Over the years, when I needed to imagine a place of comfort, it was with my beloved cousin Irma, at her kitchen table. Today, January 2nd, would have been her 84th birthday. In July of 2020, we received the most difficult news from our cousins in Italy that she had left this world. Irma felt like more than a cousin, more than a friend. She was a living connection to a way of life that allowed me to see into my family’s story.
One of the few Christmas decorations I pull out each year is a Christmas manger scene that my mother gave me. Over the decades, Mom would ask me if I had set it up yet, so partly from guilt I would get it out, so that I could say yes. But the truth is, it has brought me a lot of joy to see the little baby Jesus in his crib, surrounded by animals, loving parents, and travelers, and protected by an angel. The human figures no longer stand firmly on their own without toppling over a few times. It isn’t a finely carved presepio that Italy is known for. The figures and manger are molded plastic, yet they are still tasteful.
One year, the year that was to be my mom’s last, when the Epiphany arrived on January 6th, I resisted taking the nativity set down. Mom was not doing well and having this Holy Child nearby felt like a source of grace and comfort. Mom left hers up as well, and we joked on the phone that this was the longest time that we had ever had them on display into the new year. Continue reading
As a tribute to my mother, Lena Moser, who left this world five years ago today at age 90, it feels appropriate to reprint an excerpt of my introduction from She Is Everywhere, Volume 3. It is a testimony to her resilience (she recovered fully from the episode below), the power of stories to sustain us; and the importance of sharing and caring. Blessed be, dearest Mother! Blessed be!
New Moon, March 4, 2011 As I write this introduction, I have just returned from a period of caring for and being with my mother, who is recovering from a broken hip. When she fell, on January 3, 2011 and hit the floor of her dining room, the earth shook for me upon hearing the news. Learning of her progress with reports from my sister, Marlene, and then witnessing her daily improvements in person have inspired me during these tumbling times of change. Will I have her determination when I am 87 years old to meet such challenges? Do I have such courage now to rise up and learn to move in new ways in a changing world? Will we all be able to do the hard work of rebuilding broken structures that no longer sustain us? Continue reading
Decades ago, after my grandparents had died, I felt called by my ancestors to visit my ancestral homeland and to find my grandparents’ birthplaces. From the years of genealogical research that followed, I know that I am the daughter of Lena, granddaughter of Edvige, great granddaughter of Felicita, and great great granddaughter of Margerita. It is these women in my motherline who beckoned me to retrieve my cultural heritage with a focus on folk women’s culture.
On the eve of February 2, 2007, the midway point on the solar cycle of the year between the longest night and the spring equinox, I opened El Meledri, the periodical from the village of my maternal grandmother in northern Italy, named for the river that borders the village. Inside, there was a photo of three women: my great grandmother, at the center, and her two oldest daughters, Emma and Erminia on either side. Their eyes seemed to look straight across the ages into mine and say, “We’ve been waiting for you.”
Knowledge of my culture was not handed down to me explicitly, as it was for centuries from mother to daughter, parent to child, for a number of reasons including early deaths, immigration to the United States, discrimination, and the missing link of stories tied to particular places.
Much of the oral history was lost due to language. My mother could understand her mother’s spoken dialect (a particular variation of Italian), but she responded to her in English. Here in the United States, my grandmother’s language—the very medium of agency through which her culture had been communicated for generations—became a source of shame, due to her inability to speak “good English.” Her oldest daughter, my Aunt Annie, told me that my grandmother brought her along as a translator in shops to conduct transactions. Through language courses, and with time, my grandmother mastered the English necessary to pass the difficult exam for citizenship, which became a source of pride.
Three years before I was born, my grandmother died while sitting in my mother’s kitchen. As a result, I did not hear a single word of my grandmother’s language growing up. Only in 1981, when I traveled with my mother to Italy so that she could see the birth village of her mother, did this hidden language that she held inside for thirty years tumble out.
In this unfolding story of my heritage, I have sought to recover and make more evident the folk wisdom of my ancestors, particularly of my female ancestors. The arrival of the photo of my bisononna by mail on the sacred day of Santa Brigida, also known as Candlemas, while I was deep in coursework for my dissertation on my ancestral heritage, seemed to be an auspicious affirmation of my Ancestor’s desire to be known.
From my studies and travels, I now know – and thus can appreciate more fully – the numerous ways that cultural values have been transmitted to me in everyday family life, including through food, clothing, medicine, religious practices, acts of service, and celebration.
The blackberries are fermenting on the vine, fallen leaves blanket the picnic table, and the slice of sun on my clothesline arrives later each day. With the arrival of fall, the days of being able to hang my laundry outside are growing fewer. Lately I have been pondering my passion for this ritual of outdoor clothes drying. Is it only the sensual pleasure I crave, or something more? Continue reading