Saturday, May 12, 2007

An Ode to Mama Jo

La Festa della Mamma. It's Mother's Day, here in Italy as well as in the U.S. Happy Mother's Day to all you dear readers who have children, including those with the four-legged variety of "kids". I thought I'd carry over the theme from the last post of the Top 5 to tell you about my mom, but honestly couldn't narrow it down to only five things. So, here we have...

The Top Ten Reasons My Mom is The Best

10. Never made us clean our plates. Unlike many of my friends who were constrained to the dinner table until they finished every last lima bean, broccoli spear, or bite of fried liver, my mom was the envy of the neighborhood kids by not enforcing such a rule. She wanted us to enjoy our meals instead of choking them down ungratefully. While we had to taste everything presented to us, we were never forced to eat it if we didn’t like it. In doing so, we discovered that we liked a lot of foods and we were willing to give new things a taste, knowing there would be no commitment. Smart woman, because it also saved her from the whining and picky-eater syndrome.

9. The traveling hibachi. Remember those? Back before the gigantic kitchen-sized grills became the rage, we all went wild over the humble hibachi. My mom had one tucked into the trunk of our car, carefully wrapped in a couple of brown paper grocery bags to keep the trunk clean, ever-ready for an impromptu barbecue, along with a bag of charcoal, of course. I can’t count how many times during the hot, humid summers she would come home after work and grab us – along with some bratwurst or burgers – and take us to the Lake Erie shore or a nearby shady park for a picnic. Those little barbecues where we kids would swim until our lips turned blue while Mom grilled and read a book, were the best.

8. Kept us fed and clothed with a roof over our heads. This may seem like a simplistic statement, but I tell you, during the hard, lean years it was a stretch for her and I don’t know how she held it all together. She worked three jobs at one point, and had several very fatiguing years without the benefit of child support payments. She somehow managed to stay sane, sober, and somewhat patient while doing that and rearing three…shall I say, rambunctious, children.

7. She had “the look”. She valued good manners, especially good behavior in public, and had discipline down to such a science that all she had to do was flash The Look which told us she meant business. You know the kind…the sharp flash of face that makes you stop dead in your tracks and behave. Or else.

6. Let me have coffee and cookies for breakfast. As I mentioned in the 100 Things About Me list, I started drinking coffee at an early age, and my mom didn’t challenge me, tell me no, or give the old “it will stunt your growth” routine. She just let me drink it. No one in my family eats a big breakfast, at least not first thing in the morning, and she never fought our natural metabolism. If we felt like eating a little something, so be it. It was usually toast, a bowl of cereal, or even some cookies Grandma had baked up for us. Now that I’m here in Italy where breakfast normally consists of that little menu, I see where those genes came through.

5. Gave us a glimpse of the world. We lived in a small town without much in the way of cultural amenities (okay, none), so my mom made sure we were exposed to another realm by taking to us downtown Cleveland or Columbus, or short trips to Washington, DC, so we could see and interact with different ethnic groups, feel the vibrancy of life elsewhere, and show us cultural goodies like plays, musicals and symphony performances. Sure, we were in the nose-bleed seats, but it didn’t matter to us. We got to experience things, and see that life existed in a grand way outside our little sheltered community. She made sure we learned to look outward and I’ll always be grateful for that. It instilled me a great desire to travel and see other cultures.

4. Was always ready to laugh, even at her herself. Believe me, my family likes to throw out the zingers, and once a topic is seized upon, they won’t let it go until that horse is good and dead. We like to tease each other and joke around, and we’re all very good at providing fodder to fuel the flames. My mom has still not lived down a few incidents from years ago. For instance, there was the time…well, it’s Mother’s Day, I’ll cut her a break here.

3. Gave us freedom as well as responsibility. We had chores we had to do and the official rule of the house was that we couldn’t go out to play with our friends until those tasks were completed. But it was tempered with freedom. We could ride our bikes to the city pool or down the country roads; we could walk uptown to the candy store, spend hours at friends’ houses, go off to who-knows-where to do basically nothing, as children tend to want to do. We only had to let her know if changed venue. We always thought we had a great degree of independence and felt that we were trusted and, therefore, felt more mature. She let us develop our own unique personalities without trying to mold us to be like someone else, which was a valuable gift.

2. Let me loose in the kitchen. And did so without fear of the mess I’d inevitably make or of burning the house down. I started cooking at a very young age. My earliest memory that I can clearly recollect is of being with my Nana in her kitchen, where she stood me on a chair next to the stove as she made a pot of sugo. I remember getting to stir the sauce as she explained which spices she was putting in. With my mom working a lot I decided I should take up some of the slack in the kitchen, knowing that she would be exhausted when she got home, and starting cooking once or twice a week from the time I was about 12 or 13. She never told me what to make or how to do it, never questioned my abilities to use the appliances or knives, nor worried that I’d scorch the place. To this day, I don’t know what gave her such confidence, but I’m glad she had it and let me be creative (and I still enjoy cooking).

1. Never lost that lovin’ feeling. No matter what degree of nerve-scraping attitude, behavior or just plain bratty-ness we inflicted upon her, she still told us everyday, “I love you.” Sometimes it was through clenched teeth, or prefaced by, “I feel like throttling you right now, but…” She was honest enough to tell us when we were pushing the limits of her patience, but she never failed to tell us that she loved us anyway.

Thanks, Mama Jo! You’re the best! Happy Mother’s Day.


sognatrice said...

Mama Jo sounds a lot like Mama Mary (mia madre)! Great idea for a tribute; I still have to write my post for today--good thing Mom won't be up for a another couple hours ;)

Happy Mother's Day to all the moms!

Valerie said...

Sognatrice, that *sort of* makes sense since we seemed to have a lot in common when I read your 100 Things About Me post. Your mom must be great! :) Give my mother's day greetings to my mom's kindred spirit!

Mama Jo said...


Thank You! I'm writing this with tears in my eyes. You make me cry, both with the memories and because I'm so proud of you!
Love You! Mama Jo

PS However, there may just be one more throttling needed... Think about it, hmmm?