Growing up I rarely felt like I belonged. My father’s disappearance when I was 10 rocked the core of our family, emotionally and financially. We lost our house, our sense of identity and financial stability all during the beginning of my pre-teen years. I had no idea what I was good at or who I was. In my teens, I discovered my talent for movement. It was like I met myself for the very first time. Dance classes were my place of solace, a place where I fit in; but it is the memories after my dance classes that stand out most in my mind. Alone time with the one person I realized I had always fit with, my mother.
Memories with loved ones are often revolved around sharing a meal. My mother may have been down to her last paycheck, but she would always find a dime to pick me up from dance class and take me somewhere to eat after, and I was always hungry for the delicious meals and conversation with my best friend. Trips to Country Kitchen for big bowls of navy bean soup and patty melts with never a thought to pinching pennies or counting calories. Comfort food and conversation with the only parent I ever had, and she was more than enough. I never missed my father because she never missed a beat. We came first and she pulled it all off with such ease. During rocky times, she always made me feel safe, nurtured and well fed, physically and emotionally.
The Theatrical restaurant in downtown Cleveland, Ohio, was the place to be seen at that time, and where my Mother waitressed. Late nights waiting on fancy parties paid our rent and our Catholic school education. Leftover appetizers in silver lined paper doggy bags were always a welcome treat from one of her night shifts. The Theatrical was also one of the places we would dine after dance class. I would arrive in my dance clothes, hair in a bun and I felt like a celebrity. We would have steak dinners together, me in my plastic dance pants and my mother introducing me to everyone with such pride. She told everyone I was her twin. Musician Glen Covington would come over and join my mother for a cocktail and me for a fresh brewed iced tea, toasting a moment of mother and daughter. These memories are priceless to me, remembered more than the applause of performance.
Today my mother is 81, an age some may consider to be the final curtain call of life. As an optimist, I believe she will be here teaching me more lessons for years to come. As an adult, I have taken all her lessons and applied them to my own life. When I fall nine times, I stand up 10. Money does not matter to me in the material sense, and I care more about being in nature than being in a shopping mall. I care more about giving to others than to myself even when I have little to give. I feel very rich at heart, and I feel my upbringing made me the person I am today. I always vowed to myself I would be wealthy one day, just so I can make my mother wealthy to make up for everything she lacked during those sparse years. I realized, like her, I am lacking in funds but I can offer the things she gave to me in all those memorable moments: unconditional love, and the power of words to convey my reverence and gratitude to be born her daughter. We are the perfect fit.
In loving memory: My Mother, Shirley Bruno, 1936-2017