Thursday, June 24, 2010

If my Nonna could hear me now ...

My Italian grandmother had a saying - well, truthfully, she had MANY sayings! - but the one I'm thinking about right now is:
"Primo non pensa, ultemo suspiro."

Not sure if I've spelled that right because I don't speak Italian, but basically translated it means "If you don't think now, you'll be sighing later." Or, in other words, if you don't think things through now, you will suffer later.

I want so badly to be able to communicate this idea to the next generation - only I don't know how. How do you take a body of knowledge, "wisdom" if you will, and package it up in some palatable form that a young adult or teenager will accept? Suddenly, I find myself feeling very old and at a loss to connect with my younger relatives. Was I ever that naive? That stubborn? That stupid? Okay, I freely admit to the stubbornness. I know I have always had a stubborn streak. But the stupid part? Not really - I did some stupid things, but I did them in a smart way. Does that make sense? I mean, I never went farther than I should have, never crossed a certain line into behaviour that would have put me at risk. I drank foolishly, but watched my back the whole time. There were times that I partied like there was no tomorrow, except, I always knew that there was a tomorrow! And that I had to go to work the next day, so I made sure I got just enough sleep to show up to work on time and even managed to be a hard-working productive employee.

I didn't know what I wanted to be when I "grew up," but I was ambitious enough to push my way to the top in the job I had at the time. It may not have been my life goal, but I was going to prove to myself and the world that I could do it, and do it well. And I took a fierce pride in my own ability to maintain my independence, to save as much as possible, even though it was a small amount, loving that satisfaction of a job well done, a paycheck well-earned, and a small but growing savings account.

Nothing was ever given to me, I had to work for it, and even though I envied some of my friends their sense of entitlement, I liked knowing that I could rely on myself to survive. I know that we all dream of some day winning the lottery, but truthfully, I can honestly say I don't know if I would ever have the sense of joy over a big lottery win as I could possibly have over my very first pay check. I remember looking at with such a sense of pride, knowing I had sweat buckets in a hot kitchen, scrubbed out pots and pans and deep fryers, peeled an immense amount of potatoes, and put up with the worst kind of sexual harassment that could only have happened to a 16 year old girl in the 80's, since no one in the work place would ever get away with that now. That was life in a hotel kitchen back then, male-oriented, fiercely competitive, and full of all the foul language that Gordon Ramsay now makes millions spewing on TV. No, nothing was given to me, but I earned every penny and along with the pennies, came an iron core of determination and strength of character that have stood with me all these years.

I wish I could translate that for my young relatives to understand. I wish I could instill in them a sense of determination and an appreciation for achieving a goal that you have worked hard to attain. But those are things you can not gift to another person, they have to experience for themselves by working at it. And in the mean time, I have to sit back and watch ... and pray ... and hope they don't make irrevocable mistakes, by acting without thinking now, so they will end up sighing with grief down the road.

If I had a scanner, I'd scan in a picture of my Nonna so you could see her, but instead I'll have to make do with this old photo I scanned a couple of years ago, taken when I was 17 and apprenticing to be a chef.  I'm in the first row, third from the right.  Don't we look silly in our tall white hats?  :)


  1. You are right. Unfortunately, this was a value that was instilled in you by your parents. The kids that you are talking about didn't get that. Our generation was so eager to make it easier on our kids, to give them what they didn't get, that they forget how important it was to earn it. They didn't realize they were taking away the value of the work ethic. Or the happiness that comes from earning your own money. Or the pride that comes with that check. They only remembered the blood, sweat, and tears and wanted to "save" their kids from that. And so they have. And now so many kids in this generation expect a hand-out or a free ride. They are in for a big surprise. They will learn a lesson, Ro; it just won't be the same one you and I learned. It's still a lesson, though.

  2. I'm not that far from youth, and I still boggle at how naive, or silly, or unexpectedly dumb I was yesterday (or any day). I don't know if we ever actually grow out of this (considering some of my experiences with older relatives) so much as we become more aware of bad habits, and can better tie up loose ends. Unfortunately, I think the younger generations are likely to learn a harder lesson about finances than the current "Old Guard." We're probably going to be much more cynical money when we have to teach our own kids.

  3. It has been said, that one thing we learn from history is, that we don't learn from history. Sadly, this also applies to young people. Advice and warnings from older and hopefully wiser adults is rarely taken. Most of us have to learn the hard way and some unfortunately never learn. Another old saying is, you can lead a horse to water but you can't make him drink.

    God bless you, ~Ron

    BTW, Your blog does sound like it was written by an "Old Geezer". Except you are a much better writer than The Old Geezer. : )

  4. Ro, as much as we want to be able to teach the next generation, we must do what our parents did before us. Sit back, with the wisdom we've learned with, and watch the next generation go forward. Lessons will be learned, be it the hard way or a different way.
    For some reason, through a fault of our own, we've generally become a nation of enablers. The lucky few, people like you and I , teach values to our children from the get go. Thus breaking the 'chain' of youngsters with their hands out.
    Is it enough, no but one can hope it's enough to make a small ripple in that very large pool of water.
    Those 'ripples' will be the ones that make the changes in the future.
    And they will multiply.
    So have hope, my friend. And once in a while, when we are presented with the opportunity to create our own waves, go in and stir it up.


  5. Thanks for the comment about Joe and I arguing and how you get effected when you and your hubby fight because I a exactly the same way as you are! Joe gets over it immediately but I just can't! I try but I get all upset inside too! Must be a girl thing but its nice to hear that I'm not the only one!! I'm there with ya!!

  6. You make great points, in a very nicely written post. I agree that it's all in the parenting. I also think that kids who have it too easy are likely to fail to learn the important lessons.
    That is a very fun picture of you and your fellow chefs.
    Happy Friday and weekend, Ro, and thanks for your comment on my blog. I think it's awesome that you had a huge blast for # 39, and you'll do it again every year.

  7. I think grandmothers everywhere often have awesome advice! But you are right - we cannot expect our childrent to learn from our mistakes, they have to have their own experiences and make their own mistakes and, hopefully learn from them. That's how life works.

  8. I'm so glad I discovered your blog! Your brain works in much the same way as mine! Thanks for the comments on my blog. My children are in their early 20's and I'm learning little by little that I have to let them make their own decisions, but it's hard! I do tell them stories about my own experiences growing up, and I think they learn a lot from my example and my husband's. We can only hope!



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