Rowing Lessons

There are so many flaws in this photograph that I don't even know where to begin.  As it turns out, it's my favorite because it's the image I love most of my mother.
copyright Jack Aiello
Summer Vacation, 1978  •  Italy
My sister took this photo - Thank you, Rosella.
One summer in Italy, my mother wanted to take me and my sister to the more popular and attractive beach that was located on the next side of the island.  It could only be accessed by boat and not finding anyone to take us, mom rented one and began to row us there.

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 shallow rock beds that threatened to scrape or even puncture the bottom of the boat.

I'm endeared to this photo 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.

A practical woman, 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 beyond the why. 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.

That's why I love that beat-up, badly exposed photo. It's the rare candid of my mom performing her act of kindness; zaftig physique frozen in mid stroke, determined to repeat the exhausting and tedious chore of rowing. Since then, and to my dying breath, whenever I see someone rowing a boat, I always equate it with an act of love.

Happy Mother's Day Mom

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