12th excerpt from the memoirs of Carlo Calcagni, my maternal grandmother’s eldest brother and a true Roman born almost one and a half century ago. Read all excerpts posted so far in English or in Carlo’s original Italian text.
Here the original Italian text of this post.
Having a small house and also needing more freedom our family had the men’s and the women’s departments. The males with my father, the females with my mother.
Only in the dead of night one could see my father (he suffered a bit from insomnia) wandering like a ghost around all departments, opening windows, letting pure and new air in and then closing all up again; and this invariably all nights, not just on one occasion, in summer and in winter, ‘to refresh the air’ he used to say.
The departments lasted untouched until some space was made due to the departure of two males for military service. Thus my father could have a room on his own while my mother remained with her two daughters, Agnese and Maria.
I on my own in another room since my father went to bed at 9 pm while I (by that time older and clerk) was a night owl and came back home at impossible hours and could therefore disturb my father’s extremely light sleep. My mother stayed up very late at night since when everyone was asleep she only felt free to collect her thoughts in fervent, long and exhausting prayer.
Then she prayed quite a lot for all of us, for her husband already much suffering, for her daughter, the nun, for us sons, for the other spinster daughter and also primarily because while in prayer she could well wait until I came back home so that she could serenely rest.
Every night one could hear this endless two-rooms-away duet between dad and mum:
“Rachele, turn off the light.”
“Has Carlo come back home?”
“What is he doing?”
“May the Madonna guide him and save him from danger. Turn off the light now.”
“I’m almost done.”
My mother at last heard a distant voice that was approaching and singing in the silence of the night. It was me who practiced in the nocturnal quiet in search of the best voice setting while phrasing some opera tune. Therefore when I entered our house I found complete darkness and the deepest calm, the only sign of life being Titino’s warmly and silent welcome (our dog.)
Sitting softly at the table without making any noise I ate the food now cold mum had prepared for me. The calm was though only apparent since my father certainly did not sleep and my mother perhaps neither.
At that point one could hear as light as a breath my father’s voice giving the family news, commenting for me on the facts of the day, criticizing me.
And I silent, without breathing a word …
“Yes, he (that is me) thinks he’s intelligent and understanding because he has studied (I was graduated in law) and instead he’s a twerp! Now he’s begun to study singing … but he has no voice!!”
And there followed the most ‘tactful’ allusions to my faults, to my manias or peculiar expressions.
“Well then, well then” was my pet phrase.
After which he softly and in spurts repeated excerpts from letters I had received, from invitation cards or postcards from my future wife that he had read, since he, the father, had the right to know everything, to read everything, even to open a letter addressed to me.
I remember that at Christmas time Bice, my future how future wife – at that time only our, or rather my acquaintance – sent me the cutest postcard with the image of a little angel knocking at a closed door, under which she had written:
“Unfortunately I do not know if I ever will be that little angel … “
And in the night my father punctual and in the silence of my very late dinner, with a petite voice full of intention, began to say and to repeat many times:
“Unfortunately I do not know ….”
Right. Unfortunately? Why then unfortunately … because I was my father’s real worry and continuous preoccupation. He talked not much with me anymore because I was grown up, I had studied, deemed myself self-sufficient and especially because he felt like a reticence to show his interest to me. I too felt a reserve and a sort of fear (pauriccia) towards my father; in substance I feared his caustic spirit and the power of his humour so much superior to mine.
However my mother told me that my father by coming home every evening minutely inquired about me and my doings.
“What is Carlo saying? What is he doing? Was he in a cheerful mood? Why doesn’t he take a wife?”
He cared after all a lot about me but didn’t want me to feel it, he didn’t want to confess it to me or, better still, he did not want to even admit it.