(For Three-Word Wednesday and ABC Wednesday: "A" is for "addio")
I told the first part of the story last week; now let me tell the rest.
I had studied Italian on the ship on the way over so she and I were able to sit together on a park bench and have a fairly successful conversation.
When I learned her story, I realized that she was as intelligent as she was attractive, someone whom we back home would have called a girl-next-door type, who was desperately doing what was necessary to save her family because of the huge problems the war had brought.
For the past several years there had been no work for her father, little food for her brother and sister, and they had stood to lose their apartment. She had stepped up, becoming the family’s sole breadwinner.
She startled me a bit by inviting me to come home with her and meet her folks.
It was very interesting, though strange, to visit her place. I felt like the Gentleman Caller of “The Glass Menagerie” as I said hello to everyone. I was pleased to see they were friendly.
No one there would smoke even one cigarette of the carton of Lucky Strikes I contributed to the family’s economy. American cigarettes were coin of the realm, like cash. One pack could provide food and other necessities of life. Even one American cigarette could get some fruit or vegetables at a street market.
Suddenly her younger sister came home; she stood in the doorway and cried “Salve!” (“Hail!”) - pretty much like a younger sister in our country might come home and say “Hi!”
The kid sister’s arrival made quite an impression on me. In Rome, as you know, history is everywhere; the city has been around for millennia. I suddenly thought that two thousand or so years ago, Roman girls were coming home, perhaps in this very spot, and saying “Salve!” to their families, using that exact same word and probably with the same pronunciation.
However, to get back to my story.
Miss Mountain of Flowers and I retired, with as much decorum as the situation permitted, to her room. I was surprised by what I saw.
There was a new bicycle there, rather like the one in the above picture, but it was a much better version – shinier, more impressive, a spanking bright red and silver beauty.
I was fascinated.
Someone thought enough of this girl to give her a great new bike in wartime. But how did they get such a thing?
I would have thought that in the six years of war no country in Europe would have been able to turn out such a bicycle.
She told me the story.
She had been given the bike when she was fourteen, just before the war came to change everything. Because of the turmoil in the streets of Rome at the time, she had never dared take it downstairs and ride it; she was sure that someone would take it from her.
It belonged in the sun, but she kept it in the shade in her room all those years. She polished it regularly, waiting for the day when the war would end and the future would be limitless and peace would return to the streets of the city. She was not a child any more – she was a young woman of twenty-one years – but her great ambition was to be able to take it downstairs and try it out.
The war was horrible, so many thousands – millions – of lives lost, so much tragedy. This was, in contrast, a very unimportant story. But I couldn’t help feeling that this too, in its small way, was a poignant tale:
A girl who kept a beloved new bicycle in her room for seven years, waiting for the day when peace would come so she’d be able to ride it for the first time.
We got to know each other well, in a few days. We became friends.
The Great War had ended, but communications must have been tangled because the Japanese somehow never got the memo. The battle raged on in the Pacific, so I had to say addio and leave.
“A te il ricordo.
A me la gioia di essere ricordata.”
“To you the memory.
To me the joy of being remembered.”
I still feel, after all these years, the strength of il recordo.
(Submitted also to Sunday Scribblings)
1 year ago