O Sole Mio

You spent most of your days bowing like a Japanese houseboy in old, bad Technicolor movie to our whims. You always behaved with grace and put the needs of everyone ahead of yourself. You cleaned our toilets and washed our clothes and when I didn’t have a car you dragged me out of bed so I won’t be late for the 7 a.m. bell at my summer factory job. Repeatedly.

“Five more minutes, Mom” and you said, “Just five more,” and then the cycle began again, until you finally got mad enough at me that I got up. I could tell by the change in tone it was really time to get up.

You made my breakfast and drove me to car pool for my crummy summer job at the book-binding factory.

Somewhere in the back of dad’s closet was your red and white diploma in elementary education from a fine university. When I was a very small child you sang the university hymn to me until I fell asleep, your pure, sweet voice singing all four verses. The refrain is all I can remember, but you loved to sing it to me in the sweet stillness of early evening in my little girl room….”Gloriana, frangipana, E’re to her be true….our beloved Alma Mater, hail to old IU.”

When you were pregnant with me and taught second grade — a woman married more than two years — your principal thought your growing belly was unsettling for tiny eyes. So they fired you in December months before I arrived in the summer. Before I was ever born, you were bowing gracefully before my needs, stepping aside for something larger than yourself.

All of your life, even in these final days, you kept the same pure and innocent smile and never resented what you gave to others.

You are dying now; you are only able to take water from the end of a straw that someone else puts in your mouth. Your breathing is labored, and you are on oxygen. Is your soul gone? Do you remember me, your firstborn?

We fought terribly until I was an adult. You battled depression after I was a teenager. I didn’t know or understand what Betty Friedan was talking about, “the problem with no name.” I didn’t understand how difficult it is to constantly sublimate your own will and wishes for others.

Yet your sacrifices propelled me forward like a Kentucky thoroughbred out of the gate on Derby Day. It was never what you said, it was what you did.

When I had my own child, years after I struggled with our mutual problems, something changed. You came to take care of me while I took care of my baby. When you left, I wept openly. I sobbed for the years we had lost and now what I had gained. In that moment I vowed when this time came, I would have no regrets.

I have had this on-going persistent vision of you for about three days now. You are seven or eight and have two or three of the purebred black cocker spaniels your raised with you on the lane between the house and Sugar Creek. Your father has been in the woods chopping wood, and you see him coming and your sometimes blue sometimes green eyes light up as they always did around him. You and the dogs run off with childish enthusiasm to see your towering, handsome father who is walking through on the path between rows of sunflowers.

You were born on a spring day, and you were just like spring, enough optimism to hide the darkness but enough realism to encourage growth all around you.

I also close my eyes and think of you in the backyard of our tiny, yellow prefabricated house. You have dark, dark Jackie Kennedy hair, and you are wearing a sleeveless blouse and pedal pushers. I see you pulling U-shaped wooden clothes pins from a bucket on the ground. You shake out the towels and hang them up on the clothesline, and you are singing just loud enough to be heard in the house, “O Sole Mio.” The rest I can’t remember but the music bounded through the house and you were happy.

How did you know that song? What were you like at university? Did you sing it with your friends? You are like that spring sun, warm and welcome. You will always be with me.

English Translation

What a wonderful thing a sunny day

The serene air after a thunderstorm

The fresh air and a party are already going on…

What a wonderful thing a sunny day.

But another sun,

That’s brighter still

It’s my own sun

That’s in your face!

The sun, my own sun

It’s in your face!

It’s in your face!

When night comes and the sun has gone down,

I start feeling blue;

I’d stay below your window

When night comes and the sun has gone down.

But another sun,

That’s brighter still

It’s my own sun

That’s in your face!

The sun, my own sun

It’s in your face!

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