Scritto da © Carlo Gabbi - Mer, 14/05/2014 - 04:11
CHAPTER 1 PART 3
I found my mother distressed. She was panicking and a tremor agitated her hands. She was sitting outside, on a garden chair, under the large jacaranda tree in the garden. She had a blanket on her knees and her eyes weren’t focused on any object around her.
‘Mother, are you all right?’
‘Is it you Carlo? I thought you’d never come today.’
‘Sorry Mother, I had some delays. Is it anything wrong? What can I do for you?’
‘I’m feeling better knowing that finally you are around, but nightmares from the past have tormented me over the past week. I can’t really explain my feelings. It was a recurring dream. Or better it was… yes, like a rock wall was in front of me stopping to see behind it. That vision tortured my mind realizing that behind that monolithic rock hided my past life. I’m still anxious and frail because in the dream, I was a little girl…and desperately crying. Yes Carlo, that dream, that incubus is still in me. As soon as I close my eyes the nightmare is back. It’s an endless movie going to the end to soon restart again, picture after picture, frame after frame, to the end and back again. It makes me faint….It is terrifying. I try to renegade that dream, but I can’t. Inside me it’s a voice telling that what I see in my dream it had happen one day, when I was a young girl. Why cannot I remember more? Why, why my memory leaves me when all I want and need is to remember?’
‘Mama don’t panic, all will be fine. Let’s talk and that maybe help you to see into the past. I’ll ask simple questions which will break up the uncertainty in your vision.’ I told her reassuringly.
‘Sure Carlo, let’s try.’
‘You said it was a little girl in the dream and that girl was you. Can you see other people there with you? Try to concentrate and see more clearly into your dream.’
‘Yes there are many people around me and many are overwhelmed by fatigue. I see them now. Rain is pouring heavily and to protect us we have blankets over our shoulders…some people are pushing carts, others are carrying bags too heavy for them. I also see children there, holding hands with their mothers, and many are crying… Elderly people are helped by others while tiredly moved forward step after step.’
‘Can you see anything else?’
‘Yes, vision is still foggy but getting clear … I’m with my mother now, but hardly can I recognize her. She is very shabby and not anymore the beautiful elegant woman I used to know…She is in rugs, like all the others around and she carry a gerla, the typical local basket that it’s carried on the shoulders. ‘And why are all those people walking under the rain?’
‘It’s not only me and mama. My other sisters are with us. I’m between mama and I hold Anna’s hand. My older sister Dirce takes care of Costanza. We hold each other’s hands. But where is my little brother Uccio? He’s just a little baby, but why isn’t he with us, why Mama did leave him behind?’
‘Maybe Mama Luigia asked somebody to take care of him while you are going somewhere, can you remember?’
‘Oh no, I can hear him now. He is crying. Mama had him inside the gerla so she wouldn’t lose him. My God, I’m so tired. We have been walking for days now. The mud is up to our calves, we are compelled to walk at the side of the road by the patrolling Carabinieri. Rain pours heavily, dripping from our bodies and I’m so cold. I’m hungry. I have to walk and my eyes are closing by the tiredness in me and I walk-sleeping. Mama keeps pushing us telling, ‘We can’t stop or we will die.’
‘Soldiers are disbanded moving disorderly on the road above us no officers are around ordering them. The troops mechanically move step after step pushing forward who is in front of them like automatons, following those in front and pushed by those behind.’
‘Mother, tell me why those people are running away? Do you know the reason?’
‘I’m not sure… I need time to think… Yes, I hear someone next to us passing the voice, ‘The enemy has broken the front at Caporetto. We have to hurry to cross the bridges on the Tagliamento before they are blown up. The enemy getting closer…’
‘Could you see anything else in your dream?’
‘Yes, some soldiers have broken away from their platoon marching on the road and mix with the crowd walking in the fields. Many have thrown their rifle on the muddy side of the road, while voices are screaming, ‘War is over, we go home!’
