Baveno is a little gem of a town with a pretty waterfront, a ferry stop, and one of the oldest churches in the region. Our translated Lake Maggiore guidebook had a blurry picture of the stations of the cross, and though the description itself didn’t make much sense, we decided to give it a try. (I wish I knew how to get work rewriting some of these guidebooks into smooth-sounding English. My inner editor was tortured by our Lake Maggiore guide, and I constantly reworked it in my head. If anyone has connections with guidebook companies, will you please send them my way? My rates are reasonable and it would be satisfying work.)
We saw several other churches which are also outdoor pilgrimage destinations, but none better than Baveno’s, “pure geometry,” which Milo so admired in Verbania Treasure. Behind the stations of the cross you can see the pretty baptistry that contains the picture of St. Ambrose that delighted Alice. He’s in the middle of the picture below.
The amarena gelato? Not to be missed if you like black forest anything. A northern Italian family-owned company still bottles this delectable syrup, and it’s difficult to find it outside the region. Since you can’t revisit the taste without revisiting Verbania, the memory gets better and better in your imagination, like the fish that got away.
This chapter was one of the most enjoyable for me to write, because it contains the story of how Grandma Sybil’s parents met in Kingsport, Tennessee, a place that I love. I could imagine what the sales counter of the Dobyns-Taylor Department Store might have looked like, even though the store closed years ago and I never saw it in operation. I picture a boomtown full of promise, bustling with the excitement of a major industry creating an entire community out of nothing. This environment must have suited Grandpa Sam’s personality down to the ground, and I think he took a great deal of pride in his work there.
I’m also intrigued by the farmers of the area, who were rarely successful enough to build the elaborate plantations you see in other areas of the South. Instead, at best they led middle class lives in plain but generous farmhouses of brick or clapboard, with or without attached kitchens or bathrooms, but almost always with a welcoming porch out front. With seven daughters, the Cunningham farmhouse was likely spotless inside and out. Grandma Sybil would have grown up making visits to this house, with its pine-board floors, a fireplace in each downstairs room, and worn rockers lining the front porch. I doubt she spent much time in the house or admiring the mountain views, though. She would have been running through the fields with a half-dozen cousins, or even more likely, roping them all into organizing an animal circus next to the barn. She may not have consciously appreciated it, but just like Verbania, the Tennessee mountains made their impression and are part of her too.