Sunday, May 24, 2015

On turning 100 +1: How many times do you get to say this and it really happens?

You hear it all the time at the Italian table. Someone has a birthday and everyone picks up a glass of wine to toast them. Someone else shouts out “Cent’anni!” and it is followed by the volley “e uno!”

One hundred years. And one.

And this time it really happened. To my dear mom.

In all likelihood, we would be celebrating her 100th today. For years she thought she had been born in 1915. But when she went to get her passport, mom had to dig up a birth certificate. She was born in Tobasco, Colorado, which is now a ghost town. What a surprise it was to mom when she found out she was one year older than she thought she was. Oh well, it wasn’t like she was cheated out of that year.

“It seems like I just turned 100. Where did that last year go?” Where do they all go, mom? We’re in the boat with you, even the young ones. Time keeps on slippin’, slippin’, slippin', into the future.

Mom has a lot of things she has said to me over the years. When I first started shooting photographs, 50 years ago (when she thought she was 50, but she was really 51!) mom was a not always willing subject for my camera. “Why are you always taking unflattering pictures of me?” was the refrain I’d hear all the time. I guess I was exploring the other sides of my mom.

After all, she had movie star looks and no dearth of fabulous glamor shots. A striking Southern Italian beauty, the kind you still see in Italy – unfettered, genuine and timeless.

But I was a little stinker and sometimes I’d push the boundaries of esthetic pursuit. My dad, my sisters, my grandparents, they all put up with my incessant shooting. Thanks to them, I learned how to take people pictures, although I couldn’t imagine any family member showcasing my work on their walls. That’s Ok, as I fall into the street-photography genre more readily than the family-portraiture one.

But it’s been a fun ride, from the time I’ve been on the scene. If you imagine what people like my mom have seen in their 101 years on planet Earth, it has been monumental, historic, even epic. And to be able to remember and clearly elucidate some of those things she’s seen in times past, that’s even more fantastic. Two world wars, an influenza epidemic she barely skipped by. An economic depression the likes of which we have only recently touched upon, but not to the extent of the Great Depression. The birth of the Nuclear age, with the “Bomb.” When we were living in the desert, there were times when they were testing A and H bombs to the east of us. I remember a time or two, hearing when they were testing the bigger ones. I even remember a time when we had to stay inside as the wind was blowing from the east after a big event and radiation was feared to be drifting over the populated areas of the desert.

Fashion, cars, jets, technology, space travel, computers. Mom has an IPad and an IPhone (6+). She does texts, email and Facebook. She has a land line too, just in case. But she’s seen it all. Three kids, eight grandchildren and a load of great grandchildren as well, in her nuclear and extended families.

My dad, he died 30 years ago. But he’s still here in his way. I see him in my son, and in my sister Julie’s oldest son. Too bad he left us too soon. But his sister Mary is still among us, at 97.

And my mom’s sister Josephine will turn 99 in two months. Longevity runs in the family. It’s good to have parents whose roots sprung from blue zones. My dad’s dad and his sister both made it to 97. My mom’s mom made it to 94. I only hope I’ve saved up enough to get me through what might be a potentially long run. I hope so.

Well, mom, I hope you have fun this weekend with the grandchildren and great grandchildren. I know you’d like to have us all there, and one big party. But your life is a movable feast, and so why not celebrate as many times as you can? After all, it’s not every day you turn 101!

Love you, mom. I guess we have to come up with a new toast. How about “Cent’anni!” followed by “e due!”

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