Young men in relationships always have a moment with the men of the family when someone says, “Take a good look at her mother because that’s your future.”. And sure, that line’s used as a set-up for some hilarious sight-gag on every tv show known to mankind. But, when I think about my own life, that phrase is really quite a compliment. The women in my family, particularly my mother and her mother, are truly women of strength and admiration. So, to say that I’ve the opportunity to become them someday leaves me with only one response: My future and my future family are in good hands.
Her Mother: Maria
My grandmother, my mother’s mother, Maria, Nani (that’s what us grandkids called her). Maria Tenuta was born in Calabria, Italy on August 25th of 1939 to a large family. By the time she was thirteen, Maria and a few of her siblings were brought from occupied Italy to the United States for a safer and better life. Slowly but surely, the rest of her family made their way safely over and regular life began again. The Tenuta family was living in America, working and going to school like any typical American family. She worked very hard in school and made a lot of friends. She was happy, she was healthy and she was optimistic. She eventually went to cosmetology school and became a hair stylist much like many others in her family.
Like any typical American girl, Maria went out with the girls and eventually started to catch the eyes and hearts of all the boys. She met Frank Bruno (my grandfather) in the fall of 1960. One thing I always wondered was what he thought when he first heard her speak. In the 60’s, people went mad for someone who’s not only gorgeous but also had an exotic accent. So, can you even imagine what he was thinking when this beautiful women came into his life AND she had that Italian accent?
She had these captivating deep, brown eyes, the most stunning smile and she was beyond stylish! But, it was more than just her looks. She was hard working. She cared very much for those around her but, she wouldn’t settle for anything less than she deserved. She was funny, lovable and full of life. She was like a magnet to all those around her and everybody loved her. The lucky bastard was hooked and the two were married in May of 1961.
Now Maria Bruno, she gave birth to her first child, a girl, in November of 1962. They named her Barbara and three years later in 1965, Diane (my mother) was born. They finally welcomed a boy into the world, Michael, in 1971. When I ask my mom about growing up with Nani for a mother, she could probably go on and on for days with stories. One of the more popular tales is the Bus Stop story.
One time in elementary school, my mother was being picked on by a classmate at the bus stop which was at the bottom of the small hill where their house was. She went back up to the house and told Maria about the boy. Maria smiled lovingly at her, took her hand and walked her back to the bus stop. When they got to the bus stop, my mother thought Maria was there to simply look after her until she got on the bus but, Maria had other plans. She stood behind the boy, held his arms back, looked at my mother and said, “Your turn. Hit him.”.
Curveball, right? But, that’s what my mother grew up with. Maria wanted things to be fair and even for everyone, bullies and the bullied alike. As much as she was warm, welcoming and had an unending supply of love and generosity, she’d be damned if she’d ever let anyone hurt or take advantage of the ones she loved or cared about. She was kind and smart. This part of her personality was passed down with gusto to my own mother, Diane.
As life went on, the grandchildren came along. Let’s see if I can get them all in order… Billy, Lisa, John, Sophia, Frank, Matthew, Mary Rose, Maria, Anna and Jack. And as my uncle said in his eulogy at her funeral, “Oh, the grandkids. You grandkids need to know, you were the light of her life”. While the grandchildren were all still young, Maria would sit and watch them as they ran around and played. She reveled in the sound of our laughter. She gave the biggest hugs and more kisses than anyone in the world. And none of that changed when we got older. Instead of running around playing games, it was usually all of the cousins sitting around a table laughing and talking while she sat at the head of the table quietly and smiled as she took in each precious moment with her family.
She fought through two boughts of cancer and lived to see her oldest grandchild get married. She lived her life to the fullest and fought every battle that came her way with dignity and with grace. She went out with friends, she continued to do hair, she spent quiet time reading or in her garden. Even at the end, she went completely uncompromised. She’d spent her time the way she wanted and she’d be damned if she’d go on anyone’s terms but her own. She was completely Maria.
My Mother: Diane
My mother was not the typical middle child, although, she’d tell you the opposite if you asked her. Diane grew up loving to play in the neighborhood with friends, go to school and spend time with her family. Being one of a countless number of cousins, Diane had built-in friends from birth and never took them for granted. She grew up with a very strong sense of family values whch one can only assume she got from her mother. Diane was one to know what she deserved and refuse to settle for anything less. And she applied that thinking to her dating life. She never settled for less than she deserved. And she didn’t have to.
The story of how my mother and father met is something right out of My Big Fat Greek Wedding. Aside from the ethnicity and the spices used in their cuisines, they’re almost identical.
Leave it to fate to have Diane and my father, Bill, conveniently working in the same strip mall. In 1984, Diane was working at the family’s dry cleaner, Mr. Snappy. Two doors down on one side, was a drugstore. Two doors down on the other side was a appliance store where Bill made deliveries. Every night after the appliance store closed, Bill would walk past the dry cleaner windows and make Diane laugh. Silly walks, funny faces, just waving hello. It didn’t matter what it was. Bill saw that smile and was forever hers. One night, he finally worked up the courage to go in and say hello. They had their first date on December 15th of that year. They saw Beverly Hills Cop.
Remember that strong will Maria passed down to Diane? It’s time to bring that into play. If you recall, Maria was very strong, determined, never settled for less than she deserved and wouldn’t do anything she didn’t want to do. Well, Diane was exactly the same way. Especially when it came to doing things she didn’t want to do.
