MINESTRONE FOR THE SOUL
“Don’t wait for someone else to open doors for you.” -Fortune Cookie (but could be anyone in my family)
Most of the time life is one big kick in the ass. Few people know this better than immigrants – and by default their children (mostly because they never let them forget it). I remember asking my father for some toy when I was a kid, and he replied, “You know, back in Italy, I would cut school to play soccer. But we didn’t have a ball. We would use whatever we could find. Often, we’d be kicking around a rock. We didn’t care if our feet got bruised. And once I was walking with Nonno into the woods, where we would plant grapes to sell to winemakers, and my shoes fell apart, so he made me shoes out of leaves and that’s what covered those bruised feet on the walk home.”
See what I mean? As the baby of the family, my father will never say that his family was ever poor or wanted for anything despite wearing twigs on his toes every now and then. But the truth is that they did. My father’s siblings have recounted hard times, giving up going to school past fifth grade to work to help make ends meet, and days when there wasn’t enough bread for everyone. My father had 9 brothers and sisters. Two of the girls passed away before their third birthday. My grandmother delivered her babies, including my father with the cord around his neck and my uncle with the placenta intact, all by herself. They lived all together in a small house with few amenities. Their bathroom was outside in the garden.
By 1960, the family grew weary. Working the land was hard for little reward. And while our native island, Ischia, was becoming a tourism mecca, it was hardly the land of opportunity. So, they were off to America. My grandparents were already in their 50s, when they picked up and started a new life in a new land. They worked and worked and saved and saved. They bought a house. My father became the first in the family to graduate high school, and he eventually launched his own landscaping company after being mentored by his brother, who had taken a similar path.
My father would go door to door with business cards promoting his lawn maintenance and planting services. He hit the pavement and then would cold call potential customers. There was no Facebook or Twitter for advertising back then. He would write out invoices by hand until my mother married him about 10 years later and started doing his bookkeeping and introduced him to the world of computers. We had a Commodore 64 back in the day. Ahead of our time, no? My father went from having fewer than 10 clients when he first launched to nearly 300 today. He put my sister and I through college (both at George Washington University, one of the most expensive universities in the United States) without garnering any debt.
I digress. The point is that no one handed him anything. A high school diploma certainly helped, as did years of working for my uncle in his landscaping business and working at factories and the supermarket. But he had to earn everything else and fight for every client and every cent. There were no trust funds or networks of contacts or funding from anyone, like you might find at a fancy university like the one where he sent me. Without ever saying it, he showed us we had to open our own damn doors.
You can’t afford to wait around for some nice person to hold your hand and turn the knob, nor can you expect the guy on the other side to give you the secret password to unlock the portal to success. Neither of them wants you on the other side. They are never coming. You just have to get up off your butt, put in the effort, and push that heavy slab open all by yourself. My response to getting that fortune in my Chinese take-out last week was, “Of course.”