September 14, 2013


   in my mother's arms: 1941

Josephine Buttaci was my mother. On September 18, 2010, at 96 years old, she passed away, much to the sorrow of all who knew and loved her. As a Christian who believes in the promises of Christ, I have faith that one day I will see her again in an eternal Heaven where tears of pain and separation do not exist. 

Father Norman Werling asked us to bring to class two handwriting samples from two people we knew well enough to agree or disagree with his graphological analyses. A world-renowned expert in both penmanship and questioned document examination, Father Werling taught Psychology of Handwriting courses at Felician College in Lodi, New Jersey. He believed that one’s handwriting revealed quite a bit about a person’s temperament.

One of the handwriting samples I brought to class the following evening was my mother’s. Born in New York City in 1913, she was only three months old when her mother developed serious health issues in America that led her doctor to suggest she return with her children to Sicily. My grandfather, who worked as a butler in one of the Madison Avenue mansions back then, remained in America before reuniting with his family seven years later.

An American citizen, Mama attended schools in her Sicilian mountain village of Acquaviva Platani. She had learned to write according to the penmanship rules there, so when Father Werling asked where the person of this writing sample (my mother) first attended school, I told him Sicily. At eighteen she had married my father, a naturalized American citizen from the same Sicilian town, and together they left Sicily to live once again in New York.

“This person has a very strong temperament,” began Father Werling. My eyebrows lifted. My mother? A strong temperament? He may have been famous for analyzing handwritings, but I was convinced he completely missed with this one. The only thing I considered by way of strength that my mother possessed was a strong introversion! She did not feel comfortable with people she did not know and never tried to place herself at the center of anyone’s rapt attention. Mama was quiet-spoken, not very healthy, and certainly overshadowed by my father who seemed to be all the things she was not.

“Looking at these lower loops, particularly the way the writer has them return forcefully to the middle zone,” Father Werling was saying. “this person knows what is important and will do all things possible to keep on track.”

As he pointed to each letter’s formation, the size of the four borders, the slant of Mama’s writing, the pressure of her pen strokes, Father Werling would provide some new revelation about her that seemed to me so far-fetched as to have me ask in the middle of his analysis, “Are you sure, Father, you’re seeing all this in my mother’s handwriting?”

He smiled. “Sometimes we know little about the people who love us, the people we love. We paint our own pictures of them in our minds and tell ourselves, ‘This is my mother! Or this is my father!’ and often enough we are so wrong it’s almost incredible. One’s handwriting never lies,” he said. “It’s a valuable tool to help unveil the real person, not a figment of the imagination.”

I was still unconvinced. I was not a child with crayons and a coloring book who draws stick figures, convinced they look just like his mother or his father or his dog and cat. I knew my mother for so many years –– nearly forty –– so how could I possibly be so far off-center to render an expert’s analysis dead wrong?

“It just doesn’t seem to be my mother.”

“In what way?”

“She’s not really strong. She’s quiet. And her health, for one thing. She’s been in so many hospitals during her lifetime. Ten years ago she had brain tumors! How can she be this strong character you see in her handwriting?”

Father Werling had the class to teach. I was only one of twelve students in that classroom with two samples for him to analyze. He had so far another five to complete in his lesson meant to teach us the reliability of handwriting analysis. I for one seriously considered dropping these courses. How could I dream of eventually becoming a handwriting expert when I no longer believed in its worth?

“See me after class,” Father said, then returned to the writing samples of the next student. When the hour ended, he motioned me to take the seat beside the one in which he sat. He asked for my mother’s handwriting sample and for another few minutes ran his hand over her words like a blind man reading Braille, all the while smiling.

“Second thoughts?” I asked, figuring he would have some, or at least laugh, but the good Father Werling simply shook his head.

“Your mother is a very strong individual. Maybe you need to re-examine what you think strong means. It doesn’t have to be physical.  Some of the best-known physical weaklings have demonstrated superior strength of character or faith or determination. They couldn’t lift a heavy paperweight but they could move mountains!”

“But my mother––”

“Is one of those perhaps physical weaklings who has enough emotional strength to pass a bit of it on to her son.”

I felt a grimace take over my mouth. “Father, you saw all this in her writing?”

He nodded. “This is a woman who will never give up what she believes is important. Does she have strong faith in God?”

Now it was I who was nodding. “Bad things happen, like my young brother’s death, and she accepts God’s Will without questioning why. Nothing seems to shake her faith.”

“A weakling?” Father asked. “This woman is a giant when it comes to where strength needs to show itself in this life, if we hope to reach the next one, looking good in God’s eyes, spend eternity in His presence. Take a lesson from your mother. Let her teach you what strength is really about.”

