wolf, he had probably joined one of the wolf-packs. But inside, she knew that wolf-packs were like families and that if you did not belong, you were an enemy wolf. And a wolf-pack would kill an enemy wolf. The years passed, but her wolf never returned.

One day, Teresa’s father became partially paralyzed and unable to speak after having a stroke. She remembered how he would sit in his rocking chair and how she would bring his rifle to him. He would rock back and forth in the chair, as the rifle laid across his useless arms, and he would cry. Teresa married and had two sons while in Italy, but the day came when she had to leave to join her husband who was already in America. Her father knew that he would never see Teresa again. On the day that she left, he struggled to reach the window and managed to cry out to her, saying the word, “mama,” so that she would know how much he would miss her.

Teresa traveled to America, and once here, had two more sons and a daughter. But she never did see her parents again.

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(Teresa, with her mother and two eldest sons, just before she left Italy.)


Serafino Spadafora (Teresa’s father) after his stroke.

http://www.theresadodaro.com   Author of The Tin Box Trilogy and The Porcelain Doll

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