The Russo Riggio Story
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My son Cameron was looking at an old school photo of me in Grade 3 at Merlynston School in Melbourne. The boy beside me was my good friend Russo Riggio, newly emigrated from Trieste, in Italy. He didn't speak English, but the teacher said we would help so she sat him beside me. First we exchanged smiles.
I talked to him backed up with little hand drawn pictures and gestures which Italians like. I got him started with names.
"You are Russo," and pointed to him.
"I am Peter," my hand on my chest.
He said "Peter". This was the beginning of our friendship.
Some days I felt frustrated and he'd notice. He'd walk off at lunch time and I'd have to go find him. He would stand with his back to me believing he made it too hard for me. Some days it was hard but that didn't mean we weren't friends and I'd make him turn to face me and shake my hand.
"It was tough for you Dad," said Cameron and he was right, but I cared about our friendship. Russo was speaking basic English after four months and I helped him with schoolwork.
One day he brought in a Matchbox car to show me and I named the model. I liked it and was happy for him but he wouldn't take it back. He wanted me to keep it and I didn't understand this.
"Peter you helped me when I first came here. I wouldn't have learned English or my schoolwork without you. I want you to keep this car to thank you." said Russo.
I accepted the gift with humility and thanked him back.
Well, we went to different high schools and didn't see each other again. I still think of Russo and hope he has a good life.
"But you don't know?" said Cameron.
No, but I wish the best for him.
We suspect Russo returned to Italy and I hope he has fond memories of Australia. I hope Russo smiles if he thinks of me, as I do of him.
I had a dream that I kept going to events telling the Russo Riggio story repeatedly until it became my signature speech. A video of my story was shared and it was noticed by a relative of Russo's and sent to him. He knew it was me immediately.
I dreamt that Russo remembered our time at school and the relationship forced upon us, but we were strong and pulled through the hard times. He knew the Matchbox car gesture was not grand, yet it was binding on me for a long time. He didn't realise it would stay with me for a lifetime.
That dream unlocked a tale that only Russo and I knew about and it resonated with many people. The words live on for us, our children and their children. The Russo Riggio story is a legacy of the Riggio and McCredie families for as long as people talk about their friends, families, businesses and communities.
I remember the sunlight flickering through the window and somewhere between being asleep and awake and there was a knock at the door.
I opened the door and there was a man about my age.
"Yes, can I help you?" I asked.
"Yes, you always helped me. You are Peter," pointing to me.
"I am Russo," placing his hand on his chest.
"My friend Russo?"
"Yes I am."
We hugged each other surrounded by family watching over us with tears, as the years of separation melted away.
We talked about school, families and life until the early hours. It felt so real, but it was just a dream.
I still miss Russo. His story lingers and I won't let it be forgotten. Maybe this story is over for me but maybe the door will open for the younger generation.
When you need your words to rise above an ocean of mediocre writing,
Peter McCredie, Writer.