“The Universe is made up of stories not atoms.” By Muriel Rukeyser, American Poet
Here is my interview with my Mother, Tina Julia, who passed away on July 12, 2011, at the age of 90 years old. For her 90th Birthday Party, I made a beautiful scrapbook of memories, & included this interview! She was named after an Italian saint that her mother prayed to (Findera, in Italian). She has no middle name. Julia is the confirmation name she chose for herself.
My Mom was not quite 5 feet tall, and she had osteoporosis. Two and a half years ago, she fractured her back just from sitting up in bed! She used a walker, because she had tripped on the carpet at Royal Palm Retirement Center where she lived, and was unsteady.
She learned to use the sewing machine at a young age and worked in a sewing factory. She was the youngest in her large family, and her Mother had pleurisy, which is the inflammation of the lining of the lungs and chest that leads to chest pain when you take a breath or cough, so my Mom had to quit school after the fifth grade to take care of her. She loved school, and would have benefited from a complete education.
The accomplishments she was most proud of were giving birth to her four children. My oldest brother was born while my Dad was in the US Army…my brother was 3 years old when my Dad came home. My brother and my Mom lived with my Dad’s Mother until my Dad came home after World War II. My brother was six years old when I was born. My younger brother was born a year and a half later, and my sister was born ten years later, when my Mom was 39 years old. My Mom raised my brother for three years without my Dad. Not only did she have to grow up fast, but she, also had to adjust to living with my Grandmother (my Dad’s Mom), who was from Italy and did not speak English very well.
When I asked her what she would have done differently, she asked, “What? Not get married?” Obviously, that’s what people did back then!! She and my Dad met when she was thirteen years old. She and her Mother started going to the church my Dad and his family started in their house.
She always wanted children, so she was happy with raising the four of us. However, she would have liked to go to beauty school. She would have had time to go to beauty school after work, before she married, but her mother didn’t have money for that. Her family was very poor, but probably everyone else was, also, at that time. There was never enough money to do anything like go to beauty school. My Mom and Dad married in 1942, when they were 21, because my Mom’s parents died within days of each other. Her Mother died, because she was sick and in the hospital, and her Father died because he got hit by a car going to see her in the hospital.
In the early days of her marriage to my Dad, she says learning to cook was a challenge, because her Mother was an excellent cook. My Mom was a pretty good cook, but she raves about her Mother’s Italian cooking! Raising four kids was also a challenge! My older brother was a challenge, because he was three years old already, when my Dad came home from the war, so he was spoiled by my Mom and my Dad’s Mother! My younger brother and I were only a year and a half apart in age, and my Dad always said, that’s when my Mom went crazy, so basically that’s how I knew her! Ten years later, she decided she wanted one more child before she was 40. My sister kept her young. Basically, I prayed for a little sister, instead of those two brothers, and God heard my prayer! but, as my mother told me, “Your father never changed a diaper!” Two infants nearly the same age was a lot for my Mom.
The fun things she loved were: School, singing, and playing basketball as a teenager. When she was older, she loved walking everywhere, instead of taking the bus to and from work, and later in life she loved taking all her children on picnics to the park. In many ways, my Mom was like a fifth grader, because that’s all the formal schooling she was able to get. I’ve taught fifth grade and love fifth graders, so I know my Mom thinks of things in terms of an exuberant fifth grader at times. Or a pouty one! I listened many, many times to what she told me about the ladies who sat at her table at Royal Palm Retirement Center…fifth graders!! But, she made a great Mom! She’d do all her cleaning at night when we were in bed, then pack a lunch, and off we’d go to a day at the park! I believe her “school” was life.
Her biggest challenge was taking care of her family. My Mom’s life was her family, her job was her house. She changed curtains every season, she took Venetian blinds down and washed them in the bathtub, she had plastic on our couches! You could literally eat off her floor. Ironing was done on Mondays, after the clothes were sprayed with starch, and she was the best iron-er I know! At this time, our family was living in suburban NJ, and though not affluent, our family was more affluent than hers was as a child.
She had good health to take care of her family back then. She saw things were different as she got older…the cost of living was more expensive, and she couldn’t do as much physically as before, because on some days she just didn’t feel well.
My Mom had a rough childhood, because her Dad was very strict, and her Mom was very sickly. she was the baby in the family. During some of her childhood, she had to go an orphanage, until her older brother and sisters were old enough to take care of her. I believe this is why she never seemed to get really attached to anything or anyone.
Right after we moved down here to FL, from NJ, when she was 81 years old, she was diagnosed with colon cancer. She had surgery, and as a preventive measure, she started chemotherapy. After one chemo session, she got very sick, got pneumonia, was put in ICU, and was “Ready to go to her Lord,” she told me. I had prayed all the way to the hospital, “I trust you, Lord, I trust you, Lord” and saw her, in my mind’s eye, resting in His hands. When I got to the ICU, I saw angels around her bed, and asked her, “What if the Lord wants to heal you, then you’d want to live, right?” “Yes,” she assured me. My son was only in seventh grade at that time, and I’m thankful that God chose to heal her. She lived well past the five year mark, and the colon cancer never came back. She was particularly grateful for church to learn about God, and knowing that God always watched out for her. Back when she was real young, she knew some people didn’t believe in God. But, she told me, she would say to them, “Yes, there is a God. Read the Bible and see!”
My Mom is very feisty, and we call her the “little bull dog,” because she’s opinionated and tenacious. If she has an idea to do something or go somewhere, we better do it or else! “Or else” means she’ll keep talking about it, until we comply.
My Dad passed away at 74, and my Mom did not know how to even balance a checkbook, or use a calculator! This was a tough adjustment time for my Mom.
My Mom answered a lot of my interview questions with, “I don’t remember!” So, when I asked her what she thought of this interview, she said, “As you get older, you forget things!”
The most significant events for her in her last year were: Her oldest grandson visiting from Texas with his wife and children; Her trip to the beach at Longboat Key for two nights with me and my son Casey; Turning 90 years old and having a big 90th Birthday Party with my family, my sister, my brother & his wife, my cousin & her husband, & Skyping other family members in NJ. The photos from that 90th Birthday party are hanging on my wall. I look at them every time I walk by them, because she’s smiling like a little girl, and that makes me happy! And I can remember so much love!!