"Carve your name on hearts, not tombstones.
A legacy is etched into the minds of others and the stories they share about you."
~ Shannon L. Alder
A few years ago, I received the following e-mail via my website:
Dear Ms. Schiano:
I am writing you with the hopes that you are Rita Schiano, the daughter of my beloved piano teacher, mentor, and second mother Jane Marie Notarthomas Schiano of Syracuse, NY. I was on Route 20, heading to the Brimfield Fair when I saw your name on a sign. If it is indeed you, I would love to say hello. I moved to Boston 27 years ago and am a church organist, thanks to the inspiration and teaching of Jane.
Sincerely, Bobby DeRegis
It took a few months to coordinate our schedules (and I must be honest and admit I let this fall through the cracks of time at one point). However, we found a few dates and decided that Westborough would be the logical, halfway meeting point.
Bobby suggested Friday, January 18, as he had an appointment in Westborough that day. Unfortunately, I had another commitment that afternoon.
I responded, "Perhaps the following Friday, 1/25 or 2/1? Actually, February 1 is the anniversary of my mom’s passing," I wrote. "Perhaps that might be a nice remembrance.”
Bobby responded, "I think February 1st might be a sign from above. Let's do it."
The last time I saw Bobby was in 1986, at my mom's funeral. He was seventeen years old. Now a man of fifty, I was so heartened by the extraordinary detail with which he remembered her.
"She saved me in so many ways. Helped me through difficult times and losses," he told me. "She gave me a love for music. And she had such deep faith."
Over the next few hours as we talked of her passionate, loving and giving soul, Bobby would pause often to wipe a few tears from his cheek.
In my office at home I have a framed newspaper article written about her many years ago. The columnist described Mom as a ". . . big, warm-hearted woman whose delicious sense of humor dances in her dark eyes. She is also a woman of deep religious faith revealed through her music."
In addition to teaching private piano and voice lessons, Mom was the organist and choir director at St. John the Baptist Church in Syracuse, NY. Although a Catholic, mom shared her rich, dramatic contralto voice in the quartet at the Temple Society of Concord worship services every Friday night.
And she was extremely proud of her special choral group, the Out of Sight Singers. "They may lack eyesight, but not voices, and I love every minute I work with them," she said.
Bobby is not the only person to reach out to me about my mom over the years. Numerous people have contacted me via Facebook and shared their memories of her. And like Bobby, many have gone on to study music in college and work as professional musicians and music teachers. And each and every one makes it a point to say, "I loved her."
I loved her, too. I was blessed to have her as my mom and mentor in life. The greatest lesson I learned from my mom is to be mindful of how my words and deeds affect the people I interact with each day. Be it a friend, colleague, cashier, attendant, someone I pass by in a store or on the street.
"See them," she’d say. "Look beyond appearances. Be grateful for the smallest act. And always show the world your true self."
Words to live by, indeed.