The Immigrant Song – Inspiration Around Every Corner

It was interesting to watch what I could of both the Democratic and the Republican national conventions recently. With the political posturing so evident in this election season, it’s obvious the candidates of both parties are looking to appeal to the “everyman”.

Your “Average Joe”, if you will.

Marco Rubio. Mitt Romney. Julian Castro. Democrats and Republicans alike are recounting the immigrant stories within their own families, in the attempt to win the voters who have their own immigrant stories.

You can’t fault these politicians for using the unique immigrant experience to try to sway votes that could help them win. We all have recollections of parents or grandparents that have inspired us with their personal successes of achieving the American dream.

Finding Inspiration

The stories are unique, but the story line follows a familiar pattern. Immigrants, whether they be Spanish, Italian, Polish, or Irish, made huge sacrifices for the good of their families. Some went to bed hungry so their children wouldn’t. Others, like my grandparents, worked multiple jobs to make sure the family had enough money to survive, then thrive.

My grandparents also left school early to aid in the financial support of their households.

They persevered through the Great Depression and willed their way to success. Because they knew if that feat was accomplished, the generation that came after them could enjoy a better life.

As one of the Democratic participants stated in a speech, “Their stories may never be famous, but in the lives they lived, you will find the essence of America’s greatness.”

Despite the campaign mudslinging going on now, with keywords such as entitlement and redistribution, the candidates seem to agree here: the strength of the country, and the economy within, was built on the very formidable backs of people from other nations.

One Direction

I’m more than happy to share the stories of the immigrants that influenced me. Yeah, the blog has occasionally meandered into the subjects of weight loss, Joe Paterno, cell phones, and the importance of being a patriot, but it’s mainly concerned with one very important topic.

My family, immigrant status and all, and how they molded and shaped the lives of those around them.

I like to, and choose to, write about different things. That won’t change. But I hope you’ll come along for the ride as I take a closer look at this one topic near and dear to my heart in the posts to come. It may be difficult to think that a bunch of diminutive Italians could teach you a thing or two, but I think you’d be pleasantly surprised.

As both Democrats and Republicans have demonstrated: the saga of the immigrants and their American story is one of the most important of our times.

If you saw the conventions, what do you think? Were the speakers sincere in their praise of their immigrant connections, or did they seem to be pandering for votes? State your case in the comments! And don’t forget to subscribe for future updates!

Cruel Summer, With A Life Lesson To Take To The Bank

When I was a boy, the summers seemed to stretch for miles, go on forever. I would look for salamanders, play hours of basketball, and walk over country roads to see my friends. I would jam out to Zeppelin, Hendrix, and Heart in my basement, and tackle lawn chores at my Nonna’s modest brick ranch, to be rewarded with a plate of macaroni with extra grated cheese. Summer was a boy’s best friend.

The summers of mid-life move faster. They slow down only for wakes and funerals, to pay our respects to the departed, some taken from us too soon. This has happened several times this summer, making a lump in the throat as frequent as a daily coffee.

Lest you think I’ve had nothing but a summer of discontent this year, let me correct you. Funerals notwithstanding, my family has done and seen a lot in the past couple of months. Here’s a sampling:

  • A trip to our favorite vacation spot, the beaches of Cape Cod
  • Two trips to baseball games at Yankee Stadium in New York
  • A live concert from Coldplay at the TD Garden in Boston
  • Before the show, a meal at a great Italian restaurant in the city’s North End
  • For me and my friends, a fun weekend in the woods of the Adirondacks
  • Multiple drives to our summer home away from home, Lake George

I had heard “Boy, you guys get around” more than once. I have to agree. If we didn’t have what was equal to a summer bucket list, we had plans made well in advance to enjoy every minute of the season that we could.

As soon as it’s here, it’s gone.

Life travels at the speed of sound. If there is a lesson for you here, it’s this: know how important and fleeting your time is. In our house, babies once crawled and toddlers walked the earth. Now, one baby has taken to the highway, tackling the rigors of the road. I no longer read her a story and tuck her in at night. She is a high school junior.

The little boy has had a growth spurt and a power surge. Months ago, I could field his grounders and catch his line drives with ease. No more. With his swings of the bat, Dad has to avoid rockets and laser beams that have potential to inflict great damage and deep bruises.

