People often wonder what inspired my independence, inner strength, and sense of adventure. Once they meet my Mom, however, the question needs no further speculation.
My mother is the kind of person whose energy is contagious; at seventy-three years of age, Peggy is more spry than most of the twenty-somethings I know.
Case in point: Last year my family and I watched in shock as she did somersaults on the kitchen floor with her great-grandsons. I’m not even sure I would attempt that.
A log of her social adventures is enough to inspire awe. A few years ago she had a part-time job at a garden center, and she befriended many of the young people working there. One night they invited her out dancing, and she was like a little kid with tickets to the circus.
What I found out later was that they took her to a gay nightclub, and she was out dancing until 3:00 in the morning. When she recounted the story to me, she said, “Boy, those gay men can really boogie! They had me out on the dance floor all night!”
She was also amused to share that she was stopped on the way home by a policeman. He expected to find a young ne’er do well, but instead got a shock as he put the flashlight to her window. After finding out she was coming home from a night of dancing, he was so amused that he gave her a “God Bless Ya’!” and sent her on her way.
But my Mom is more than a fun-loving person with a grand sense of life: She is the one human being on earth who understands me in a way no one else possibly could. After all, she helped to build the foundation of the person I am. Thanks to her efforts, I could read the newspaper at the age of four. I was so highly advanced when I got to kindergarten, the teachers weren’t sure what to do with me. So they sent me to read to the second graders.
She ensured that I loved the act of learning, and she taught me to do things right the first time. She also allowed me to grow and explore at my own pace; in high school, ours was the kitchen friends gathered in — where we could be purely ourselves without censor or judgment, and talk about life with “Mrs. I.”
Most importantly, however, this extraordinary woman encouraged me to dream.
When she was young, growing up on a farm in Scotland, she envisioned an exciting future far from there, where she would dress in pretty clothes and marry a dashing young man. She fulfilled her vision within a few years of landing on American shores.
Because she uniquely understands my wanderlust and desire for “big things,” she empathizes with my oddball status in the family. (And that’s really saying something, as we’re all rather odd.) This quirky daughter of hers is one with a vision, too, and the full intention of realizing it.
Her unique insight into the core of my personality has led her to become my sounding board, and the one who cheers me on with each victory — and defeat. She asks if I'm remembering to eat as I am absorbed in my latest project, and arrives with arms full of food articles, flyers from cooking demonstrations, and restaurant reviews, telling me: “You need to move on this stuff! It’s everywhere!”
She is my dedicated food taster, my sous chef, and my industry spy. When I get on a creative tear, I probably numb her with the speed of thoughts coming from my head. But she always listens patiently, and offers to help in whatever way she can.
When one thinks of the term “Mother,” and all it is supposed to mean, one can see its embodiment in feisty little Peggy Iannolo. At 5’2” and 105 lbs., she is a powerhouse of a woman. She has outlived a husband, a son, and five siblings. At this rate, she may even outlive me. And despite experiencing tremendous pain throughout parts of her life, she still retains her cheerful outlook and boundless energy. I can think of no greater inspiration for the kind of person I want to see in the mirror when my hair grows snowy white like hers.
Oh, and her real name is Mary Margaret. The nickname “Peg” was given to her by my grandmother, derived from the film “Peg of My Heart.” And that she is.
Jennifer Iannolo is the editor of the Atlasphere, and the founder and Editor-in-Chief of Gastronomic Meditations, an online magazine celebrating the sensual pleasures of food. Thanks to her mother, she can now use a power drill and swear in Gaelic.