Bill loved cars. He knew a lot about them and Diane knew a thing or two, too! But, one thing she didn’t know was how to drive a stick-shift. Well, that sounded like a piece of cake to Bill. He decided that the next time they saw each other, he was going to teach her. So, the two drove around for a bit. Bill parked the car and switched seats with her. She started out well enough but began having trouble driving on a large decline about fifteen minutes from home. Diane tried and tried but, only grew frustrated with the car. She parked the car in the middle of the street, got out and walked the rest of the way home. If you ask him about that today, he’ll laugh and tell you that the moral of the story is “Diane doesn’t do what she doesn’t want to do.”.
Head over heels for her strength, love and faith, Bill and Diane were married in September of 1986. Two years later, they welcomed their son, Billy, named after Bill. Three years after that, they had their first girl. What a gem she was. Psst… That was me, Lisa! Four years after that, they had a second girl, their last child, the baby: Sophia. When I was born in 1991, Diane was thrilled to have a little girl. She was over the moon when she had my brother first. She’d always wanted her first born to be a boy and to then give him a little sister to look after. And she was right. I certainly did need looking after.
I can’t remember a time when I was being creative in one way or another. I also can’t remember a time when my mother tried make me be anything other than myself. She was always very encouraging of my dreams, whatever they were at the time. Singing, dancing, acting, writing, anything was mine to believe in. And I’m a BIG dreamer, let me tell you that!
I often think about the time I’d spent as a kid at Nani’s house with all of my cousins. Whether it was a holiday, someone’s birthday, Christmas, or a regular Sunday dinner, I always insisted on a little bit of one-on-one time with Nani. I wanted to tell her stories and sing songs to her and just perform for her in any way I could. I loved making her smile and it was a major bonus to hear her laugh. I love my family and I would do anything to make them laugh or enjoy the time we spend together. Family has always been an important part of my life because it’s always been such a big part of my upbringing.
I was raised to know who I am and only accept the best that life has to offer me. I once let myself fall under the scrutiny of others and I started believing the negative thoughts and comments that were being thrown at me. But, because of the strength and love that Nani and my mother have given me, I’ve been able to love who I am, accpet my flaws and work everyday to make myself better. I wouldn’t know what hard work was if I didn’t have their examples to look up to. They’ve been through larger hardships than I’ll, hopefully, never know. And it’s because of these two women that I’m here being the best version of my self that I can be.
Just after my sister was born, my mother knew it would be a bit of an adjustment for me not being the baby anymore. It was also a bit of an adjustment because my sister refused to sleep and spent all night crying. So, the arrangement was that I fall asleep in my parents’ room until my sister finally fell asleep and then my dad would carry me into my shared room with my sister. One of the first nights of this, I didn’t eat much dinner. I don’t know why. I think was still upset about losing the “baby” attention to Sophia.
Knowing I’d still be awake in their room, my mother came in with a big plate of triangle shaped pb&j sandwiches, my favourite! We sat on the bed and ate the sandwiches and talked about God knows what. It’s one of my most cherished memories because it just reminds me of my mother’s boundless love and how she’ll do anything for those she loves. And I can see that her love for her family is deep rooted. It’s a value passed down from her mother.
I believe that everyone makes mistakes and has the opportunity to do good. I know that I need to surround myself with good people who will bring positivity and motivation into my life. I know that life is only as good as you make it for yourself. I know that there’s no shame in asking for help when you need it. I know that we all have a limited time on Earth and you never know who will make it to tomorrow. I cherish the friends I have and the friends I’ve had. I love my boyfriend because he’s really more than I deserve. I love my family with all of my heart and more. All of this I learned from them.
When Nani passed away, it felt like I forgot how to breathe, like I could see but didn’t know where I was. She was a constant in my life. I never thought I’d see the day that I’d say goodbye to her. It’s a feeling of impossibility. I wasn’t with her everyday but, she was always there. She was Nani. Nani doesn’t die. She can’t. That’s all I kept thinking and it’s something I think I’ll always struggle with.
Saying goodbye to Nani made me open my eyes about my mom. She’d just lost her mother yet she was so proud of the life she’d led and the eaxmple she’d set. And I noticed, Nani spirit lives strongly through my mother. My own mother had learned so much from Nani not only about life but about being a kind, smart and good person. There’s so much of Nani’s joy, laughter and personality shining through my mother’s soul. And in this way, those we love never truly die.
To say that I’m proud of the women from whom I’ve been shaped would do them no justice. I try to live my life to make them and myself proud of every step taken and every day lived. I’m strong and I’m kind. I’m funny and I’m stern. I’m confident and I’m cautious. I love who I am because I love who I come from. I’m part Maria and I’m part Diane. I’m Lisa. I’m her mother, my mother, and me.
Author: Lisa Wojcik
25 year old blogger/actress/writer
Lisa Wojcik first started writing in 2004. She thought she signed up for an improv class and accidentally ended up in her first sketch writing class at the Second CityTraining Center in Chicago, IL. Since then, she’s dabbled in screen writing, play writing, short stories, articles and blogging. “If I could afford it, I’d spend everyday at home in yoga pants with a cup of coffee and a fresh story being typed out on my computer. ” Wojcik hopes to make writing, blogging and freelance writing her full-time job in the near future.
While she continues to get her name out there on her various forms of social media such as: Instagram, Pinterest and Twitter, she’s awaiting the premiere of her screen debut in Hometown Hero Productions 2017 horror comedy movie Butcher the Bakers. When it comes to creative projects, she just can’t sit still. This story is Wojcik’s first piece for Harness and, hopefully, not her last! So, go and tell everyone how much you LOVE it!