On Losing My Mother, and Fulfilling Dreams (part 4): Bon Voyage, Great Spirit!
When grandparents die it can be the end of an era for a family. Particularly in an ethnic culture where old world ways dwindle and traditions begin to fade. Such was the case in our family when my grandmother died, though my mom was a good steward of making delectable artichokes, and knew how to make the prized biscotti, pizzelles, rozettes and cannoli, as well as expertly execute the preparation of the manicotti and ravioli with her cylindrical tubes, heated press, crepe pan and pasta machine. They could have made an action figure doll of her with all her various culinary accoutrements.
I got through this first Christmas without my mother partly by trying to make most of her signature dishes. It made me feel close to her, and yes it brought unexpected tears and new insight into who she was. I even wore her apron some of the time; perhaps more often than she herself might have, so focused was she always on the process and not the pretty.
I didn’t get the artichokes or the homemade pasta accomplished, but I made almost all of her holiday cookies, realizing the hard way that experience does indeed keep a dear school. Fortunately, I’m not an altogether bad cook otherwise, and I’ve pretty much mastered the kids’ favorite, eggplant parmigiana, as well as the most important endeavor of making “the gravy,” (known to non-natives as “spaghetti sauce”). Italian family traditions don’t begin and end with cooking—they just sort of center around it. There is also history, music, singing, dancing, church, art, debate, beauty, conversation, wine, stories, love, and best of all, laughter.
My daughter’s grief is also great like mine, because she was especially close to my mother.
So similar in nature, they were truly kindred-spirits, more so than my mother and myself. It was a joy to witness their bond, and to hear them cracking-up together when they both should have been sleeping. So, after my mom passed away, I couldn’t be much surprised when my daughter had the idea of fulfilling one of her grandmother’s few dreams.
My mother had one Greek uncle, the father of my mother’s closest and favorite cousin, whom we always referred to as “Aunt Franny.” She and Franny were closer than sisters, the best of friends, and their relationship alone enriched our family history with endless stories of their adventures. Because of their
bond, we were all closer and happier. They made us feel anchored, and I can only imagine what my mom’s absence must feel like for Aunt Franny.
It seems my mother’s Uncle John would regale her siblings and her and all the cousins with splendid stories of his home country, and these stories stayed with my mother all her life. So much so, that even though she was Italian by origin and not terribly well traveled, she would say in her ever-unique way of thinking that she never much cared to see Italy, but she always wished she could see Greece.
She wanted to see the beauty of the Mediterranean islands that her Uncle John affectionately painted so vividly with his words, which she said could bring you to tears, and often did him.
And so this year, for our first birthdays that fall so close to the anniversary date of our great loss on April 10, 2013, my daughter and I will be traveling to Mykonos, Santorini, and Athens to see through our eyes what my mother said she always longed to see.
It is just the only way we can bear to say “Bon Voyage” to the greatest mother and grandmother either of us has ever known.
@ Debra A. Valentino, all rights reserved.