Since I was a little boy in Sicily, I learned to distinguish the people in general as good people and people of respect.
I remember of when people were mentioning my family in their conversations, and they were always referring to my family as good people. What that meant? I learned soon what they really meant.
"Good people" was a way to distinguish the honest hard working people inside the Sicilian society from another kind of people. This other kind of people which reputations were with dubious moralities, and they were the so-called, "people of respect".
The people of respect (also mis-regarded as honorable people) was and still it is in Sicily, the people gravitating around or living within the Mafia's contest.
When the common people were mentioning them in their private conversations, they were always doing it with uneasy feelings of hidden fears. In fact the phrase of, "people of respect" evokes till these days in the honest people a bad concealed truth, and this truth was that they were indeed all fearful of them (the mafiusi).
That was and unfortunately still it is, the sad truth. When you found yourself in some particular circumstances and you asked to someone close to you, who were those people present at that moment and this someone was telling you that they were people of respect, then you realized soon what that meant. That meant to be cautious, to be afraid, because you never knew what they wanted from you.
Indeed, what you really heard when you were hearing those words in the Sicilian society for sure was: fears, intimidations, extortions, murdering and so on. As you can see, there was little of respectfulness on those words and more of fearfulness. That's what the mafia really evoked in the minds of the Sicilian men when those words were spoken, and none of respectability.
Now, I want to tell you a story of when I was a teenager living in Sicily and I had a small incident with one of these people of respect.
This incident happened one summer morning, and I was with the company of my young friends. My friends and I were all playfully horsing around a nearby empty water channel.
During this playfulness, I felt someone grabbing my right shoulder with excessive strength. Then, in a puzzled way, I turned myself around and saw a tall old man with completely white hairs under a black coppola looking angrily at me. He started shouting at me with an old Sicilian dialect, which I could barely understood.
While I was trying to make sense of the words rushing out from the mouth of this old guy, he was already pushing me toward the edge of the empty water channel. After we reached that edge, he pointed his index finger to something which I could barely see down there.
I was totally confused up then. I could not make any sense of what he was trying to tell me, and either the why he was pointing his finger to that mysterious thing at the bottom of the channel.
At that point I was getting in a mix of frustration, angriness, and fearfulness. Slowly my brain started to decipher the intelligible words shouted at me from the old guy (later, I found out this old guy was on his seventies).
He was accusing me to had thrown his metallic wheelbarrow to the bottom of that channel. I promptly rejected his accusation vented on me, and his face started to twist more in an unrecognizable mask of angriness (I want to be more specific, in that incident I believe I was around the age of nine or maybe eleven years old). The kind of exaggerated reaction of this old guy, was like he was dealing with an adult guy capable to stand up to his confrontational attitude.
In fact now, he was pushing me harder to the edge of the channel while with a furious tone of voice (the kind tone of voice from someone used to give commands) he was ordering me to go towards the bottom of it to recover his metallic wheelbarrow. Right that moment, I started to think that the old man must had been out of his mind for wanting from me something like that, in spite of my young age. For me at that young age, his request sounded like he was asking me to descend from a very high mountain's peak, to recover a very heavy metallic object at the bottom of it.
Consequentially to his unreasonable request I started to cry while I was imploring him to let me go, but still he kept insisting with his absurd request. I can't recall how long he persisted with his absurdity. Eventually, he gave up and let me go but not before he warned to harshly punish me if he ever saw me again around that place.
Later, I had a conversation with some acquaintances about that old guy. I asked them who he was, and they told me he was a man of respect. A man of respect which was the family head of the Di Maggio's clan. To be more concise, he was a mafia boss well know and respected (I dare to say that more than respected he was feared) in the neighborhood where I lived.
In those days, I started to learn for the first times those words, "men of respect" and their real meanings.
Those same words, kept coming back during the rest of my years I lived in Sicily. I can say today, that harsh, brief encounter with the old, "respected" man was for me a childhood trauma, as well the first lesson on the real nature of the mafia's grasp on the minds and lives of the honest Sicilian people.