When my father was in World War II, after which he received orders for other assignments that took him away from home for long periods of time, I resided with my maternal grandmother. She had emigrated from Sicily and lived in this country for over 60 years (but refused to learn English, considering it an ugly language). Until she passed away in my mid-twenties, her mid-nineties, I called her “Mama” out of respect and affection.

Before leaving her home to go out for the day, or go on a trip, or to return to wherever my family was living, I would ask her to bless me. And she would: for sanctity, wealth, and learning. I was also not the only one to ask for her blessing: her ten children and some of her grandchildren did the same. We would kiss her on the cheek and ask her to bless us—and she did, with the sign of the Cross on our foreheads and chests, saying the Italian found below. Sometimes she just said “Santo,” but always blessed us with her right hand. Often in later years, when she could not move around easily in her kitchen, her rosary wound through her fingers. The following poem reflects the blessings she often bestowed upon us.

Sia benedica, Mama

On the Hill of Life Mama’s holiness,
Close to the Warm Cross,
Stands silent – I wandered in childhood
With the military thoughts of heaven.

Mama’s hands made dough and I became dough –
We fed each other and lived to depart.

riccho, Figlio

In my man-belly Mama placed jewels
Of this earth made rich
By her hand – Early I took Mammon
Into friendship: Friends are not their Masters.

Our world was the kitchen, street and garden –
I worked her dough and stepped into God.

dotto, Figlio

Learning lay passed the mind of Mama’s heart,
A subtle sod-god
Realmed in work – “He has been the Good Truth”‘
She taught; she taught life without a book.

Mama’s warmly Fire breathed in my young heart –
I found without search bread for my journey.

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The featured image is “Grandma’s Favorite” (1893) by Georgios Jakobides (1853-1932) and is in the public domain, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

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