Monday, August 04, 2008

Anniversaries, birthdays and Al Green

This week is my parents' 45th wedding anniversary. They dated for a while (long distance) before they got married so they have known each other a looooong time.

My dad said the minute he saw my mom he knew she was "the one". She was visiting my paternal grandfather who lived up up the street from her mom. My dad was home from Curacao for the holidays and my mom was home from NYC. The families knew each other. St. Martin is small and their village is very tiny but my parents did not grow up together. He moved to the other island when he was five.

My dad moved to America and they got married six months later. I loved looking through their wedding album. My mom is 5'10 (hello I'm a midget, what the heck happened) and her dress was gorgeous. Simple boat neck, long sleeves, fitted waist, she had it made in the city. The beading on the hem was stunning. I know she still has the dress but she was long and slim with curves (think Angelina Jolie with a few more pounds). I couldn't wear that dress. I doubt my thigh would fit through the waist.

This week is also my mom's birthday. I know many women who say their mom is their best friend. I love my mom but she's still a mystery to me. A big reason is cultural. I'm American and she is not. Of course she an American citizen but her core being is Caribbean. She lived in America for over 40 years before moving back to the island and yet my parents always referred to St. Martin as home.

Where my dad is very out going, my mom is reserved. I know a lot about my dad's childhood and can see him as a young man. My mom's life... not as much. My mom's dad died when she was 10. She's the oldest so I get the sense she took on a lot of responsibilities. There was no time for "foolishness". My dad was the baby of 6 and very close to his parents. My parental grandparents were the complete opposite of my maternal grandmother, warm, gregarious, a ton of friends. I wonder if my mom's upbringing is the reason why she's incapable of relaxing.

I couldn't do what my mom did. Leaving a small village, moving to New York City in the early 60s, raising a family, working full time, the hell of a commute once we moved to the 'burbs, a spot-less house, home cooked meals (no fast food allowed), active in her church, etc. I'm single, live in a shoe box and barely find the time to get everything done. She doesn't see what she did as anything special. It's what all the women on the island do unless they are, you know, shiftless or something.

My mom is private. Good thing she doesn't have Internet or she might let me have it for "putting her business out on the street." She's also blunt. This is one Caribbean trait I cannot get used to. When I cut the chemicals out of my hair, leaving it very, very short, she said, "What did you do? You look ugly." To this day she is still on my case about my hair. I know she thinks having a natural is the reason why I'm single. My Caribbean relatives will say to your face, "Did you put on weight, you're fatter than the last time I saw you, no?" Sigh. On the other hand they would jump in front of a bullet for their family or their friends.

My mom is also very giving. Sometimes sacrificing her own needs. When our elderly next door neighbor got sick my mom would go over everyday to give her her shots even though her schedule was insane. She has had some friends for over 50 years. It's interesting to me that she grew up so sheltered yet encourage her kids to be worldly. She was a talented musician (piano) and I know my love of music comes from her and my dad.

When I moved to L.A. my parents had no idea what it was I did for a living, (I neglected my duty as a first generation American to be a doctor or a lawyer) but they supported my crazy career (what is a development girl?) emotionally and financially. I was getting ready for the move to Rome and found a letter my mom wrote to me a few years ago. I was going through a really tough time with a psycho passive-aggressive boss and she told me, "not to give up, that this person could not break me. When all is said and done what is money and power without family? Nothing. You have your family, you will be okay." The letter made me cry.

A classic from one of my parents' favorite singers. This song reminds me of their relationship, (except when they are bickering). Ha


romerican said...

"I neglected my duty as a first generation American to be a doctor or a lawyer"...
Hahahaha, I know that one all too well. My parents are still shocked that they sent their 3 first-generation American kids to college and not ONE of us fulfilled the duty (they would've even settled if for an accountant, but no such luck)!
It blows my mind to think that at my age, my mom had 3 kids and took care of the whole family & household. Times sure have changed...
Family- love and hate 'em, but I know I can always count on them when in need.

Tracey said...

that was a beautiful story. Happy Anniversary to them! :-D

glamah16 said...

Great post. Whats even more amazing is to see that they are still together and didnt back out at the first sign of trouble like so many marrieds do now .

Italianissima said...

I agree with Romerican - my parents had such high hopes for me when I got into Georgetown...they thought for SURE I would be a lawyer or a doctor...or at the very least MARRY one!!! Only now that I am teaching do they "understand" what I do...for a while there they were not so sure - "word processor," "event planner," and "traffic manager" do not translate well into Italian I guess!

Great post - my mom and I are much closer now than we were when I was growing up but I still consider her a mystery as well. Glad to know I am not alone.