I felt ashamed. Did I so easily forget nearly losing my mother years ago? I recounted the story to Father Werling. How she had prayed, God willing, she would be healed of her brain tumors. The morning of the scheduled surgery she lay in her hospital bed, my worried father beside her. He held her hand. Then two doctors approached and one said, “The last three x-rays showed the tumors are shrinking. Getting smaller and smaller.We won’t operate just yet and maybe not at all.”

Then the other doctor said, “We don’t understand how this is happening, but those tumors are definitely shrinking.”

“I know why,” my mother said. “God wants to make a miracle so the two of you will go back to church!” The two doctors, who were Jewish, smiled. One of them promised her he would. The other stood there speechless: how did this woman know he was a fallen-away believer?

“Within the next two days,” I told Father, “the tumors completely disappeared and Mama went home.”

He stood up and touched my shoulder the way my father used to do when it was parable time and he had lessons for me to learn.

“Father, I am sorry I––”

“Some people wear their strength on the outside like fancy clothes and we know all about them because they glitter when they walk. They blind us with their power and we step aside so we are not in their way and we know beyond any doubt we’ve been on the same street with that person. We are sure we’ve seen strength and know all about what strength means.

“And then there are those like my mother.”

Father Werling smiled and said, “Yes, like your mother who wears her strength inside of her where no one but God sees the extent of it. And He blesses her for it.”

I held up the sample of Mama’s handwriting. “You saw it too, Father.”

“From now on you’ll see it as well,” he said, and I was certain he was not referring to my future success as a graphologist, my expertise in revealing the personalities of clients who want to learn who they truly are. “Open your eyes, Sal. Take another hard look at that mother of yours. Learn from her strength.”

I walked out of that classroom like a man who had accidentally tripped over a treasure and could not wait to take it home and share it with the world.


Salvatore Buttaci is a retired teacher and professor whose work has appeared in The Writer, The New York Times, The Christian Science Monitor, and elsewhere here and abroad. He was the 2007 recipient of the $500 Cyber-wit Poetry Award. 

His collection of 164 short-fiction stories, Flashing My Shorts, published by All Things That Matter Press, is available now as an audio book at

His follow-up flash collection, 200 Shorts, is available at

He lives with his wife Sharon in West Virginia.  


  1. Very moving story, Sal.

    “Sometimes we know little about the people who love us, the people we love. We paint our own pictures of them in our minds..."

    This rings so true.

    1. You are so right, Debi. We take so much for granted, thinking we know the extent of our parents' love but we know quite little. It is in remembering that we find the time to find out.

  2. Sal, what a lovely story and it gave us much insight to your mothers' character. I cannot think that there were tears streaming down your face as your wrote this exceptional tale. What love your words show. One of the best stories I have read in a very long time.

  3. Thank you, Monica, for reading this story and commenting on it.
    Once my father was telling a story about his mother who had been gone for 21 years and he kept dabbing away the tears from his eyes. I was 19 and found that so weird.
    "Pa, Grandma's died in 1939," I said, "and you're still crying?" He looked at me, touched my shoulder, and said, "Even 1839 and I'd still miss her."
    I feel that way now about him and my mother!

  4. Sal,

    This is one of the most interesting pieces I've read in a long while. I'm glad I thought to click on the link because the story fascinated me.

    This story should definitely be a part of an anthology of some sort.

    For certain, your mother sounded like a strong and brave soul.


  5. Yes, Cherrye, Mama was. But her courage was not something of which she boasted. Hers was a quiet bravery fueled by an intense faith in God. During her lifetime she lost five of her eight children, her husband, and so many others she loved. When my brother Frank died I heard her out loud ask God why, then add, "I am sorry. You gave him to me on loan and you took him back." And all her sorrow she wept behind her closed bedroom door. I was blessed to have her as my mother.

  6. Sal...this is a beautiful tribute to your Mother that brought tears to my eyes remembering my own Mom and Grandmothers strength and faith and the "miracles" I have always felt they were responsible for. So true, you never stop missing beloved parents after they pass on. I found the handwriting analysis very interesting. I feel I write like chicken scratch but both my Mom and Dad had beautiful script handwriting though not well educated. Those folks back then did know what was important.

    1. Thanks, Anna, for reading and commenting. Yes, I likewise believe those of our parents' and grandparents' time were well aware of what was most important. Today it seems to me we live in a electronic-toy store, missing the proverbial boat stored with all the goodies like honor and faith we too often ignore.