Moment of Clarity, by Steve Piacente
February 27, 2012
My mother said to me, ‘If you are a soldier, you will become a general. If you are a monk, you will become the Pope.’ Instead, I was a painter, and became Picasso.
Pablo Picasso’s words resonate with me. My mother was a single mom twice during a stormy relationship with my father that finally ended in divorce in the 1960’s. She rose to comptroller of her company and in the process provided a middle class New York upbringing for my sister and myself, not easy given that she was not college educated, and this was the male-dominated America personified in Mad Men.
Peel back a few more decades, and you’d find her a rebellious teenager, fighting often with her father, an old-world Jewish barber from Brooklyn. He didn’t like her older Italian musician, and on that one at least, he was right.
The one constant throughout was the book you could always find by her side. She loved to read. Romance, thrillers, memoirs, you name it. Her favorite, of course, was Betty Smith’s, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.
Thus, it’s not surprising that when my sister and I were growing up with this fiery brunette who packaged herself like Elizabeth Taylor and acted like Betty Friedan (“I’ll work if I want to,” she would fume at my father), she also became our first reading and writing instructor.
My father didn’t think college was important. Had they stayed together, I might have followed in him into the New York music scene. But they parted and she was firm. I wound up at a costly private school in Washington, D.C. during the Watergate era, which triggered an interest in the school paper, which blossomed into a 25-year reporting career.
Eventually frustrated with newswriting, I considered returning to the classroom in the 1990’s for a Masters in Fiction. Classes were costly, but my mother, despite a frugal nature forged in the Great Depression, urged me to go for it. I did, and wound up self-publishing Bella in 2010.
By this time, my mother was ensconced in the warm sunshine of Delray Beach, FL. Memories of her New York snow shovel were long gone.
Sadly, Alzheimer’s was beginning to claim her other memories as well. As soon as possible, I took a trip. I wanted her to see I’d dedicated the book to her, that I’d written, “Dear Mom, you made this possible. Never forget.”
I was nearly too late. I showed her the book and she wanted to talk about her grandkids. “But mom, look,” I pleaded, pointing to my name on the cover and opening to the dedication. This was the woman who’d made a scrapbook of my first articles as a high school sportswriter. She looked at me blankly and asked about my oldest daughter. I persisted. We went back and forth. “So how’s Danielle?” she said. I drank from my water bottle.
Finally, after more painful minutes, she turned to a drawer and pulled out a magnifying glass the size of a dinner plate. She looked at the cover. She placed the book on the table and opened to the dedication.
“For Ceil, my mother,” she read. She put down the magnifying glass and clasped the book to her heart. I will never forget how clear her blue eyes were in that moment of clarity as she said, slowly, voice cracking slightly, “It was all worth it.”
I was astonished. She was back, intact and perhaps even ready to cook up one of her amazing Italian dinners from yesteryear. We would walk by the lake and maybe sit by the pool. Hell, I’d take her out for dinner.
Then, just as suddenly, she put down the book as if she’d never seen it and couldn’t tell a novel from a night bird. I held my breath and waited.
“So how’s Danielle?” she said.
(Steve Piacente is the author of BELLA and BOOTLICKER. Please visit him on the web at www.stevepiacente.com. )