A letter to my grandmothers.

mire May 22, 2012 from the "real" pros 1 Comment
A letter to my grandmothers.

By Marybeth Bonfiglio | May 22nd, 2012

Dear Grandma Mary and Grandma Salvatrice,

I never met you.  Your hands never held mine, my head never laid against your bountiful chests.  Your spicy slow cooked pasta sauce with hog hoof and egg or your rustic pork and kraut with Austrian herbs never touched my tongue.  We never looked into each others eyes to know the love only a Grandma has for her grand-daughter, to see your son or daughter flicker in my gaze. To know how I hold your baby boys rebel-fire and your oldest daughters unconditional mother-love.  It’s wasn’t easy growing up without a grandma.  It’s hard explaining you to my daughters with just names, ideas and stories.  It’s pure absence, an absence without even a moment to lean back into, no memories of your bright blue eyes, shiny red lips and black heels with golden flapper buckles, or commands in Italian and matriarch, polyester dresses and pointy silver glasses.  There are only guesses and thoughts, the warmth of you that I make up in my head, a myth of sorts, but one that carries me on with you in my psyche, in my bones.

I am here to share your voice, no doubt, it comes through more often than not. I am here to live out the dreams, to bridge and heal the centuries, to bring into fruition the work you inherited. The raising of the children alone in the depression on virtually nothing, state assigned clothing, the scrubbing and cleaning and cursing the wild boys who yelped, and smoked and beat on each other.   The hardships of the depression, the fear, the mystery of being a woman and mother between the ages. What a moment to come of age, on the fringe of an evolution, with no public voice of your own.  Living a gypsy life and then dealing with the cultural misplacement of movement from one country to another, searching for home and security, a place to feed your young and live out a dream.  The work of having 10 children, watching many of them die in front of your eyes.  The businesses starting and failing.   The long hours in the factory.  The death of your husband.  The face to keep.  The new life to create.  The lack, the scarcity, the patch-working bits and pieces together to make the family whole.  You did it.

I want you to know what I am doing.  The work I do right now isn’t for me. It’s for you back then and also for them of the next 100 years.  I am here to zoom in on the details and pull out the threads of disharmony, sing them love songs and sew them back in with a different rhythm all together. This is the magic, the alchemy that I know you passed down to me in your blood.  This is what I held in an invisible bag around my neck as a child when I buried my head in the soft summer grass and sat against the trunk of the chestnut trees for hours and listened, when I mixed flower petals with water and stared out my window on autumn mornings and saw the energy dance like angels in the clouds. They liked to call it Catholic, but I know there is more than one word for Love and Ceremony.  I know it’s winged mother wisdom, mantra spoken out loud, internal prayers of giving, allowing for death and resurrection in every moment, and a howling belief in what can’t be seen until attention is paid.  It’s Earth magic and folklore.  It’s herbs in honey, spells in vinegar, bleeding into the ground and whispering secrets into the night. It’s Etruscan goddesses birthing the world, catching it with their hands and flowing forth the milk of life.  It’s Proserpina who illuminated your shadow sisters and the Willendorf woman who showed you how to claim your space.  It’s what your mothers knew and what their mothers lived fully and began the midwifery legacy.  We are made of old country magic, of the soil and peaks of the Alps and the volcanic dust from the islands.  We are the Parnassus Apollo butterfly and the Peregrine Hawk.  I know these gifts are as sacred as the Rosary and the novenas, the assumption and the crucifixion. They are all you.  They are all holy water for the soul. And I am nothing but what you brought forth and then some.

I am deeply aware of you in my marrow and not only do I hold you from here, I celebrate you. I honor you.  I adore you for walking this walk for my parents, for me and especially for my daughters.  You paved my way. You cut back the thorny bramble and chased the predators out of sight. You have given me the match to spark and enhance fires, to give voices where they have been silent or too scared to speak.

Forever you will be small pieces on my altar: a white silk scarf with the embroidered with the initial M, a worn old photo.  You will be stories stuck in my eternal heart told by my mother and father and my siblings who were lucky enough to know you.  You are the spirit wind that surrounded me as I gave birth to your great-granddaughters, you are the whispering songs during the night walks on the desert trails, you are the flashing lights when I kneel and pray on the wet forest floor.  You are the recipe when I stir the herbs into the sauce and the secret ingredient when I cork the amber bottles.

I hold all of that forever and pass it on in words and beads and walks gathering plants in the woods. But it’s time for me to let go of the other stuff, the stuff that’s been carried on into me… branded in my cell memory, into my nervous system, and the particles that do not serve me or you or the future.  I let go of the hardship, the poverty, the un-belonging in a foreign land.  I let go of the survival and suffering.  I release the dogma and the guilt. I let go of the stuff that keeps me poor, angry and not believing that I can create my own life. You have already done the dirtiest work for me.  Because of you and your lives, I freely thrive. Create.  Make beauty plentiful and serve it on a crystal platter to my many circles and beyond.  I receive everything, not only what I need but a few things that I might want.  I release my past, kiss it goodbye, and I let go of your past too, because I know you are floating on the cosmic cloud of the consciousness and you have no past anymore, you are just all that there is.

