What in the world might induce a man to invent an instrument of torture? Might it be the lure of riches? Fame for innovative ingenuity? Deeply abiding bloodlust? Or might it be based on some kind of principle?
It’s this last that spoke to Juan Bautista Diego de Cuchillo. Nephew of the great Torquemada, from his youth Juan Bautista was gainfully employed by the Spanish Inquisition. He started out as a functionary whose role it was to bring in suspect heretics and perform the intake interrogation. Truth be told, Juan Bautista rather enjoyed showing up at citizens’ houses in the dead of night, clad in his arrogant robes, and listening to his now captives’ screams and protests. And scream and resist they generally did, even though in those trying times, everyone expected the Spanish Inquisition. Even those who were innocent, but that little fact meant even less to the Inquisitors.
Juan Bautista enjoyed watching the arrestees become all embroiled in what he saw as lies and evasions. Being a true believer at heart, and seeing treachery everywhere, it did not occur to Juan Bautista Diego de Cuchillo that any of his captives might really be innocent.
But after a while a pall descended on Juan Bautista. Could it be that he was getting bored, even duly performing the Church’s mission as he was? Alas, the delights of tantalizing the guilty with threats of imminent hellfire no longer satisfied him. He felt that menacing words and even lashes of the whip were insufficient to uncover the misdeeds of his fellow Spaniards. Inflicting pain for pain’s sake wasn’t enough, there must be more.
Searching his soul, he was aware that at one time, even he himself, pure of heart though he was, had experienced the temptation of the Devil, but had then almost immediately renounced it. He had subsequently sought Indulgences at a price, and bought himself absolution. He then felt joyously cleansed of his sins, and, in his present position, could only wish the same for others. He therefore took it upon himself to pave the way.
Believing that the confession of sins was the only road to atonement and absolution, Juan Bautista preoccupied himself with the quest to perfect instruments to aid in getting to the truth much faster than the endless hours of recriminations and lies. Using his devices, the lies would dissipate faster, truth would out, and thus more souls would be saved. After all, what was the pain of torture compared to entry into God’s heaven: surely everyone ultimately desired such.
Pleased with the reception and widespread adoption of the rack, water torture, the breaking wheel and other contraptions he had devised, Juan Bautista counted up the myriad souls saved and waiting to be saved and dreamed of sainthood in his future.
My great uncle Salvatore (Sal) was a debt collector. He was small scale, working for Louie, a local moneylender. Louie was a Mafioso wannabe. But he didn’t have any appetite for vengeance or violence. He just wanted to experience the aura of association.
Louie specialized in small loans, mainly to the folks in his neighbourhood. He liked to think of himself as a creative moneylender. If Giuseppe was needing an extra $200 to make his rent, Louie might make a deal. Giuseppe had two weeks to repay the loan plus the vig (which Louie got such a kick out of saying; he felt it made him seem so knowledgeable). If the money wasn’t forthcoming, Giuseppe would have to give Louie his grandfather clock. It was a family heirloom, with walnut inlay, but Giuseppe needed the rent money since he hadn’t done well with the ponies that week. Of course, if he could come up with the money including the vig, he could reclaim the clock. So, in some ways, Louie was running a pawn shop as a secondary business.
My great uncle’s role in these enterprises was to manage the actual transactions. He was of such a good-hearted nature, that folks tried hard to meet their end of the bargain (Giuseppe and the ponies excepted). He was an unassuming-looking fellow, living in the two down, two up row house in which he had grown up. He led a simple yet happy life: working for Louie, and Sunday dinners with his widowed sister Angie and her maiden daughters. Her lasagna was to die for and she always sent him home with enough leftovers for several days.
Sal was not only a debt collector; more importantly, he was also a dream collector, his true calling. While carrying on conversations, Sal was a talented listener, and could read in between people’s often inarticulate words. With savvy yet gentle questioning, people would be able to express their dreams to him.
Mrs.Fatouva from down the street shared her dream to have her own chickens: ‘Just a few pecking around in the backyard”. Sal suggested to Louie that if Giuseppe had another bad month, the vig could be a few of his hens. Given Giuseppe’s improvident affair with the ponies, Sal knew those chickens would be providing eggs for Mrs F for a long time. When she made her famous cheesecake with those fresh eggs, she always put aside several slices for Sal.
Alfonso, the butcher’s assistant, was a shy but nice enough young lad, a hard worker with a promising future. He dreamed of finding a serious young woman and settling down, but most of the folks who came into the shop did not see past his blood-stained apron and his quiet manner, and no matchmaking was proffered. Sal, however, knew how sweet and caring Alfonso was at heart. One auspicious Sunday, Alfonso accepted Sal’s invitation to dinner at Angie’s, where he felt warmly welcomed. He and Sal’s niece Emilia stole shy glances at each other throughout the evening. The next day when Sal showed up to order some pork chops, Alfonso asked his permission to court his niece. “Gladly given”, smiled Sal.
When Salvatore passed after a long and well-lived life, he was hailed as a neighbourhood hero, for his ability to get to know folks and help them live to their best abilities. He helped in ways small and large. And I am forever indebted to him for pairing up my dad Alfonso and my mom Emilia. I am about to give birth to my first son and I will name him Salvatore. Nowadays the traditional names are considered old-fashioned. But the good name of a good-hearted fellow deserves to be carried on.
Marilyn Myerson, PhD Philosophy, has learned to take nothing for granted and to have fun. She retired from USF after 38 years of teaching, learning and kicking up her heels in Women’s and Gender Studies. Marilyn was the first outside hire in W(G)S, starting in 1973, when the department was just one year old. She was an administrator at various departmental and dean’s levels, including a stint as W(G)S Chair before her retirement as Emeritus faculty in 2010. She shepherded the Human Sexual Behavior class through its many incarnations, developed the original women’s health classes, and taught feminist research methodology. She is currently in three writing groups, and happily involved with OLLI-USF, taking art and writing classes. She created and teaches OLLI Imaginative Writing classes and facilitates writing groups.