An Epic Life

World War II veteran Dominick DeGiorgio, on the left, with his brother and sister in law: my grandparents
World War II veteran Dominick DeGiorgio, on the left, with his brother and sister in law: my grandparents

 

A photo can tell incredible, complex, wonderful stories.

You are looking at one of my favorites. The man on the left gave everything. His life for his country. He was a soldier who knew great fear in the heat of battle. He wrote letters home, talking of the smell of death. He dreamed of a world where there was no war, no conflict.

The man on the right never had to run from the bullets of enemy attack. He had to make a living in the country that was home, but not his place of origin.

He didn’t die young in a war, like his brother. He lived 92 years, a physically challenging life that would include work, until he no longer could. Until his body said “no more.”

Brothers in arms, in blood, in life. They proved their mettle time and again, building the cornerstone of our family. Their influence is felt every day. Long gone from this earth, but always in the hearts of those that were close.

These are the makings of an epic life.

There is the cornerstone, and there is the mortar. The woman in the middle of the photo is my grandmother. The family may have been built by the men, but it was kept together by the women. The women held the vast influence.

Our generation was shaped, formed, and molded by the women. They taught us our truth, our ethics, our way of life.

My grandmother, and her sisters, represented generations of tradition. As our incessantly frenetic modern lives attempt to strip away any semblance of tradition, values, and common sense, we must fight back in their name.

Fight to keep traditions, values, and a vision of the world as a kind and decent place.

Legacies left behind should be handled with care.

Working class, immigrant, depression era lives. Lives that were truly epic. You and I would be at a loss to describe their stories.

Epic because of the ashes they rose from.

Epic in the tragedy they endured.

Epic in their relentless nature.

Epic with the love and comfort they created.

We don’t know the meaning of the word. Its definition is far different today.

At the time of this writing, it is the 100th anniversary of the birth of my grandmother, the former Rosa Tagliarini. Who took the name DeGiorgio from her love Sebastiano, that handsome devil to the right in the photo. The date of her birth, December 21st, will be like every other day.

Her influence will hover. Her presence will be felt.

To celebrate one hundred, my wife and I will raise our wine glasses in a birthday toast. In remembrance, and thanks.

With gratitude. For the path she helped pave, to our unquestionable abundance, by living her epic life.

Like this article? Please share on your favorite social media channel. Or better yet… read some more, with the related content below. To be notified of future posts, please enter your email in the space provided along the right sidebar.

And… leave a comment! We love reading them!

How To Stave Off Old Age

Two favorite video subjects: Nonna and my infant daughter, 1995. Forever young.
Two favorite video subjects: Nonna and my infant daughter, 1995. Forever young.

First days of school. Halloween, complete with princess costume.

Christmas and Easter, northbound trips to camp, birthday parties for young and old alike.

Magical footage of my kids on the Cape Cod beaches that we still haunt. The ritual of making homemade macaroni with my Grandmother and Godmother, with my very young children “turning the crank”.

One project I’m undertaking (on a list of many) is to review old video tapes that need to be converted to DVD before the tapes disintegrate. I was able to watch all of the above and more.

The old is new again. Overcome with everyday events which, as we were running the camera so many years ago, seemed ordinary. But not so. They were sure and concrete steps that turned out to be the details of a big life – a time on Earth that can’t be replicated or replaced.

In a previous post, I turned 50 and wasn’t sad about it – I was in pretty good health. Then the knee, the left one to be exact, turned to a pile of shit. Had me using the elevator for the first time in a while. The original diagnosis at the doctor’s office was osteoarthritis. An x-ray revealed an injury, what is referred to as “soft tissue damage”. Just a little something that needed to heal.

Bullet dodged. There you go.

Although I’m glad not to be in the throes of arthritis, there should be no kidding myself. The sands of time are marching on. To keep the concept of advancing age at bay, the most important thing to do is think young. The videos helped. Access to a video camera and using it with any regularity provided me with the quickest trip to the fountain of youth.

