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祖母的“少女时代”

阁楼常常是个宝藏发掘地:旧照片、旧书信、旧日记,它们不经意而又长久地流传下来,给人带来一丝新鲜感,也唤起人的一种归属感。作者就是在搬家之时意外发现了祖母年轻时的日记。令人吃惊的是,这些古老的文字既不阴郁也不晦涩;相反,祖母笔触活泼,少女心迸发,直到最后作者泪流满面,不舍读完。我们总会想象自己年老时的样子,或许我们也真该用心去了解祖辈们年轻时的样子。

 

祖母的“少女时代”

 

 

 

By David Rees 木沐 选注

My parents recently found five journals in one of those listless cardboard boxes that leaves an attic only when somebody dies or the house is sold. (Don’t worry, everyone survived the sale of the house.) The journals were written by my paternal grandmother when she was living with her widowed mom in Gloversville, N.Y. It was July 1910. She was 16, an only child. The first entry begins “Dearest Anybody,” which I took as permission to start reading.

Each of my grandmothers died before I was born. I’ve seen a few austere photographs, but I don’t know what their voices sounded like or how they moved through a room. My family is small, and its history has never been part of my identity. I can probably name more ex-members of Black Flag than I can Rees ancestors. I assumed being disconnected from the past was just part of the modern condition, a liberating byproduct of cosmopolitanism.

Well, the modern condition is a scam. Leafing through your family’s antique media makes every subsequent moment spent clicking through social media feel like saccharine connectivity, a feast of empty calories. We should smash our computers and throw our phones into the ocean, then open every cardboard box in every attic on earth and read whatever falls out.

These are the most euphoric books I’ve ever read. At first, I could handle only a few pages each night—the experience was just too intense, provoking in me an ecstatic, wondering melancholy and a familial pride that felt both intimate and alien. My grandmother finally came rushing into my life with an adolescent, whooping vitality that felt as if it had been building for the entire century since her diaries had last been opened.

I assumed the diaries would be dark, astringent and antiquated, but my grandmother had much fun. She records three primary passions: eating ice cream (“... in the afternoon we had ice-cream. Oh delicious memory!”); going to church (“The minister preached on ‘cheerfulness,’ and it was awfully good”); and singing with her friends—that is, when they weren’t laid up with the mumps, or the grippe, or any of those other mysterious old-timey diseases.

But my teenage grandmother’s great genius was flirting. Those amazing boys! The “peachy,” “dandy,” “charming” boys of Gloversville, anointed with adjectives now reserved for Yelp reviews of bed-and-breakfasts. I can barely keep up with her crushes, or their fluctuations in status: “But what do you suppose [Peggy] told me? That Bill was mad at me because he thought I was mad at him because he talked to Velma Thorne! And there I didn’t even know he’d been talking to her! Wasn’t it funny...So I told [Ralph] to tell [Bill] I wasn’t mad and it didn’t bother me how much he talked to Velma!” It turns out poor Bill, being “stout” and a cigarette-bummer (“I hate to see a fellow smoke when he’s with a girl on the street, don’t you?”) was no match for Grant. Or Jonsey. Or the mysterious “Sunshine,” who, if my grandmother is to be believed, was, for one summer in 1911, the most alluring young man in the universe: “one grand rower, fisher and sportsman. Really I never saw anybody like him. Emma & I are both dippy over him!”

Arguments with adults are referred to but never detailed. She doesn’t resent her mother’s discipline, even when she gets a “lovely scolding” for finishing someone else’s ice cream. In contrast, I used my own teenage diary as a petri dish for cultivating ever more potent strains of bitterness, in part through recording every injustice I suffered: “We’re having a party in Latin tomorrow. I got mad at Mom because she only got normal chips. She said everyone likes normal plain chips. I mouthed off at her.” I like to think my teenage grandmother’s superior personality was due to her being 16 before the invention of “cool” as a virtue, or even, for that matter, “teenager” as an identity. Being surly is a challenge if it’s not expected of you, or if you’re too busy eating ice cream to bother. (I also acknowledge that she was objectively a better teenager.)

I haven’t finished reading the diaries; I don’t want to be done. But my favorite passage so far¬—the one that finally made me cry—was this, recorded in a moment’s happy aftermath and left as an unwitting legacy: It was a Monday evening in 1911, near the end of summer. My grandmother was sitting on the porch with friends after dining on egg sandwiches, pickles and peaches and cream (“delicious”). A neighbor started playing a hand organ. The music was irresistible : The girls “flew” across the street to listen, and when the neighbor started up with “Put Your Arms Around Me, Honey,” something magical happened: “We all began to dance—right on the street. The people on the corner were dancing on their porch, and we couldn’t help ourselves.”

