A SETTEFRATI , UN TEMPO .....
Italian version English version
IOLE IS BORN
Another few weeks passed and I noticed that my mother kept loosening the belt of her new dress. I noticed a change in my mother and I started to suspect the reason behind it. Then, one day, one of my aunts asked me if I would like to have a little sister or brother; at that point, I no longer had any doubts. My mother was pregnant. I was intrigued, surprised, and confused by the news. Grandmother couldnít contain her happiness. She loved my mother as if she were her own daughter and she protected her in every way possible. Now she forbade her to do any heavy work and especially not to go wash clothes. My father hired a woman to help my mother in performing chores around the house.
Summer passed and the first days of autumn were getting closer. Preparations for the coming birth sped up. Mother would rarely go out now and she would spend her time at home preparing baby clothes. I was so very impatient and I couldnít wait for the baby to arrive. I remembered how I liked having Livia with us and how much fun I had holding her.
One morning, I was awakened early by the noise of many people coming and going into and out of my house. Even before I could understand what was going on, my aunt came and said to me: ďCome on, hurry up, get dressed and go to my house because Edda is waiting for you.Ē And so I went. Edda was waiting for me. Her father made us breakfast, I donít remember what, maybe some zuppa di latte (bread soaked in milk). I stayed there and played with Edda and her brothers. Time passed and I wanted to go back home, but I was not allowed to; I was told that I couldnít yet. Finally, my aunt, Eddaís mother, returned smiling and told me to go home; she told me that I had a little sister. I didnít want to hear anything else; I ran home, followed by Edda. But her mother grabbed her by the collar of her dress, stopped her and said that she could go later, not now. I got home fast. I found my father by the door, smiling and happy. I passed in front of him without saying anything, ran up the stairs and went straight to my motherís room.
She smiled at me and pointed to the crib next to the bed. There, wrapped up in swaddling clothes and covers, with a small pink bonnet, I saw a tiny, tiny pink face. My mother gestured to me that I could hug her. I bent down over the crib and hugged that little ball, all white and pink. I looked at her and touched her and she slept. ďI have a sisterĒ, I repeated to myself, ďA sister thatís all mine.Ē I felt an immense and sweet excitement within myself and I knew that I already loved my sister.
After Iole was born, our house became a hub of people coming and going to see the newborn, as was the custom. The wives of the town would stop to talk to my mother and exchange news about their children and ideas.
But what was strange in those times, even my fatherís friends would come to visit Iole. Men and women would bend down over the crib to hug her and say what a beautiful creature she was. Iole was truly beautiful; a little ball of pink with thick black hair. She became the center of the family and the center of the attention of my parents, my grandmother and my aunts and uncles. As soon as she would start crying, everyone would run towards the crib to hug her and cradle her. Iole was to lack nothing. She had the most beautiful pink covers and wool bonnets with satin bows that I had made by hand with so much care before she was born.
I would look at everything and everyone, but to me it seemed that no one saw me. Even the aunts and uncles that had taken me out on walks to catch butterflies when I was smaller now passed me by without seeing me. Grandmother Rosa had the crib put next to the fire and she would rock her and sing her lullabies.
She would often forget to make me breakfast before I went to school, which she always did before. I became quiet and secluded and I no longer did that well in school. My father would reprimand me, then I behaved even worse. Things werenít looking so good for me. I went from being the only one getting the attention and praise of the family to being invisible, an object with no value. I had always done well in school and I was always the first one to finish the in-class essay, then I would help the other students who were behind. My mother didnít give place importance on my scholastic change, but my father did. He became strict with me and scolded me often. He spoke with my teacher, who told him that I still did relatively well in class, but my homework was always wrong. My fatherís reprimands were always accompanied by vague threats. Now my father scared me, I didnít want to see him and I tried to stay as far as possible from him.
Meanwhile, my mother was preparing for Ioleís baptism. She decorated the house and made cookies and liqueurs, which she had always known how to make masterfully.
The Sunday of the Baptism, Ioleís Godmother and Godfather arrived with two boxes tied with pink bows. I was next to mother and together we got Iole ready. The Godmother opened one box and took out a small pink dress make of Angora wool. It was the most beautiful thing that I had ever seen. I touched the small sweater and it was soft; small pink and white flowers decorated its borders. It felt like touching a small white cloud.
Even the bonnet was the same pink, with two bows that ended in small flowers like the small sweater. Then the Godmother grabbed a pair of white shoes, pure as snow, and a pair of pink knee socks, put them on Iole and picked her up to show everyone. How beautiful my sister was! She seemed more like a doll than an actually baby. I was now fixated on the shoes that were soft and white like snow. Iole swung her feet, but the small shoes remained in place. I couldnít take my eyes off them. Then I bent my head and looked at my shoes and two huge bitter tears fell from my eyes.
I had a pair of boy shoes two sizes too big for my feet.
Grandmother had filled the tip with rags and she had me tie the laces tight. The shoes had been given to my mother for me the year before, when, after the war, aid packages started arriving from America and from the Vatican. She had saved them for a ďmemorable occasion.Ē
For my mother, they were fine: for my grandmother, it wasnít right to waste a new pair of shoes even if I was a girl and the shoes were so big that they had to be filled with rags. I donít think my father knew anything. While I stared at the shoes, a flood of emotions shook me. I saw the galoshes again, those that were tied to my feet with strings, those that my mother had found I couldnít remember where, after I had lost my shoes in the snow up in the forest or in the stable when we were looking for refuge from the cannon fire. But Iole, at less than a month old, had the most beautiful white shoes that I had ever seen.
I saw myself again dressed in rags during those long months after the evacuation. The return to the village and the fight to restart a life in a town destroyed by war. I swallowed a sob. I didnít want to cry on this beautiful day. No one had a hint that anything was wrong. After the Mass and the Baptism, friends and relatives returned to our house for a sumptuous lunch. The celebrations continued until late in the evening.
In less than a year, I had met my father for the first time, but I had lost my place in bed next to my mother. My sister had been born and I adored her, but I had lost my privileged place in the family. Even at that tender age, when I should have been happy and carefree, life treated me with many ups and downs.
Delia Socci Skidmore