You can see amazing things. Like:

  • Seeing a friend who was gone away, directly in front of you, smiling back at your camera
  • Watching your mentors apply the tasks that had built their lives – and influenced yours
  • Watch your son bounce uneasy through a tiny wave on the Cape Cod shoreline, basking in the glory of a June sun
  • To see your daughter in that princess costume, stalking your old neighborhood, taking candy from the people you grew up around yourself

Easy Ways To Stay Young

With a title like the one this post has, you probably came here with the idea of finding useful and pertinent information, and not just listen to me wax poetic about the recent past. Fair enough. Though I think most people aren’t much for following advice, I’ll put in my two cents.

Feeling young for me includes having a catch in the yard, running/walking with/chasing my dog, or beating a heavy bag while listening to Aerosmith and Van Halen at ear splitting decibel levels. The most important way to capture that elusive essence of youth is movement, or exercise. If you’ve got that one covered, fantastic. The following tips may be helpful as well:

1. Fast Food? Really? – Neither inexpensive nor convenient, fast food is still a go to for millions of Americans daily. And I still don’t get it. The advertising is sultry, but the food never looks that good when you finally get it. Yeah, I may take my son into the drive-thru occasionally for a treat. But the kid has probably just played a game, a practice, or has run sprints for twenty minutes.

I’m guessing your average American isn’t involved in that kind of activity before going to McDonald’s.

Skimping on food and buying to reduce expense in this way is idiotic. I once knew a guy who would go to Subway and Burger King because it was cheap, but he had multiple cars and boats (and insurance policies) sitting in his driveway. Now there’s a way to prioritize your spending.

Stay young by avoiding fast food.

2. If It’s Not Life And Death, Forget It! – You know the drill: stress is the silent killer. Work place stress equals financial stress, leads to marital stress, yada yada yada. Everybody has stress. I’ve had plenty of the workplace variety myself, in the past. I decided that working for that particular company wasn’t worth the stress. Inevitably, we parted ways.

I know people that stress out because their IPhone isn’t working right, or their Starbucks isn’t hot enough. Or they found out they didn’t qualify for the financing on a $400K house. Poor babies.

Although it’s not perfect, one rule I try to remember whenever I’m feeling any type of stress is this – if it’s not a matter of life and death, it’s just not that important. Unless you’re dealing with death or severe illness, your perception is worse than the actual likely outcome.

To stay young, chill out.

3. Take It Easy On The Carbs – This is one that’s hard for me. Imagine an Italian American that has completely given up pasta or Italian bread. No such thing, right? Correct. I’m starting to think there’s a bit of good sense tied to a diet of protein, vegetables, fruit, and good fats, hence I’m working to reduce the amount of refined carbs that I eat. Although I could never see myself not eating pasta at all, there is a fantastic product called Dreamfields that I love. It’s what they call low glycemic index, and quickly becoming the only brand of pasta I’ll use.

Watch the stuff that makes you fat: white bread, potatoes, rice, and yes, macaroni. In moderation only.

4. Catch Your Zzzzzzzzs – My wife has this one right, for sure. She tends to be in bed most nights before 10PM, and she always tries to get me to come up with her. 😉 But, I have always been a night owl, and as much as I want to change that, there are still going to be nights when I’ve got things to do. I’ll stay up late. If I’m writing a post like this, rest assured I’ll be at the laptop past 10, or even 11PM.

I’ll keep trying to make it an earlier night. When your body’s used to being up late, it’s a difficult transition.

5. You Are The Sum of The 5 People… – There’s an oldie but goody. Want to stay young, energetic, and stress free? Get rid of the jerks in your life. Plain and simple, just like most old-school mantras. Whether they are family or “friends”, people that are negative, unsupportive, nasty, and without criticism of the constructive variety have got to go. If you are not willing to jettison these malcontents, you’ve got no one to blame but yourself.

With the possible exception of number 3, I’m sure my little old Sicilian mentors would have agreed with all of these. That alone makes the above fantastic advice to stave off your aging process.

Start a conversation in the comments section. How do you keep the attitude of that young person you are or used to be?

Turning 50 Edition – Just A Number

California Dreamin' - finally
California Dreamin’ – finally

Last week, I turned the big five-oh. 50 years old.

In preparation for this monumental event, I needed to go to my local DMV to renew my driver’s license. The clerk who took care of me asked if I would like to have a new picture taken to go along with my new license.

