|Summer Vacation, 1978 • Italy|
That's me sitting behind her. I don't remember anything about that day or how we spent it once we got to the beach. The only thing I can recall is feeling badly for her. She hadn't rowed a boat in years and was struggling to steer it correctly. She was getting tired and would stop every so often to catch her breath. Fortunately, the waters weren't too choppy that day, but she had to maneuver constantly to avoid the sharp and jagged rocks that were just barely submerged underwater.
Flawed as the photograph is, I love it for the memory it conjures and how it reminds me of everything I know to be true of my mother. She is not exactly an alpha matriarch. She always remained on the side, but kept a watchful eye. She doesn't dole out little nuggets of wisdom on life or matters of the heart. She gets comfort from her religion, but she never uses it as an excuse to make herself better than anyone.
More important, my mother is a practical woman at heart. She isn't a talker, but a doer. The sum of all the mundane activities that make up a life, my mom performed without once bothering to wax philosophical. Maybe she was incapable of it, but I think she just comes from that post World-War Italian generation that grew up so poor they didn't have time to bother about the whys. She did the laundry, cooked and cleaned. She lived for sales and trolled for coupons on every grocery store circular. She balanced the checkbook, budgeted the finances, tended to us when we were sick. She made sure we were fed and clothed.
But nothing stands out more when she rowed her children to a more beautiful place.
The above photo doesn't obscure my mother. It places her firmly in bold relief. My mother's truth has always been in the act, in the doing. It's her zaftig physique frozen in mid stroke, determined to repeat the exhausting and tedious chore of rowing. Since then, and to my dying breath, the act of rowing has always been an activity that I equate with an act of love.