Claudia Di Martino

JUDGING A BOOK BY ITS COVER  

 

How often do we misread people? Or better yet, how often do people misread us? Granted, there’s different strokes for different folks; but it’s human nature to respond to another person either positively or negatively. I think a lot depends on the lens we use to look at things.

Do you see a young lady or an old woman?

Recently, I was chatting with someone and she said to me, “You’re really nice. I thought you were a snob.” Huh? I asked her why she would think that. She said, “You stay by yourself and don’t seem to be friendly.” Hmmmm.

***

When I was a little girl, I grew up in a dysfunctional, Italian-American household with ten very different personalities. There was a lot of yelling and jockeying for position just to be heard. I tended to be the introvert; and I often escaped into my little imaginary world of making up stories and acting them out. It was my sanity in the midst of the mayhem.

My grandmother owned the house; and it was her way or the highway. She was a very strong personality.

She wore red lipstick and painted her nails red. Her hair was black and pulled back in a bun. She didn’t just walk into a room. She stormed in with purpose. She often wreaked havoc. She was like a bull in a china shop.

I never really saw her softer side. I didn’t think she had one. She often said we were very much alike. I didn’t see it. I only knew that our interactions were explosive. I didn’t agree with her on anything. I often said, “Together we were fire and gasoline.”

It wasn’t until much later in life I realized we did have some similar traits. First and foremost, family. She could be so divisive and often was the instigator in family disagreements. But, in her mind, everything she did was for her family. I hold my family very close.

Secondly, she was a career woman. She was a seamstress in the garment center in New York City. I was a marketing executive in the beauty industry. She was quite sought after with her talent. She had dreams of being a designer and channeled that dream into making her own clothes. When she wore her creations, chest puffed out with pride. She even tried to teach me how to sew using her original Singer sewing machine.

Unfortunately, I frustrated her. I couldn’t get the hang of turning the wheel, pushing the foot pedal and moving the cloth through the needle. She was one of my only examples of having a passion for designing in life. Even though I worked for 22 years in corporate, I finally discovered my desire for acting and, now, writing.

Thirdly, she was a woman of faith. She was a devout Catholic and prayed to Saint Anthony. Catholicism was my foundation, which enabled me to discover the fullness of my faith in God. I remember when I became born again, I was sitting at my grandmother’s little kitchen table. We started talking about Jesus. She took out her prayer book and pointed to the picture of Jesus on the cover. She told me Jesus is the One that is important. I asked her, “If you know Jesus is the important One, why do you pray to Saint Anthony?” She just looked at me and said, “Because Jesus is very busy.” I just smiled. Who knew my grandmother was such a theologian?

***

My grandmother was very difficult person to love. She didn’t show affection. I needed to be hugged. She didn’t speak encouraging words. I needed words of affirmation. She connived and was always working some scheme or another. I am honest and do things by the book.

Looking back, I realize my grandmother was the real deal. What she was, she was; and she did what she had to do. She grew up poor, married at 16, a mother at 17, worked to put food on the table during the depression, and bought a house for her family to feel secure. She poured herself out by making sure that house was a showplace. She planted her geraniums and tended her grotto to Saint Anthony.

My grandmother died at 94 years old. Through her life, she was strong as a bull; but she developed Alzheimer’s. When I visited her at St. Jerome’s nursing home, she was so frail and tiny. She was a shadow of the strong woman I knew. I saw her differently. I had a new lens to judge the book cover.

She didn’t know me; but she allowed me to feed her. It was probably the most tender moment we ever shared. My mother later told me that my grandmother would only let the nurses feed her. I treasure that moment.

Preparing for her funeral, I realized God has a sense of humor. My dad was recovering from open heart surgery. My mother was dealing with the stress of that plus her mother’s death. She asked if I would deliver the eulogy. You’re kidding, right?

It was then that the fire was doused out by the river of love I felt for my grandmother. Fire and gasoline were no more. I now judge her life by her love, her commitment, and the true intentions of her heart. I realized she fulfilled her dreams.

And so am I…remember, it’s never too late to go after your dreams!

Bio:
Claudia DiMartino grew up in an extended Italian-American family in Brooklyn, NY.  Like so many others, her family came through Ellis Island with only the clothes on their backs and a dream in their hearts.  She contended with three generations under one roof, including three Italian Mamas – her mother, her aunt and Nana Rose. She achieved success in business getting her MBA and is now pursuing her lifelong dream as an actress and writer.

Advertisements