Today we should honor women...
The photo above shows my Mom, Marie (Vetri) Finzi, holding my son when he was a toddler. It shows her joyful, funny and loving side. But, she was a tough lady... just like her mother. Her shouts threatened us into behaving. She was always harsh with Dad, but was his ultimate lifelong companion--they were married 54 years when he passed away in 2000. When I asked Dad once why he put up with all of her yelling, he just said, "What am I going to do? I love her." Yes, Dad... there was something there...
Her tough demeanor would fade when little kids were around and when she knew neighbors, co-workers or the public at large were watching. She also would laugh, joke, tease and have a great time during large family dinners when all her grandchildren (18 of them) would visit during the holidays and crowd into her tiny kitchen and dining room.
But she was not to be crossed. Her favorite expression was "I don't mad. I get even". She was a provider, but also a fighter... a product from her Italian immigrant family's tough life in Hoboken, New Jersey. Her father was murdered--an act of jealousy when he worked as a manager at a trash hauling company--crushed by a garbage truck. Her mother remarried for financial reasons. Her stepfather was a drunk. Her sister and brother were sent away for years when they were young, simply because there wasn't enough money to provide for all of them. In the end, when her mother passed, she discovered her brother had plotted against her and she was left out of my Grandmother's will. That had to hurt.
She worked in a factory most of her life making jewelry boxes... a real sweat shop--no air conditioning, sun beating down from banks of skylights, and the head-aching airplane roar of industrial fans making a poor attempt to keep things a bit cooler. Once a large metal stamping machine crusher her finger and they paid for her getting stitched back up--nothing more. The rest of her life she pointed with a crooked finger. She eventually became a supervisor, but still worked her own machines getting paid by the piece. No wonder that every month or so she would book an evening out with her "lady friends" to unwind with a Tom Collins cocktail and listening to some Italian crooner in a Manhattan night club, or to a countryside dinner theater to enjoy a show.
She also was a mother to five kids, her first were twin sisters--born THREE DAYS apart. That's back when twins were natural--and a rarity. The New York Daily News carried that story. Her third child was a boy, so rambunctious that he would be classified ADHD today. Her third daughter was a prize--her cherubic, "fat baby" who could never do wrong. And then there was me--an unwanted pregnancy later in her child-bearing years... the "baby" of the family. I was the odd man out--the quiet, polite, artsy type. I tried to stay out of trouble, listened, learned and painted.
She had the foresight to scrape, save and borrow to buy the small six-apartment tenement that I grew up in... just to get the six of them out of the small apartment they rented in Hoboken--just as I came along--a real surprise for this fatigued mother. How the seven of us lived in a two bedroom railroad flat is beyond me.
She collected rents, rented seashore apartments for us for one week a year, bought a new family car every 4 years or so, slaved in that factory until she retired... cooked, cleaned, and "kept house" as she called it. As the older kids married and moved out, she and Dad would take more worldly trips: Hawaii, Spain, Morocco, Mexico, and nearly all the Caribbean islands. She had one Jewish friend and one black friend and used the expression "those people" a lot, although she would never label herself racist. She always held her purse tight to her body whenever we went into New York City for the day.
Every Sunday she made "Sunday Gravy". She also made a great chicken soup, the occasional pizza ("Grandma" sheet pan style), pot roast (with the help of canned onion soup), fall-off-the-bone roasted chicken, she loved smelt and fried eel, and once a week would offer us a "cold platter" during the hot summer. She was a solid, good family cook... not great, but none of us starved, that's for sure. Because she was a working mother, and because my siblings had all gotten married and left home by the time I turned 13, I learned how to cook early on.
Dad didn't live long enough to meet the 19th of his grandchildren--my son Lucas--but Mom did. She was aging pretty fast while he was a toddler and he has vague memories of her... but he does remember his "Angel Grandma" as we came to call her after her passing.
She lived to be 92 years old, passing away in 2009... her longevity, a gift from he mother who lived to be 96.
Since she has been gone, I rarely think of her on any daily basis, but I do cook a lot of the things she taught me how to cook--especially soups and stews. And I see her dimples in my son's dimples. I think of her whenever I come across an old cooking show that we used to watch together. And I hear her voice when I catch myself yelling at my son for some indiscretion or act of disrespect. I don't like yelling. But I suppose that's the way it is with what we inherit from our parents. We accept them into ourselves--both the good and the bad.
You were a hell of a woman and a mother, Marie.
On April 2nd, she would have been 100 years old.
Happy birthday, Mom.