March is Women’s History Month, which started me thinking how lucky I was to have been around amazing women all of my life. Strong, beautiful, resilient women who have laid the groundwork in my story.
My grandmother, my mother'’s mother, set the bar. She migrated to the US from Italy alone, at 14, to live with her sister, only to find that she had died in childbirth. I can’t imagine her fear in being alone in a new country. She met my grandfather, who likewise migrated and had 12 children, five boys and seven girls. One of those girls, the second youngest, was my mother.
It built resiliency growing up through the Great Depression. They were a large, tight-knit, Italian family living in a three-room home. Boys in one room, girls in the other, parents in the third. During the summer, they’d head to their farm where the girls picked the fruits and vegetables and the boys sold them door to door.
The sisters grew even closer after my grandmother died at 58. They never lived over 10 minutes from each other. They supported each other, swapped recipes, and watched each other’s babies.
The highlight of my childhood was Sunday afternoons after Mass at my aunt’s house. Each of my aunts around the table in the tiny kitchen, laughing and talking in their Italian dialect so they could speak candidly. My seat was in the living room where I would watch amazed at their joy in being together. By the time I was fifteen, I was almost fluent in their dialect.
I loved each one and had my favorites. When I appeared, unannounced, on their doorstep they always greeted me with the Italian phrase of love, “what can I get you?” I would leave our visit, without fail, feeling better than when I went there.
My mom was likewise fortunate to have a group of friends she met early in her married life. This group of five wives all resided in the same apartment house and became friends. They met once a month and shared dinner and played cards for the next 67 years. 67 years of births and deaths, celebrations and heartaches.
For me, as a child, it was an event when they gathered. My mom always made something unique for dinner, and something spectacular for dessert. I quietly sat on the hallway steps, out of the way but close enough to enjoy their energy and listen to their voices and their laughter.
As they grew older, their dinners changed into lunches and I turned into my mom’s driver to their gatherings. During those times, I came to be an honorary member of their club and it was a dream come true to me. I had such respect and love for them, and to join them at the table made me feel special.
All but three, my mother and two of her friends, have died. When I think of them, I remember their resiliency, but more than just that, I remember their kindness, compassion and warmth. Yes, they were wives and mothers, but they were robust woman as well. Women who had their own dreams and goals. Women who claimed their lives. Claimed their love for each other and for those important to them.
There are times I still see then in my mind. Sitting around a table, surrounded by delicious food, talking and laughing. I consider myself blessed to have had such examples in my life, part of my history.