The only thing keeping the balls in the yard now is the black chestnut tree that stops their progress. This yard can’t hold him anymore. His day is coming.

With the car radio awash in the sounds of the 70s, it’s easy to drift back to when summers were slow and fruitful. Under those same unbelievably blue skies, the little girl is breaking out and heading to the highway. The boy is crashing fences and taking names.

It’s a cruel summer with a decidedly sweet aftertaste.

Let me know how your summer was in the comment section below. Start a conversation!

Photo credit of Cape Cod marsh to Gabrielle DeGiorgio.You can get free updates to content at this site by subscribing by email or feed reader. Feel free to share via Twitter and/or Facebook.

Explaining Evil To Your Children

Columbine. Oklahoma City. September 11th. Virginia Tech. Aurora.

vaderThe evil in the world isn’t easily explainable. The presumably safe activity of going to a movie theater is no longer safe. You can’t take for granted the simple tasks of going to work or attending class.

My son and I were on my way to my father’s house when he asked me why so many people got shot. Before his question was posed, I was thinking about the coffee I was going to drink, and he was anticipating the ice cream his Grandfather was going to give him.

I couldn’t answer his question with other than this lame response – “Son, there are bad people in the world.” We can only reassure our kids that these are rare events, and that the criminals usually get taken down. Good triumphing over evil.

When my daughter was much younger and drawing pictures of airplanes crashing into buildings over ten years ago, I felt useless then, as well. How do you explain such things? As an adult, I barely comprehend them myself.

As we went into my Dad’s house, and he quickly forgot about his question. Maybe because that house is a sanctuary. Our house is his sanctuary. Our yard. There is security of sorts in this world, but it’s usually contained within.

When I was young, it seemed all we had to deal with was the terror of the Son of Sam, preying on his victims in one sweltering summer in New York City. Simpler times, right?

I’d like to take my kids on a trip to “simpler times”, so they could catch a glimpse of a time without 24/7 media coverage of mass murders, of terrorism. Where they wouldn’t have to ask the question, “Why?”

When we get there, we’d play in my grandmother’s yard, without a care in sight. We could play games in the street, without much fear of other cars. We could go back to the family farm my cousins owned, and wander in fields for hours. No one would be concerned as to where we were.

In the days of “back then,” you could go to school without running for your life. You could go to a movie without the fear of flying bullets.

You should live your life by the windshield and not the rear view mirror, but who can blame us for looking to the past for comfort? Crap, I think that’s what I do here. I write about things that provide a dose of that comfort and stability. For myself. I can throwback for decades with writing subjects like my grandparents, music, baseball, and being an inspired teenager.

Kids, it’s difficult to explain these things to you. To say that you’re growing up in a much different place than your Mom and Dad grew up in – well, that’s a vast understatement. The only steps we can take are to raise you according to our ethics, and give you the room to grow into your own version of a wonderful person.

And once you do that, just believe that people like you will always outnumber the evil guys. And from tragedy, good will come.

Thank You For Being A Friend

Although we only knew each other for thirty years, it may as well have been a lifetime.

You were the “wingman”. The nightclubbing partner I needed in our heyday of the 80s.  Chasing skirts late into the night. You had a little bit of a wild child attitude in you, but our Roman Catholic upbringings steered us clear of any real trouble.

How many games did we go to at the old Yankee Stadium? Watching our pinstriped heroes play sport’s finest game, drinking our beers, our seats at the rail to spy the girls in their summer clothes, passing us by.

We haunted each others work places, me making the descent into the college rathskeller, you sitting at the bar of my parents’ restaurant. We had our drinks, smoked our cigarettes, and laughed long and uproariously at our jokes. God knows we weren’t that funny.

When I started dating the girl who would become my wife, not much changed. Still hanging out, three of us together now, in the restaurants, our places, in the smoky nooks of the Tap Room. Home away from home.

When my daughter was born, you were right there at the hospital to see her, just a couple of hours later. It’s a shame you won’t be here to hug her anymore.

On the winter day my son was baptized, you stood at the font as his Godfather, blessing him with holy water as we watched. I’m glad you were able to come to some of his games. I’m sad you won’t ever watch him swing the bat again.

You gave the finest best man toast in wedding history, deserving of the standing ovation you got. Against the backdrop of the story of first meeting my wife, you serenaded us (and a large reception crowd) with a favorite Sinatra song – on key, flawlessly, without hesitation.