‘One of this soldier walks near to us and tells Mama, ‘My name is Pietro, Signora, and I wish to help. Finally for me war is over and I’m going where I belong, with my family in Napoli. They need me. Our fields have been abandoned since they send me to the front two years ago. My wife and children are starving. Like you, Signora, I have growing children.’
Mama gives Pietro a tired smile of appreciation, thankful to his offer. I see Pietro throwing his long gun away in the mud, ‘I don’t need it anymore.’
‘Pietro looks at me and see how tire I am. Gently lifts me up and sit me horseback on his strong shoulders, and tells me, ‘You are remembering to me my sweet daughter Teresa. I’ll take care of you now so you can rest.’
Mama has lifted little Anna in her arms and she holds tightly to Mama’s neck. I’m holding onto Pietro’s neck and lightly I kiss him on the cheek to say thank you, before I fell asleep.’
‘What happened after?’
‘That is where my dream finished… Maybe tomorrow I will remember more, if I’ll sleep properly tonight.
* * *
I phoned Sergio within the day giving him the good news that finally my mother had started to narrate her story. There still is a lot to work around the skeleton of her narration to fill up the enormous gaps in between, but in time I was very hopeful to have an interesting plot of the lives of the Tullios.
I asked Sergio to follow up the historical fact of Caporetto’s retreat and find which bridge Mama Gigia and her children could possibly have crossed running against time and the Austro-Germans Army on those fatidic days of October 1917. I promised Sergio to write for him my mother’s words in remembering the agony of running away from their home.
‘Mother, I think we need to talk. I’m worried about you, you are not taking enough care of yourself, and I believe that Julia is a bit too young to look after you properly.’
‘No way, Carlo, I told you that before. I don’t have any intention to move with you or in an old people’s home. With Julia help I’m still capable to manage my life.’
‘Mother you have misunderstood me. I’m not talking of that. I only want to take you away for a vacation. You need that. You need some distraction, seeing and doing something new. In this way you can heal the pain of your body and the distress of Angelo’s loss. Honestly I also need a break from work to clear out my mind. Splitting from Anita had been an awful experience that drives me to insanity. Yes Mother…I know exactly what is in your mind about her and I completely agree with you.
‘She has been a bitch, and I’m glad that finally she has moved out of my life. The same it’s hard to adjust myself into a single life. I need to find new motivations for my future…’
‘First of all you need a caring woman…’
‘No definitely noooo, I would not look for another woman in my life. Two has been enough. Both had cost me so much.’
‘Yes Carlo, but that is your entire fault. You are intelligent enough, but you always are such a fool when you mix with women. When will you learn?’
‘Maybe I have learned this time, or maybe never? Matter of genes I suppose. Doesn’t it run in the family?’
‘Yes, you are right. Passions of love has always been our problems, but it’s time that you accept things and act in accordance.’
‘Yes Mama. But this is not what I want to discuss now. What I want to say is simply that you and me need a vacation away from our routines and forget the usual problems. I realised that our major problem is that we never consider properly the necessity to live like a family. For too long we have lived apart. I realised that most of the time we have run away from each other. Just now I want to offer you a serious proposition.’
‘What you said is only partly true. We have always been family. Even if we have been separated most of the time we have also had moments that we had lived happily together. Can’t you remember those months that we spent on the Alps in Vilminore? There was only one mountain separating our village from Switzerland, and all those pine forests, covering the sides of the mountains created an atmosphere of reclusion and peace. That perhaps has been the most perfect time we ever had together. I never understood why obstinately you resigned from your good job in the mine company where you worked for sometime. I also never asked you why you abandoned that young beautiful teacher that seamed so much in love with you.”
‘It was only matter of money, Mama. The Ferromine Co. underpaid me for so long. I was with the same responsibility has others had but I received only a quarter of what the others were paid. Yes, I know and understood that I was the last that joined the company, but to my eyes, their excuse wasn’t good enough. They should have paid me a bit more and promise something more for the future.’
