She had a very special air about her that drew people to her. Her command of the English language was as far left as one could imagine and yet she could communicate just as easily with kings as she did with paupers. She was born in a small little valley town nestled in the mountains of Sicily called Vallelunga which I had the pleasure of visiting in my adulthood. She was an only child and came to America during the critical times of WWI when she and her parents were at the mercy of the German Navy. She wore her hair in a bun and I can’t remember her ever getting it cut but I’m sure that she must have. Her husband was a beautician but my memory of her visiting his shops to take advantage of his expertise doesn’t exist. She cooked and cleaned to an impeccable degree. When she would acclaim that her home was so clean you could “eat off of the floors,” my kidding comment that that was the purpose of tables and chairs was met with a reprimand for my impudence.
I remember Saturdays as being an important day because every other week she would bake her bread. As I write this my memory still smells the magnificent odor that wafted through our home. She wouldn’t just bake enough for her family, but would give to her neighbors, the milkman and mailman and some people whom I had always believed were related to us but really were just close friends. She would take the bread fresh from the oven, slice it lengthwise, put oil salt pepper and some garlic on it and the feast began! Of course I’m paying for the high price of cholesterol today but it was worth every LIPITOR that I must now take. When she would go to her cardiologist he might ask her how much bread that she ate and she would, without fabrication, indicate only one piece. Then he would ask the vital question: “how thick, Rose?”
I clearly remember the time that we went on our usual Sunday picnic with about 25 others from the West Side of Buffalo to a place called Chestnut Ridge. The men would leave early in their construction trucks and cars to secure “a good spot” with protection from the elements and to being the foodstuffs which could have fed all of our troops in Europe. I was sitting with her under a shelter when a young Puerto Rican family with small children passed trying to avoid getting soaked from the driving rain that came upon us. Of course, she invited them into the shelter and began to communicate with them in their native tongue while I sat in awe while listening to them. Here was this woman with barely a 3rd grade education who became a linguist before my very ears and eyes. Her native dialect was clearly Sicilian but I remember her talking with friends who owned a restaurant and hailed from Rome. She could communicate with them to the point of my not being able to understand the conversation. It was amazing and that might be why, unconsciously, in my own educational background, I studied Latin, French and Greek.
I don’t remember her dressed in any clothing that wasn’t black. I sense that she may have been in a constant state of mourning for the losses that she sustained in her life. However, when she would “dress to the nines,” there was no one more beautifully adorned than she. She stood out in a crowd as being someone with pizzazz and character with people usually flocking to her with their good wishes and stories about their own families. She definitely knew how to party. My memories of her singing operatic arias and quaint Italian songs from her youth while cooking and, at parties, her signature dancing drew the attention of all of the other gatherers. Her fondest memory was that of getting up before the crack of dawn to board a bus that took her and maybe 20 other women, all her good friends, to the tomato canning factories about 50 miles away. She relished the comradery and the good times they would have as they sweated their way through their work-a-day. It was a labor of love and everything that she did took on that same flavor. Nothing was too great for her to handle and the impossible just took a little longer, that’s all. When she lost my father, her true grit got us through very difficult financial times. She would never accept welfare or other charity. She was a very proud woman. In her younger days, about the age of 55, she boarded a bus for downtown Buffalo where she worked in a “sweat shop” making trousers. She loved that experience as well and felt very close to the owner and his son whom we would visit occasionally on our weekend jaunts. Her purpose was to help pay for my tuition in order to attend a private high school and then, a local college. But again, this was not perceived by her as a sacrifice or duty. It, once again, was a labor of love.
And that is how I grew up under her tutelage … learning the many ways and languages of love. I know that without that love, I would never have been able to accomplish my meager feats throughout my own life. Her sense of loving was demonstrated in all of her efforts. However, I wasn’t the only one who profited. She left a legacy among the people she met that, I’m sure, has benefited them as well.
(11 June 2012)
Both as a consultant and author, Charles Bonasera’s story-telling have motivated people to change patterns and resolve problems in their lives. All of his books contain valuable, practical lessons that people can easily apply to bettering and managing their lifestyles. He has also written a myriad of articles which can be found on his website at www.charlesmbonasera.com.