She met my father when she was 17 on her first trip to Europe – a high school graduation present from her uncle. It was 1932, not many 17-year-olds traveled to Europe in grand style in those days or in any style at all. My mother actually missed her high school graduation, leaving school early to “go abroad”.
When she was introduced to my father, a medical student at the University of Rome and an officer in the Italian Army, she was not swept off her feet, as she wasn’t fond of the way he combed his hair. I can’t imagine not being swept away by my father, for he was the most charming man I have ever known.
Three years later, he moved to America, settled in Providence, my mother’s home town, learned English while a resident at a local hospital. Once established, he courted my mother, asked her to marry him three separate times until she finally said yes when he kissed her.
Theirs was a love from storybooks. They were devoted to each other and bore eleven children together. That was some kind of love! Oh yes, can you imagine! Eleven. I’m the only one of my siblings who never saw my mother pregnant. I am their youngest.
A few weeks ago a lovely lady from the Upper East Side called me to place a pie order for Thanksgiving. I was thrilled, it was my first order. She had seen my ad in MUG (Manhattan Users Guide), this online e-newsletter and called to order a pie. As we were chatting, she mentioned that Thanksgiving this year falls on November 24.
My heart stopped. I had to hold back the tears that suddenly welled in my eyes.
Today is my mother’s birthday, she would be 97 years old. And not a day goes by that I don’t miss her.
Every time I pick up my rolling pin I can feel my mother close. And with each round of dough I rolled this past month, I saw my mother sitting in the family kitchen at the long wooden table by the window. She wore that nutmeg brown cashmere polo sweater and a camel-color A-line cashmere skirt, her hair in a bun at the nape of her neck, the diamond earrings she always wore and high heels. She sat on a stool with her legs crossed and a crisp, fresh dish towel impeccably draped over her lap. In front of her on the table was her pie board with a handful of flour.
It’s an image that is crystal clear and always makes me smile and cry at the same time.
We kids would climb up on the table or on the nearby dishwasher and sit and talk to her while she made her pies and rolling out the dough with seemingly little effort. She was known for her ultra-thin, very flaky pies, amongst many other things.
When I roll my pie dough, I usually get some on my face and somewhere else. Not my mother. I’m not sure how she managed to do that, but she never had a spot of flour or anything else on her.
For Thanksgiving she would always make 2 apples and 2 mincemeats.
It wasn’t until my mother was in her 80s that I found out her favorite pie was pumpkin. Why don’t you make that, I asked her. Oh your father never liked pumpkin, she said. From then on, I’d make her a pumpkin pie for her birthday.
Over the last two days I must have made about 97 pumpkin pies sweetened with Vermont maple syrup and spiced with freshly grated nutmeg, cinnamon, and a touch of ground cloves. In my heart I made each one of those for her.
Happy birthday, Mom.