Cathy, a Grown and Flown friend writes: Her face was a perfect oval, with large round deep-set eyes and a Roman nose. That face possessed a genuine beauty far exceeding the allure of any gemstone. The wedding band she wore was gold, small and unobtrusive. She rarely wore other jewelry, saving her lavaliere for special occasions. Her jet black hair was always simple, pulled back in a chignon or loose and wavy around her face. She was, in fact, of Roman descent. My mother.
If I close my eyes and think of her, I picture her in a pair of Bermuda shorts, blouse tucked in, sneakers on, headed out to the garden to weed. Or dressed in a pale yellow shift dress with a simple pair of pumps and a handbag. Her skin was medium olive and she tanned easily. As a girl, she spent summers in Milford, Connecticut where her father, an Italian immigrant and New York merchant, had a summer home. There she learned to seed the garden, look for plover’s eggs and listen to the sound of the sea as it strummed the shoreline. Raised in the city, she was a country girl at heart.
The youngest of six children, two older sisters brought her up upon her mother’s passing at her sixteenth birthday. We often pondered her life as a girl in Manhattan with a busy father and all older siblings but she rarely spoke of it. The here and now was her focus: she loved her family with genuine devotion. Each of us had our own little piece of her. And all those pieces were our gems, each different. For me, she was my shoulder, my respite, my refuge, and my confidante. She used to call me her rock. But it was she who had the real strength.
Mom had a knack for letting one feel her dedication was special, just for them. Each of my sisters and I were married in a three-year period. My youngest sister was first, right out of college, marrying her high school sweetheart. I was her maid of honor. She celebrated her thirty-first anniversary in October. The next year my older sister married an artist. She wore a dress of Mexican lace and a crown of flowers, both offsetting her astonishing turquoise eyes. I was her bridesmaid. She’s been married for thirty years. The next year brought my Tommy and me to the altar. We were married for twenty-four years.
My mother looked beautiful at my wedding. She wore a simple dress and the one piece of jewelry she owned. The lavaliere. The necklace was very old and intricate. Platinum, with small diamonds and emeralds, it rested gently at the base of her throat and shimmered ever so slightly when discovered by a piece of light. My sisters and I had tried that necklace on in mom’s bedroom countless times. I’m sure she knew it. My mother never put a monetary value on “things”-they were not really important to her. Her jewel box was empty, save for the lavaliere. Her jewels were her four children, my father and her deep red roses scrambling up the trellis at the side of our home. I learned so much from her and I never knew she was teaching me anything at the time. She was just herself-loyal, faithful and true. She left us on a warm spring morning in May of 2005, just as the peonies were about to bloom. And the lavaliere? It went to my youngest sister, just waiting to be worn on a special occasion.