(I extracted the following thoughts from my personal journal dated May 11, 2014)
I am thinking of my mom this day. She left us in March 2005 in order to accept an invitation to attend a dance with the King and move into her eternal home. I’m increasingly reminded of how her life shaped the man I’ve become. I still can hear her heavily Italian-accented but sweet voice speaking in my head. Sometimes I hear her singing a hymn and loudly join in (usually this is when I’m by myself—it’s not pretty). She AWAYS greeted me with a hug and affirming words. When I began putting on weight she didn’t condemn me but gently mixed warning with encouragement. She’d come behind me to give me a lingering hug. I knew what she was doing—she was measuring me. She’d hold me in this embrace and then would say: “You getta a lil’a bit fat. It’s okay son, you gotta bigga bones.” I smile when I think of this even now. When I would call her she’d always conclude our conversation with; “I talka to you later. I lova you baby.’ I was more than 50 years old when she died and she still called me ‘baby.’ Only a mom understands that—and to a lesser degree, her son. My determination to love people as they are—even if you had serious disagreements with their beliefs and behavior—was also shaped by my mom. She taught me about love—the unconditional kind; about loyalty, about the joy of eating pasta ‘al dente’ with marinara sauce and the importance of having a green vegetable with every dish of pasta; olive oil, garlic, red wine, strong coffee, artichokes, fried eggplant, zucchini and pannini; about finishing everything on your plate (sorry Mom, I OVER-learned that one!); about sitting up straight and not slumping, about respecting and valuing your family heritage without thinking you are better or less than anyone else. Most of what she taught was by example and not by lecture.
My great love for people of other cultures was clearly instilled by her. She was Italian and very proud of her heritage. She was even more proud that she had become an American citizen. She was an “Italian-American” and gave me a deep appreciation for the greatness of our country because of the millions of our citizens who brought the best of their own culture and melted them into the larger culture of our country. No ethnic culture is better than another but can contribute to the whole if we will lovingly share. It is because of her I chafe when I hear or see public/business services offered in choice of English or Spanish. It’s not a condemnation of the Spanish-speakers but rather a fear we will not get to fully know them and let them shape our culture in the ways my mom helped shape it. She spoke Spanish, Italian, French and a passable German—while raising 5 kids 5000 miles away from her birth-home in Naples (Bacoli) Italy.
One final thing; When I was about 7 years old and began bringing home kids from school to visit our house, my mom always loved on them and fed them. They liked her but they said; “your mom talks funny. Is she an American?” I had never even noticed she had an accent! For a short period I was ashamed of her. (This pains me to say this even to this day.) She began to tell me of my Italian heritage in a way that made me finally become proud of this. She’d point out that she was living in the USA and had become an American”—just as much as anyone else and we were to be proud and thankful for this and to NEVER let anyone make us feel less than this.” (the unspoken message was if you don’t hold your head up and respect your place no one else will either.) She began to tell me that I was one-half Italian and of how special that was. I shouldn’t be embarrassed, I should feel proud. I was a descendent of royalty and if folks were reduced to bragging on their family tree I didn’t need to be ashamed in any group. ( I was later to understand that she was not just speaking figuratively—her family name was Cicerone or Cicero and we were, in fact, distant relatives to the great Roman politician and philosopher Marco Tulio Cicero—or simply Cicero as he became known.) After going on at lengths about our great Italian ancestry she’d remind me that none of this was important as belonging to the King of Kings and the position of being His dear child. No one could intimidate us if we knew who we were in Christ Jesus. If she ever felt intimidated by her accent or small size (she was 5. 1” and 100 lbs her whole adult life) she never let on. She was gregarious in personality and loved to be around people, to love them and feed them and complement and sometimes even to ‘advise’ them. This latter attribute was not always appreciated. 😉 My temperament is opposite but her example and courage helped me overcome my shyness to fulfill my calling. I could write more but just wanted to thank God for “momma” and the gift she was when she was with us. I’m so grateful that I don’t live with regrets. I loved her back and told her so every chance I got. I hope I was a good son—she always told me I was. In fact I was quite certain I was her favorite—a fact that is hotly disputed by every one of my 4 siblings who are equally certain THEY were her favorite. How did she do that anyway??!!