The love letters in my mother's jewelry drawer are not like any I've seen. The first page starts pretty much in the standard vein... "My darling Anna..." Stories of what my Dad had been doing, where he was and how much he missed her. But the second page, stapled neatly onto the first was an exact copy of the first page but in Swedish. It was a translation.
I grew up in a strange blending of worlds.
We lived in Sri Lanka, in an old British Bungalow, the remains of a large English rubber estate in the central hills of Sri Lanka. The rooms were huge; a large verandah ran along the east end.
The stone fireplace in the living room was used only to keep pots of flowers.
The bougainvilleas on the north part of the garden grew like a tangled crazy riot of flowers in the tropical heat and humidity. They grew up over the house and tangled themselves in the plumeria trees on the other side.
We grew up having squirrels and monkeys and wild parrots for pets.
We sweltered through the droughts and lived humid and squelchy through the monsoons.
Then in December, in the windows would suddenly appear those candlesticks.
Four in a row.
It was advent. One candle lit each Sunday leading up to Christmas.
And then a little later into December was Lucia.
My adopted sisters and I dressed up in long white gowns, put tinsel in our hair and walked around, scaring the farm hands and thrilling the other children. The songs we sang were Swedish "Natten gar tunga fjat.." The cookies that our brown hands handed out were traditional Swedish Christmas cookies.
We didn't even reflect upon the fact that it was a little bit odd that we were celebrating traditional Christian Swedish holidays in a very Buddhist Sri Lanka.
It was years before I started wondering about the strange love letters. Why were they translated? Who translated them? What, exactly, was the story that had led to this culture clash in the jungle?
I got the chance to ask my mother one day when we were sitting by candlelight, trying to mend old socks.
The electricity had gone out in a thunderstorm.
It happened often.