She’s Fantastic

Piazza Navona 10-4-13

Piazza Navona, Rome

My mom instantly charms people, whether in line at the bank, sitting in a restaurant, or shopping.

Smiling, bubbly, complimentary and funny, Mommy shows an interest in everyone. She always reads name tags and calls everyone by name. When I visit my parents and we run errands at various stores, my mom introduces me to the employees. “This is my friend Jamie.” “This is my friend Robert.” Then Jamie, Robert…whoever it is, says they’re glad to finally meet me. “I’ve heard so much about you.”

Last year, she visited from California to celebrate our birthdays together, and we went to dinner with my friends. Afterward, one of them said, “Your mom made me feel so special.” This brought back childhood memories of elementary school. Mommy would volunteer as a teacher’s aide in our classrooms. My sister and I got a kick out of hearing classmates say, “I love your mom! She’s so nice.” It became an inside joke over the years. Our course they loved her. All our friends did.

In October, I took Mommy on her dream pilgrimage to Rome and Fatima, Portugal. On the plane from Denver, she started chatting with Mike, the young man sitting in the window seat to my left. Before I knew it, she blurted out, “You seem nice. You’re not single are you?” which resulted in my instant mortification. But he simply laughed and said, “No, I have a girlfriend.”

The nice guy’s family sat in the row across the aisle from Mommy. I didn’t notice her looking at them, but soon she said, “I have to ask. Are you and your brother twins?” Yes, he said, amused that she noticed.

She pays attention. She notices things I don’t, because she’s not afraid or embarrassed to look.

Later, when she was in the restroom, I said to him, “Thanks for being so kind and patient with my mom.”

He smiled. “There should be more people like her.”

Toward the end of our week in Italy, we took a train to Florence, where we spent the day. It was warm and sunny. After studying Michelangelo’s David sculpture at the Galleria dell’ Accademia, we enjoyed a leisurely al fresco lunch of pizza. An American couple sat at the table next to ours. The husband smiled and asked, “That pizza looks good. Which one is it?”

We finished lunch, and when I returned from the restroom, I saw that she had walked over to their table. I decided to head a few doors down to the gelato shop for dessert. As I walked out licking the quickly-melting treat, I looked down the block and saw she was still talking to them.

After 10 minutes of observing people and cars pass by, I walked over to them. Lou and Dianne loved talking with Mommy. The conversation ended with all parties smiling. They said, “If you’re ever in Boston, please call us.”

Afterward, while searching for an ATM, I glanced across the narrow, quiet street and saw the store of my dreams, Il Papiro. Window displays showcased fine stationary. Mommy knows how passionate I am about letter-writing. She’s the one who got me started, encouraging me to write a letter to President Jimmy Carter’s daughter, Amy, at the White House. I received a mass-produced postcard that ended with “I’m glad you are my friend.” I was hooked. I exchange letters and newspaper clippings with my parents every few weeks, and love to send and receive postcards from friends.

“Do you mind if we go in there?” I asked.

“Of course not,” she said, and took my arm as we walked across the street.

We crossed the threshold and entered a writer’s wonderland. Sand-colored lamps at the top of wooden shelves cast a soft glow on endless varieties of fine stationery, greeting cards and hand-marbled journals, photo albums, address books, and all the desk accessories you could imagine. In other words, heaven.

As I wandered through the store, Mommy struck up a conversation with the owner, Francesco Giannini, a jovial fellow who proudly told us about his family’s tradition of crafting hand-marbled paper.

His laugh boomed through the store several times. When she started a conversation with an employee, Mr. Giannini turned to me with a wide smile and said, “She’s fantastic!”

He was a goner.

More customers arrived. He gave a demonstration, and presented the beautiful sample to my mother as a gift: swirls of red, yellow, green and purple resembled peacock feathers. The whir of a hair dryer filled the store as he dried it. Then he rolled the paper, wrapped it in sky blue tissue paper, twisted the ends, and sealed it with a red sticker that resembled a circle of sealing wax.

“If you come to Florence again, I’ll take you to a restaurant where we’ll have wine and a wonderful meal,” Mr. Giannini told us, gesturing grandly toward the street as I paid for my purchases. He gave us his business card, and I took a photo of him and Mommy. “If you send it to me, I’ll put it on the wall.”

It finally struck me, the effect she has on people. Overwhelmingly positive. I met a lot of nice travelers on this vacation, thanks to Mommy. It made me glad I’ve become more like her as I’ve grown older. The result has been new friends, interesting stories, a few laughs, and lots of good will.

I agree with the nice guy from the plane.

There should be more people like her in the world.

Katherine Valdez is the author of “The Effect of Andrew McCarthy on the Female Brain,” “Close Encounters with David Sedaris” and “Little Red Riding Hood Seeks Vengeance.” Subscribe to her blog at and like her page at

DSC01117Florence, Italy


  1. Katherine, what a great share, a great adventure and a great mother. I enjoyed it. And I especially enjoyed reading about your relationship with your mom. What a gift for you.

    • Thank you for commenting, Sharon, Pat S., Kerrie, Cappie, and Pat G.! I enjoyed the adventure and it renewed my appreciation for my mom. I’d love to hear favorite stories about your mothers.

  2. Katherine, I loved reading this. I too would be blessed to meet your mother! Thanks for sending, and wishes for a very Merry Christmas to you….and yours!!!! Sharon ________________________________________

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