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My mother’s job.

March 7, 2011

I grew up a single child, raised by a single mother. My father moved back in once I left for the States and has been living with my mother ever since. Our sources of income in the 70s and 80s were very modest. My mother was orphaned at the age of 2 in ’29 and was brought up with her two siblings by an aunt who also died at the end of WWII. All the family paper-wealth that remained after the war had been enough to buy a pair of shoes. The only thing of value that was left over was their father’s house. They sold it and split the money. Maybe as a result of this experience my mother invested all of her share in brick. She bought a couple of apartments in Milan, moved in a small room and rented out the rest. When I came along she switched to the larger apartment and rented out the small room. Being a landlord in Milan in the 70s was not very lucrative since there was “rent-control” and not only rents were very low but one had to keep the same renters for dozen of years at a time. The way she made ends meet was by working out of her apartment. She cut nails, painted them and removed callouses. Not a glamorous job, but also not an unpleasant one. The ladies that came to her quickly became good friends and I could tell they enjoyed chatting quite a bit.

I never thought much about my mother’s job. To me she was first and foremost a good and enthusiastic cook, and a good friend to all my friends. Something, however, changed when we started spending summers in the Alps, in Verceia and Frasnedo, small villages where most people still worked the old-fashioned way, hiking up and down mountains, herding cows, goats, pigs, working in the field, scything, logging, carrying everything on shoulders, etc, etc…All of a sudden my mother became a hero, a personality. You could see it in people’s faces, when they saw her they would light up with expressions of hope and satisfaction, like a child catching a glimpse of an ice-cream truck. They would ask if she had brought her “irons” this time and if the answer was yes, they would immediately book her for extended sessions of callouses-removal. These were not easy cases, work bordering on medical surgeries, my mother kept her cool and acted like a professional doctor and the people often paid her in home-made salamis or cheese, or even chickens.

This was my mother’s job. She had good skills, great stool-side manners, and a knack for conversation, so once in a while, maybe once every two years she could finally buy some shoes for herself, or a new coat. As for me, all my clothes were hand-me-downs.

From → Italy

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