A SETTEFRATI , UN TEMPO
Italian version English version
FATHER HAS RETURNED
After a while, people started arriving at the house. Word got out that something big was happening and zia Rosa’s house. Uncle Paolo arrived; he and my father had been in Africa together, prisoners in various concentration camps. The two brothers embraced, and in those few instants, a lifetime of memories passed between the two, made of sacrifices and suffering, victims of a cruel war that had ripped them from their families for so many years. A short time later, Uncle Michelangelo arrived. I was very fond of him. He cared very much about me and in a certain sense, as best as he could, he had been a father to me. The two brothers embraced, kissed, and they embraced again, while tears flowed freely from their eyes. In those few moments, a unique and infinite brotherly love passed between the two, capable of allowing them to forget in an instant all the suffering of the last 10 years. Other friends and relatives arrived. A cousin of ours arrived with his accordion; he played well and everyone began singing stornelli (traditional folk songs) badly. How different this night was from all the other nights at home when only the three of us would be seated around the fire talking right before going to bed. Now there was music, cheer, where before there was sadness and a melancholy air. While everyone was gathered in the kitchen to talk and sing, I saw Grandmother go out with an air of mystery about her. She came back a short while later; with one hand, she held up the ends of her apron, which was filled with I don’t know what, while in the other hand she held a fresh bottle of wine, recently decanted.
She put the wine on the table, opened her apron and pulled out a piece of fresh cacio cheese, a nice piece of prosciutto and lots of sausages. She also pulled out a loaf of fresh of bread from the oven; she walked towards my father, showed him the cheese, the ham and the sausages and she said: “These I had saved only for you.” He responded, his voice full of love, “You’re always the same, you always think of your children.” And she replied, “This is true, but now I must also think of my grandchildren.”
A few weeks before, I had surprised my grandmother down in the cellar, perched on a step, while she was hiding something on top of the oven. She told me to be quiet and to not say anything to anyone. And I hadn’t breathed a word of her strange behavior. She had indeed been there hiding the cheese, for she knew that when the last of her children returned, she had to prepare something special.
It was getting late, and people started leaving; they would pull their collars up around their ears and go out into the cold night towards their own homes. We were alone. I was tired and still confused over the events of that night. It was Grandmother who spoke first; she gave the candle to my mother and father, took my father’s hand and placed it in my mother’s hand and said: “Take back your bride.” Mother lowered her eyes and blushed.
Then Grandmother turned to me and said; “You sleep with me tonight.” I looked at her, astonished, and with my finger pointed at my father, asked her, “And where is he sleeping?” She replied: “With your mother.” I quickly turned to my mother to hear her tell me that it wasn’t true, that she and I were going to sleep together in our big bed like we always had on very cold nights. Mother didn’t say anything. No, it couldn’t be true! This stranger was now going to take my place next to my mother, absolutely not!
I told Grandmother: “Send him to sleep in the small room, I’m going to sleep with my mother.” Grandmother grabbed my hand and dragged me upstairs into her small room. I was not at all happy at how things were turning out. I had my father but I had lost my mother. I didn’t understand a thing. I went to bed, but quite a bit of time passed before I fell asleep. The next morning I awoke with an enormous headache. I had a high fever. I sat next to the fire, I even refused breakfast. Nothing was the same at home. That afternoon, my teacher came to visit us. He warmly greeted my father. He took a seat, I heard him talking about me and everything he said was good. He gave my father a very good report on me. Then he added that for a few days I didn’t have to go to school, I could stay home and keep my father company. He would send my schoolwork home to me with another student. My fever continued for a week. The doctor said that the excitement of that night had shaken me a bit, but that I would be better in a few days. And so it was. A new life had begun for me, for us.
Slowly, I got used to the stranger’s presence in the house. The stranger that was my father. I felt that he loved me; he would have me sit next to him and he would tell me stories about the life he lived far away from us. I listened to him attentively. Then he would ask me to talk about myself, about the life I lived with Mother and Grandmother. I did and he asked many questions. Mother had started smiling again and Grandmother did nothing else but thank all the Saints for having brought every one of her four children back from the war safe and sound.
Delia Socci Skidmore