“Yes”, I said. “There’s a few more gray hairs now than when the last picture was taken.” After all, the cops need to recognize me. “Let’s snap a new one.”

The number of gray hairs will keep multiplying, just as they have been. 50 is just a number, but that shine of youth is disappearing, to be replaced by the shadow of impending old age.  New pictures need to be taken. The familiar cannot become the unrecognizable.

50 is just a number. But it’s a number that draws varied reaction. Some people get excited about it, saying “Hey! 50! Wow, that’s great!” Others will tilt their head and look at you with eyes that convey nothing but pity. Ooof, that’s old. What will you do?

Truth be told, I feel more 15 than I do 50. Experience and energy at this stage could create a deadly combination. Yes, the opponent is still game and moving forward, but at 50 you are just warming up into the later rounds. I’ve heard this is where the fight gets fun.

As I talk to my daughter today about her future, looking at early college courses, heading toward her senior year, I try to say the right things. About always applying. About persistence. About sweeping the rejection off of you like dust from a jacket. About showing everyone the leader you can be.

What I should have said is… get ready to fight.

Put up your dukes.

Get ready to rumble.

Because life is a fight. You will be battered, jostled, and be told that there are things you can’t, or shouldn’t do. There will be those who will want to steal your dream, or step on it. You will need to fight them.

When you’re a teenager, you can be unaware of the opponent. The opponent often has a friendly smile with suggestions of  “you can’t do that” or “forget love, go for the money”. I didn’t hear these subtle suggestions when I was a teen. They were spoken and unspoken, but I didn’t know what they meant. At 50, you know what they mean.

Just A Number

These days, 50 is hardly old. Especially for the depth of my gene pool. Italian, remember? My grandmother ran circles around people decades younger than her while she was in her 80’s. I watched my grandfather, in his 70’s, chase down a bus he had missed. He caught it. There’s never any guarantees, but I think I have a shot at being healthy a while longer.

Old at 50? I don’t think so. Just starting to get interesting. I fulfilled a dream – going to California – not too long ago. Thank you, gracious employer. My daughter just returned from touring multiple cities in Italy, getting to live out my dream of going to Rome (lucky kid). And the year has only just begun.

It’s just a number. It’s not the age of the dog in the scrap, it’s the amount of scrap in the dog. And this geezer still has plenty of scrap left. Life’s been good to me, and I have more blessings than I probably deserve. I have this amazing wife (how I got her initial attention I don’t know), and my kids are the ultimate source of my pride.

God willing, I think I’m just getting started. Yeah, it’s 50. A number. It’s a long way from 1963. It’s a long way from the 70s or my heyday of the 80’s. My fondness for those memories is boundless. But I think I’m going to love 50.

The fight is going into the later rounds. Isn’t that always where the fight gets good?

Like this post? Awesome! Share your thoughts by leaving a comment below. All feedback appreciated!

The Golden Rule Of Life: Keep Swinging

My favorite movie character of all time is Sylvester Stallone’s creation, Rocky Balboa. He was a nobody, a chump, a has-been of a boxer working part time for a loan shark. The only difference between Balboa and the other nobodies is that he never learned to stop swinging.

rocky balboaThat’s the crux of the movie’s plot – the main character gets an opportunity, and by being relentless in his training and honing of his skills, he gets within a breath of the pinnacle of boxing’s most sought after crown.

What fascinated me after I saw the movie (and applied its principles to my own overweight existence) was how closely the story line itself mirrored Stallone’s life. He was down to his last dimes, trying to convince producers to shoot the film from his screenplay, with him in the leading role.

He was practically destitute, but never gave up on the dream of the film being made. While most of us would have quit and went out and got a job to pay the bills, he hung in there. He, like the movie character that would make him a global name, kept swinging.

We’ve all heard the stories of the winners that would never quit: Edison and his light bulbs, Michael Jordan getting cut from his high school basketball team, Stephen King rejecting his own work by throwing the manuscript for “Carrie” into a trash can.

A Lifetime Of Swinging

Fame and Hollywood riches aside, you and I can see the no quit and “keep swinging” mentality everyday. If you look close enough, it’s right there in your friends and family members.

