My Mother Goose

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Born in poverty-stricken Calabria in 1932, my mother didn’t have the luxury of a formal education. When her father died of tuberculosis, she took to the nearby fields to pick figs, olives, grapes and whatever else the harsh soil would relinquish.

Although my mom never took classes in literature, math and the sciences, as so many of us have been lucky enough to do, she had no less imagination, desire and drive. She saw to it that her children had all the things she was forced to do without so many years ago.

Literature isn’t solely the realm of “Beowulf,” “The Canterbury Tales,” “The Great Gatsby,” “To Kill a Mockingbird” or “The Color Purple.” It can be as brief and yet profound as a child’s nursery rhyme. How many of these little gems do you remember? If I start them, can you finish them?

“Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall …”

“Peter, Peter, pumpkin eater …”

“Jack be nimble …”

“Mary had a little lamb …”

“Hey Diddle Diddle, the cat and the fiddle …”

“Mary, Mary, quite contrary …”

“Ring around the rosy …”

“Jack and Jill went up the hill …”

Today, I’d like to salute my family’s Mother Goose and sing her praises. Although she couldn’t recite the state capitals or help us with our algebra, she had the loving ability to calm our fears and teach us how to calm ourselves by singing to us the nursery rhymes of Southern Italy and sharing the folk tales of her childhood.

Those stories and songs were passed down to my mother through the generations and came as easily to her as breathing. You see, no one country has a monopoly on lullabies and fairy tales. There is a Mother Goose for every nation.

Unbeknownst to my mom, these treasures from her cultural past, repeated over and over, effortlessly taught me how to speak Italian. Long after many of the lessons from my grade school and high school years have been forgotten, my knowledge of Italian remains one of my most precious possessions.

One of the ditties my mother conjured to calm me down when I was frightened or troubled — or just to sing me off to sleep — was “Stella Stellina.” It was my mother’s version of “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.” It comes back to me now at odd moments, as if in a waking dream.

STELLA STELLINA
Stella Stellina.
La notte si Avvicina.
La fiamma traballa.
La mucca nella stalla.
La mucca e il vitello.
La pecora e I’agnello.
La chioccia con il pulcino.
Ognuno ha il suo bambino.
Ognuno ha la sua mamma.
E tutti fan la nanna.

STAR, LITTLE STAR
Star, little star.
Night is approaching.
The flame flickers.
The cow is in the barn.
The cow and the calf.
The sheep and the lamb.
The hen with the chick.
Everyone has his child.
Everyone has his mother.
And everyone went beddy-bye.

Thanks, Mom, for transforming my days and nights into a lifetime that was so much less worrisome and tumultuous than yours.

I pray that the mothers and fathers of Ukraine can find the strength, courage, and words to comfort and reassure their children. Perhaps a sweet, loving lullaby can bring a small bit of peace in such an uncertain and at times cruel world.

My mother may not hold a title or degree, but then again, the life lessons she passed on to me could never have been read in a book or learned in a classroom. The most valuable lessons are those that come straight from the heart. What is essential is invisible to the eye.

Ti amo, Mom, my Mother Goose!

The above appears in the May 2022 issue of the print version of Fra Noi. Our gorgeous, monthly magazine contains a veritable feast of news and views, profiles and features, entertainment and culture. To subscribe, click here.

About Giovanni Savaglio

Giovanni Savaglio Is a certified registered nurse anesthetist. Born in Calabria, Italy, and raised in the South Side of Chicago, he is an avid world traveler. Having journeyed to both ends of the planet by means of trips to the geographic North Pole and Antarctica, he enjoys sharing his adventures with the readers of Fra Noi. A love of his Italian heritage and a passion for history has inspired articles on subjects as diverse as Carlo Levi and the mufaletta sandwich. He appreciates Fra Noi’s ability to act as a voice for the Italian-American community.

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