A SETTEFRATI , UN TEMPO
Italian version English version
January 10, 1947, it was a clear night, full of stars, and the moon illuminated the dark streets of the village. It was very cold and no one was out, not even the boys who played with their marbles in the town square.
My grandmother, my mother and I were seated close to the fire that was slowly burning down. It would have been useless to add more wood to the fire, because in a bit we would have all gone to bed. Grandmother, seated on the bench on one side of the fireplace, finished with her knitting, took out her rosary beads , which she always had in her pocket, and was reciting her rosary prayers. Every once in a while, she would fall asleep and break off, murmuring a Hail Mary or an Our Father, then she would snap back awake and restart her prayers. Mother was seated in the other corner, her face always sad, and with unhappy eyes she looked into the distance at I don’t know what. I was seated on the little step in front of the fire. I was memorizing the poem that I would have to recite at school the following day. The poem was entitled “La camicina” (The Little Shirt); I had already read it a couple of times by the light of the small lamp and I had memorized it.
Years have passed since the war, but the electrical system of the town had still not been restored. The small lamp that had been lit didn’t give off much light and cast great shadows on the wall. To me, they seemed like so many giants that skulked in the shadows. The lamp’s wick burned and would send a thin trail of black smoke drifting up to the ceiling, which would leave black marks.
I thought to myself, “Who knows how proud Father would be if he heard me reciting the poem?” I had prayed so much. I had written a letter to Baby Jesus to ask him to bring my father back. But another Christmas had passed, and then the Epiphany, and yet there was no news of my father. My father was still in a concentration camp in Tanganyika. Uncle Michelangelo had tried to find out from the Red Cross when we would have been able to see him again, but they hadn’t given him any definitive answers.
While the three of us were each lost in our own thoughts, someone knocked at the door. We thought it was my uncle Paolo; he had returned only a few moths ago and each night, before he would go to sleep, he would stop by and wish us good night. I ran to the door shouting his name. But before I even arrived at the entrance, the door opened and two strong arms grabbed me, hugged me and held me tight. I yelled and started throwing punches while I tried to free myself. My mother quickly ran to me, she understood immediately what was happening. Grandmother Rosa, still asleep, hadn’t realized anything was going on…but only for a moment, then even she knew and ran towards the door. I was completely confused at this point; this stranger now hugged my mother, then my grandmother and he wouldn’t let me go. Confusing voices reached me, saying “It’s Father, it’s Father” and the stranger: “I’m your father, Delia, I’m your father.” Mother didn’t say anything…she just cried and laughed. Then I began to understand. It was my father. Father had returned. Kisses and hugs continued all around.
Of course I didn’t recognized him, I had never seen him; I had been born after he went to Africa. The pictures I had of him didn’t seem to be the same person.
The father that I had longed for so many years had returned. Now I also had a father, like all of my friends. We were still all embracing.
Then Grandmother separated herself, knelt and made the sign of the cross; she said a prayer and thanked God, saying “I thank you, Oh Lord, you’ve brought all my children back home”; she kissed the ground and stood back up.
Delia Socci Skidmore