In 1998 I made a decision that would change the course of my life: through writing, I would journey into the underworld and go in search of my mother’s spirit. My mother, Elizabeth Ann Ventimiglio Plager, always wanted to write a story about how she triumphed over difficult circumstances, and of her perilous journey through the mental health system of the 1960’s. Instead, lupes, an auto-immune disease ravaged her body and she died in 1994 with an unwritten story.
Heartbroken that my mother’s dream did not come true, I decided to honor my mother and grandmother, Caterina Lombardi, by writing an Italian cookbook with stories, recipes and legacies handed down. Memories of my mother and aunts sitting around the kitchen table, sipping their cups of percolated coffee, telling their favorite stories and laughing so hard until they cried began to pour out of me. Moma and her sisters always cooked a pot of spaghetti and meatballs and let it simmer all day long. These fierce and fearless women offered up medicine stories that would later lend a strength that I would draw on when times became dark.
In the beginning of writing her story, I was like Frodo, in Lord of the Rings, when he declared, “I’ll take the ring!” He had no idea of the adventure he was about to embark upon. I was unaware of the dangers that lay ahead: illness, madness and death. In my lineage when you are called, you will be taken.
“Summon your courage, for you will need it,” warned the Cumaean Sibyl before leading Anea’s through the Underworld in search of his deceased father. Vergil, a famous author of ancient Southern Italy had been initiated into the Isis Mysteries himself.
I decided to narrate my mother’s story as if she was on a mythological journey toward wholeness, an initiation of the highest order.
After I had written those stories, I went to sleep that night and my mother came in a dream. She brought me to an underground sanctuary and we descended through an ancient door. The stillness of an underground stream and a brook bubbled up from the depths as we walked deeper into the cave until we came upon the most enchanting statues of the Black Madonna, and Roman and Greek Goddesses. The statues extended out and beyond and kept going into infinity and filled me with rapture and a blissful peace that permeated everywhere.
My mother took me through several prayer stations until we stopped and upon looking up, there was my Italian Grandmother floating in the air, smililng. She was about 18 years old wearing an Italian frock with her black hair wrapped in Italian braids.
“Welcome Granddaughter! You and I did not have a chance to meet this lifetime, but through dreams, we are going to have a relationship. We have selected you to tell our stories, as you have a gift. We have heard your longing for the “mother” as a melody and your deep yearning to know what would have helped your mother overcome her suffering and depression. Your prayer is answered and right now, we are going to stream the answer into your consciousness. Don’t worry if you don’t understand it, for in time, you will. Now, what did you do the night they took your mother away? We want to help you heal your pain and so will come in dreams and guide you on this journey to an inner dimension of stillness & wholeness, that has never left you. Write in your journal the answers.
I woke up the next morning feeling as if the golden thread of the ancient Mother had woven a beautiful melody through my heart and I felt connected to my mother and Grandmother, the Black Madonna and all the Greek and Roman Goddesses.