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A Tale of the Past - Una favola del passato. (Capitolo uno parte uno) English version

Carlo Gabbi
     This isn’t a tale. It reflects the real life of people that had existed, loved, and been part of my life. I exist because they existed before me. They are part of my past. They are part of a tale that did not always ended happily. They lived in difficult times. At the time this story started, it was called “La Belle Époque”.
Soon after everything changed dramatically and it became a war which erupted and destroyed that romanticism and the great life of the many at the top of the social scale, the cream of the times. For the many others, the normal working people, misery was added to their existing misery. As always in wars, many lives of people were lost and a large territory was destroyed to satisfy the greediness of the few that governed. But wars, through times, since man became intelligent, had never improved this world. Man had never become wiser from the many experiences learned in previous wars; instead it made the one in command of the European states more cruel and unmerciful. It created Communist and Fascist regimes and those gave reason to start new wars, new destructions, more suffering, and more deaths. It left behind destroyed countries that took more then two decades to return to normality and in which hopes for a better future were always obscured by political greediness and where cries and sufferance rose again by the many.
     This tale reflects the life of my family across the two world wars and the life of that population that lived in the Friuli-Carnia who suffered during those bellicose times loosing most of their possession and lives.
To what I have already said, I have to add that this is the story that I wasn’t suppose to tell. This was supposed to be Sergio’s story. He is my cousin and we grew up together and in the old days we shared a lot of good and bad times and sometime we had been part of this story. He had a great affection for our grandmother with whom he lived for several years and she was a mother to him. One day he asked me help to research the real life of our grandparents because he wanted to write of them. In our searches we came across an incredible story that more or less started at the beginning of the twenty century in Hungary, and evolved through the two world wars.
Sergio couldn’t write it. He died prematurely. It took me a good ten years to decide to complete his desire and write for him. This is a testimonial of family love and passions and I hope it will help the new generation to better understand the past, which even if it is recent, is equally so far away. Technology of the past fifty years has changed this world so much. Many will not believe that a mere one hundred years ago only a few had seen a train or knew about electricity. Radio was discovered well after the First World War finished. So this is the reason that my story, in the eyes of many, will look like an incredible tale.        
       ‘Mother, you have promised to tell the story about Grandmother Luigia and her family. Have you forgotten already? Sergio phoned again. He wants to write about her life. You know how strong his love for Grandmother was.’
‘Yes Carlo, I know that I promised. I am an old woman now and I’m forgetful. Only a few memories of the past are crystal clear for me today. Most of them are nebulous. Many times one story crosses with the other, I’m mostly confused. Too many things had happened, do you know that?’
‘Yes Mother, I know. What we’re asking you may be too much, but yet we must do that to preserve those memories for others. Only in this way the new generation will be aware of the family’s past.’
‘Carlo my eighty five years are heavy on my shoulders, I’m weak and forgetful. Beside I’m not quite sure if I have the right to disturb the peace of those that lived before me. Some of the dead can be resentful. I have always been superstitious and I want them to let me be in peace in these last days of my life.’
‘Ok Mother. I can understand you, but please reconsider what we ask.’
‘I’m tired now. Could you please ask Julia to make a cup of tea for me?’
I left her in the verandah facing her rose garden set under the jacaranda trees. It was really a restful place in a pastoral environment, away from the urban traffic, but yet close to the city. She had chosen to come and live in Queensland, after her second husband, Angelo’s, passed away two years ago. She had found the warmer climate was much more suitable to her old bones.
At her advanced age Mother insisted on living alone. With her was only a young South American woman, the daughter of one of her neighbors, who prepared her meals and helped in the chores around the large house. Mother had firmly refused to come and live with me, when I asked she kept saying, ‘I don’t want to lose my independence.’ She has always been stubborn on this matter. On my insistences with a suave smile she repeated to me, ‘I’m not that old yet. This is my home. Never try to move me from here.’
When I returned to the verandah, Mother had fallen into a deep sleep. I didn’t want to disturb her. She was mumbling some indecipherable words belonging to her past. 
At my Sunday visits more often I found her in this unconscious state. In her dream I heard her calling to people belonging to her past life, and unknown to me. At times a smile was on her lips and at others she emitted an agonizing murmuring repeating unintelligible words and calling someone by name. In her calls was an evident tenderness and desire for him. But who was he? Would she ever confide the secrets in her past life? Or will she stubbornly take the secret of her past with her?  
