“What are your top three favorite Madonna and Child artworks?” asked Dr. Carey Rote of the art history students after several days of exploring museums. "Or, do you have just one?"
Although I was officially a photography student, I heard the question and couldn’t erase it from my mind. Would it be a sculpture, a painting, a tapestry, a fresco, a lithograph, an etching? The more I thought about it, the broader the question became and the more unattainable the answer. I decided I needed boundaries in order to review the choices and make a decision. I looked to my photographs for guidance in hopes to see something that truly defined the magic of the mother/child relationship.
Top of mind are a young boy and his mother sitting peacefully on a bench, high on a hill overlooking Florence. They’re caught up in their own thoughts, but comfortably share the same physical space as if held together in time by an invisible picture frame. In Fiesole, I'm fascinated by two women who seem to wander aimlessly, their destination random and their path uncharted. There is probably nothing out of the ordinary as they walk across the town square, in fact it is possibly a near carbon copy of yesterday’s walk. The obvious happiness of this mother and daughter is not stifled by repetition, but kept fresh by the shared experience of the gelato flavor of the day.
At any age, a common means of communication between mother and child seems to be food: nutrition as a baby, and gelato as one grows older. My first memory of gelato was in Pisa when I was ten years old. It was a sticky day and Pop promised we would be treated to the chilled dessert on our way to the beach, only after Mom bought a swimsuit. Like his interest in vacation "walking" photos, Pop asked fellow tourists to take photos of our family in bodies of water. Our "Wearing swimsuits in the Mediterranean" did not make it onto the Christmas card, but was to be seen by all who had the pleasure of watching the musically choreogaphed slideshow of our 1958 European trip.
First we climbed the Leaning Tower of Pisa and then walked to a nearby department store to make the purchase. I mention this outing because of its overall curiosity to me as an impressionable child. Mom didn’t swim; her Navy blue Italian swimsuit was the only bathing suit I ever knew her to own and you could count on one hand the number of times it got wet. On family vacations when we made an overnight stop at a motel with a pool, she preferred to wear her white shorts and a sleeveless top as she sat on the edge of the pool, dangling her legs in the water. My father, who was once picked up by the shore patrol as he illegally swam across San Francisco Bay, was the one who believed she should own a swim suit. Her Italian one-piece was immortalized in a souvenir photo taken in Hawaii in 1960 - one of the few photos ever taken of Mom and me.
My mom died in 1994, just weeks before a huge party celebrating her 90th birthday. She had been the volunteer wedding coordinator at her church for 35 years - she would not have cancelled the party... so the party went on, with Mom there in spirit. Invitees sent photos, messages, and recipes which were compiled into a book and given to the guests. My childhood friend Sheila wrote a touching note. Here is an excerpt.
"I remember having tea with your mother at a lace-covered Formica table in her kitchen. We'd talk about school, or gossip about a teacher, or what to wear to choir practice. There was a black & white photo of you on your bedroom wall that my mother had taken in her photography class. I remember being surprised that my mother "connected" with my friends.
You and I both enjoyed the luxury of attending a college away from home where we discovered art (with a capital "A") and people with ideas that seemed good for our souls. We had been raised to be wives, but the early 70's demanded we become Women. We fulfilled our mothers' expectations and became ourselves.
All of this comes to mind when I make your mother's "Dutch Apple Pie!" It has been enjoyed by my extended family in France as well as my new friends in Half Moon Bay. Love, Sheila”
Mom’s Dutch Apple Pie
8"x8" baking pan, greased with butter.
Peel and core 3-4 tart apples - cut into 16ths.
Sift 1 ½ cups flour, ½ tsp salt, & 1 tsp. sugar
into the pan.
Combine ½ cup oil with 2 TBL milk. Whip.
Pour all over flour mixture. Mix with a fork.
Pat over bottom & sides of pan.
Arrange apples in pan.
Make streusel mixture of ¾ cup sugar, 2 TBL flour
and ½ tsp. salt.
Cut in 2 TBL butter (or a little more)
Sprinkle over top of apples (add a little cinnamon if
Bake 425 Degrees for 40 – 45 minutes