All four of my Grandparents came to America from impoverished regions of southern Italy and Sicily.  They were poorly educated, unsophisticated, could not speak English and struggled to make their way in their new country.

My mother’s parents raised six children on the meager wages her father earned as a laborer with the railroad; however, not without some difficulty.  They lost their small home to foreclosure during the Great Depression and had to move into an even smaller apartment.  They were poor but never lost their dignity or values.

My mother took the lessons of pride, perseverance, and hard work she learned from her parents and was able to advance herself through high school while working summers and after school.  During World War II, she joined the SPARS (part of the Coast Guard) which expanded her horizons through her travels and position as an interpreter for prisoners of war being interrogated by the military.  After the war, my mother went to a two year “business” school to learn secretarial and office skills which she only used on occasion as she was primarily a stay at home mother for most of her adult life.

My father’s family was less fortunate even though his father also worked for the railroad.  My father’s mother left her two children when they were very young and my father was raised by his father which was quite unusual for the time.  My father only went to school up to the eighth grade and received his real education on the streets in the “school of hard knocks”.   He went into the Army near the end of World War II and ultimately became an MP in occupied Germany.  He spent most of his adult life self-employed as a small scrap metal dealer using his street smarts and innate ingenuity to make a living.

All of this is the backdrop to the simple lessons my brother and I received from my parents which formed the foundation for everything we achieved in our lives.

My father always preached to us about being in control of your own destiny and he acted as a role model for the value of being independent and self-reliant.   He refused to work for anyone but himself even in the most difficult of times and was willing to risk his success or failure on his own efforts.

My mother’s lessons were more direct and personal.   She would teach us about self-respect by telling us that being poor was no excuse for living in squalor or being dirty since soap was cheap and all you needed was “elbow grease” to keep things clean.   She would demand that we do even the most basic chores with pride and strive for perfection by telling us that anything worth doing was worth doing well as she made us redo anything that did not meet her standards.  She insisted that we take on challenges and she would never let us quit nor could we ever get away with saying “I can’t” as a way of giving up.   She would always say “I can’t” is not in our vocabulary so give me another reason why you think you should quit.   Most of all, she had big dreams for my brother and me and she never once let us forget it or doubt that those dreams would come true.

Simple lessons to be sure but from such simple lessons can come great rewards.

On Wednesday, Joe endorses the competitive nature of life in “The Race Goes To The Swift”.