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All Mum’s Letters (家书)

All Mum’s Letters

To this day I remember my mum’s letters. It all started in December 1941. Every night she sat at the big table in the kitchen and wrote to my brother Johnny, who had been drafted that summer. We had not heard from him since the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor.

I didn’t understand why my mum kept writing Johnny when he never wrote back.

“Wait and see-we’ll get a letter from him one day,” she claimed. Mum said that there was a direct link from the brain to the written word that was just as strong as the light God has granted us. She trusted that this light would find Johnny.

I don’t know if she said that to calm herself, dad or all of us down. But I do know that it helped us stick together, and one day a letter really did arrive. Johnny was alive on an island in the Pacific.

I had always been amused by the fact that mum signed her letters, “Cecilia Capuzzi”, and I teased her about that. “Why don’t you just write ‘Mum’?” I said.

I hadn’t been aware that she always thought of herself as Cecilia Capuzzi. Not as Mum. I began seeing her in a new light, this small delicate woman, who even in high-heeled shoes was barely one and a half meters tall.

She never wore make-up or jewelry except for a wedding ring of gold. Her hair was fine, sleek and black and always put up in a knot in the neck. She wouldn’t hear of getting a haircut or a perm. Her small silver-rimmed pince-nez only left her nose when she went to bed.

Whenever mum had finished a letter, she gave it to dad for him to post it. Then she put the water on to boil, and we sat down at the table and talked about the good old days when our Italian-American family had been a family of ten: mum, dad and eight children. Five boys and three girls. It is hard to understand that they had all moved away from home to work, enroll in the army, or get married. All except me.

Around next spring mum had got two more sons to write to. Every evening she wrote three different letters which she gave to me and dad afterwards so we could add our greetings.

Little by little the rumour about mum’s letters spread. One day a small woman knocked at our door. Her voice trembled as she asked: “Is it true you write letters?”

“I write to my sons.”

“And you can read too?” whispered the woman.

“Sure.”

The woman opened her bag and pulled out a pile of airmail letters. “Read… please read them aloud to me.”

The letters were from the woman’s son who was a soldier in Europe, a red-haired boy who mum remembered having seen sitting with his brothers on the stairs in front of our house. Mum read the letters one by one and translated them from English to Italian. The woman’s eyes welled up with tears. “Now I have to write to him,” she said. But how was she going to do it?

“Make some coffee, Octavia,” mum yelled to me in the living room while she took the woman with her into the kitchen and seated her at the table. She took the fountain pen, ink and air mail notepaper and began to write. When she had finished, she read the letter aloud to the woman.

“How did you know that was exactly what I wanted to say?”

“I often sit and look at my boys’ letters, just like you, without a clue about what to write.”

A few days later the woman returned with a friend, then another one and yet another one–they all had sons who fought in the war, and they all needed letters. Mum had become the correspondent in our part of town. Sometimes she would write letters all day long.

Mum always insisted that people signed their own letters, and the small woman with the grey hair asked mum to teach her how to do it. “I so much want to be able to write my own name so that my son can see it.” Then mum held the woman’s hand in hers and moved her hand over the paper again and again until she was able to do it without her help.

After that day, when mum had written a letter for the woman, she signed it herself, and her face brightened up in a smile.

One day she came to us, and mum instantly knew what had happened. All hope had disappeared from her eyes. They stood hand in hand for a long time without saying a word. Then mum said: “We better go to church. There are certain things in life so great that we cannot comprehend them.” When mum came back home, she couldn’t get the red-haired boy out of her mind.

After the war was over, mum put away the pen and paper. “Finito,” she said. But she was wrong. The women who had come to her for help in writing to their sons now came to her with letters from their relatives in Italy. They also came to ask her for her help in getting American citizenship.

On one occasion mum admitted that she had always had a secret dream of writing a novel. “Why didn’t you?” I asked.

“All people in this world are here with one particular purpose,” she said. “Apparently, mine is to write letters.” She tried to explain why it absorbed her so.

“A letter unites people like nothing else. It can make them cry, it can make them laugh. There is no caress more lovely and warm than a love letter, because it makes the world seem very small, and both sender and receiver become like kings in their own kingdoms. My dear, a letter is life itself!”

Today all mum’s letters are lost. But those who got them still talk about her and cherish the memory of her letters in their hearts.

