We value the age of a great wine, an ancient work of art and a priceless gold coin, but often we fail to value the experience of those whose age has given them decades of lessons that we have yet to learn. Italian-Americans are fortunate that our heritage recognizes and respects generations that have come before us. We frequently listen and learn from our parents, grandparents, and ancestors who have been all too willing to educate and share with us their “lessons of life.”
It was with this thought in mind that I sat down with my “mentor”, my mother Maria, who is 95 years young and still the Executive Chef at our Bootlegger Italian Bistro in Las Vegas to discuss the spending habits and financial priorities of today’s generation. At her recently celebrated 95th birthday luncheon, Maria was heard “discussing” current events and “the way it was” with family and friends. The following are Mom’s unedited comments on some of the economic problems we are experiencing today and how she and my dad approached these same challenges when they married in 1936.
ON BUDGET SHORTFALLS
Mom: “People don’t save anymore. Even during the great depression when your dad and I got married, we managed to save a nickel or two. I took in boarders for $8 a week to help pay the bills. Your father worked at the factory and brought home $19 a week. My budget for food was $6 a week. I didn’t waste anything.
“We had a small garden that helped and we ate well. Polenta, rice and pasta were staples but the sauce was what made them “special”. We never went hungry. I would buy one whole chicken and make three meals out of it. With the breasts and wings, I would make chicken cacciatore with pasta and vegetables. With the legs and thighs, I would make Italian fried chicken with risotto and peas, and with the neck, back and other parts; I would make a hearty chicken soup with stale bread croutons and Italian greens. We bought a house for no money down and struggled to make the mortgage payment to the bank of $23 a month. The inside of the house was nice, but the outside looked bad. It needed paint. So when we had an extra dollar, we would buy a gallon of good paint for 99 cents a gallon. The first thing we did was paint the front. It looked good and when we could afford another gallon, we bought it and painted another side of the house. It took us about 6 months before we finished painting the entire house.”
“We couldn’t afford to go out much so we took turns with our friends entertaining at home. We had card parties and put 50 cents in the pot per couple so the boys could buy beer and nuts. We ate, drank, and sang songs, danced and had a great time. Sometimes when we could save some pennies, we would go to a movie. The movie cost 10 cents per person and popcorn was 5 cents a bag. I can look back and remember how young we were – and so practical. We worked hard and managed on so little money. We paid our bills and took care of each other and our families. We didn’t have much money but we were happy.
“After church on special Sundays we would drive through the upscale section of town admiring the beautiful estates where the affluent people lived. We found it inspiring. It gave us hope that if we worked hard, in this country, we too could reap the rewards of success. We weren’t jealous or envious of their wealth; it motivated us.”
“We didn’t expect our government to support us. We expected our government to protect us. We believed if we were safe in our homes, cities and country, we could work and improve the quality of life for ourselves and our children. We were proud of working. We did not expect something for nothing. We were grateful for living in the greatest country in the world. And we were grateful that our ancestors had the vision to leave their beautiful land of Italy to give us opportunities denied to them in their homeland.”
At 95 years young, my Mother has over nine decades of observing and participating in life. I’ve learned from her and continue to learn from her. As she said, “I’ve lived for almost a century and yes, times have certainly changed. Lorraine, remember, we had the strength to survive the great depression so I would expect you to survive a mild recession – get back to work. I’m going into the kitchen.” That’s my mom. Enough said.
Happy Mother’s Day Mom!
About the author: The Honorable Lorraine Hunt-Bono is a fifty-year resident of Nevada. She is a prominent businesswoman, Commissioner on the Nevada Commission on Tourism, a former Lt. Governor, and Chair, Nevada’s Chambers Roundtable.
Lucine is honored to have her share her thoughts.