My Mother passed away seven years ago, just two months before her 92nd birthday and to this day I still miss her very much.
My Mother, I called her “Ma”, was born to immigrant parents from Italy on March 20th, 1910. She grew up in Hell’s Kitchen on Manhattan’s west side, a melting pot of immigrants at the turn of the century. I loved to hear her tell stories of those days growing up in New York City with gaslights, trolley cars, and food vendors pushing their carts on every street corner. Those were my bedtime stories that I fondly recall to this day.
She would tell me about her parents saving quarters to put in the light meters in order to have light for the evening. I could also visualize her Mother, my grandmother, shopping for fresh produce from the food vendor on the street outside their tenement. Ma would depict for me how my grandfather walked everyday to his business (he was a shoemaker), in fact, he made my first baby shoes. Little did he know he could have been the first Ferrigamo!
Ma was the eldest of five children, two sisters and two brothers. Her oldest brother died a tragic death at the age of 18 in a drowning accident on the 4th of July. I grew up never being able to go swimming or be near water on that date. Interestingly enough, I chose the 4th of July for my wedding date which surely kept everyone away from the water hole that day!
Ma was a high school graduate and married right after graduation. She was a devoted wife and a wonderful parent to her two daughters. She was accepting of all people, tolerant of those who bucked the conventional culture, and extremely patient with the younger generation. This made her an exceptionally great grandmother to her 4 grandchildren who adored and respected her tremendously. Her greatest happiness was her grandchildren and she gave them unconditional love and they returned that love tenfold.
I contribute my love of cooking to my Mother who taught me at an early age the ways around the kitchen.
She never seemed perturbed or stressed if I made a mess, or over chopped or spilled something. If you made a mess, we would just clean it up and get on with it. “No big deal“, my Ma would say.
The aromas in her kitchen were tantalizing and tempted anyone in the house to eagerly go to the dinner table waiting to enjoy her meals. She used only fresh, just purchased that day, ingredients. She never heard of preservatives, non-fat, and processed. Even her poultry was bought straight from the chicken coop where she would pick out the chicken she wanted to roast that evening and the “chicken man” would slaughter the chicken right then and there and plucked the feathers and clean and dress the fresh hen. Boy, that was quite a sight for me to see as a young child, but she would explain that would be the freshest and best tasting chicken we could have and of course, she was right!
I attribute Ma’s longevity to her laid back attitude and the fact that she also walked everywhere. She never learned to drive a car and would walk for all of her errands. In her later years she continued this practice and would love to walk her grandchildren to the candy store to buy treats. She loved gardening and truly had a green thumb and I was fortunate to learn from her a love of nature and gardening.
My Mother’s favorite things in life were her family, her children, her grandchildren and providing us all with her love and support. She brought such joy to our lives. Ma, Happy Mother’s Day!