  家书

  至今我依然记得母亲的信。事情要从1941年12月说起。母亲每晚都坐在厨房的大饭桌旁边,给我弟弟约翰写信。那年夏天约翰应征入伍。自从日本袭击珍珠港以后,他就一直杳无音信。

  约翰从未回信,我不明白母亲为何还要坚持写下去。

  可母亲还是坚持说:“等着瞧吧,总有一天他会给我们回信的。” 她深信思想和文字是直接相连,这种联系就像上帝赋予人类的光芒一样强大,而这道光芒终会照耀到约翰的身上。

  虽然我不肯定她是否只是在安慰自己,或是父亲,或者是我们几个孩子,但我们一家人却因此更加亲密。而最终我们终于等到了约翰的回信,原来他驻扎在太平洋的一个岛屿上,安然无恙。

  母亲总以“塞西莉娅?卡普奇”署名,每每令我忍俊不禁,还要嘲笑她几句。我问:“为什么不直接写‘母亲’呢?”

  以前我一直没有留意到她把自己当成塞西莉娅?卡普奇,而不是母亲。我不禁以新的眼光打量自己的母亲,她是多么优雅,又是那么矮小,就算穿上高跟鞋,她的身高依然不足一米五。

  母亲向来素面朝天,除了手上戴的婚戒,她基本是不戴其他的首饰。她的头发顺滑乌亮,盘在颈后,从不剪短或烫曲。只有在睡觉的时候,她才摘下那副小小的银丝眼镜。

  每次母亲写完信,就会把信交给父亲去邮寄。然后她把水烧开,和我们围坐在桌旁,聊聊过去的好日子。从前我们这个意裔的美国家庭可是人丁旺盛:父母亲和我们八个兄弟姐妹――五男三女,济济一堂。现在他们都因工作、入伍或婚姻纷纷离开了家,只有我留下来,想想真觉匪夷所思。

  第二年春天,母亲也要开始给另外两个儿子写信了。每天晚上,她先写好三封内容不同的信交给我和父亲,然后我们再加上自己的问候。

  母亲写信的事渐渐传开。一天,一个矮小的女人来敲我们家的门,用颤抖的声音问:“你真的会写信吗?”

  “我写给我的儿子。”

  “那么你也能读信咯?”女人小声问。

  “当然。”

  女人打开背包,掏出一叠航空信。“请,请您大声读给我听好吗?”

信是女人在欧洲参战的儿子写来的,母亲依稀还记得他的模样,他有一头红色的头发,常和他的兄弟一起坐在我们家门前的楼梯上。母亲把信一封接一封地从英文翻成意大利文读出来。听完,那女人双眼噙着泪水说:“我一定要给他写回信。”可是她该怎么办呢?

  “奥塔维娅,去冲杯咖啡来。”母亲在客厅大声叫我,然后把那女人领到厨房桌旁坐下,拿出钢笔、墨水和信纸开始写信。写完后为她大声读出来。

  “这正是我想说的话,您是怎么知道的呢?”

  “我也和你一样,常常坐在那里看儿子的来信,完全不知道写什么好。”

  几天后,女人回来,带来一个朋友,后来又来一个,再一个……他们都有儿子在战场上奋战,都需要写信。妈妈变成了我们城镇的通讯员,有时她一整天都在写回信。

  母亲常常坚持让大家签上自己的名字。一位头发灰白的女人要母亲教她怎么签名。“我真想亲手写下自己的名字,好让儿子可以看到。”于是母亲手把手地教她在纸上一遍一遍书写,直到她自己可以签名。

第二天,母亲帮那个女人写好信,由她亲自签名,女人的面容在微笑中变得灿烂了。

  有一天她来我家,眼里全无希望的光芒,母亲立刻明白了。两人握着手,久久无语。后来母亲说:“我们去教堂吧。生命中有些事情太深奥,我们无法理解。”母亲回家后,一直记着那个红头发的小男孩。

  战争结束后,母亲收起纸笔,说:“都结束了。”可是她错了。那个曾让母亲帮忙给儿子写信的女人又来了,带着意大利亲人的来信。他们还让母亲帮忙帮他们的亲属申请入籍。  一次母亲承认她心里一直有一个愿望,就是要写一本小说。“为什么不写呢?”我问。

  母亲试着解释她为何如此沉迷写信,“每个人来到这个世界都有一个目的。显然,我就是来写信的。”

  “信无可替代地把人与人连在一起,让人笑,让人哭。一封情书比任何爱抚更令人觉得亲爱和温暖,因为它让世界变小,写信人和收信人都成为自己世界里的国王。亲爱的,信就是生命本身!”

  今天,母亲所有的信已经遗失。但是那些收到信的人仍在谈论她,并把有关信的记忆珍藏在心。

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