‘As usual you have been stubborn. You should have listened to me at that time and should also have considered more the love of that lovely girl that you had there. What was her name?’
‘Her name was Dina. Yes I was in love with her, but I wasn’t ready to marry yet, her or any other woman. I was possessed by the desire to achieve something in life, before getting married. I was also adventurous and I desired to see the world around me. It was then that I saw the possibility to come to Australia and stay for two years with an appealing contract. I told myself it was offered with a wonderful opportunity to travel to this mysterious Country. Then, for a reason or another, something changed in me. In Australia I matured rapidly and I saw in front of me a new horizon opening. There were many good opportunity to grab, for those that had the courage and the will to work hard. It was then that I started my own business. In time the business become larger and it was demanding more energy from me. I saw the possibility to win better contracts returning more profits if only I risked a bit more. You well know, pride is an essential engine that makes you push over the limit of your capacities for the glory and the money you can make. So I kept on. Not always I won, but neither was I a loser. I can now summarize my long years in this Country with the words of the Italian poet Carducci. In one of his poem describing the great leader Napoleon, said of him, ‘Tre volte nella polvere, tre volte sull’altar…’ meaning three times rolling in the dust and three times incensed on the alter. Yes I had alternated fortunes and misfortunes, I had good times as well as bad times, I experienced giving love and I been loved back. But not always, someone used my kindness in love and returned hate. But that is life, regardless in which part of the universe you live.
When I returned to Italy, many years after, I found that businesses were really booming there, but I hadn’t the guts to abandon what I had created here with so much sweat. My life in this land was signed on and my decision taken. Australia became my adopted country. Now of course it is too late for a second thought, and I’m bonded deeply to this land where I spent the larger part of my life. This is the place where I was born again. It’s here where I learned to be myself with physical experiences and I owe this new land what it has given me. Here is where I became a man.’
‘Yes Carlo. Australia had taught us so much. I have never regret of following your steps. Since the very moment I landed in Sydney I made up my mind of not going back. I left behind the old world full of anxieties and wars for a new one. I have always believed in people and freedom. During the war I dedicated my experiences and my energies to heal the many that were suffering. Patriotically, I helped to the best of my capabilities, to fight against the enemies of that time, wanting a better future. But now I’m not so sure if all those sacrifices in war time had give back those results we dreamed.’
‘Yes Mother, I never asked you questions about your life of those days. I was still young, yet not too young, to see and understand many things, even if you tried to spare me from some atrocities. I solved many secrets of your life in those days, but there are many more that I don’t know. I don’t want to judge you or your actions on those terrible days. I know that what ever you have done had a particular reason. I heard a lot of people at that time talking of you. I also remember the day, soon after the war was over, when people of the Garibaldi Brigade incarcerated you for months. Finally before setting you free, in a public expression of revenge, over a podium erected in Piazza Caterina in Tolmezzo, to further humiliate you, they shaved your beautiful hair in front of the community. But then many people said it was only a vendetta of a few of those of the Red Brigade.But nobody really knows the real truth. That is only your secret of those days, Mother, and I’ll never ask you to tell me.’
‘Yes Carlo, it was humiliating, but as you said, I never been guilty of any infamous matter. I had been requested by one dear friend in the brigade for information that could save the lives of many patriots, and I had to act in a particular way with a German Major, the second in command in the district. People saw me with him and they accused me. My good friend had been killed in that particular operation by the Germans and many others with him. I lost my witnesses so nobody could speak in my defense. That’s war, and honestly I never felt diminished for what I did.’
‘Thank you Mother. I never doubted of you.”
