I rarely write about my family, and in the past when I did, it was when they were small enough to not be able to do much about it.
However, Saturday is my mother Julia’s 80th birthday and she is certainly worth a few paragraphs. My mother is neither a Washington native nor a Hoosier by birth, but has long considered Indiana her home. She will tell you that after more than 40 years in Indiana, moving to the heartland was the best choice she ever made, and coming to Washington rates just as high.
She was born to immigrants in the cramped Italian ‘projects’ of East Boston, but as the American dream began to take hold, her family moved to Cambridge and then to the suburbs North of Boston. She was the first member of her family to attend and graduate from college, starting a lifelong love of education and learning that ended with a master’s from Indiana University.
She will tell you that the most important thing is to be present with the moment and would prefer to sit and talk actively instead of just watch something passively. As a former mental health counselor, she was lucky enough to have spent a big part of her life being paid to pursue her passion.
Those who have had the privilege of knowing her for the 15 years she has been in Washington know she has been the first to join organizations and has always been willing to help out on boards and committees. She has always loved our local library and considers her friends there as close as many of her family members.
Even at 80, she has never been afraid to get on a plane to lend a hand for family and friends. Nor has she let age stop her from traveling around the globe. As you are reading this, know that she was supposed to be on her way on a cruise liner headed for Alaska before COVID-19 proved to be more powerful than her travel agents.
In the last few years, her trip on the Queen Mary II has stoked a passion for ocean travel, not fully understanding that her experiences were a little different than that of my father’s on a troop transport to Asia or mine in the Persian Gulf, she considers herself a “sailor” now. At 80, she says that she still wants to start kayaking and I’ve tried to convince her that she needs to stick to boats that have buffets and afternoon tea.
My mother was raised in a large Sicilian family, and as a youngster I remember Sundays at my grandmothers. On special occasions she, my mother and her sisters would help roll out the dough for raviolis, and make the sauce, known affectionately to Italians as the “Sunday gravy.” Even at Thanksgiving, the turkey was second fiddle to the pasta course. My mother has followed the same tradition where Sunday dinner is important, in spite of the fact that my Scotch-English father makes a better pasta sauce.
She has been lucky enough to watch her grandchildren head off to college and has enjoyed being close enough to see them grow up without missing a milestone. One of the great blessings has been having parents live close by, especially as life is sometimes written in pencil — and having a parent close-by can help serve as an “eraser.”
Growing up, and as a teenager, my mother never seemed to be too bothered by embarrassing me from time-to-time; however, as a parent now, I realize it always came from a place of love.
It is funny, I have rarely been known as anything but who I am. I was never really “Ron’s son” or “Cam, Max or Sarah’s father,” but for the first time, more and more often, I’ll be approached by someone who will say, “Are you Julie’s son?” the answer is — ”absolutely.”
So Happy 80th birthday Mom, and love from all your family and friends.