Tuesday, May 8, 2012

For Stella

words and photo: F LoBuono

A psychologist recently mentioned to me that he was told by his daughter (who happens to live in Sicily with her Sicilian boyfriend) "when you marry a Sicilian man, you marry his mother as well".   I'm not sure that I agree with that entirely.  EVERY person, despite the strong influence of culture, is an individual.  Therefore, every case must be viewed individually.  However, like most cliches, there is always a modicum of truth in them.  The implication is that the mother in Sicilian culture plays a very important role in the lives of her children, especially the boys.  And, in some situations, because of certain naturally occurring circumstances in addition to that strong cultural influence, that bond can be very powerful.  I must admit that really does apply to me and my relationship with my mother in many ways.

I do indeed have a very strong, natural connection with my mother, the legendary (and to those of you who actually KNOW her, that term does apply) Stella LoBuono.  And I always have.  From an early age, I recall being teased by my relatives for being such a "mamma's boy".  In fact, Stella confirms that.  She has told me that, from very early on, I always sought out the comfort of her presence.  I could be found regularly clinging to one, or both, of her legs.  I loved and respected my father, Joe, enormously.  He was kind, gentle when he needed to be, and tough when it called for that.  He taught me so many things and he NEVER failed to express his love and devotion to me and my siblings.  We had a special bond, too.  However, the bond that I have with Stella is one that goes beyond words.  It is innate.  We don't even think about it.  We don't have to.

I have always called my mother by her first name, Stella.  Of course, there are times when only "mom" will do, but, generally, I refer to her by her actual name.  It always did and still drives her crazy that I do. But it's just perfect for her.  Her full name is Stella Maris, or Star of the Sea, in Latin.  She IS Stella.   It means star, as she will gleefully share with you when she introduces herself.  She has a personality that just shines.  She is intense because she embraces life so fully - on a gut level, if you will.  She understands things by their very nature.  She can see through any bullshit to the essence of any situation. In fact, it's virtually impossible for me to lie to her.  Of course, as a young man, there would be instances that called for a little manipulation of the truth.  Well, Stella could see right through that.  She would say, Frankie, look at me and say that again.  Of course, once I did, it was over!!  The truth would just have to come out.  I believe that, to this day, I'm a shitty liar because of it!  Many moms seem to have this in their DNA.  Stella just happened to very good at it because she is so interested in what is real.  She always stressed the importance of honesty and integrity in EVERYTHING we did - from the smallest tasks to the most challenging ones.  Even proper phone manners were important.  There was a right way and a wrong way to answer or make a phone call.  Use proper grammar.  Let others know who you are and ask them who they are.  It was all part of living the right way every day and in every way.

But she was not transfixed with rules and procedures.  Oh, no.  Stella is far too emotional and passionate to be dominated by such things.  She is a thinking woman, certainly.  However, she often goes beyond mere thought to the realm of feeling.  She always says to trust your gut, your instincts.  In your heart, you know what is right.  You FEEL what is right.  Then, it's just a matter of implementing what is right.  In other words, we have instincts and, sometimes, we have to let go of logic and trust in them.  From this, she has given me a sense of morality that is open and, most importantly, HONEST.  From her and from my father, too, I strive to achieve a sense of fairness and acceptance.  It has taught me to always DO THE RIGHT THING by trusting in an inner sense of what IS truly right and wrong.  It has also fostered in me an attitude not to judge, lest I be judged.  I remember coming home from school one day and decided to share an anti-semitic joke that I had heard there.  Well, it went over like a lead balloon.  Not only was Stella not laughing, she was glaring.  She said that's not funny and she never wanted to hear anything like that again come out of my mouth.  Most importantly, I have never forgotten that.

Stella is passionate and, so, at times, quick to anger.  But she is even quicker to let you know how important you are and how much she loves you.  While tolerant in most ways, Stella does not suffer fools easily.  Therefore, she doesn't expect you to act like one!  And if you do, you will surely hear about it from her.  She has opinions that she is very willing, and able, to defend (does this sound like a certain blogger that we know?).  From this I have learned independence.  For as strong the bond Stella and I have on so many levels is, she also gave me a fierce sense to be my own person - to seek my own way and experience.  Of course, as a Sicilian mom who reveled in her motherhood, she wanted to see me "settled" with a traditional family.  However, she always allowed me to experience life (with occasional guidance from her!) on my own terms.  And she has NEVER meddled in it.  NEVER. (This is one way I disagree with the psychologist's statement!)

Stella is tough.  After all, she a Brooklyn raised, Sicilian woman.  I don't think that you can get much tougher than that!  In fact, she eats Tiger Moms for breakfast.  She, not my father, was the physical disciplinarian in our home.  He only got involved as a last measure.  Stella dolled out the daily discipline, and did it well.  She is not a large woman, about 5'2" but, shall we say, sturdy.  She could get into a Joe Frazier-like crouch and, just like Smokin' Joe,  dish out some heavy body blows!  When my brother and I got a little too big even for her, she would improvise by using anything effective, like a wiffle ball bat, to crack you one across your bottom.  Today, some would see that as "abuse".  We may have thought the same thing at the time, too!  However, in hind-sight, I see it for the lesson it was meant to be: I deserved everyone of those whacks across my ass.  From that, I have learned to take responsibility for my actions - and not to take shit from anyone.

Stella might be entitled to dish out the punishment but she'd be damned if someone else would ever raise a hand to me, my brother, or my sister.  If someone were to dare harm us, in any way, physically or emotionally, they would have to deal with her and that, my friends, would be a most unpleasant experience.  Stella has the ferocity of a whole pride of lionesses when it comes to defending her children. She would rip the offenders heart out faster then a Mayan High Priest!  There is nothing, no threat, even of torture, that could keep Stella from protecting her brood.

But there was NEVER a time when Stella reacted without compassion for the trials, tribulations, bumps and bruises we all encounter in our lives - physically, mentally, and emotionally.  Who better to turn to then a compassionate woman to soothe your pain.  Don't we all yearn for the day when you could just rest your head on your mom's breast and hear her say, everything will be alright.  And Stella, because of her great ability to nurture, was (and still IS, when necessary) the best at it!

She has a great sense of humor, too.  When people meet her for the first time and find out her name is Stella, the reaction from many is to break into their best Brando imitation and start bellowing, Stella!  My mother's reaction is always the same: with a straight face, she deadpans, gee, I've NEVER heard that before!

Most of all, Stella is loving.  Love is her real life's passion.  And she does it with vigor.  Nothing is more powerful or important to her then love - love for my father, love for her family, love for her life.  She acknowledges it as the greatest motivating force on the planet.  I'm 57 years-old and Stella never fails to end a phone conversation with I love you, Frankie.  I always say, do you have to say it that way?  And her reply is always, yes, I don't care how old you are, I'm your mother and I will always love you and say so.  She has taught me that love will ALWAYS conquer hate.  And that true love never dies - as hers has not in the nearly 25 years since my father's death.  Through her experience, I have learned to accept and embrace life on all it's levels.  This is the richness and fullness of life and to always appreciate it for the gift it truly is.

So, yes, I guess that I do bring a lot of Stella with me where ever I go.  And I don't see any need to apologize for that.

Happy Mother's Day to you Stella, to my wife Catherine, and all the mother's who have put up with all of us in the name of love.  LOVE to you all.

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