My dear, wise, perfect grandmas, thank you for housing me as an egg in my mother as you held her in your womb.  Thank you for pushing her out, which pushed me out.  Thank you for standing behind me as I sing my children to sleep at night and for passing me nutrients from beyond as breastfeed three daughters.  Thank you for taking the risks, embarking on grand adventures, seeking a dream so far off you didn’t even know it was landing right now on my lap.  Thank you, grandmothers.  I wish I knew your lips kissing me goodnight, but I still know your voices, I hear your songs.  They are clear.  And I hear them harmonizing, telling me I am free. Thank you my strega noninnas for your permission to liberate from what no longer exists. Thank you for this life.



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  1. Ravi September 8, 2012 at 3:11 pm

    Here is what has worked for me in tranvlieg with my kids, at various ages. I traveled for the first time with our oldest (now 3) when she was 7weeks old so the age breakdown is based on my experience from 7 weeks on. This is also based on my tranvlieg solo without my husband and only 1 kid at a time. 2m-whenever they outgrow their infant seat (for me this was about 6-7m and it wasn’t so much that they outgrew their seats that they just got to be too heavy to schlep around )-Stroller-if you have to bring a stroller, use a Snap N Go. If you don’t have one you can find them on craiglist for a pretty reasonable price-I think I paid $25 for ours and it was barely used. I was less inclined to stress over the SNG getting dinged up when I gate checked it over our BOB.Security-going through security was always stressful for me, though I found people to be very helpful, especially men, who often offered to fold the stroller and put it on the belt and again help after we went through. Some airports also have “family lines” where you can avoid the majority of the what I refer to as the “frequent or business traveler” who gets easily annoyed/is impatient. After the first trip, I learned to not let it stress me out and just take my time and get through-before you get in line take your baby out of the infant car seat and place them in a sling/carrier-this will leave your hands free to deal with your stroller (if no one has offered help) and your carry on, shoes, coat, etc…-if you’re not using a sling/carrier keep your baby in the infant seat for as long as you can, then remove him/her and place the car seat on the belt and walk through security-in some instances TSA agents let me keep the baby in my sling, other times I had to remove her-another thing to note when tranvlieg with young children, you can bring liquids, in reasonable quantities through security. Pull them out of your bag and let the TSA agent know-sometimes they go through security in a bin and then they’re “tested”, other times they go straight to being “tested”- collect your stuff and head to your gateWaiting to Board- do whatever is easiest for you/your baby-if she enjoys being in a sling/carrier let her be, if she likes to be in her infant seat, keep her in there …Boarding-unfortunately the concept of early boarding for families with young children has gone by the wayside so you have to line up with everybody else-gate check your stroller and place baby in sling/carrier (if not already in there)-if you purchased a seat then you can strap your infant seat in-if you didn’t purchase a seat, the sling/carrier will allow you to keep your arms free when you board and also while you’re on the plane-there were even times I was even able to read because the baby would fall asleep-I also found that using a backpack, over my regular, super cute diaper bag was easier and more comfortable to carry-breastfeed (or give a bottle) during take –off/landing, or if they’re fussy; pacifiers also work for the ears-if they have a special toy, blanket, lovie, etc that they like to cuddle with or is soothing carry that along with the essentials-diapers, wipes, change of clothes, and snacks (if they’re eating solids)-our kids always liked books so I also brought several books for us to read on the plane12m-18m-if you need a stroller, use a lightweight umbrella stroller-if you didn’t purchase a seat you can check your carseat for free (most airlines, if not all, so far all that we’ve traveled on-Delta, American, UsAir)-I also used my Ergo carrier at this age so I could have my hands free for security, boarding and being on the plane; though both our kids at this age preferred to be in my lap while on the plane-follow the above suggestions for going through security. If not using a sling/carrier, keep your little one in their stroller for as long as you can. This helps avoid having a runaway child-lesson learned the hard way -I found at this age, having a “special snack and toy/book” was beneficial because it was a special treat and new for the trip-I did bring more toys than when they were younger because they needed a little more entertainment to keep them occupied-I kept my backpack light with only the essentials-diapers, wipes, change of clothes and lots of snacks (both the usual things we have at home and a special treat-I substituted a sippy cup for the bottle during take-off and landing and still used the pacifier during the flight to help with the ears2-3years-so far, next to the infant stage, this has been the easiest stage-travelling with a car seat is not the easiest because they’re bulky but there are several things you can do:-buy one of those things that you can hook the car seat up to and wheel your child in their car seat-buy a strap, or make your own with an “o” ring using the straps for LATCH set up in your car, that you can attach the seat to a fully packed wheeling suitcase (much less expensive than the first option and what I am doing in 2 weeks when my oldest and I go to visit my family for a “girls trip”)-if you decide not to use your car seat on the plane you can check it for free-our daughter LOVED sitting in her car seat and looking out the window during the trip; she sat in her seat the whole time with only a few whines-Things that also made our trip a success: snacks (special and the usual), a new book, and a DVD player to watch movies-which is a huge treat because we’re not a TV watching family.Good luck!