Every time I go to Rastelli’s, a specialty market nearby, I check out their pre-sliced deli to see if there is anything enticing I can grab and go, without waiting for my turn at the counter. They have terrific London Broil that I would get in a second if it’s already packaged, but that’s a rare occurrence. It wasn’t in the bin yesterday either, but I got a treat nonetheless: a walk down memory lane.
There it was – almost too exciting to be true: hard salami. Any coincidence that I saw it front and center for the first time on the eve of Mother’s Day? This was one of my mom’s favorite foods. She didn’t care that chewing and then biting this hard stuff wreaked havoc on her dentures. She was determined to have it – and enjoy it - regardless.
I assume she liked the flavor, and even the consistency, but I also wonder if it made her feel closer to my dad, because he loved it so much that she’d send hard salamis to him when he was in World War II. We also had salamis hanging from the ceiling in our basement for months at a time. I am certain this now sounds gross – as it was 50 years ago too – because when she’d direct me to go downstairs and bring up the hardest salami we had, I had to climb on a ladder to feel each one, and they were very, very greasy. I’m sure this violated many, if not all, health codes.
Thinking about the hard salami reminded me of the time my mom slapped my hand because I ate a piece of salami – before dinner. I remember being shocked that she did that, and it seemed totally uncharacteristic given her normal level of tolerance. I must’ve really pissed her off, or maybe I just pushed her over the edge at that time. After all, I was child number 4.
I often think about what motherhood was like for my mom, especially given her childhood.
Her mother passed when she was a baby (1917), and she was raised by her grandmother, a single woman who became a bootlegger to take care of her family. As a teen, my mom was one of her delivery people, traveling around New York City on the subway with hidden bottles of wine that her grandmother made in their basement.
My mom told me that one day after her subway ride near the customer’s home, she fell, and the bottle broke. My mom didn’t know what to do; she felt she had failed and sat and cried, with wine having spilled all around her. She was afraid that the woman would be angry and was even more concerned that she’d come home empty-handed – void of the payment her grandmom was expecting – and the family wouldn’t have the money needed for food.
I don’t know of anyone else who can brag about the fact that his/her great grandparent was a bootlegger (other than my siblings), so I’ll assume my mom had an atypical upbringing. In turn, I had a different kind of life growing up as compared with my friends whose moms were stay-at-home caregivers. I wore a red key around my neck, often coming home to an empty house, while my mom worked full-time and dedicated her life to making the world a more just, compassionate and peaceful place for everyone around us.
Weekends were spent accompanying her on picket lines, watching her run city-wide campaigns from our house for my dad, seeing her stay up all night to write legislation for him to introduce in City Council, etc. etc...but also sharing special time together: watching Elvis movies, talking about friends and giving people the benefit of the doubt, passing on advice to me such as being sure to dance whenever the opportunity presented itself and so on.
It's been just over 4 years since my mom passed, and I have recently come to realize that it's the little things – everyday happenings, stories shared, all that I have seen, heard and digested throughout my life - not the big things, that have shaped me. Every one of them has added a piece to my puzzle.
I love that, for me, so many of those pieces involve my mom.