“Yesterday you had a mother on earth: today you have an angel somewhere else. Everything that is good outlasts, growing in strength, life on earth. Consequently, even your mother’s love. She loves you more than ever now.” Edmondo De Amicis

Camminando, camminando  

Una volta, mentre eravamo sedute sotto il noce in Abruzzo, mia madre mi disse, “Avrei voluto che i miei figli fossero tutti uguali”. Aveva le lacrime agli occhi.
Le presi la mano. Sapevo esattamente cosa volesse dirmi e perché. Non risposi. Era stata un’estate difficile, pesante, un’estate di ospiti che venivano e andavano e che aveva tolto tempo a me e mia madre e alle lunghe chiacchierate sotto la pianta.
Non è importante qui sapere esattamente cosa le fece dire quelle parole. Basti sapere che per lei, però, eravamo tutti uguali. Sì, per mia madre noi figli eravamo tutti esattamente uguali, anche se ci trattava in modo diverso, secondo le esigenze di ognuno.
E aveva un modo di fare, mia madre, che ti faceva pensare che tu eri sicuramente la sua preferita, anche se sapevi benissimo che non era così; e l’amavi di più proprio perché non era così. Era capace di un bene enorme. Aveva la capacità di vedere chiaramente i nostri difetti e amare pure quelli. E lo ha fatto sempre, fino alla fine.  

Si arrabbiava poco mia madre. Cioè, non istigata, si arrabbiava poco. Se la istigavano, lanciava frecciate taglienti, le sue classiche “tretangheté”, come diceva mio padre, che colpivano nel segno, non facevano prigionieri, e di cui non si pentiva mai. Non credo di aver mai sentito mia madre chiedere scusa.
Però una volta si alterò davvero. Stava lavorando nella scuola materna della nostra parrocchia in Canada e una maestrina le disse che sebbene mia madre amasse i suoi tre figli, il suo amore non poteva certo essere grande come quello della maestra che aveva una figlia sola. Non so esattamente cosa le rispose mia madre, ma posso immaginare i suoi occhi, il suo viso, la posa regale mentre il collo le si allungava facendola diventare ancora più alta, più imponente, e spaventosamente maestosa.
Una volta a casa, mi racconto cos’era successo. Scuoteva la testa. Le fiammeggiavano gli occhi. Mi disse solamente, “Che stupidaggine! Come se l’amore fosse una torta che si divide in parti! L’amore non è una torta, è il pane che cresce. E cresce in ugual misura per ogni figlio.”
Ecco. “Tretangheté!” *
 
Mia madre raccontava spesso di un’infanzia allegra e spensierata e aveva aneddoti per ogni occasione. Ho sempre detto che li avrei messi per iscritto; ma quando era viva non avevo tempo, e ora che non c’è più non ho voglia. Forse mi tornerà la voglia. Non so. Per ora li tengo stretti come una coperta calda, come un suo abbraccio, come la sua voce che mi chiama Matì. Poi vedremo.  

Mia madre parlava dei suoi cari defunti come se fossero ancora con lei. Il padre in particolare, che mia madre amava con un trasporto che non è mai venuto meno nei suoi 94 anni di vita, era sempre con lei. Le tornava in sogno in ogni momento di bisogno, dicendole, “Andrà tutto bene, ci sono qua io”, come quando da bambina doveva attraversare il fiume in piena sopra un ponte improvvisato e lui le reggeva la mano.
Il padre le era morto in braccia, “camminando, camminando”, diceva lei. E il padre camminava ancora con lei, anche da morto, tutti i giorni fino all’ultimo.  
Anch’io oggi sento mia mamma vicino a me. Ogni volta che voglio abbassarmi ad accettare una ingiustizia la sento sussurrare, “non ti abbassare: chi si abbassa scopre il sedere”; ogni volta che sento le malelingue, “chi lo fa lo pensa”; e, specialmente, quando muore qualcuno caro, “se solo sapessi dove sta ora, ce l’avresti mandato tu”. 