Eventually the dancers stood still in the evening air to catch their breath. “We all felt so sweet and nice.”

And then, just when my teenage grandmother thought things couldn’t get any sweeter, Harvey walked by.

Vocabulary

1. journal: 日记;listless: 倦怠的,无精打采的;cardboard box: 纸箱;attic: 阁楼。

2. 不过别担心,我们只是搬家,并没有人去世。

3. paternal: 父系的,父亲一方的;widowed: 寡居的。

4. austere: 朴素的,无装饰的。

5. Black Flag: 黑旗,是一支美国纯朋克摇滚乐队,曾屡次更换乐队成员;Rees ancestors: 这里指本文作者的先人们,Rees是笔者的家姓。

6. liberating: 令人觉得自由的;byproduct: 副产品;cosmopolitanism: 世界大同主义。

7. scam: 骗局,诡计。

8. 翻看家族前人遗留的古老记录使我觉得后来经由点击社交媒体而建立的人际关系更像“加了糖”一般甜得发腻,看似美味,实则营养全无。leaf: v. 翻(书页);antique: 古老的,年代久远的;subsequent: 随后的;saccharine: 甜味的,甜腻的;feast: 盛宴;empty calorie: 无营养食品,空卡。

9. smash: (用力)打破,打碎。

10. euphoric: 令人愉悦的。

11. 一开始,我每晚只能读上几页,因为故事情节太紧凑,唤起我充满欣喜与好奇的愁思,又让我有种亦近亦远的家族自豪感。provoke: 激起,引发;ecstatic: 狂喜的,入迷的;melancholy: 忧郁;familial: 家庭(或家族)成员特有的;alien: 陌生的。

12. 最终,祖母带着她满满的青春朝气闯入我的生活,从她最后一次打开日记至今已过去一个世纪,而这股朝气似乎从不曾消退过。adolescent: 青春期的;whooping: 高声欢呼着的;vitality: 生气,活力。

13. astringent: 收敛的;antiquated: 陈旧的,过时的。

14. preach: 竭力鼓吹;be laid up: 卧床不起的;mump: 腮腺炎;grippe: 流行性感冒。

15. flirt: 调情,打情骂俏。

16. peachy, dandy: 均意为“极好的”;be anointed with: 用……涂抹;Yelp: 美国著名商户点评网站,创立于2004年,囊括各地餐馆、购物中心、酒店、旅游等领域的商户;bed-and-breakfast: 常缩写为B&B,是一种小型家庭旅馆,只提供住宿和早餐。

17. 我几乎跟不上她犯花痴的节奏,也跟不上她变心的速度。crush: 迷恋;fluctuation: 起伏,波动。

18. stout: 胖的,粗壮的;cigarette-bummer: 游手好闲的烟鬼;no match for: 不敌,比不上。

19. alluring: 迷人的;rower: 桨手。

20. dippy: 狂热迷恋的。

21. resent: 愤恨,不满;scolding: 训斥,责备。

22. 相比之下,我在日记里记下了自己遭遇的每件不平之事,这在某种程度上把它变成了一个“苦闷”菌株疯长的培养皿。petri dish: 培养皿;potent: 强效的;strain: 菌株,菌系;bitterness: 不愉快,愤懑;injustice: 不公正。

23. chip: 无味的东西。

24. plain: (食物等)清淡的。

25. mouth off: 顶嘴。

26. 在我看来,祖母这种好性格主要得益于在她16岁时,“酷”还不是一种品质,甚至可以说,“青春期”还不算是一种属性。due to: 应归功于,应归咎于;virtue: 美德。

27. 粗鲁无礼也并非易事,如果你不是存心这样做,又或者你正忙着吃冰淇淋,没空惹别人生气。surly: 脾气暴躁的,无礼的。

28. objectively: 客观地。

29. aftermath: (事件等结束后的)一个时期;unwitting: 不知不觉的,没有意识到的;legacy: 遗产,遗留之物。

30. porch: 门廊;pickle: 腌菜。

31. hand organ: 手风琴。

32. irresistible: 无法抗拒的,富有诱惑力的。

33. “Put Your Arms Around Me, Honey”: 《亲爱的拥抱我吧》,歌曲出自1910年的一部百老汇三幕音乐剧Madame Sherry。

34. 根据文意,推测Harvey是让祖母一见钟情的人。


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