Born in 1932 in poor Calabria, my mother did not have the luxury of a formal education. When her father died of tuberculosis, she went to the nearby fields to pick figs, olives, grapes and whatever the hard ground would give up.
Although my mother never took literature, mathematics and science classes, as many of us were lucky enough to do, she nevertheless had imagination, desire and dynamism. She made sure her children had everything she was forced to do without so many years ago.
Literature is not just the domain of “Beowulf”, “The Canterbury Tales”, “The Great Gatsby”, “To Kill a Mockingbird” or “The Color Purple”. It can be as short and yet profound as a nursery rhyme. How many of these little gems do you remember? If I start them, can you finish them?
“Humpty Dumpty was sitting on a wall…”
“Peter, Peter, Pumpkin Eater…”
“Jack be nimble…”
“Mary had a little lamb…”
“Hey Diddle Diddle, the cat and the fiddle…”
“Mary, Mary, quite the opposite…”
“Ring around the rose…”
“Jack and Jill have come up the hill…”
Today, I would like to salute the mother goose of my family and sing her praises. Although she couldn’t recite state capitals or help us with our algebra, she had the loving ability to calm our fears and teach us to calm down by singing the nursery rhymes of southern Italy and sharing folk tales from his childhood. .
These stories and songs have been passed down to my mother from generation to generation and have come to her as easily as breathing. You see, no country has a monopoly on lullabies and fairy tales. There is a mother goose for every nation.
Unbeknownst to my mother, these treasures from her cultural past, repeated over and over, have taught me effortlessly to speak Italian. Long after many lessons from my primary and secondary school years have been forgotten, my knowledge of Italian remains one of my most prized possessions.
One of the ditties my mother used to sing about to calm me down when I was scared or upset – or just to fall asleep – was “Stella Stellina”. It was my mom’s version of “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star”. It comes back to me now at incongruous times, like in a daydream.
The note if Avvicina.
The fiamma worked.
The mucca nella stalla.
Mucca and vitello.
Pecora and lambello.
The chioccia with the pulcino.
Ognuno ha il suo bambino.
Ognuno ha la sua mamma.
And tutti fan of the nanna.
STAR, LITTLE STAR
Star, little star.
Night is approaching.
The flame flickers.
The cow is in the barn.
The cow and the calf.
Mutton and Lamb.
The hen with the chick.
Everyone has their child.
Everyone has their mother.
And everyone went to bed.
Thank you, Mom, for turning my days and nights into a life so much less worrying and tumultuous than yours.
I pray that the mothers and fathers of Ukraine may find the strength, the courage and the words to comfort and reassure their children. Perhaps a gentle, loving lullaby can bring some peace to such an uncertain and sometimes cruel world.
My mother may not have a title or degree, but then again, the life lessons she passed on to me could never have been read in a book or learned in a classroom. The most valuable lessons are those that come straight from the heart. What is essential is invisible to the eyes.
Ti amo, Mom, my Mother Goose!