Sì, mia mamma mi cammina affianco oggi. Non è morta “camminando, camminando” come suo padre, ma è morta tra le mie braccia, e se solo sapessi dove sta adesso, ce l’avrei mandata io.  

Ciao, mamma. Buona festa.          
 While just walking about

Once, while we were sitting under the walnut tree in Abruzzo, my mother said, “I would have wanted my children to be all alike.” She had tears in her eyes.
I held her hand. I knew exactly what she wanted to say and why. I didn’t answer. It had been a difficult summer, taxing, a summer of guests who came and went, one that had taken time from me and my mother and from our long talks under the tree.
It’s not important now to know exactly what made her say those words. What is important to know is that for her, however, we were all alike. Yes, we children were all exactly alike, even if she treated us differently, according to our individual needs.
And she had this way about her, my mother, that made you think that you were certainly her favourite, even if you knew full well that it was not the case; and you loved her exactly for that fact. She was capable of boundless love. She had the ability to see our defects clearly and to love those too. And she did, right until the end.  

My mother didn’t get angry often. I mean, she didn’t if you didn’t provoke her. If you did provoke her, she would retort cuttingly, her usual “tretangheté”, as my father would say, which hit the target, took no prisoners, and for which she never apologised. I don’t think I ever heard my mother say she was sorry.
However, she did get really upset once. She was working in our parish kindergarten in Canada and a teacher told her that although my mother surely loved her three children, her love could certainly not be as great as the teacher’s who had only one child. I don’t know exactly what my mother replied, but I can imagine her eyes, her face, her regal pose as she stretched her neck, making her seem even taller, more impressive, and frighteningly majestic.
Once home, she told me what had happened. She was shaking her head. Her eyes were flashing. She said simply, “How stupid! As if love is a cake that is divided into parts! Love isn’t a cake, it’s bread that rises. And it rises in equal measure for every son and daughter.”
There. “Tretangheté.”* 

My mother often told me of her happy, carefree childhood and had anecdotes for each and every occasion. I always said that I would write them down; but when she was alive, I didn’t have the time, and now that she’s gone, I don’t want to. Maybe I will one day. I don’t know. For now, I’ll keep them wrapped around me like a warm blanket, like an embrace, like her voice calling me Matì. Then we’ll see.  

My mother spoke of her dear departed as if they were still with her. Her own father in particular, whom my mother loved with such intensity that it never faded in her 94 years of life, was always with her. He would come to her in her dreams in times of trouble and say, “It’ll be alright, I’m here,” just like when she was a little girl and she had to cross the river on a precarious bridge and he would hold her hand.
Her father had died in her arms, “while just walking about”, she would say. And her father was still walking alongside her, even after his death, every day of her life, until her very last.  
I, too, can feel my mother near me. Every time I want to bow my head and accept an injustice, I hear her whisper, “Don’t bow down: those who bow down to others, uncover their backside”; every time I hear nasty gossip: “those who do it, think it”; and, especially, when someone dear dies: “if you only knew where they are now, you’d have sent them there yourself”.

Yes, my mother walks alongside me today. She did not die “while just walking about” like her father, but she did die in my arms, and if I only knew where she was now, I would have sent her there myself.  

Bye, mamma. Happy Mother’s Day.    

Text and translation ©Matilda Colarossi

My mother died at 4 a.m. on April 12, 2022 at the Oakville Trafalgar Memorial Hospital. I would like to thank the doctors and nurses on the seventh and then the third floor who made her life, and death, so easy, both physically and emotionally. I would especially like to thank Laura in palliative care for looking in on us so often that last night, and for asking me to help my mother pass by speaking words of comfort to her: my mother believed in heaven and life after death; and I am sure she is with her father now. I think the job nurses do is so incredibly important: my mother said thank you often. We should all be thankful for the caregivers who assist us in life and in death.

*”Tretangheté” in dialect means “frecciatina”, a ready response, sometimes very sharp, a zinger.

Revision: Leslie Giovacchini

Photo: Windsor, Ontario. 1965.

3 thoughts on “Camminando, camminando…Matilda Colarossi

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