All the voices in your head… ♪♫•♪calling GL0R-I-A! ♪♫•♪♫•*•*´¨`*• Laura Brannigan
|GLORIA was mom's theme song at family celebrations... here we are singing it at Jess and Vic's wedding.|
She was my rock and my anchor. Everything I knew, everything I felt, everything that motivated me, was because of the way she moved though my soul and carried it with her heart. She was my best friend, most ardent supporter, worst critic, my conscience and my guide. Never again will I know the uncompromising, unconditional love I had with her beside me. She left us in a blink of an eye. My last memory seeing her was standing at the front door, tears in her eyes, waving me off to my new life in France. I didn't know that would be the last time I saw my mom.
Mom passed away as Ian and I were flying over the Atlantic in a frantic race to get to her before she left. I needed to see my mom one last time. I needed to hold her hand, kiss her face and tell her how much I loved her. I know she knew I loved her. But I needed to say goodbye. Mom couldn’t wait. She left quietly on that Tuesday, the 23rd of April. She was so tired and Dad must have been calling her over. She took his hand in the middle of General Hospital. My sister Maria was there with her. Joanne was on her way over to visit. Maria said, her breathing changed and she just “left.” I miss my mom every single day. Although I know we all go through this; losing parents. When it’s you… it’s uniquely intense and cruel.
On August 23rd in 1929 Gloria Frances Bertolotti was born and raised in the Little Italy section of the Bronx in New York. She had one older brother Livio Americo (Uncle Lee) who died young; at 32. She was very close to being named “America” by her newly immigrated parents. They lived in a (barely) 2-bedroom apartment on Lorillard Place filled with love, music, food, friends and family. My grandparents were money-poor. Grandma worked in a sweatshop sewing rich women’s dresses. Grandpa did any odd job he could from chauffeuring to tending bar. But they were the richest poor people I knew. Grandma always said, you’re only poor if you act and think poor. She was very proud of her aristocratic lineage and always would remind me that I was of the bloodline of the Pallavicini’s. She always dressed and acted like a lady, outside of the sweatshop! I grew up listening to opera and classical music and knowing how much I was loved just like my mother did. My mother had an immense joy for life which she clung to and passed to her children.
|My dad... do you blame her?|
My mother met my father while on an Atlantic crossing to visit family in Italy. She was travelling with grandma. I think she was about 19 years old at the time. On the return trip, the MV Vulcania became the “Love Boat.” My father was part of the crew and this is where they met and fell in love.
My father jumped ship and stayed with a friend in Hoboken, NJ. Both my grandparents, party animals that they were, invited him and his friends over to the Bronx often. This marked the “courting” period for my mom and dad. Soon they were engaged. My dad went to Canada and then re-entered the country legally and married my mother. It took several years to become a citizen, in which time my sister and I were born. It was lucky for me that he was not a citizen until a while after I was born, because this easily enabled me to reclaim my Italian citizenship (jure sanguinis) and be able to live in the European Union without hassle.
My early childhood is swept up in memories of living in Little Italy. Hoffman Street, Arthur Avenue and Lorillard Place were our turf. Catholic School at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel with its grand feasts surrounding the church and spilling onto the streets of our little world is still vivid in my mind. The open markets displaying a bounty of fresh fish, snails, clams, fresh vegetables, the butcher, the baker, the cheeses hanging alongside enormous rows of salamis and cured meats were the precursor to my draw to the small French villages and markets here in Sud de France. We played in the streets, ran the “Johnny Pump” in hot weather (fire hydrant) and spit watermelon pits into the street when the Watermelon Man came on a hot summer’s night. After dinner, the woman would come and sit on the stoop to gossip and cool down as we played long into the evening. My identification as Italian living in America was about to come crashing down.
My parents moved to Floral Park on Long Island. It was just “barely” out of the city. In fact half of it is in Queens and the incorporated village we lived in was in Nassau County. To us it was a different world. Here, we blended with people who not only weren’t Italian, but weren’t Catholic! We even went to public school! My father’s European ways, were not the ways of other parents and so the differences between my world and the new world I was living in was vast. This is where Gloria (my mom) stepped up! She became the trailblazer of her generation of women within our family circle.
My father was a southern Italian. My mother grew up in a Northern Italian household. The Northern Italians are much different than those in the south. All of my father’s family and friends were southern Italians and the wives of most of the other family members were docile and obedient servants to their husbands. They bowed their shoulders and did what was expected according to command and tradition. Some of them were in arranged marriages. They ran their households the way they remembered growing up in Italy, totally unaware that even as America was changing, so was the Italy they remembered. To them the old country remained in a still life painted by memory. It wouldn’t be until some of them were able to return many years later that they would see that even the homeland got past the war years and was progressing beyond this mindset. But all the men did what they could to make life in America emulate the one they had “before the war.” My mother would have NONE of that!
