When I was about 7 or 8, my mother tried to prove to me that the banana I had brought to her was still good enough for me to eat. I didn’t want it because it had big brown spots and I thought it was spoiled. My Italian mother communicated as much with her subtle facial gestures as with her actual words. Her motherly smile spoke to her vast knowledge of all things, her confidence as she took the specimen from me, her sweet, trusting child and the lift of her eyebrow as she examined the banana told me what her words only confirmed as she said, “It is still good. I’ll peel it and you’ll see.”
We were standing in our tiny, bright yellow 50’s kitchen. It was late afternoon with a slight glow of sunlight peering through the perky print of the cafe curtains on the one window across the room. On the mirrored shelf above the sink next to where we were standing, the boxy, 40’s style creme colored radio sat silently with the red and yellow matching salt and pepper shakers, figurines of a maid and butler, sat on either side.
My mother stood in the crook of the light yellow tiled counter with its blue trim that ran a square around us, the sink and the counter a few feet away on the opposite wall. I stood looking up to her as she was about to expose me to the truth of the banana hidden behind the brown spots. She started to peel the first length of the banana, holding it out as if on display like a magic trick for me to see. As the skin separated from the inside, the banana revealed itself to be completely brown, dark and clearly inedible.
My mother and I stared at her prize for the briefest of moments both of us realizing just how wrong and right we were, respectively. Then, she threw her head back, laughing with complete abandon. I broke out with waves of giggles that only got louder and longer as she continued to peel each side of the banana – it was rotten through and through. We were both hysterically laughing at this forlorn banana my mother still held in her hand.
In that one moment, she was a mentor to me teaching me so much – how there is no shame in being wrong, how much joy there can be in error and how laughing can be the perfect response when things don’t always go as you expected. It was a lesson in the sublime art of being human.
Often, just as she started to laugh at something, she used to say in her indelible Italian accent, “I have to laugh.” Yes, mom, you do. And we do with you.