My Godmother told my wife and I stories of her life as an immigrant, coming to America from Sicily. She, my grandmother, and other members of the family were mistreated, strip searched, degraded, and faced every form of racial slur.

Instead of crawling into protective shells, they kept swinging. They carved out inspirational lives in the country that they came to love with a passion, despite the (ahem) rocky start. They were awash with perseverance, for the sake of their family and the new country that would eventually realize their worth.

My grandparents would live a hard, blue collar life that would eventually bring them financial success. Because they kept swinging. When they lost their son, my uncle, as a teenager, they turned insurmountable grief into a positive years later.

They built their house, built another business, and helped build the lives that came after. They never let us forget a boy named Anthony. They made a home where love was the key, and tenacity followed until their final days. They never stopped swinging.

Can You Keep Swinging?

Edison finally got it right after thousands of light bulb failures. Jordan put in hour upon hour of jumpshots to improve his game. You could say that Stephen King does pretty well in the publishing industry, too.

Stallone turned Rocky into a franchise that grossed millions of dollars and inspired many to chase their own heavyweight dreams.

It’s the small details, the ability to keep swinging that get you to where you want to be. One of my forged memories include a Sicilian immigrant, hunched over a plastic tub of ground beef in her kitchen, prepping a dish that would make her restaurant famous in our little town.

She was a little girl, without English speaking ability, a stranger in a strange land. She repeated habits and actions thousands and thousands of times, the actions that, as an older woman, would make her a household name in our city and multitudes of friends in the process.

How did she do it?

Keep swinging.

Like this article? Please share on your favorite social media channel. Or better yet… read some more, with the related content below. To be notified of future posts, please enter your email in the space provided.

And… leave a comment! We love reading them!

Happy Birthday – P.S. The World Needs You Here

nonna & pop (2)It’s not just the first day of winter. The solstice – the day with the fewest hours of sunlight in the whole year. It’s not just another day creeping closer to Christmas.

It’s your birthday.

We all wish you were here to celebrate it, to once again complain about how this day was too close to the biggest of holidays, and how you were always “getting gypped” out of presents. Made us laugh every time.

You were a class act, yet down to earth at the same time. You practiced humility, and preached acts of kindness no matter what. Your focus was on God, family, and the country you were proud to be a part of.

You had ups and downs, multitudes of challenges, but you always seemed happy. Your extended family and wealth of old friends were always around, always entertaining. They were a happy bunch as well, with a good word for everyone.

It was always about love with you. And comfort. Especially with your prowess in the kitchen, oh that comfort! The coffee pot bubbling on the stove, chicken soup simmering away… My wife and still reminisce about your kitchen whenever we cook in ours.

The world has changed since you’ve been gone, and it seems to be for the worse. There’s barely any patience anymore, kindness is at a premium, and events that should shake all of us to the core have become sadly commonplace.

Yes, we should live “through the windshield, and not the rear view mirror.” Some will say it’s a sad day when you’re caught living in the past. But how can we not at least take a peek back?

Life was a lot more carefree, without much to concern us. There was Vietnam, and Watergate. Those events seemed to take place far away from us, covered by news programming maybe once a day. They didn’t feel like they were around the corner, waiting to burst out at you.

I like the idea of a time machine. A trip back to a simpler era would be nice, especially if I could take my wife and kids. We could lay on the floor of your living room on a Saturday morning, in our pajamas, elbows on the carpet, hands cupping our faces. Hanna-Barbera cartoons would be on, and we would be able to smell the aroma of frying meatballs coming from the kitchen.

What do we do? Finish that episode of Jonny Quest – or go for the fresh, crispy meatball?

Anyway, I’m getting off track. Most of your generation is gone, and the kind deeds and compassion they expressed may have gone right along with them. Except you did your best to pass them to us. It was a source of your pride. Your great grandchildren, in their earliest stages, are already the citizens you hoped they would be. Being up to me, they will follow in the footsteps of the great generation they came after, the one that you were part of.

Happy Birthday to you. Wish you were here.

We will celebrate this weekend with a glass of wine, a special dessert, and (your old standby) adding fish to a Christmas Eve meal. And by recalling a simpler time of life and looking toward a better future.