My mother dressed like an American woman and not in the housecoat and slippers and dowdy church dress. When there was a death in the family, she stayed in black for an appropriate mourning period and then went right back to color avoiding a lifetime of black dresses and stockings. My mother laughed and teased my dad and didn’t go along with everything. She fought when she had to. She fought to get out of the Bronx (many followed), she fought to get us the things we needed to “Americanize” and move forward. She was the first of the women to get her driver’s license (ok, so she almost drove us off a bridge in Fire Island, but hell, she learned to drive). She fought to make sure my dad not only learned English but went to school at night to learn to read and write it as well so that he could move up from being a laborer to head foreman. She fought to be able to work outside the home. She fought for things in the house that needed updating and refreshing so that the house was presentable and was proud to give the “tours” when friends and family came for the first time. OK, that meant we lived in the basement because the “upstairs” was the museum packed in plastic covers and plastic runners… but it was her home and she had no intention of being ashamed of it.
She also fought to give us a childhood we’d remember. Although we loved to go out to our Aunt and Uncle’s place in Shirley, Long Island where all our cousins would play in the woods and ride bicycles, fish and swim in the ocean every day; we also went on real vacations. We went to a dude ranch one year, and a bunch of my mom’s girlfriends and husbands and kids went to Leisure Lake and rented a cabin in the Pocono Mountains. We’d go camping in Pennsylvania and to theme parks and every Friday night my dad would pack the station wagon with neighborhood kids for ice cream cones at Carvel during the summer. We joined the community pool and took diving lessons and slowly assimilated into American life. Although there was a lot of tongue wagging because my mother knew what she wanted and went for it… she didn't care. And my father benefited from it. My father didn't like change and if it were up to him, we’d still be in the Bronx and he’d still be a laborer breaking his back in the heat and cold laying tile and terrazzo floors as he got older. My mom pushed and my father manned up and became the best he could be. We were living the American Dream. A house in the burbs… my dad had a good steady job, with good health insurance and a strong labor union. He worked hard and he still had his Italian temper and believe me he was set in his ways, but when it came down to it, my mom let him be the captain, but SHE was the helmsman. As time went on and we got older, they were able to travel. It was she who insisted they not go to Italy every time they had a chance to travel. And so, they went to Spain, northern Europe, Hawaii, Caribbean Islands, Australia and took cruises.
Mom LOVED to gamble. Every Saturday night we’d be rotated to different houses while the adults played penny poker. It wasn’t too long before they were off to Casinos whenever they got a chance. The Bingo parlor on Jamaica Avenue in Queens was mom’s second home. My dad would stay home and if we called he’d say… mom went to work. She usually won something… which meant she’d be taking dad out to dinner that night. Mom also loved to have parties and we had plenty. She and my dad would go out dancing with my more “modern” aunts and uncles. They danced like Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. I loved to watch them float on the dance floor twirling and dipping in perfect synchronicity.
Yes, Gloria was something special. She had always had a lot of friends and was determined that no matter what life threw at you, you find your own joy. She had a great sense of humor and a wonderful ability to laugh at herself. She was always curious and brave and would try most anything. She was the first of her friends to dive into computers and internet and though she didn't quite “get” it, she tried like hell to keep up with her children and grandchildren on “spacebook.”
It’s so hard to imagine that life force, that loved life as much as she did, is gone. She was out with her girlfriends, playing bingo, going to ceramics, shopping, running to Lido Beach with her senior citizen friends, even taking the grandkids to Atlantic City on the senior citizen bus… right up till she got sick. She got sick not long after Kim’s wedding in February. It went from being tired and a backache in the middle of February to a rapid decline into death by late April. No one, not even she, had time to process what was happening. When Ian and I left France we didn’t know how long she had, so we went for the maximum amount of time we could afford. I knew how excited she was about the impending birth of her first great granddaughter. We hoped she’d be holding out for that. As it turned out, mom passed while we were still in the air. It wasn’t an easy thing to accept. In fact, I was mad at her at first. But, she did what she had to do. I kind of still feel cheated at not being able to say goodbye. Guess I’ll get over it. But oh what a blessing to have had that shining soul as my mother! I am so proud of her and proud to call her mom. She was perfectly mixed with love, strength, curiosity, joy, pride, humor, social grace, compassion and sense of family. She loved her children and grandchildren fiercely. She and my dad left us with a legacy of love and family loyalty; a price above rubies. Thank you mommy. I love you.
|Stephen, Maria, Joanne, Mom and Me |
The love you take is equal to the love you make (Beatles)