Wednesday, September 14, 2005


She would have been eighty-five yesterday, on September 13. My mother was born in Italy in 1920, named after the character in a novel my grandmother was reading. My grandmother was one of the few women in her village in the Abruzzi mountains who could read---she read letters for people, and wrote their replies. It's how she found out that another woman had her eye on Ignazio Severini, her intended, who was away at war in the north, the Great War. But that's another story.

Flora came to America with her mother when she was four, and met her father, who'd left Manopello to work in Pittsburgh as a tailor when she was an infant. She grew up in Youngwood, PA, a small western PA railroad town about six miles from the bigger town of Greensburg, where she lived most of her life. She married my father in August 1945. I was born at the end of June in 1946.

So I'm less than a year shy of 60 myself, an age my mother didn't reach. (Her mother, however, passed 85; I took her a birthday cake and lit 85 candles on it---it was in the kitchen in the photo above. It makes quite a fire.) Flora died in 1974, after surviving her cancer past the supposed 5 year safety mark.

So you can look at the picture here of the dreamy-eyed young woman in 1944, who doesn't know that at 24 she's got but 30 years left to live. She's lived almost half her life.

After me, two daughters, Kathy in 1950, Debbie in 1954. She knew one granddaughter, Kathy's daughter Christina ; if she'd lived just another decade, she would have known two more: Debbie's daughters, Sarah and Megan.

I can't say when exactly I developed the perspective that would have allowed me to talk with my mother without so much of the freight of parent-child relationship expectations and habits of feeling and thought. But it wasn't fully developed when she was alive. I was smart about some things at 28, and clueless about a lot more. The father-son thing is more complicated, and I may never have gotten out of that dynamic. But I often feel I could have learned a lot and had a better relationship with my mother over these many years.

Not that we had a bad relationship. There just wasn't much perspective in it, at least on my part. So I wonder what it would have been like, to be able to talk to my mother when I was 40 or 50, or now. Apart from what it would bring to the present, there would be a lot of past to talk about, now that I'm more deeply interested in the past, having acquired quite a bit of it.

I would have liked to light 85 candles on her cake. As I say, it makes quite a fire.

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