My mother was first and foremost a teacher. Oh, not just a schoolteacher, although she was that, but a teacher and imparter of wisdom. She was always teaching me something about cooking or shopping or life.
She was also a lifelong student. She would often quote her mother by saying, “I’m never too old to learn something new.”
My mother taught everyone who came into her realm how to cook. Cooking was her passion and her art form. Being present in her kitchen while she cooked was like being in the live audience of a cooking show. Her friends called her “Julia,” and our phone would ring often with culinary questions. She was known for her chocolate cakes made with Droste’s cocoa, her brownies, date nut squares, and lemon meringue pies. My mother read cookbooks like others read novels.
Her highest praise was that food was “delicate.” This was a term she reserved for Grandma Goia’s cooking, IL Girasole in Florida, and the food served in Italy.
My mother had an abhorrence of the overuse of garlic and would leave a restaurant if she smelled it upon entering.
Some of the things I learned from my mother’s tutelage were a love for fine china, beautiful linens, and quality clothing. She would tell me that she would rather have one lovely garment than a bunch of cheap junk! If she bought a particularly expensive item she would say, “Now that’s an investment.”
My mother had an interesting childhood, Her father did not allow her to ride a bicycle because that was too dangerous. But a great source of joy in her life was her Aunt Madeline, who was called “Big,” as my mother was called “Little.”
Aunt Madeline some how talked my grandfather into allowing my mom to go away to college — not a common thing for any young woman of her day.
At William Smith College a whole new world opened for my mother. She participated in productions of the “Little Theatre,” was a member of student government and had a full social life.
Although my mother was an education major, she told me she would spend a great deal of time visiting the Home Ec. Department, and that they would include her as an honorary member in their events. Even then my mother’s true love of the culinary arts was evident.
My mother had several gentlemen admirers, several of whom were named Myron, but she had one love of her life and that was my father Nick. No matter how much they fussed at each other, moments later they were flirting and laughing. My parents adored each other, and my father was miserable if my mom went somewhere and left him home alone. When she would return from a rare shopping spree or bridge outing he would always greet her with, “Mad! Where have you been?”
Friendships were very important to my mother. Her closest bonds were to Terri Vispi and Jean Marchetta. They were always collaborating on interior design projects and party planning, including flocking their own Christmas trees!
In my mother’s later years she wasn’t able to golf much, but she liked to stay connected to the nine holers at Quail Ridge where she lived in Florida.
My mom offered to be their “Sunshine Girl”. She was responsible to send get well and condolence cards to the members. She told me it took a great deal of time because she couldn’t just send a card, that would be too impersonal, but had to include a hand-written note on each one.
She was known for always sending food to people who were ill or alone. As children we would be so excited to see a cake being made and then were disappointed to learn that it was for Mrs. So and So. She was so often thinking of others.
The highpoint of my mom’s later years was the birth of her great grandchildren. You would have thought that no children on earth were ever so bright or so beautiful. She showed everyone who came to her house their pictures, including plumbers who came to fix her sink.
As the years passed, my mother and I have had some wonderful spiritual conversations.
The evening we moved her into a memory care facility several years ago I told her an important story she had never heard. I recalled a phone call my father and I had the night before he had open heart surgery. He told me he did not know where he would go if he died on the operating table the next day. I explained that the Bible tells us it is written that we may know that we have eternal life. I helped my Dad understand there was nothing he could do to be good enough for God, but that by accepting Jesus’ death on the cross for him it would be like him putting on Jesus’ beautiful spotlessly clean coat over his own dirty clothes. Then when God the Father looks at him, God would see Jesus’ righteousness.
My father prayed to receive that clean coat that night.
When I relayed this story to my mom her eyes were piercing with intensity. I asked her if she wanted to give her life to Jesus as my father had, and she said emphatically “yes!” We prayed together that night, and from then on my mother lost her fear of death.
We would talk often of heaven.
One day when I was visiting her at Highpoint I asked her who she was going to see when she got to heaven. She said, “the Lord?”
I said, “Yes, and who else?”
She said, “Daddy.”
“Yes, and what do you think he will say when he sees you?”
He’ll say, “Mad, where have you been?”