Ode to an Italian mother

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In 1819, English poet John Keats wrote a series of odes celebrating such things as a nightingale, the goddess Psyche, autumn and most famously a Grecian urn. Two years later, he died at the age of 25 in the midst of a pandemic that caused a quarter of the deaths across Europe in the 19th century. Here we are today — 100 years after the Spanish flu ripped through the world killing 50 million people — in the middle of our own pandemic: COVID-19.

I first became familiar with odes in 1994 while watching the Italian film “Il postino” (The Postman). The film introduced me to Chilean poet and Nobel Prize winner Pablo Neruda. I fondly recall the wintery night my mother and I braved a snowstorm to venture forth and see the film at our local theater. We were the only two people in the enormous space, which became our own personal living room. We were free to watch the movie and talk amongst ourselves. There we were, sitting arm-in-arm, sharing joys and sorrows while watching a film in my mother’s native tongue. It was a mundane enough experience at the time, but it’s a priceless memory now as I look back on the exuberance the film’s 1-hour-and-56-minute running time afforded us.

The pictures that appear on this page were taken two years apart. As with John Keats, two years have changed so much, though gratefully not so dramatically for us. Two years after Keats’ exultant “Ode to a Nightingale,” his life was over. That was his pandemic experience. Two years ago, my son, Jovi, was volunteering at my mother’s senior care residence, and now we find ourselves all but banned from visiting her. That’s our pandemic experience. But unlike Keats, we have the gift of time and hope. We have hope that our year of trial and tribulation will come to an end and that we’ll again be able to sit arm-in-arm with my mom and spend an hour and 56 minutes of exuberance in front of a timeless Italian film. We look forward to a future when we can share endless minutes freely embracing her and creating cherished new unions of body and soul.

We’ve endured the stringent quarantines, we’ve had our crises and laughter over toilet paper, and we’ve grown accustomed to FaceTime and Zoom as our windows into her world. We’ve also come to understand how a pane of glass can separate us while allowing us to spend quality time together. At 89 years old, my mother is my source of strength and inspiration. Surely, if she can still manage to stand and propel herself forward on her painfully arthritic knees, I can find ways to stand and propel myself through the challenges in my life.

I got a sense of that indomitable spirit today as I walked away from one of my frequent window visits with my mother. As I circled the building and headed toward my car, I caught a glimpse of her at her table in the dining area of her building. In the same week in which man landed a rover on Mars, simply seeing my mom able to dine in the distant company of others was both earth- and mind-shattering to me.

Mom, though your hair may lack the luster it once had when salon visits were available, you are nonetheless a shining example of how a mother should be. Though your humble nature might cause you to protest, I can’t think of a better way to thank you for all you mean to me than to let the world see not only your outer beauty but also your inner beauty and strength.

I don’t have the gift of poetry of a Keats or Neruda, but I hope this will do. Una madre italiana e una benedizione di Dio. Ti amo.

Happy Mother’s Day.

The above appears in the May 2021 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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