My mother, Clementa "Dena" Ricci, died on October 17th, a week after she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.
I was eating a bowl of apple sauce Sunday night when it hit me: I will never eat another one of mom’s unbelievable apple pies again. Or her blueberry pies. Or her carrot cake. And there will never be another pot roast dinner like the ones mom used to turn out regularly: meat done to perfection, tender and thin sliced, all smothered in onions and carrots. Oh, and an additional three or four vegetables just to round out the meal.
All of us know Mom’s amazing talent with food. All of us kids remember walking up the driveway after school smelling warm bread. All of us know her fried pizza dough, her raisin meatballs and her crispy cream puffs with that melt in your mouth cream filling. It was those cream puffs that sealed the deal between her and my dad. He just had to marry this gorgeous girl who also happened to make cream puffs that were out of this world.
It was hard to give my mom a compliment though. You’d tell her she looked pretty and she would say, “ah le mortigi shegi,” in Italian, “ah the blind people go crazy over me.”
She tickled us with all of her many Italian sayings, we loved them so much that we made a scrapbook out of them – they had the accumulated wisdom of many past generations of Italians.
Things mom loved: babies, brides, broccolilabe and scharoll; (escarole.)
She loved the Virgin Mary, and while she was dying on Friday, we held hands and said the Hail Mary together.
Mom loved making omelets with mint, and tomatoes with eggs, favorites of Michelina, her own mother. Mom loved making all sorts of yeast breads including the eggs in the bread basket for Easter, and the extraordinary panettone she made at Christmas. Thankfully, she taught all of us girls to make it. Mom loved a spic and span house and worked tirelessly to make it gleam. She loved setting the table for breakfast at night before she went to bed.
She loved antiques, and as my sister Holly wrote in her wonderful obituary, ‘“Dee” excelled at stained glass, needlework, and word puzzles, she loved cooking shows and “poking around junk shops, collecting antique furniture, glassware and crockery.”
After mom’s eyesight failed and she couldn’t see the words, she still had an amazing talent for coming up with the right answers to those word puzzles.
Of course mom’s greatest love was for her partner of 66 years, my Dad. They had an incredible marriage and it inspired us to want the same.
I have had a lot teachers in my life teaching me important things, but my first and most important teacher has always been my Mom, because she taught me how to love with her whole heart. Mom had the biggest heart in the world and she shared it with all of her family and friends she loved so fiercely and freely.
And so, Mom is gone in one sense, yes, but in another, she will never die, because her love brought us all here together today and sits with us now. Mom’s enduring gift to us is to know how to love from the bottom to the top of our hearts.
Mom always had a really tough time saying good bye. The day she was diagnosed, mom was crying and she looked in my eyes and said, “I remember making pipe curls in your hair for school and then you would go off and we would wave and wave goodbye.”
As an adult, leaving 152 Sampson Pkway, mom would stand on the porch. We would wave, and then I would peep the horn three times and drive off, mom waving the whole way.
Mom, we don’t say good bye today, we don’t have to because you will be with us all every single day for the rest of our lives. God Bless you Mom, we love you like crazy!