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  • Writer's pictureAlex Subrizi

Remembering Lilia

Updated: May 26

When I think of my mom's life journey: born in 1930, the first of three children of two unskilled laborers, growing up in war-ravaged Florence, then her father's suicide, then the early trips abroad working, as her mother had locally, as a cleaner and au pair to learn Spanish, French, then English, then her marriage to my father, a bank teller, later a stalwart corporate manager, then raising me, her only child, while earning the first of two doctorates in literature, then her eagerness, faced with a life-defining move with her husband from northern Italy to New York, where she helped build our family's fortune (from nothing, really) through a series of canny real estate investments culminating in a 10-bedroom monstrosity in Forest Hills Gardens, the sale of which made possible, in 1999, the purchase of Poggiosole, it hardly needs stating she was no shrinking violet.

Her belief in herself was surpassed only by her belief in her Gianni, my father. His rigor and fortitude combined with her drive and daring made for a restless, pugnacious team. I think she sensed that more than he did, and chose him, pointedly, as wingman to vault from the suffering and want she hailed from. Just my opinion but, if true, this choice betrayed her shadow side. Every quality has its darker twin, at least from a son's point of view (does anyone have a sharper sense of our character than our children?). Ambition was tethered to fear, vitality to impatience, warmth to sentimentality and a certain aversion to intimacy (and, by extension, to all my domestic partners). Her brothers, both younger, resented her remaining abroad as a young woman around the time of their father's untimely death. Very privately, it seemed to me she never quite forgave herself for this lapse. But by putting her own needs before her family's, she was, as a woman especially, ahead of her time.

Above all, and this quality was what most endeared her to friends and grandkids, my mom could be fun, irreverent and highly original. She was also a pack-rat, always, in her younger years, on the lookout for "bargains". It's been slow work going through her things, sorting wheat from chaff. Each of us is certainly entitled to live (and spend) as we wish. Perhaps when you grow up poor, even as your life becomes comfortable, you just can't bear to throw anything away. So now we're doing it for her. Not something she would have enjoyed watching. So if watching is something that's possible for her now, she is surely looking the other way.

Earlier today my eldest son Elio and I visited my mother in the rural graveyard of Romita. The mound of loose earth from her burial last November had compacted, but a bouquet of plastic flowers set by her wooden cross, bleached by months of sun, and a small flowering plant in a plastic vase, now a tangle of withered twigs, looked sad indeed. With a spade and a hoe and a couple of trunkfuls of melon-sized stones gathered from a recent dig in Poggiosole's outer grove, the two of us tidied things up. Not a final arrangement, and missing some soon-to-be-added drought-resistant plants, but a gesture of remembrance, call it a birthday salute (she would have turned 94 today).

When they're gone, even if you're all grown up, even if you've felt their age and infirmity as a burden, even if you've been discounting their opinions, advice and concerns for years, when parents are gone, unless one is very young, the vestige of childhood is finally extinguished. Like a person's character, this passage is nuanced. One is finally and fully mature, answerable first and foremost to oneself. But, if the parents were present as such (mine were), a veil of protection, of affection and support, dissolves with their passing. In the final weeks of her life my mom kept repeating to me "Che Dio ti benedica" (May God bless you). This was an odd thing to say to an atheist, but I knew what she meant. I'll carry that blessing with me.

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