Thought Catalog
May 12, 2017

10 Of The Best Lessons I’ve Learned From My 90-Year-Old Italian Grandfather

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1. IDLE HANDS DO THE DEVIL’S WORK.

So, naturally, he made a thermometer “fatto a casa” (homemade) and a wind bird. Could he have bought the thermometer? Yes. Did he? No. Why? Because he’s a builder and he stays busy thinking and working. Does this bird have any real purpose? Not really. But is it cute? Yes. He made a couple of these birds, cut the wood, sanded the wood, primed, painted, and did all the math for these wings to spin around when it’s windy. You can find one in my backyard and scattered around Little Neck. He checks on this bird frequently – oils the screws, touches up paint chips. He takes pride in his work and in his ideas no matter how big or small. I’ll admire that forever.

2. WATER YOUR GARDEN.

Back at home in New York, Nonno has a huge garden with cucumbers, tomatoes and arguably the world’s largest zucchini’s. In Florida, he keeps a basil and a parsley plant tucked away on his balcony. He’s constantly growing something. The lesson I learned here was that anything can grow if you feed it. It doesn’t have to be overnight, it shouldn’t be – but if you just spend a little time on a seed every day, you can have a beautiful garden by the end of the season. If it dies, it dies. Maybe the sun was too hot, maybe it was a bad seed, or maybe you didn’t water it enough – but you tried. And if you SUCCEED – you will have no clue what to do with your basil.

3. MASKING TAPE AND A SHARPIE CAN MAKE YOU A MILLIONAIRE.

HE LABELS EVERYTHING. Every. Thing. BUT, this is why he’s successful. Organization is key. He makes his bed every morning *important,* he washes, dries, and puts away dishes and espresso cup seconds after use, he has a lot of pouches (a place for everything), etc. The guy has his life together, and he will forever because he’s literally labeled everything in the house so nothing can really ever be screwed up. Take this advice if you take nothing else – get your sh*t together, make a list, keep a journal, make life easier for yourself.

4. LOVE YOUR FRIENDS.

The building that he lives in, The Tuscany, is pretty much 75% Italians from Boville, Italy, or maybe it just feels that way. On a random Monday, AKA Bucatini Alla Amatriciana Day, we took over the common room. We set up a wedding style dinner – pasta being the first course, followed by vitello alla griglia, string beans, sausage and peppers, and OBVIOUSLY salad. Nonno’s job was to prepare and provide the wine and grappa for 20+ people. He told me to arrive at 12:15pm, and being that I hate to be late, I arrived on time and waited till about 2 o’clock to eat. Classic. Whilst eating my pasta, I felt as if I was transported to Italy. I was surrounded by my family with homemade wine and great bread and weirdly, the faint voice of Steve Wilkos on the TV in the background (later switched to Fox News). They made dinner for each other and spent the entire day and night together eating, drinking, joking and reminiscing. It was then that I realized how important it is to love and to take care of your friends because your friends are the family you choose and they will love you just as hard as you love them.

5. APPRECIATE THE SUN.

We only have so many hours in the day to take it all in. Never take a beautiful day for granted and always appreciate the sun when it’s shining. A nice day makes my grandfather happy – he goes for his walk, he waters his plants, and he goes about his routine. A cloudy day is always considered “a shame.” For me, a sunny day is a new chance, and now I know where I get it from.

6. FUNCTION OVER FASHION.

WEAR CLOTHES THAT YOU FEEL COMFORTABLE IN. Nonno always looks sharp, but he continues to do the white sock and sandal thing – AND THAT’S FINE BECAUSE HE FEELS GOOD. It’s so important to feel good in your clothes – who cares about what the rest of the world thinks. Even though I embrace his fashion choices, I certainly can’t say he does the same for me. I think I almost gave him a heart attack when I wore my #AlexanderWang ripped jeans. Back in his day, if he saw someone with “holes in his pants” he gave them money to buy new ones. (Little does he know they’re the most expensive jeans in my closet.) But hey! Comfortable = Confidence. Confidence = Happiness. Happiness = Everything.

7. DON’T PRETEND TO LIKE BURNT CUTLETS (OF ANY KIND).

I admire that no matter what (even if you don’t necessarily want it) Nonno will always tell you his opinion. If the salad is too salty, if you’re not eating enough food, if you spend too much time in the sun, etc., he will definitely let you know what he’s thinking. I realized, after spending time with him, how many people DON’T do that. It’s refreshing and important to actually hear what’s on someones mind, good or bad, and I appreciate it. So here’s my resolution to be real – I promise to tell you the truth so you can think about it for a minute.

8. LA FAMIGLIA.

Always. Everyday. In the morning. At night. Past. Present. Future. To raise a tremendous family, to set an example, and to lead with love and respect is a responsibility only a few carry through. My Nonno showed me that it is possible. Him and my grandmother were a team for the books – and she’s still very much here and with us everyday. Both wanted a huge happy family – and they got one. Four children, thirteen grandchildren, six great grandchildren, and definitely a couple more in the near future – I am so grateful to be a part of something so special. If it wasn’t for my Nonno, Nonni, Nona and Parente, we wouldn’t know what family means or what true love really is. Because it’s *not always rainbows and butterflies, it’s compromise* and understanding and trust and hard work and patience. Family is the only thing you’ll have forever, so keep your people close to your heart and in picture frames next to your bed and in your hallway and on your refrigerator.

9. ALWAYS MAKE SAUCE ON SUNDAY.

Sunday will always be yours. No matter what’s going on, if you’ve had a hard week, if you’re going to have a hard week, if you’re confused with yourself or the people around you… ALWAYS make your sauce on Sunday. Nonno adds a lot of garlic and a lot of basil and he won’t listen if you tell him to make it differently. He taught me that Sundays are special. He taught me that you get one day a week to do it your way. One day a week to take your time and to not worry about how other people like their sauce. Enjoy your day. Make your sauce and eat it too.

10. TAKE LIFE WITH A SHOT OF GRAPPA.

This life is SO short. Please don’t take it too seriously – something that I’m actively working on. Post grad life hit me like a ton of bricks. I did not expect the rejection the real world threw at me and I have been learning about the amount of hard work it takes to be successful. Sometimes, it’s hard to sleep at night knowing how much I have to accomplish in order to create something I’m proud of. Although every day feels one step closer, I still have no idea what I’m doing. But, I’m embracing this moment, this period of uncertainty and I’m excited. I’m excited for what this life has in store for me and I will take every opportunity to spend any amount of time with my Nonno and my Nona.

Grandparents have so much to offer and they will love us and take care of us in ways our parents cannot. I am so grateful for these past couple of weeks and I urge you to take a shot with your grandpa or your grandma and ask for a piece of advice. You’ll be happy you did. TC mark