The Straitjackets
Fall 2008
page 14


by Lorena Perera-Smith
 

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.  

 

 
"Why are your letters in the drawer translated?"   I asked.   She smiled.   "Well, when your Dad and I fell in love we couldn't speak each others language you see.   So I wrote to a friend called Lizzie in Swedish, she translated into English and sent it on.   And your Dad did the same but the other way around."

  I was tongue tied.

How do you fall in love with someone that you can't talk to?  

I have heard the story several times since then.   How Dad was travelling the world and decided to go to Church while he was in Sweden.   How she was singing in the choir and their eyes met.   How they both knew that this was the one.

  The moment when their eyes said what their voices couldn't.

The young man from Sri Lanka and the fisherman's daughter from Sweden.  

They wrote to each other for seven long years, pausing somewhere in-between for my mom to go to England and learn English.  

They only met two or three times before my mom moved to Sri Lanka   in 1966, carrying 300 dollars and her wedding dress to live with the man whose language she couldn't speak in a country where she knew no one.

In their wedding picture my mother is radiant.  

Her eyes shine.

Her hand is very white in his brown one but the plain gold bands they wear are identical.

Jacob and Anna, June 13, 1969.

My mother is dead now.  

She lived for 39 years with my father in the jungles of Sri Lanka.   She bore his children and supported his dreams.   He held her hand and suffered the same anguish as she did when she was sick and in pain.

They were one soul in two bodies.  

When my brother had to tell my dad that my mom had left him forever I had to turn away because the naked pain on his face was more than I could bear.   I could see the tears roll down his face and when he touched her cold cheek even the doctor who had probably witnessed a million men and women say their final goodbyes wiped his eyes.

I have one of those love letters in my Bible.

  It sits at the beginning of what most people think is the most beautiful love song ever written, the Song of Solomon.

I think my parents translated love letters are more beautiful.

Lorena Perera-Smith was born and raised in Sri Lanka where her Swedish mother and Sinhalese father run an orphanage and various social empowerment programs. She has been published in several magazines and e-zines like Redbook Magazine, Rambler Magazine, Ascent, Sketching Stone, Humdinger, TheSmoking Poet, Door Knobs and Body Paint, Mom Writers Literary Magazine as well as ocal and regional newspapers. Her short stories appeared in four anthologies. She writes mostly on life and family, issues surrounding parenting, special needs kids, poverty, social involvement and women’s issues in developing countries.
website: www.freewebs.com/lorenapererasmith


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