In the midst of her family, she was like a gardener in her garden.
- AFA VP Ed Vitagliano
...and call her blessed
A Son's Mother's Day Tribute
The people who make a deep impression on us are often larger than life. The mention of their names jars loose a tumble of memories that defy easy categorization. Such people blazed brightly and illumined our world and shaped our character.
My mother was like that. She defied a one-word characterization, for the sheer multitude of memories are like the variety of colors on an artist’s palette, and form a deep, richly hued painting of a woman who impacted my life on every level.
In the midst of her family, she was like a gardener in her garden. She spent numberless hours tending to our needs, nursing and healing, patiently preparing hot meals, packing school lunches, washing a thousand loads of laundry and a million dishes. She fell asleep tired at the end of the day, only to awaken early the next morning to do it all over again.
These are things, I suppose, that most mothers do for their families, and such images form the earliest memories we have of them, like the initial sketches of the artist. But as children grow older, their mother’s personality and character begin to take shape, and children begin to know Mom more as an actual human being rather than a faceless grunt doing wartime duty.
As the kids in the Vitagliano household grew older, Mom would tell us stories about her own childhood, and they were often dark and disturbing tales of growing up in Greece under Nazi occupation during World War II. There were heart-pounding stories of narrow escapes, when Greek civilians were executed because freedom fighters had killed a Nazi officer. There were heart-rending descriptions of Nazi soldiers tempting hungry Greek children to come closer for some bread or milk, only to hear a savage laugh, and watch the food ground into the dirt beneath those thick-soled infantry boots.
For all practical purposes, she spoke no English when her family arrived in the U.S. from Greece. Almost nine years old, she was forced to attend first grade in her local public school, enduring the ridicule of the younger children and even the teacher as she stumbled in her learning. She grimly battled on, but economic necessity eventually forced her into the workplace before schooling was finished.
Years later, when we kids were all grown, she labored to finally earn her G.E.D. It was a proud moment for our family, but none of us, I’m sure, will ever know how proud she really was to have finally become a high school graduate.
When she was but a child still living in Greece, her arm was broken by an abusive relative. Too poor to have a doctor set the arm, it healed unnaturally and remained lame for the rest of her life. It was a source of humiliation to her, something she tried to keep covered and unseen.
When my father and mother were dating and falling in love, she confessed to him that her arm was lame. She told him that she would understand if he wanted to break up with her because of her deformity, because in Greece a woman who was lame might never marry.
My father, God bless him, never wavered for a moment, and gladly married her in 1957. Dad became a successful engineer, and gave his little Greek immigrant girl a rich, wonderful life that was surely the stuff of dreams.
Within a six month period in 1978, my entire family became Christians, and my mother became a dedicated follower of Jesus. Her thirst for God’s Word was unquenchable. She prayed for her family and wept for the lost. When she had opportunity, she witnessed about God’s love to all who would listen. Her faith always seemed strong, and she always believed that mountains could be moved.
But there was one mountain that would not move, one fight she would not win. In 1998 my mother died from colon cancer – although, in her tenaciously stubborn Greek way, she contested the disease every step of the way.
It seems as if I miss my mother more and more as the days slip by. And yet, when I think of my mom, I have to smile, for her trials are over, her pain ended, and God has wiped away every tear. Both of her arms, now made whole, are raised in worship to the Lord who redeemed her.
Of the godly mother, Proverbs 31:28 says, “Her children rise up, and call her blessed.”
Indeed, Mom, we have not forgotten you. And certainly, your children call you blessed.