Saturday, March 3, 2012

Happy Birthday, Blessed Mom

My mom was born 81 years ago today, in her parents' home outside Baltimore, Maryland. Her father was an investment banker and her mother was an immigrant from Argentina. My mother met my father, a surgeon and the son of Italian immigrants, on the beach in St. Croix, where she was vacationing with her parents. She was 25 when she converted to the Catholic faith and married my dad.

When she opens her mouth, she does so wisely; on her tongue is kindly instruction.
She keeps good watch on the conduct of her household, no bread of idleness for her.
Her children stand up and proclaim her blessed, her husband, too, sings her praises:
Many women have done admirable things, but you surpass them all!'
Proverbs 31

By age 31, Dorsey Price Salerno had borne four children, me being the youngest. She lost two babies after me, and then developed thyroid cancer. Somehow, she survived the losses and the cancer, raised us with my dad in the New York suburbs and then went back to school for her master's degree in French Literature  (all while living in a home with four teenagers, each about a year apart in age from one another, yikes). As we were growing up, she sewed many of our Halloween costumes and back-to-school dresses in a sewing room she set up in our basement. Long before it was popular, she bought skim milk and whole-wheat bread and she made us yogurt from scratch.

Later, as a public school Latin and French teacher, she hosted Roman feasts for her students in our basement, dressing up as Minerva, the Goddess of Wisdom and my dad would create a Mount Vesuvius from ice cream and food coloring.  She  published two books through the American Classical League about teaching Latin. She won a fellowship to Wales. She took courses in Ancient Greek in middle age and taught college courses and tutored executives heading to Europe on business.

My mom is multilingual, speaking English, Spanish, French and Italian.

During her long retirement, she has written novels, ( attended the birth of my first son, learned the piano (though she jokes she has been playing the same tunes for 10 years), knit more sweaters and blankets for children and grandchildren than I can count, (see below, my mom at their Florida home) and traveled many times with my dad to Latin America and Europe.

She has a dry wit. She is a lifelong learner with great curiousity about the world in front of her. She taught me that big people talk about ideas and small people gossip. She has never, ever said an unkind thing to me about my father or any of her children.

You know when you find yourself talking like your mom? That happens all the time now. Here are a few gems.

When my children are criticizing someone "More to be pitied than scorned."
During a rough day or week: "This too shall pass;"
About a misplaced item: "It will turn up. It always does."
And when a child sasses: "It's not what you say, it's how you say it."

She and I have an uncanny way of reading the same books at the same time. A few years ago, when I mentioned I was reading the medieval text "The Interior Castle," I discovered she was, too.

These past few months, as she has lovingly cared for my ailing, homebound father, she and I have shared conversations about Dostoyevsky and Graham Greene, Gilgamesh and Caravaggio.

Happy Birthday Mom. I love you so much!


  1. This put a lump in my throat, Allison. What a beautiful testament this is to her success as a mother, but even more so is YOUR success as a wife and mother. By emulating her, you make the world a better place.

    Happy birthday, Dorsey!

  2. She sounds like a force of nature! Would love to meet her one day; I'm sure I'd end up saying, "Well, the apple doesn't fall from the tree." TWO amazing women (at least) in the Salerno family!


    1. Thanks Elaine. You should meet my sister A., too: single, adopted two girls from Guatemala, runs her own Spanish-speaking family medicine clinic, has done medical missionary work in Kingston, Jamaica and other parts of the Caribbean and Latin America. Talk about a force of nature. She is a dynamo!

  3. Your mother is a true gift and inspiration! Can she adopt me?? Lol
    Hapy birthday!

    1. Mary: I am sure she happily would correspond with you! Email me and I will let you know her email..

  4. What an incredible woman. Our generation is so spoiled. We have trouble raising one child. Previous generations had at least three but usually more. Out of curiosity, may I ask from what religion she converted from?

    Happy birthday to her and many more.

    1. Thank you Manny. My mom was raised in the Episcopal Church and converted to marry my dad. (Interestingly, her mom converted from Catholicism to the Episcopal Church.)

  5. As I get older and spend more time with my mom, I realize that she is a strong and loving lady. Happy Birthday to the best mom!

  6. May God grant your mother many more years. Ad multos annos!

  7. Happy Birthday to your wonderful Mother! This was a joy to read. She sounds like an amazing woman worthy of all the love and adoration you have poured out to her in these words. May God Bless her always!

  8. She sounds like an incredible woman! Happy Birthday!