There was a pause in our long conversation. My mother was definitely showing the signs of fatigue and gently offered her a cup of tea. Then I told her,
‘I’ll ask Julia to help you to bed, but before I leave I want to go back to the real reason I’m here today. I want to take you with me somewhere for a long vacation, three months or even longer. I’ll give you the option. You don’t need to choose now. I want to take you either to the Fijian Islands or along the Sunshine Coast here in Queensland. Being together for sometime will help both of us, and don’t forget, I also calculated that during that period of time I’ll be able to learn those secrets of the past starting and involving the life of Mama Luigia.’
‘I’ll think about Carlo. I’ll give you an answer next week.’
It is a real pleasure to see Mother again enjoying life. Her eyes have now the brilliancy of the past, and her mind is much clearer asking questions about this tropical paradise.
We landed in Nadi about three weeks ago, and with the help of a friend I found a suitable apartment facing Nadi Beach, only at a short distance from the International Airport and the city itself.
Mother was again enthusiastic to be at the seaside. The apartment looks over a beautiful bay with a white sandy beach forming a large arc. The bay water is normally calm with a deep blue color and a crystalline translucent reflection. Coconut palms grow unboundedly forming an endless line, and create at the centre of the beach a large oasis offering a restful place where benches and tables are provided for the visitors.
At each end of the beach are two tourist resorts and one offer Bulas, the characteristic Fijian dwelling, to the visitors. In the bay waters, not more than a mile away, are two small islands used by the locals on special folklorist festivals. On those occasions visitors mix with the locals and they admire their Polynesian dances and taste their succulent cuisine.
Anchored in the bay are always a few vessels, with people on board enjoyed their temporary stay, before moving to other moorings in nearby islands.
We are living in a large house, divided in two apartments, with a large arched verandah around, catching the fresh breeze of the ocean, and offering a magnificent view. Our host is a local Indian lady, a widow that offers to her tenant full board at a modest price. With Jaimul, our hostess, lives her younger daughter, a nurse’s trainee at the local hospital. Her name is Zeena. Soon a friendship developed between us and a familiar atmosphere is created, giving my mother a more relaxing life.
Mother likes them and a friendship was soon born between the women.
Knowing that Zeena was a nurse I felt relieved and asked her and Jaimul to keep an eye of my mother Antonia. That gave me time for my expeditions whenever I wanted to enjoying a few hours in Lautoka, at the English club, where I could read the last news or share a glass of beer with some of the interesting visitor from oversea.
I admit that coming to Fiji has been the right decision. The friendliness of the locals and the warm climate helped to restore my mother’s will to live again and to create interest in her I organized short tours of the area. She really enjoyed it when we went to the Orchid Farm over the Giants Mountain, where we admired some of the precious and magnificent varieties of these tropical flowers.
Every morning, I used to take Mother for a stroll along the beach, and after a walk we rested at the coconut oasis. This restful place is just at a short distance from our lodging and Mother likes to walk down to the water. She got stronger day by day, and we could walk longer distances. This activity helps her. I can see her getting more resilient on her legs, but also her concentration had improved. She is more in control and speaks without many contradictions. It really surprised me when suddenly she asked me to buy a note book and some pens, ‘…so I will be able to write down some of my memories, particularly facts that I’m possibly reluctant to say in words just now… You can always read them one day.’ Possibly alluding at the day when she will not be with me any longer.
So far she had been casually talking of her past times, but I know that soon she will be ready for some more important revelations.
I’m not putting any pressure on Mother. I want this to be spontaneous and be what she desires to do, particularly remembering good times and loved people, of her past. It will further help her morale and she’ll give away that apathy that still exists in her since Angelo death. She needs something to create interest in her life so she can appreciate the many beautiful things still offered to her. It will spring up that natural chain reaction that will take her to a longer, happier, healthier life, and this will repay me with the joy to have her finally as part of my life and be a family again.
How many times in my younger days had I suffered, desiring this?
Father hardly had a fatherly word for me, as I was growing up, and more than ever needed his guide and love in my young formative life. He was too busy. He never had time for the family. At the time Mother was still living with him, before the war started.
