The World As Mare Sees It...
To My Mother, On Her Birthday 2002-12-17










Fifty-four years ago today, in a tiny town called Toritto, which is just outside of Bari, the capital city of the region of Puglia, located in heel of the boot that forms Italy, my mother was born.

She was 8 when her father moved to Canada, and it wasn't until a year later that my grandmother was able to pack her three children onto a ship to go and join him.

My mother, of the three children, was always the most scholarly. While my aunt and uncle enjoyed the usual raucous behaviour of children, my mother tended to gravitate toward the printed word. Because the Italian school system has always been roughly two years ahead of the Canadian one, although she came here at a grade five level, she was capable of working quite comfortably in a grade seven class. Unfortunately, the powers that be who ran the school board in the late '50's inexplicably decided that a lack of English also meant a lack of intelligence, and placed her in a grade two class. She wasn't singled out. That's what happened to all Italian immigrant children back then, so she actually found a few paisan in her class.

Regardless, the setback hurt. Mommy thoroughly and genuinely enjoyed school, but as she got older the age difference between her and most of her peers was difficult. By the time she was 16, the humiliation of being in a grade 8 class got to be too much, and she filled out the necessary forms that would allow her to finish completely at the end of that year. I remember her telling me this story, and the wistful note in her voice as she recalled how her teacher was disappointed at the fact that one of his prize students would not be continuing on in her studies.

Eventually, after a few months here and there in various factories, she applied for a teller's position at The Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce. {I think she handed all of her wages but her bus fare to my grandmother every week... but that's what you did back then.} Every year, when it came time to file taxes, all and sundry of our relatives would show up at the house bearing indecipherable government forms, waiting in line for my mother's assist. We joke now about my aunt and uncle, who both finished high school, but it was my mother who was able to figure out the taxes. The jokes don't last long, as the irony is heartbreaking, really.

She stopped working when I was born, and didn't start up again until eight years later, after she had had all of her children. Aside from those childbearing years, she's been with the CIBC since she was 16 years old.

I have a vague recollection of her poring over books, studying for some exam, writing some paper. It was years later that I found out that while we were very small, she sneaked in a couple of night classes at York University. However, the pressure of being a mother to three young kids while her husband was working odd hours in the restaurant business eventually put a stop to that.

In 1982, Mommy went back to work. She had to start behind the teller's desk again, but eventually worked her way up to an esteemed position in the bank. She's had to take various courses through the years to improve her accreditation. A little over a year ago, she sat her Canadian Securities Exam, a real bastard of a test that takes months for which to prepare, and six hours to actually write. To her utter disappointment, she didn't quite pass the first time, a common situation for this particular exam. A few months later, she decided to make a go of it again. For months, I watched her plough her way through figures, formulas and case studies that were totally foreign to her. She explained that a large percentage of the candidates taking this exam were lawyers and chartered accountants, or recent undergrads and MBAs. Educated people, in other words.

For weeks she worried, agonised over the possible outcome, horrified that she may have failed again.

One day, a little while ago, I picked up a message on my voice mail at work. It was my mother, a tiny note of hysteria in her voice as she gleefully repeated three times, "I passed!"

My mother is 54 years old today. She's been married for 30 years, and has raised three children - one of which is a deaf education teacher. She didn't go to high school or university; but she has had her name in the paper. The National Post recognises the honour of obtaining the Canadian Securities certification, and publishes the name of all the successful candidates. My mother's name is up there, right alongside all the tax lawyers and MBAs; right alongside all the educated people. Where it should be.

Happy Birthday, Mommy.

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