“Who comes with Summer to this earth
And owes to June her day of birth,
With ring of Agate on her hand,
Can health, wealth, and long life command.”
My mom turned 79 on June 12th. She was born Emma Rita Parise to immigrant parents from the province of Calabria, Italy (“the toe of the boot”). She was the last of 5 children; two older brothers who died as children and 2 older sisters. She was born in Philadelphia, PA when her mother was 40. Her mother was warned not to have this last baby because it would negatively impact her health. She was an asthmatic and had a bad heart because of the asthma. She of course ignored them. There was no question about having the baby. So my mother was born into her new family. Sadly, her mother died three years later, and my mother’s oldest sister, my Aunt Mary (see her remembrance post), took over raising my mother at the age of 13.
To say my mother was a bit of a street urchin or hellion is putting it mildly if all the talk is real. She has described herself as running the streets, and learning all sorts of behavior and language. To know my mother, you can picture her perfectly as an urchin. Her life was still filled with love from her two older sisters (my Aunt Theresa, the middle sister, who was 8 years older and Aunt Mary 10 years older) and her father who worked hard as a painter to support the little family. My mother was lucky to have this family who loved and raised her, and I think that is why she turned out the way she did despite any hardships she encountered.
As a teen she was definitely rebellious. She defied her sister Mary and the nuns who taught at her high school. Yes they sent her to a Catholic high school which she called torture, and my mother is a devote Catholic. She would get a ruler across her knuckles; if she was chewing gum they put it in her hair…OK it was a bit of torture. The best story was the one she told about when she would get on the trolley to go to school wearing her socks the right way and her skirt the proper length. Before she arrived at school, her socks would be turned down and the skirt hiked up to the latest fashion length much to the horror of the nuns who would then contact my Aunt Mary. It was the late 40s, the era of big bands and bobby soxers, and she was always in fashion. I think I got my fashion style from her as I was growing up. To say she wasn’t enamored with our style of clothing in the 70s was putting it mildly. Micro mini skirts that barely covered your rear end, tight jeans that showed off your rear end, and those flimsy halter tops certainly turned her hair gray early. But she let us find our fashion sense as long as we looked clean and not trashy.
My mom went to nursing school to become an RN. I always found my mother to be one of the smartest people I know. She knew her nursing stuff and she knows about life. To say my mom was always right might be an exaggeration, but when I was growing up it seemed that way. She always had an answer, sometimes a smart alec, answer to things. She could be quite sarcastic, but it was never mean. It was her sense of humor, and it taught us well. You know the ones, “Well if you put it where it belonged you’d find it”; “If so and so jumped off a bridge would you follow them”. She was always right about friends and especially boyfriends. She could spot the losers, and she generally told us so after she met them. I really hated that and would often try to prove her wrong, but never could. I learned how to discern about people from her too, but was never quite as good as she was. I think she learned that skill as that street urchin.
My mom is an incredible mother. I think she tried even harder to be the mom she never had although I know she loves her sister Mary so much, and is grateful to her for her love and support in raising her. But my mom was the epitome of the 1950s and 60s TV mom. She cooked, baked, worked on weekends sometimes, planted a garden, took cake decorating classes (you should have seen those cakes-she was a Cake Boss even then) and cleaned the house morning, noon and night; she even would bleach our shoes laces every night so we looked clean. She bandaged our wounds, and helped us fight our battles if we needed her. She was never a “helicopter parent”, thank God, and she let us learn the hard way if we needed to. And yes I got spankings, and my mouth washed out with soap because like her I could be mouthy.
All my relatives said I look like my mom. I have her stature and a lot of her personality. I was always closely tied to my mom, and often as a very young child had nightmares that she died. Many of these came because I was in the hospital a lot as a baby and toddler because I was born with asthma and almost died. As a teen we fought a lot because we were so alike. As a young adult I wanted to learn on my own and she let me, but she was always there when I needed to come back crying and licking my wounds. She rarely said I told you so. Now we are still close and talk often though not often enough. My fault. She can come to me with any problems, and she knows I will be there to listen and counsel her(part of that middle child thing). When my dad was really sick and then died, I know I talked her off some pretty steep buildings of despair. I used a lot of her lessons to help her deal with things. At my dad’s funeral we literally held each other up the entire time and never let go.
My mother never considered herself book smart, and it took her 4 times to pass her State Nursing Board exams. She simply had test anxiety, but she never gave up. That is how she has always been. Through any adversity or major change in her life, she rarely showed us if she was feeling bad. She may have been moody or worried sometimes, but she always tried to put on a good face, sacrificed that new coat she desperately needed and gave us what we needed; lots and lots of love. She was and is always proud of our accomplishments. She told me recently when I started sending her my blog posts to read, “I knew I had a smart daughter, but I never knew how smart”. She refers to me as her daughter the writer who is a published author. That is coming in August.
My mother’s health waivers, and she has health issues that she battles daily that do not stop her from living her life. My mother will tell you she was never a saint. She was never perfect, but she was and is an incredible person. I marvel at the lessons she taught me as a child and still does to this day. She is a proud, strong woman who has profoundly influenced and shaped my life. She will always be my pillar of strength, my best friend, my role model and my portrait of love.
Special Note: My mom’s favorite flowers pictured here are roses which are the flower for June her birth month, and which symbolize love. You can read about my mother’s life lessons that I wrote about at Walkabout Chronicles(Life’s Simple Lessons; The Golden Rule).
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