When I watch it on video, I just laugh and shake my head, and wonder… how the hell did you pull that off?

How about hitting that replay button one more time? A little more “I’ve Got You Under My Skin”. Or better yet, how about just one more for the road? A toast to you this time, my friend, listening to the ultimate late night Sinatra torch ballad, with drink in hand. Just like we did in the old days.

You know how it goes…

Its quarter to three,
There’s no one in the place ‘cept you and me
So set em up Joe

…We’re drinking my friend
To the end of a brief episode
So make it one for my baby
And one more for the road

Thanks for the memories.

Thank you for being my friend.

Michael Muscatello, 1949-2012

6 Nuggets Of Financial Wisdom From The Old School

My grandfather, young and handsome!

My grandparents could not take advantage of much education when they came to America as they had to go to work at a young age. But in many respects, my grandparents managed to acquire more financial intelligence than most of us, including me and you.

Makes little sense, right? How can someone’s grandparents possibly be smarter than they are? The older generation did not have access to all that we do. This is the information age. We have Google and Bing to search at the speed of light, and Twitter and Facebook to share any piece of information that we have in real time.

Most of us would also have an edge in education, as well. My grandparents never attended college. They went to work as soon as they possibly could, to aid in the support of their family. So, naturally, our intelligence must be more advanced too, right?

Look at me now, typing away, publishing my words on-line and competently stringing a few sentences together. You might say this talent makes me a little smarter than, say, my grandmother.

We may be able to gather information more quickly, that’s a given. More intelligent? The jury’s out on that one. As far as being common sense smart, the previous generations might have it all over us. I’d like to offer some of their “money handling” examples:

They spent their money wisely – Yeah, at times my grandfather would splurge on a lottery ticket (or two). And yes, my Nonna liked to buy a surplus of imported cheese that was fifteen dollars a pound. But most times, they were not crazy with their money. They went to stores infrequently, shopped sales when they did go, and they didn’t have any expensive hobbies like golf, boating, or weekends in Las Vegas. Things were pretty simple. And when your needs are simple, you tend to not spend money.

They saved the same way – Since there wasn’t a lot of spending going on, they saved a lot of money. As they worked hard and built their business, they were also able to build a house in 1969 without taking on a mortgage (that one still amazes me). They purchased another restaurant after operating their first one for several years. You’re able to do that by saving- not dropping all your cash.

Their house was not an investment – Very simply, they bought their house to live in. Period. They weren’t concerned about the house’s market value, if they could tap it for equity, or if they could retire if it was sold. They lived there. It was their home – not a piece of an investment portfolio.

Meals were prepared at home – There were very few trips to restaurants when my gram and her sisters were around and cooking at full throttle. Dinners out were special occasion only. For them, the term “take out” meant taking out the garbage. These girls made some of the greatest lunches and dinners to ever hit a table. It never occurred to them;

“Gee, why cook? Let’s go out for dinner tonight!” or “Honey, I’m tired from my day doing piece work at the factory…can we go out?”

Ridiculous. They knew they would never get a meal of the same quality at a restaurant as one they cooked themselves at home. I feel the same way.

They brewed their own coffee – Especially in my grandmother’s house, the coffee pot was ritual. Granted, in my grandparents’ prime, the Dunkin Donuts and Starbucks of the world were not at all prevelant. But if they were around today, I’m sure they would probably think “Really?? People like paying seven dollars for a cup of coffee?” Myself, I’m not here to bash Starbucks. I love their coffee, and every six months or so, I’ll treat myself to one. But every day, like some people? Not me. That’ll really put a hole in your wallet.

And last but not least…

They were happy with what they had – Keeping up with everybody else was not in their playbook.  They didn’t give a shit about what the neighbors had. If there was ever any envy or jealousy, it was about who had a bigger fig tree or had the best spread on the Sunday dinner table. My grandmother’s one extravagance was a fur coat, and she wore it out. She wore the same dresses, and my grandfather wore the same flannel shirts, forever. And they were perfectly happy. They weren’t concerned with clothes, jewelry, fine wine, or exotic vacations. The only concern was whether or not you had enough to eat.

What say you? Should we adopt some of the financial principles of yesterday? Or should we continue guzzling Starbucks and lusting after BMWs while the economy falls further into the outhouse? Agree or disagree, comments please!