Find your 50

“On This Mother’s Day…”

 ”Carmela is so much more than just cannolis”

When I was asked to write a Mother’s Day post about my mom, Carmela, one of my choices was to possibly re-produce something I had previously written about her on my own blog, a collection of musings I call “LetaVision”.  So, as I sat down to put this together, I began by re-reading some old posts. My mother came up in several random postings about things as varied as LeBron James, M*A*S*H, intrusive airport searches, tomato sauce, public libraries, Easter dresses, fried eggplant, children’s birthday parties, bad haircuts, annoying Christmas cards, cannolis, coupon clipping, buying a home, re-gifting, dropping the F-bomb, Encyclopedia Brown, and porn star names (you know that bit about combining your first pet and your first street … my mom’s porn star name was Fifi Corona).  The fact that my mother’s name came up in the course of writing about so many different subjects can only mean one thing; my mother was an interesting woman. If you’ll indulge me on this Mother’s Day, I’d like to share a few of the things I’ve written about my mom.  She was unique, but still there was something very familiar about her.

“Let me begin at the end

Here’s a tribute I wrote the day after she passed away in 2009.

“Carmela Filosa was born in 1920 to Erasmo and Anna Filosa. They had come through Ellis Island from Italy and settled in Brooklyn. When mom would share her childhood memories with me I always pictured them in sepia tones or black and white. It did not occur to me that she lived her early years in color. When she told me about her father’s grocery store or her mother making the most fabulous meals out of eggs (during the Depression they rarely ate meat), I pictured all of this in monochrome. Her family trips to Coney Island… sepia tones. Her tales of roller skating on the streets of Queens… black and white. It totally tripped me up when she told me about her Polish neighbor, Eddie Ponjavonski, whose white pants were accidentally turned pink in the wash. The immigrant family was so poor they couldn’t afford to buy Eddie new pants and the humiliated kid had to wear pink pants to school. Suddenly I had to picture one of my mom’s childhood tales in Technicolor. By the way, the point of this particular story was that she and my uncle defended Eddie against the bullies… one of my mom’s frequent lessons for me about empathy.”

“ One of the things I always admired about my mom, and in fact made her such a role model to me, was that for a woman of the 1940’s she didn’t go the usual route. She had a career and adventures before she settled down to get married. As a single woman her nursing career took her to such far-flung places as Iceland and Korea. Being a M*A*S*H nurse in the 8063 was one of the crowning achievements of her life. Apart from her family it was what she was most proud of, and with good reason. She worked in the operating tent and helped save the lives of countless young soldiers wounded on the front lines. At first she wasn’t sure she could handle the job. She told me the first night with the unit they gave her a tour. A young freckle-faced soldier was brought in off a helicopter (just like the ones you saw on the TV show) and before they could get him to the OR he died right before her eyes. For someone who had been treating old folks in Brooklyn with lumbago, this was a shock. My mom said she prayed that night for God to give her strength and fortitude to do her job. She spent 17 months doing her job. Through a sweltering summer, a muddy monsoon season, a freezing winter, she did her job.”

“Mom found such satisfaction in the Army she stayed in when she returned from Korea. She was an OR nurse at Fort Monmouth, New Jersey and that’s where she met Preston, a young red-headed lieutenant with a Texas twang, 13 years her junior. There was not only any age difference, they were from different planets. When she took him to meet her family in New York City they thought he’d come riding in on a cow. So what made them get married less than a year after they met? “We both liked to party” was my mom’s classic answer.”

“Same-Same but Different”

In a post titled “Life’s BFDs” I wrote about how different my parents were on another level. You may recognize this dynamic…

When I was buying my first house I found one I liked but I couldn’t pull the trigger; it was such an intimidating decision to make on my own. So I called my parents to visit me and check it out. My mom gave it the thumbs up on the livability level, and my dad did likewise from the financial end. I had made a good choice, it was a done deal. That night I wrote a $4,000 check for the down payment to be delivered the next day. Suddenly I was overcome… by what? The check amount? I had never written one that large. The commitment involved in home ownership? “30 years fixed” sounded like a big commitment. The fact that adulthood had finally arrived? Whatever it was, I started to blubber. My mom instinctively got it and gave me a reassuring hug. My dad, for whom life was one big business transaction, was puzzled, “What’s she crying about for Chrissakes? She’s getting a great deal!”

Speaking of great deals, my mom had Depression-era sensibilities when it came to saving a buck. In a post called “Smart Shopper” I recalled this mother-daughter moment…

Carmela was diabetic. One day we were in the grocery store and she started to get a little light-headed. I told her I’d run to the candy aisle and get her something. Here she was, building up a cold sweat and feeling dizzy, but that didn’t stop her from reaching into her purse and saying, “Wait, I have a coupon!”

“Mother’s Day Memories”

On Mother’s Day 2010, the first without my mom, I wrote the following:

One thing that strikes me is that my mom was a study in contrasts. On the one hand she was not a traditional woman of her era. She went to college, had a career, and traveled before she married at age 36. She spent 17 months in a war zone, of all things. None of these are the norm for a woman born in 1920 who came of age in the 1940’s.

On the other hand, she was very much a woman of her time who was totally comfortable in the traditional role of wife and mother. For all her adventures as a single woman, once she had children she easily slipped into the role of stay-at-home mom. For an educated woman, she was perfectly at peace having my dad bring home the bacon while she fried it up in a pan. For a woman who once donned Army fatigues, she embraced the print dress and pearls.

This all came into focus for me when I found a small cookbook among my mother’s things after she passed away. It was printed in 1965 and called “Fit For a King.” It featured recipes such as “Hidden Treasure Meat Loaf” and “Cottage Cheese Spread.” The front cover depicted the idyllic family; square-jawed father with a twinkle in his eye, doe-eyed mother with a perfect flip-do, freckle-faced son with cherub cheeks, pig-tailed daughter with a dimple. Nothing like our family of four, by the way. But that’s the point. While my mother did not run a household out of Family Circle, she could still appreciate the ideal. She lived a life that said you can be your own woman and break glass ceilings, while still honoring tradition. Some liberated women would’ve looked at that “Fit For a King” cookbook with disdain and thrown it out, if not set fire to it. Carmela tucked it away among all the possessions that defined her.

Editor’s Note:  You can read more of Leta’s musings about her mother and other random stuff at


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