ay is for mothers. The name of the month derives from Maia, the Roman goddess of fertility. In the Catholic word it’s dedicated to the Madonna. And where there’s a Madonna there’s also a mother. Which leads me to mine.
I had lunch with her the other day. Her now 50-year-old firstborn son — the same son she still sees as her little boy — honored her with flowers and a toast. After the first little boy came another, and then a little girl. The three of us gave my mother more than a fulltime job.
My mother was typical of an Italian generation that saw wives as mothers above all else — with motherhood considered the toughest and most important job on earth. As soon as she discovered she was pregnant she happily quit her job to prepare for “total” parenthood. That perspective still dominates Italian culture, at least in central and southern Italy.
My mother aced her job and left me with a slew of indelible memories. I’ve been her son for 18,350 days (18,620 counting her pregnancy) and I have pretty close to 18,000 stories. The ties that bind an Italian boy to his mother are unique. We’re made fun of; we’re seen mamma’s boys (there are probably at least 18,000 published mammone articles). What the sarcasm conveniently overlooks is a son’s special understanding of the affection and loyalty it took to bear and raise him. Italian men get what they put a mother through when they were boys.
Old stories that now seem funny may not have been at the time. For example, at age seven I eloped with my mother’s nail polish, deciding to play Michelangelo on the walls and furniture. She was less annoyed with my art than my using up her favorite nail polish. The agitation increased when my brother and sister got into the act. I’d wrestle with my brother. We’d also play shoot-out with rubber guns while making our little sister into a moving target (she was good at ducking). We turned the house upside down. We never ate what my mother cooked. We’d come in from outside tracking dirty footprints everywhere. We’d dump wet clothes wherever we wanted. All in all, we were perfect.
That didn’t make her any less sad when her two boys decided to leave home and marry; or any less glad when both came back to visit; or any less willing to take us both back in when we divorced (while hearing out our problems).
We always knew how deeply she felt. When we brought home good report cards, she’d hug us. When we gave her flowers, she’d cry. When we’d misbehave she’d often tell our father, her husband, that it was her fault, and not one of her chief mischief-makers.
I don’t want ignore my father. Adolescent boys gravitate toward a father figure, and I have him to thank for learning how to live in a society and understanding moral values. Admittedly, some of the teaching came with a slap. But what a mother gives a child is something more universal. She’s a safe port in a storm. She’s a lynchpin. What you absolutely can’t do is ignore her. To paraphrase Abraham Lincoln, “You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some the time, but you can’t fool your mother.” (Though my mother probably would have forgiven me.)
After our lunch I gave her a big hug, as if to thank her for 50 years. She hugged me back just as hard.
But if I’m going to offer a toast (and give you a wine recommendation), I have to extend it to my amazing American wife. Her independence, energy and exuberance make our two sons a wonderful cultural “collaboration.” Italy and America in perfect harmony.
The wine I have in mind is ION, whose grapes come from Paternopoli, a small town in volcanic hill country southeast of Naples (not far from Tufo, as in Greco di Tufo). Stefania and Erminio live in a farmhouse in close contact with nature. Their goal has always been to produce an exceptional wine. Mission accomplished.
• ION Irpinia DOC Campi Taurasini 2013 (100 percent Aglianico; 14,5%; €16) is a dark ruby red with violet streaks. Its aroma doesn’t show off (call it maternal restraint), but soon enough you get the smell of cherries and prunes with assorted leathery, peppery, balsamic and wet earthen scents. The palate is youthful, fresh and vibrant, with balanced tannins. The fruity aftertaste stays with you.
It goes well with papardelle al sugo di lepre (pasta with hare sauce, which my mother makes deliciously). It’s also a perfect companion to meat dishes, spicy dishes and seasoned cheeses.
So take a moment, call your mother, and bring the wine.