When I was a little girl…
When I was a little girl, maybe 3 years old, I remember my mom would tickle my back to help me fall asleep. Her touch was magical. In the August heat and humidity in Louisville, KY, on Ruth Avenue where I grew up, in a house without air conditioning, only a fan or my momma’s cool fingertips could bring me the sweet relief of sleep. I remember, too, that on the hottest summer nights, my sister and I would basically cry ourselves to sleep wailing, “nobody loves us,” if our mom wasn’t there tickling our backs and reading us stories.
When I was 16 my mom gave me three things: Alice Walker’s book The Color Purple, Nikki Giovanni’s book Cotton Candy On a Rainy Day (a book of poetry that I am never without), and a large stuffed polar bear (which seemed like my spirit animal at the time). Like polar bears, I prefer solitude, a trait that sets me apart from my family of origin, but a trait nonetheless that my mother must have intuited on some level.
In these small but profound ways…
In these small but profound ways, my mother conveyed her understanding of my personhood. She was a keen observer and her heart was only full when giving to others. If you had the gift of being in her circle, she gave you something that will always be dear to you. She knew exactly what to give, what to say, to make people feel seen, and heard, and known.
Those books I received when I was 16 are touchstones of my life. From these books, I learned about who I am. I saw myself in the characters and the words upon the page. These books sparked curiosity in me and I sought more and more books to fill the holes growing in me. It’s such a funny paradox how literature fills you up only to leave you feeling hungry for more. But my mom knew this, too. Her love of books is a gift she gave me in spades.
You should see my house piled with books. I am never without a good book – or 50. I usually have 3 books going at once. My mom used to read at least one book a week in addition to her endless hours on the telephone. I mean, she loved to talk on the phone. It was her connection to the world. She had the most profound friendships that she kindled by checking in on folk to discuss anything, from the next bold move in social justice work to following up after a major life event.
She cared deeply…
She cared deeply about so many things, one of which was the feminist movement. Her Grandmother, Effie May, and her mother, Ann Mead, were both feminists before the movement. They had some inner strength that allowed them to do what other women couldn’t or wouldn’t. My mom had that, too.
She would have given anything to see the Equal Rights Amendment pass legislation in her lifetime. Isn’t it such a simple concept? She fought fiercely for all people to have equal access to the resources of this great country. She knew that giving people what they need to live and to grow is just the right thing to do, and so, she spent her time and money fighting to create a better world for all people. She passed the torch to me and bought me a membership to the National Organization for Women (NOW). Wow, what a world that is! And some of my and her dearest friends are fellow feminists that we met through NOW.
It was important to her that I know what it means to be a woman in this country – what resources I have and what resources I am denied. Awareness is the birthplace of choice. This she taught me well, and how funny that it’s the foundation of my business. As another great feminist, Maya Angelou, said, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then, when you know better, do better.”
A mainstay in my mother’s vernacular…
A mainstay in my mother’s vernacular was “to thine own self be true.” She adored Shakespeare. I did not inherit her love of Shakespeare, but her love of words I surely did. And her ardent belief that we must all be true to who we were born to be.
She loved books and poetry and art and music and theater and Opera.
She loved wildflowers.
She loved to eat great food and she frequently requested elaborate dishes.
She loved that Daddy is such a good cook and that I, too, did a little cooking here and there.
She loved in a way that brought her tears, as she was so moved by the beauty in all of the things she loved.
The Summer Day
Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
She would have absolutely loved…
She would have absolutely loved to get dressed up and meet you all here today to celebrate her one wild and precious life.
There is no way to celebrate my mother’s life without acknowledging my father, Ampelio Isetti. Daddy was a dedicated and tireless partner for my mom. When her quality of life was compromised Daddy made sure that she had not only what she needed but all the things that she enjoyed. Deep gratitude for our father for caring for our mom for nearly 60 years.