Mom At 97: A Woman, Courage and Transformation

Yesterday was my mother Mary Bova’s 97th Birthday. We celebrated Sunday with a small family gathering. In a call with cousin this AM we reflected on the life my mother has had these 97 years. That conversation sparked the thought to write about her life, courage and transformation. So here goes.  

Born in 1918 the seventh child of Italian immigrants, Mary (Marie Kathleen Ribellino) was born at 197 Hester Street in the midst of the Italian ghetto, and lived there until age two when my grandfather bought a home in Brooklyn at 1370 72 Street. Seeking a better life for his family.


Some of you may recognize the address as being the address of Bova Enterprises, Inc., Dan’s Art Lab and our home. She’s lived in this home all of her life except for a period of about five years. After marrying my father Frank in 1941 they set up an apartment close by, only to have WWII intervene. Within the year she went to live with my paternal grandparents.


Mom lost her mother at age six and a half, and was raised by her father and siblings. They did the best they knew to do, but she missed out on the attention of a loving mother. She was just 11 when the great depression began, which affected my grandfather’s business significantly. Like so many other families they huddled together in the family home, adult children and their families. Mom’s education was not a priority. Fortunately, the home, business and family survived.


Four months before the US entered WWII, at 21, she married my dad. They were married 56 years when he died in 1997.


Both my brother and I (and, our partners and his children) recognize how fortunate we are to have mom with us and able to participate in life. Sure she doesn’t go out very much, doesn’t bake anymore and has serious hearing problems that have made her more isolated and dependent on others, but she still is feisty and reads the paper everyday and will question what is going on in the world of politics.


Reflecting on her life these last few days my appreciation of what she has experienced and witnessed in her lifetime is heightened. Here are a few milestones that have helped shape her:


Mom’s a survivor. Somehow she learned early on in her life that she needed to stand up for herself and not focus on pleasing others. She did this out of necessity, likely intuitively for her own survival.   However in raising us she taught us to put others needs before our own. “Be nice,” she’d say. “Extend a helping hand”, even if it might interfere with what you might want to do. Our life was pretty easy. Only recently, an outgrowth of deeply feminine exploration, did I realize I hadn’t built up the muscle of truly standing for what I want from an authentic place inside.


Mom never finished high school and so in the 1960’s she had to take a literacy course and pass a test in order to earn the right to vote. Since that time she has never missed voting in an election and, makes sure to remind the rest of us to do the same. She is passionate about her responsibility as a citizen. That term isn’t used all that much these days.


She has seen change in the world appear almost overnight. When my dad crossed over in 1997 we didn’t know how she’d handle it. He died 11 days before Christmas. She cleaned out his closet within days of his burial and insisted with our support that Christmas celebrations go on as usual. “Life goes on” she said.


When her last surviving sibling died in 2012 she became the matriarch of the Ribellino family line. Shortly thereafter, Dan and I bought my Aunt Sadie's former apartment, renovated it and moved in bringing a bit of Manhattan to 72nd Street. It’s been quite a learning experience living so close to her.


So why am I writing this today?


Obviously, I am honoring my mother. I’m also weaving together some recent aha’s, which I hope you think are worth your attention. I’ve learned to view unconditional love through a different lens and appreciate the power it can have. I’ve learned about the courage to move forward when life’s circumstances throw us curve balls. I’ve learned to appreciate gazing at clouds while sitting on the front porch to see new whats in them, putting the blinds up at night when the full moon shines brightly so moonlight can bathe you while lying in bed. Only since moving here have my mother and I realized we both love watching the clouds and the moon.

The last 60 years have seen the most rapid advances in technology and science than ever before in the history of humankind. New discoveries and subsequent required changes in how we live just keep emerging. Living moment to moment requires us to modify, course correct and or change how we view the world. An appreciation of that, which falls under the realm of the Feminine, is finally, after thousands of years coming to the forefront. It is not linear but more likely a circular spiral. Its essential each of us, women and men do our inner work.  I've recently started cracking my inner "glass ceiling" freeing myself from the earliest programming.


"We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.” T S Eliot. I am finding my mother and seeing her for the first time. Seeing me for the first time, as a daughter unconditionally loved and loving.