So you can imagine how surprised I was the first time I came home from college and found Ida sitting at the kitchen table with an unsettling smile on her face. My mother...silent? At first, she refused to explain why. Then she said, "Go look at your room."
I went upstairs. I looked at my room. The floor was covered with a bright purple wall-to-wall shag rug. The walls were a deep lavender. The furniture had been stained a dark purple. I came back downstairs, and she was still smiling. "Why is my room all purple?" I asked.
"The Vikings," she answered.
"Why is my room all purple?" I asked again.
"You like the Minnesota Vikings," she explained, as though I’d forgotten.
"I like to watch them play," I said. "I don’t want to live inside their color."
This seems to me a quintessential Ida story, full of both over-the-top lunacy and love. I always find it moving how tireless she is in all her efforts to please. She hunted up, somewhere, a dark-purple stain and lugged all of my furniture downstairs and outside and stained it all and then lugged it all the way back upstairs. Probably my poor father was recruited, as well. It took her hours, if not days, to make my room that ugly.
There are advantages, when it comes to engaging the world, to having a mother with the touch of a blacksmith. My father, now stricken with short-term memory loss, was considered by most of his friends and family to be one of the more anxious people they ever encountered. Ida worked relentlessly for decades to build bridges between her erratic kids—who sometimes did things that seemed to suggest that we had the collective brains of a squirrel—and her husband, who clearly preferred that we stay packed in cotton in a box until we were 21. She worked night and day to carve out a space in which we could go out into the world and screw up. And naturally, being who we were, we obliged her.
There is no one else from whom I could have learned so much about the advantages of being emotionally forthright and about the pleasures of making that emotional forthrightness vivid. You always know where Ida stands on things, whether it’s the bigheartedness of her family (a frequent subject that brings her to tears when she considers how little it’s appreciated by the rest of the world) or the horrors of waste (That’s a sin, she’ll say if anyone leaves anything that resembles food on their plate. When Ida cleans a bone, it looks as if army ants have been all over it.)
Once, when I was when I was 14 or so and we were arguing about something, I teased her that she didn't love me, and she started whacking me on the arm and back as hard as she could, one whack for each syllable, while she yelled, "Don't you tell me that I don't love you!" She was going to love me no matter what, even if she was going to have to beat me to death to prove it. There’s no one who could have better demonstrated the importance of unconditional love.
Ida Picarazzi was my first real supporter, mentor and teacher. Who would have guessed it? Not me, at least not for the longest time. I should have, though. What could be more compelling, after all, than a Force of Nature? Ida is a continual reminder not to do things halfway, to give oneself over to the world with a passionate intensity. I knew they loved each other, but my parents fought so much when I was a kid that when no one was yelling in the house I found myself wondering if someone had died.
And yet my brother and I have been unbelievably lucky to have been in the track of her storm. Wherever she’s passed, sure, there are branches down and leaves all over the place, but the clouds look washed and beautiful, and the sky is beginning to clear. And the storm itself, we soon realize, has been mesmerizing, has been galvanizing and has been just what was necessary to shake us into feeling what anyone who’s spent any time around Ida has always felt: as though they’ve really lived through something.
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