This weekend we visited my in-laws and we got to talking about their childhood and little bit of what it was like to be born in Italy in the 1950’s. Italy is packed thick with history but the Republic of Italy as a unified country is actually younger than the United States and the beginnings of their country was devastated with war and dictatorship.
1950 was just a few years after the end of World War II and Italy was deep in poverty. My father-in-law shared how he remembers growing up in a home without running water and how twice a month his mother would make bread to last for 15 days. His mother would knead out enough loaves for 2 weeks in their cellar, wrap them up in a cloth, place them on a long board, and carry them down to the local community oven to have them baked. She would even make a special one for him that was in the shape of a little man.
My mother-in-law shared how her family with her grandparents, aunts, and uncles, all lived in a large colonial farm house. She remembers the cellar where large portions of prosciutto were hung to age and the wine that lined the walls, and how she never liked seeing the dead pig hung from the window before being butchered. They had a large kitchen, Downton Abby style, with a long kitchen table where they would all gather as one big family and share all their meals together. Up on the second floor was where all the bedrooms were. There was a large common area with a fireplace, but no heating in the bedrooms. They used bed-warmers, a metal container filled with hot coals placed under the covers, in the winter to stay warm. She shared how she remembers when they first moved into the city. There was rapid change and growth from the 1950’s to the 60’s. People were moving away from the countryside and starting to live in smaller family units. Her parents bought a small apartment right above one of the town’s central squares, which had running water and there was an electric box just for the shower to have warm water.
They also both remember when their families bought their first car.
I don’t want to stereotype, but many Italians are very frugal – nothing goes to waste. I have always seen this frugality whether living with a family, roommates, or friends. Hearing my in-law’s own personal experience of seeing Italy develop as a country – it makes sense. They know what it means to not have a fridge, warm water, central heating, or even not having enough money to buy an ice cream on a hot summer day.
It would be nice if we would listen to more of our elders’ experiences and take something away from it more often. These conversations are wonderful to have and they help me better understand the country where I’m living and get to know my husband’s family even more.