His life was divided between his political party, the clandestine meetings they had, and his love for wine. He had always been a political activist. He was indoctrinated in his younger days and believed in the Communist Credo. Communism had been his religion and Stalin was the Prophet. He could only see through his eyes the proletarian red flag enlarging the grandeur of the Communist utopia, and what he thought was good for his comrades.
It was because of his believe and attitudes that I have no feelings other then extreme anger for the way he treated his own family. He believed that he could find all the solutions in the red book that was his bible. He was only interested in the indoctrination of new followers to the Kremlin masters.
At that time I couldn’t understand much of politics and credos. I was too young to absorb the political ideas dividing a nation. At school we were taught into the Fascism ideology; Mussolini the savior of Italy, Mussolini the founder of the New Roman Empire, Mussolini here, and Mussolini there. That was how things were going on.
On Saturdays, which at the time was called Fascist Saturday, we had to dress in the Balilla uniform and learn drilling with a fake rifle and listening long litanies glorifying Fascism and what the regime will give us. It was a full boring day, at least for me. I was completely disinterested in that sort of garbage. My interest was instead for soccer. I only wanted to run in the field and sweat and kick, to win a real sports game. Since the early days I started school, I didn’t feel any attraction for the black shirt I had to wear and those commanding me on one side, or the subversives’ ideologies of my father, on the other. That was the reason why I started to skip the Saturday drills with the Balillas. It was so senseless and so boring, at least in my young apolitical mind. Soon my fascist commanding officer called me for attention. He summoned me at the Gioventu’ Italiana del Littorio Headquarter and severely warned me, promising some sort of heavy punishment, if I didn’t attend to my Saturday obligations. The Commander clearly told me that I was on their list because of my father’s opposing ideas.
Well this is just to let you know how well Italy was going on under the imperialistic fascist ideology and how they certainly didn’t let us be free thinkers. They badly wanted to brainwash even children and prepare them to be in time ‘Carne da cannone’ or cannon meat, and to be ready to be sacrificed to the war front on the very next occasion.
Under these pathetic circumstances Mother soon found necessary to find her way of earning money, and separated from her husband. She found work in a hospital and a thing become better for us even though wasn’t easy to manage the difficult times.
That was just before Mussolini declared war on England and France. In his maniacal mind he saw a justification to his greedy vain-glory to pass to history as the new Caesar and the creator of the Second Roman Empire. That was only what he wanted the Italian to believe.
And this was during the time I had to learn about life.
I was young and miserably lonely. I craved for affections that I saw were granted generously to my other friends and I envied them so much. They lived in a real family with brothers and sisters, and they had a mother and a father who cared for them… There was nothing of this for me, and there was no one with whom I could purge the bitterness compressed in my soul. The only time I’ve been able to ask Mother why that was happening to us, she sorrowfully told me,
‘That’s life, we have to keep on and carry the heaviness of our sorrows…’
I saw how distressed she was answering me. That’s why I never asked again, closing inside me those words of love and affection I wanted to tell her. I didn’t want to see her cry again.
And this was the reason I wanted to have her closer now, in Fiji. Subconsciously I was still that young boy in need of love and affections from his mother. Yes, I found out at that time that it doesn’t matter how old we are but we never completely grow up. We harbor those childish instincts and the need of a mother.
Instinctively at that moment I told her, ‘Mother, I love you and I’m glad we are together. I want to pay back something that I have owed you for a long time.’
Mother looked back at me. She couldn’t properly understand what I was saying and why. She couldn’t read what was going on in my mind, but I saw a sparkling light in her eyes while she looked at me. She extended her hand across the table in the park, where we sat. I took her thin pale hand in mine. Across us passed like an electrical shock. We knew then that words were not necessary. She understood the grateful message in my heart. Again I was the young child of the past and she was my adored beautiful mother.