Oh, My Achin’ Back

At the height of back pain, it helps me to visualize a relaxing beach - tangledpasta.net
At the height of back pain, it helps me to visualize a relaxing beach – tangledpasta.net  

By Mary Anna Violi | @Mary Anna Violi

It was foretold in the stars before my birth.  It loomed large on the maternal and paternal sides of the family.  Growing up, I watched my father periodically hobble around after work, easing himself into his wingback dark green leather chair, where he remained planted the entire evening.  My mother called him “Rigoletto” after Verdi’s opera character of the same title.  The aforementioned Rigoletto was a hunchback.

Not that my father staggered around in chronic back pain, but when the pain surfaced, he set off to the chiropractor.  He derived great relief, he claimed, from “Dr. Quack”, as my mother called him.  Her aspersions cast upon the chiropractor arose from Mama’s fierce loyalty to her three brothers who were all Indiana University [IU] School of Medicine graduates and interns at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.  Early on I adopted a live and let live attitude towards the chiropractor.  Loathe ingesting prescriptive medications, this explained Daddy’s willingness to undergo chiropractor treatments.

Mama, on the other hand, suffered from various maladies throughout her life, but from middle age on arthritis plagued her in her hands, neck, and back.  She was from a family of nine brothers and sisters; Daddy was from a family of six siblings.  Every one of them on both sides of my family suffered from disc pain [Mama’s side primarily] and osteoarthritis [both Mama and Daddy’s sides].

When I came into the light [an old Italian term for “being born], I didn’t have a chance of escaping osteo pain.  Five years ago I couldn’t understand why it felt like my thigh was on fire.  After enduring agonizing pain for a week, I awakened one morning to find I could not turn.  The pain reduced me to tears, so searing it was.  My maternal cousin, who is an orthopedic surgeon [three of my maternal first cousins are also IU Medical School graduates with Mayo Clinic interning under their belts.  A familial trend has manifested itself, gentle reader], ordered an MRI for me.  This MRI illustrated an impressive ruptured disc.  Yes, I had entered the twilight zone of disc-dom among family members.  The icing on the back cake too was a lower back full of osteoarthritis. In the immortal words of my father, “Oh, my achin’ back!”

Ciao for now.

Missing Mama

"Kitty" Violi in the middle, with her sisters Adelaide [left] and Agnes [right] circa 1943- tangledpasta.net
“Kitty” Violi in the middle, with her sisters Adelaide [left] and Agnes [right] circa 1943- tangledpasta.net
By Mary Anna Violi | @Mary Anna Violi

Eleven years ago today, June 20, 2002, my mother, Anna Catherine “Kitty” Violi, died.

She had complained of chronic weariness for some months.  As the sister to three IU Medical School graduates who had done their Residency at the Mayo Clinic, Mama was careful to follow the proverbial “doctor’s orders.”  She had regular checkup. Each morning she took her high blood pressure medication, thyroid medication, acid reflux medication,  multiple vitamin, and baby aspirin.  She ate healthy, as most Italians do, with little meat, lots of shade and dark leafy green vegetables, fish, fruit, and little processed food.  Mama also walked her neighborhood nearly every day. Granted Mama was 87, but she looked more like a 70-something with lovely, unlined skin, clear blue eyes, and silvery gray hair.

I loved her dearly.  She was my  mother, best friend, confidant, oracle, anchor, source of family lore, the dearest grandmother to my daughter, the lynchpin of our family.  Her laughter, sense of fun, delight in family and friends, merriment in the sheer joy of life infused those around her with added spirit.  An outstanding cook whose interest in new recipes piqued her interest throughout her life, we ate with brio at her table.

Emblazoned upon my memory is the warmth of her smile, the lilt of her voice, our daily kisses of adieu, of telling one another, “I love you.”  After eleven years, one would think the memories would fade, the sound of her voice would dim.  That has not, however, been the case.  She made me a better person, even after her death.  I strive to recall her feisty spirit, how she faced challenges head on.  I try to emulate her compassion, her kindness, her celebration of family.  Several years after my daughter Anjelica was born, I told Mama I had come to the realization that a great part of being a good parent is getting over oneself.  I said that while having a child was a humbling experience, it was also the most rewarding, how this toddler had enriched my live beyond measure.  Mama smiled, nodded her head, and whispered, “Yes.  Exactly,”  and she gave me a hug.  We both understood I had finally  grown up myself, finally, in my mid-30’s.

The 2002 Father’s Day weekend stroke that rendered her silent was deafening when her flame passed 72 hours later.

I miss her hugs, yet she is present everyday in my heart, and that makes me smile.

Ciao for now.