Rose in Cali said...

What a beautiful tribute to your mom! I love that you can still admire and respect her even though she can be a mystery. She sounds like a neat person. Congrats on your parents' anniversary!

Jen of A2eatwrite said...

What a gentle, honest and clear piece about your mother (and your dad).

"I neglected my duty as a first generation American to be a doctor or a lawyer"... - this is what our whole discussion about The Namesake centered on when my other NYC friend and I (she's from Belize - first gen., and I'm second gen. but still had the expectations) were trying to explain to our Midwest friends.

I love that song. And bickering is part of love, I think. ;-)

Sherry said...

Congrats to your parents! What a blessing. I hope my hubby and I are similarly blessed one day.

Not to beat a dead horse, but I too understand the whole bit about duty to become a doctor or lawyer. Unfortunately or fortunately, depending on how you look at it, I totally bit. Now a lawyer and boy do they like to say it to their friends and other relatives. LOL. What are you gonna do, you know?

gibber said...

awww, sis. *tears*. I miss mom and dad! This post pretty much says it all. Mom and I are close, but not in the way my American friends are close to their moms. I just think with mom's background, she couldn't relate to the stuff we were going through. But I don't understand how she did it all...I have to have someone come clean my tiny *ss house because I don't have the energy to clean it all, yet she kept that big ole house spotless. Granted, pops helped, but she still did the majority of the housework.

It's amazing that they've been married for 45 years. They went to the "bridge" for dinner last nite. They are such creatures of habit, it's cute.

Anonymous said...

I don't normally comment, but this post is such a great tribute to your parents that it moved me to leave a comment.
Congratulations to your parents for their anniversary and to you for your move to Rome.
I think your blog reflects your new life now. You have accomplished so much in so little time. I truly enjoy reading about your life.
Give yourself time and you might get a chance to get to know your mom a little better. I have been given that chance with my dad.
BTW, your parents' traditions are very much like Italians.

ninety9 said...

Ragazza, I can definitely understand where you are coming from. Being a first generation American myself with Caribbean parents (they're Haitian), your life parallels mine a bit . From the unfulfilled destiny of being a doctor to the bluntness of the culture (my mom to this day, 10 years later, asks me when am I going to get rid of my dreads). I love my parents and they love me but it's hard sometimes.

And it's been hard for me to understand what they went through to provide a better life for me and my brothers. Did you ever see the movie "Namesake"? It kind of hit me when I saw it. I think as we get older, we certainly understand more and are more sympathetic. And I have to echo your sentiments, if you have your family, things will be ok. Congratulations to your folks on their 45th anniversary! They did a great job; look at the woman you've become!

*Belgian said...

What a great post! Happy Anniversary to your parents!

Milanese Masala said...

Your parents sound like fantastic people. Congratulations on their anniversary!

Anonymous said...

"Shiftless" was one of my grandmother's favourite words, generally applied to women who, on top of doing everything else, didn't scrub their outdoor steps!

The 70+ generation amazes me. Compared to them I have so much more money and time and gadgets and I don't achieve 10% of what they did.

michelle of bleeding espresso said...

So beautifully expressed. May your parents enjoy many more wonderful years together :)

nyc/caribbean ragazza said...

romerican - I know what you mean, same here. I can't imagine having one child and working these hours.

tracey - grazie.

glamah16 - thank you. yep they are still together. I crack up when one calls to complain about the other. As if after almost 50 years they are noticing these quirks for the first time. ha.

italianissima - Only recently have my parents gotten over the fact that none of us are going to grad school. :) Nope you are not alone.

rose in cali - thanks. Her upbringing was just so different from mine. I think we were frustrating to her as well when we were younger.

jen - there was a lot of pressure on my siblings and I to do well academically. I do appreciate it now but growing up I did not. I didn't understand what was the big deal about getting a B-.

sherry - thanks. I kind of get it now. It fills your parents with pride to see that their daughter is doing well. congrats to you.

gibber - You two are closer. Being the oldest I had the least Americanized version of our parents. I wish that mom did slow down more when we were younger. Maybe she wouldn't have been so short with us or exhausted. Like you I still don't know how she kept that huge house spotless. I mean we had chores but still.

anon - thank you for the kind words. I do think my mom and I have gotten closer over the years. As a teen/young adult I really couldn't relate to her at all. Her views were so old-school. My sister has a theory about how I ended up in Italy and it's connection to our upbringing. I'll have to post about that some day.

ninety9 - grazie. I did see the Namesake and read the book. It's funny as a teen I really wasn't interested in anything West Indian. I liked the food and visiting my relatives but I was American dammit and I wanted to do American things. As I get older I really appreciate those values.

belgian - thank you!

milanese - grazie mille.

margi - "worthless" was another word that generation liked to use. Of course one should wash their outside steps! ha

Yes that generation is something else. My dad is 80 and is very active. My grandfather died at 96 and used to wake up every morning at dawn and make bread in his outdoor oven.

michelle - thank you!!

joanne at frutto della passione said...

