Mother’s Day in Rockaway 1945
By Jean Caliguiri McKenna
Upon emigrating to the United States from Italy in 1929, my dear mother arrived at Ellis Island at age 35 to begin an “arranged” marital life as a homemaker and caretaker to her new husband of three months and his three adolescent children in Rockaway Beach. Speaking no English and unaccustomed to a new land, she dutifully mired in a life of domestic servitude, until at age 41, she surprisingly gave birth to me, her only child. Giving her a sense of purpose, I became her new lease on life as she referred to me as “her little hot pepper.” Within several years, the children (my half-siblings) had grown and gone out on their own, leaving Mama, Papa and myself contentedly together in our Beach 84th Street house. Throughout my childhood, despite her broken English, my mother acquainted herself to American life in the best way she knew how. She shopped at the A&P, and, (through the movie newsreels), knew from Lindbergh to Shirley Temple. Still, she did things in old country custom like regularly sweeping the rug and laboriously mixing pancakes in the stirring bowl.
As a first generation American, (who faithfully followed Dick Tracy in the Daily News comic strips), I felt it was up to me to bring Mama the joys of modern American life, making life easier through nice things, whether with modern conveniences, or experiencing celebrated customs like Mother’s Day, which she had never known. On a particular Mother’s Day when I was about 11, in 1945, I wanted to present her with an avant-garde gift to achieve just this. On the Saturday before Mother’s Day in prior years, I would go into Simons Hardware on Beach 83rd St. and Rockaway Beach Boulevard (where Papa bought his tools), and from the front counter, I would pick out for her, an embroidered “Mother” handkerchief or a “Mother” pin brooch for 50 cents or a dollar, (both of which she would cherishingly keep for life). On this year, however, I boldly ventured past the novelty counter and through the unchartered hardware and appliance areas.
Wide-eyed and daunted, I drifted and wafted through the aisles like a tourist gazing up at skyscrapers, until I came across a shiny silver electric waffle iron. How perfect for my mother, I thought, and maybe for me too! All my saved money spared from movie and milkshake outings (as well as what I probably borrowed from Mama’s change cup) was just enough to buy this found treasure, exciting me maybe even more than it would surprise her! The next morning when I eagerly presented my gift to Mama, she gleamed and seemed tickled at the chance to now be “in the know” with this little gem. Curiously, she immediately set about navigating and preparing the machine, anxious to quickly master it. To me, the waffles would be a mouthwatering treat, but the real fun of it all was sensing a satisfying pride in Mama that she had “arrived to the party.”
As we sat down and delighted in a delicious Mother’s Day breakfast, my mother pleasingly said to me “Because of you, we’re enjoying these waffles together.” Inside, I beamed brightly. In giving her a temporary material gift, she in turn gave me in eight little priceless words, a lasting sense of importance, love and self-esteem that would resonate forever in me. And that is how we always made waffles thereafter!
• “No words or acts of love can ever be too small or too great between a mother and her child.”