     I sat opposite her, and I studied her more intensely. I found how heavily   time was aging her lately. She had changed so much. Over the last couples of years she had shrank into a minute woman far from her juvenile appearance of only a few years ago. She wasn’t the strong woman she used to be. Her pink complexion had become a uniform ivory color with her face marked by a crisscross of wrinkles, and her white hair had thinned from the healthy wavy chestnut hair that I remembered so well. But still she was a pleasant old lady that emanated so much respectability. I also found that the expression of her face had mellowed in time, but the fact she had been a very strong willed woman was still evident.
Since my early age we lived independently and in different places. All the same the bond of love had always existed between us even if it was not often expressed with effusions or unnecessary words. That was part of family inheritance and from the Alpine villages where they come from. 
I don’t know why but the exchange of confidences had never been strong between us. Most likely the events of the war and the critical times influenced me at the time I was growing into a man. We had so many other problems, problems of survival. We never knew what tomorrow would bring to us. Misery was all around us. All the families around suffered starvation, cold, and were scared by the enemies, living with us, unknown to us, because during those days brothers were against brothers. Political motives were stronger than family love. And more, personal interests became excuses to accuse innocents of bad doing. So growing up in those circumstances inhibited me and I was never able to tell mother how much I really loved her and how much I have been thankful for all she had given me, particularly in those young days. I always believed that on prematurely becoming a man, those thought and words of love were nothing but a sign of weakness. Beside it is the custom of the people, coming from that province in Italy, to be reserved. They have never been generous in words, to openly express their feelings, even if in their heart, love has always been the strongest bond in the family.
Next Sunday, on my usual visit, my mother was in much higher spirits. There was some pink in her pale cheeks. She seemed less reserved than usual and a smile was on her lips. She told me,
‘Today I feel happy and I want to celebrate. In the cellar are still a few old bottles of Ramandul, the same wine that was produced in my grandparent’s vineyard. Today we’ll uncork one of those special bottles for a toast. Are you surprised that I never spoke openly of my patriarch family. But certainly you have heard of Nimis, in Friuli. That is where the family comes from.
When my mother was young they were one of the wealthier families in the district. They originally had come from Hungary. No. I’m not really sure about that… This is the problem of getting old.’
Then Mother started to narrate ‘My grandfather had contracts of work in Budapest… or was in Transylvania? Maybe he had been in both those places.’
Then she continued, ‘Yes Carlo, it is confusion in my memory but I’m sure one day your grandmother Luigia told me that one of her great aunties belonged to the Hungarian nobilities and she lived in Budapest. It was so long ago those things happened, maybe over one hundred years ago. One day memory will be more clear, and then I will tell you more. Forgive me, Carlo, but my memory lets me down..’
‘Sure Mother. One day you will remember and I promise to write it down as you remember it. It doesn’t really matter if those facts are not in chronological order. Just tell them as they come back in your memory. Then I will put them in the proper order for you; But, what about that bottle of Ramandul? You have tempted me. Let’s toast now to the patriarchs of your family, what did you said their family name was?’
‘The family name is Tullio, and my grandfather’s name was Francesco and grandma was Maria. They had a pretty large family. Not sure now how many children they had, but again I will try to remember that also. I can only tell you that grandma was many years younger than my grandfather. Yes Carlo, go and get one of those bottle. It’s a long time since I drank some of that wine, but today is a special occasion, isn’t it?’ 
I stayed for dinner with my mother, Antonia. The wine warmed her up, and she became more loquacious than usual. She asked me to take her for a drive on the coast next weekend. She said, ‘I want to see the ocean, even if I don’t have any interest to go across those waters again. I left my old Country for ever. Australia has been home for me now for many years, and here is where I’ll rest in peace one day. Remember that over my tomb I want only a simple wooden cross with written on only my name. I don’t want there false words of sympathy or love. Love must be kept in the heart and not advertised publicly.’   
While Mama was waiting for her cup of tea she fell asleep. I helped Julia to take her upstairs to her bedroom. As soon as she was comfortable I left, kissed her. She had already fell into dreams of the past and forgotten the present.

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