Ha, loved this post. I completely understand the whole 1st generation becoming *professionals*, you should have seen my parents trying to explain that I was in theatre school to the old relatives! And then I moved back to the old country!

gibber said...

99, you and I could be the same person. My mom asks me all the times when I'm going to cut my dreads. The WORST THING IN THE WORLD to her is when someone on island once said to her "how's your rasta daguther?". Now, I'm a christian and all, but to the island folk, anyone with dreads is a rasta, and apparently, that's like the worst thing ever, cuz ya know, they smoke pot all the time. :) Well, she's gonna get her wish. in a few weeks, I'll be another quest to do EVERYTHING my sister does, I'm going the short and natural route.

Worthless is a good one sis, but they pronounce it "wutless". I think that makes it even better.

gibber said...

By the way, I just saw the Namesake. *tears* What a great movie.

ninety9 said...

Gibber, Woah! You're like my twin or something. Every time I go to St. Martin, people are always calling me "Ras". I went to a bar once where there was a real Rastafarian and I ordered some rum; that man gave me such a side-eye! Like you, I'm ready to let the dreads go. Probably in another couple of years. I'm sure you'll look great!

And I enjoyed the Namesake (definite tears). I thought the story of the parents was much more interesting and deserved more exploration. I didn't know there was a book. I think I'm going to have to read it. Ragazza, I always seems to learn something new from you.

nyc/caribbean ragazza said...

joanne - I love how that generation didn't even try to be subtle. It was like "look, so and so went to Harvard Medical." sigh.

gibber - You are correct. It's "wutless" following by the sucking of teeth.

Okay I never heard that story. Mom must have wanted to die. haha, A rasta daughter? Like those "wutless" cousins who came to grandma's funeral looking crazy?

ninety9 - I agree. The parents' story is what really moved me. The book does get into their characters more. Enjoy the read, she's a beautiful writer.

So I take it Rastas are not allowed to drink Rum? I'm assuming the guy who owns Kali's beach bar in Friar's Bay (he has dreads to his waist) is not a Rasta? Or it's okay to sell it but not drink it?

Los Angelista said...

So beautiful, reflective and loving. Congratulations to your parents on love at first sight working out over all these years! That's so special that you still have that letter from your mom... and what is with the doctor/lawyer thing? I remember my mom telling folks when I was little that I was going to be a judge and I didn't even know what that was! :)

nyc/caribbean ragazza said...

los angelista - thank you! I think for a long time, before crazy mal practice insurance and HMO red tape, being a doctor or a lawyer was one of the prestigious occupations you could have. Now it's reality TV star. Hell why go to school for all those years? On TV you get to be famous and make a lot of money. ha

I wonder how Ms. New York's show is going to do.

Los Angelista said...

I can't believe she has another show! I mean, good grief, nobody's gonna hire her for any acting roles so why come to Hollywood?

At least, I think no one's gonna hire her, but with this town, who knows!

nyc/caribbean ragazza said...

los angelista - I don't get it either. She played herself on Nip/Tuck. Not sure what other roles she can play.

wordtryst said...

Wonderful post. You mom sounds a whole lot like mine - except mine is six foot one. :) We bicker all the time, but I'm forever awed by her strength.

You have a lot to celebrate!

I was supposed to be the lawyer. I'm the one who got into the best high school on the island, who made the wonderful grades, who topped my class. My classmates are all lawyers, accountants and CEOs. Two are attorney generals (attorneys general?)

My folks learned to accept the teaching; it didn't pay well, but it was an 'honorable' profession. Now that I've walked away from even that for this writing business, they don't know what the hell to make of me. I always feel I'm a great disappointment to them.

The lawyer/doctor bit surely touched a nerve. And "wutless" is the word here. "Wutlessness" is a terrible judgement.

nyc/caribbean ragazza said...

wordtryst - 6'1!

Your novel has been published. Hopefully that will ease their fears a little.

Look some of your classmates could be miserable for all you know and you are doing something you love. Golden handcuffs are still handcuffs.

It's the way my relatives say things that cut right through you. Like the "wutless" comment. That is a cold thing to say about someone.