Not so long ago, my wife and I would take the short trip to my Aunt Nicolina’s house to visit with her, and have an absolutely fantastic mid-day lunch. My Aunt, one of a wonderful group of old Sicilians, was a genius in the kitchen.

I’ve mentioned before that the kitchen in the two family house where she lived was small, probably the size of a walk in closet in your neighbor’s McMansion – with several appliances that were just as diminutive.

No matter the size of the kitchen she was working in, she always seemed to prepare a mouth watering dish – an omelette made with fresh eggs and a side salad, or a stuffed meat loaf with Italian ham and oozing provolone, or perhaps a simple soup or pasta dish, topped with sauce that had been on the stove for hours.

The dishes would usually be accompanied by tumbler glasses full of a dry, red wine.

When we would talk about the food in front of us, and the wife and I would compliment her on it, my Aunt would always refer to everything as “Italian style.”

In other conversations, whether we would talk of food, wine, clothing, vacations, or even just one’s attitude, she’d always bring up that one phrase, as if it mattered to enhance the point of what she was saying.

Now, years later, I hear her phrasing of “Italian style” to mean one thing – having the ability to enjoy the simple life, living as you please, surrounded by friends and family.

Aunt Nicky said “Italian style.” Now, my ears ring with the phrase “old school.”

She was teaching lessons that she knew needed to be reinforced. And I do my best to never forget.

It was my good fortune to have my aunt, and grandparents, show me on a daily basis that your time on this earth does not have to seem complicated or confusing. You can make things easier on yourself, and in the process, make life easier for others.

They knew how to do things right. Little did I know, they were training me bit by bit to do things exactly the same way.

Number one, food that was simple food was the way to go. These girls knew the importance of a mostly vegetarian diet before it ever became popular. Complete vegetarians? Not really.

They loved a nice slab of beef as much as any carnivore, and made more meatballs than anyone I’ll ever know. But, more times than not spinach, escarole, broccoli, and green beans were staples of the stove top.

They ate healthy (most of the time), and made sure their family ate healthy to boot.

Secondly, they were humble, and their days were centered around hard work, and timeless values when it came to family. There was no excessive self absorbed behavior in their world, and they knew that the cohesiveness of the family was a team effort. The team wins, you win.

Isn’t that the way it should be? Although this is an attitude that seems to be in short supply these days, my wife and I worked, scrimped, and sacrificed material indulgences, doing what it took to focus on the one task – doing the work to keep our team together and thrive.

The family came first, well ahead of self interest.

To provide for family and keep focused on the work, I think my Aunt meant “Italian style” to be an emphasis on the basic and uncomplicated. To know what to take, and know what to leave alone. To maybe dabble in luxury, but not make it a daily requirement.

If they dabbled in it, I have to admit these days I embarrass myself with excessive forays into luxury. This year, my family took the regular summer vacation on the beach at Cape Cod, where I upgraded once again to a fancy, and totally unnecessary, ocean front room.

After spending many of the remaining summer weekends on the lake boating in the blazing sunshine, in September we took yet another trip to the Cape that was even more ridiculous – we rented a house just steps from what looks like a Northeast version of the Caribbean (see below).

Cape Cod

But, when necessary, I can slap myself back to reality by remembering Nicky and Rosina and their fabulously spartan, old school lifestyles. They would not think much of the level of luxury above, scoffing at the deemed “necessities” of modern America.

iPhone? Scoff.

Starbucks? Double scoff. They made their own coffee.

Take out lunches? Let’s be serious, folks. These ladies were demons in the kitchen. They were always capable of ASSEMBLING A SANDWICH.

Have I partaken of this type of ridiculous consumption myself? Absolutely! The difference is I know you can forego any of these things/activities without losing one ounce of happiness or satisfaction with life. And I know that from old school reminders ingrained and entrenched, by smart people from long ago.

That type of attitude is what you might call freedom. Freedom from current, “new school” thinking – the key to living your great life.

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