NOTE FROM ITALIAN MAMMA- My paternal Nonno Giovanni Di Meglio – who we referred to in Neapolitan dialect as Unonn – has been dead more than 20 years now. But I can easily imagine the kind of advice he’d give to this year’s graduates (or graduates from any era really). So, I decided to channel him and write the commencement speech I think he would have given after forcing one of his famous noogie farts on me. Remember that this isn’t necessarily a reflection of my opinions but what I think he would say. Granted, he would have said it in Neapolitan dialect, which is decidedly more colorful than standard English (and with a few four-letter words thrown in for good measure.) He also would have had a glass of wine at the ready while giving the speech. Forgive us those sins and read on.
Until now, your life has been sugarcoated. You probably won an award for everything – raising your hand, coming to class every day, wiping yourself properly, breathing. That’s never going to happen again. In my opinion, it shouldn’t have happened in the first place. I had to climb mountains – literally – on a daily basis as a boy and there was never a certificate or medal. Talking about wiping yourself – I sometimes had to do it with a leaf in the woods. Now that deserved an award, but I never got one. My parents never showered me with praise. You know why? It was my duty to go up that mountain and tend to vegetable gardens and grapevines that we planted, grew, and sold to support ourselves. Actually, sometimes they told me I didn’t climb fast enough. And they definitely would have kicked my ass if I didn’t do it at all.
That’s the problem you’re going to have. That’s why life wasn’t “real” before this moment. No one has kicked your dainty little ass. Out there, beyond these walls and your parent’s loving arms – you’re going to get your ass kicked. It will happen on a regular basis. Your ass will be as red as the tomatoes in my garden in August. It will swell. It will be that simple. Your perpetual standing ovation is over and out. In this real world, you might work 100 hours per week, and increase sales, but if the bottom line doesn’t show better-than-expected results, somebody is going to kick your ass. If you don’t end up getting that bonus that you and your family were counting on, your spouse is going to kick your ass. Your kids – if you decide to have them – won’t necessarily kick your ass, but every time they want or need something – a family vacation, toys, books for school, some medical procedure, clothes, shelter, food – and you can’t afford it, you will feel a punch in the gut. So, ultimately, I guess they kick your ass, too.
Now that you’re bruised and battered and wondering how you can return to the womb that has been your high school or university, man and woman up. I’m about to teach you how to live with the ass whoopings – and perhaps even thrive despite them.
1. Make money and save it. Lots of people probably told you to follow your heart and worry about making money later. That’s bad advice. Ask any immigrant. When is later? You needed to worry about it from birth. If you had good parents, they worried for you. If not, then at least you should have started thinking about it when you started planning for the future of your education and a career. Sure, you might find happiness helping people and doing volunteer work. I guess I can see that. But if you don’t have enough money for food, clothes, and shelter, you’re never going to be happy or at least that’s the case for the majority of us, barring a couple of priests I know. I had 9 children and 7 survived to adulthood. I needed to feed them all, not to mention my wife and me. Sure, maybe, picking grapes for wine making for free would have put a smile on my face, but that wasn’t going to put pasta in their bellies. Capisce? Find something you like, but make sure it’s going to pay the bills. Then, save your money. Don’t waste it on frivolous junk like a chadrool.
2. Eat well and on time. Food is fuel. You’re never going to be able to produce without eating. We southern Italians make our meals a top priority. Our dishes are made with the utmost care, usually by our mammas but even us men get in on the act sometimes. Almost everything is homemade, and most of us grow our own fruits and vegetables. We care for our gardens as though they are our second or third jobs. You can call us the original organics. Eat and drink well – I never had dinner without a glass of homemade wine – and you’ll be setting yourself up for a good life. You need routine and discipline to succeed, so make sure to also eat on time everyday. My family will tell you that I would erupt like Vesuvius whenever they had me wait even a few minutes for Sunday lunch. God be merciful on those who had the antipasto on the table at 1:05 in the afternoon. Since your boss will probably feel the same way about your meetings, get a watch and be on time starting now.
3. Wake up early. The only reasons a person should wake up after 6 a.m. are if they are dying, they worked the night shift, or they are lazy bums. I’m proud to say my children – who are in their sixties, seventies, and eighties now – are already dressed, ready for the day, and calling each other to say good morning by 6 a.m. Sometimes, they even show up at each other’s houses bearing fruits and vegetables from said gardens by then. Why? Because early risers rule the world.
4. Work hard. Those constant kudos and plastic trophies are gone forever. What is going to get you through the world successfully is working hard every day. If you are willing to get your hands dirty and put in the hours, then you just might get ahead. You have to fill your days with work. You have to be so tired at the end of the day that you fall asleep as soon as your head hits the pillow. Believe me, hard workers don’t have time to waste on worry. We knew nothing of stress in my day because we were zappatori, the guys who used shovels to grow the land. We sweat until our clothes were as wet as they are in the washing machine. We were in boot camp all day long moving our legs and arms until they felt like rubber. Stress is a problem for the rich and those lazy bums who can navel gaze. Get the job done. Always. Work until you die. A lack of work – sitting around with nothing to do – is the real killer of men. You, be alive!
Di Meglio uses the written word to help families create memories and stick together. You can follow her on Facebook at Francesca’s Newlyweds Nest and on Twitter @ItalianMamma10.