Building The Perfect Piazza

His youth and middle years were consumed with finding a better way. He fought his way to America and fended off the wolves at the door to raise his daughter well, provide for his family, and move up.

And now, as he reaps the benefit of his work and retires to a handsome home with heating and air-conditioning and a new car in the garage and cupboards full of food and clothes, society suggests he is supposed to lie back, go to water aerobics, use his senior-citizen card for discounts, and try to lower his cholesterol.

No Cruise Control

What is my point?

Individuals from these circumstances have no idea how to retire! They find it difficult to drop into a lower gear and just cruise. They should celebrate the early-bird special at Denny’s? Miki does not read well, write well, or take vacations–he doesn’t even know how to be good to himself. All he ever knew was that if he worked his body hard, there would be a reward for everyone else, so he did it.

Miki knew how to survive and provide, and while he doesn’t have to do it anymore, he can’t just stop. How does he go from carrying the world on his shoulders to letting the world now care for him? The fact is he doesn’t, and it’s natural to resist it.

Chewing The Fat

While Miki looked shakily at the picture, inches away from his one good eye, I saw it all so clearly. What is the one thing that makes him and seniors like him feel better? What is it that lessens the pain? It’s the ability to share stories with those like him, those who have their own stories to tell.

You see it all the time in coffee shops and fast-food restaurants–older men, clustered in groups, regaling each other with the stories and adventures of their youth. They commiserate, for there is safety in numbers and comfort in getting lost within other people’s problems.

My Italian ancestors all talk of their love for the piazzas in Rome and of other outdoor eateries and waterfront cafes–places where the young and the old meet, live, laugh, and love.

Places where the onset of “what-might-have-been” can be easily ignored and replaced with other important things: a good cup of coffee, an ice-cold beer, a delicious piece of pie, the punch line of a friend’s joke, the shriek of laughter from a grandchild, and most of all–a peaceful family that now thrives because of the sweat and toil from an old-timer’s brow.

I’m setting some money aside from this year’s tax return to spruce up the backyard–some shade structures, umbrellas, a few more tables, and a filtered pool. There is already a nice sound system and a handsome fire pit and grill, but I want everyone to be outside this year instead of inside with the air-conditioning blasting.

I want to replicate that piazza, keeping a couple of chess and checker boards set up on tables and the driveway clear so Miki and all the other elders in the family can drop by any time this spring, summer, or fall and fill the air with their stories, memories, and histories.

“Yes, Miki, I’ve heard you tell this one before, but please tell it again. I don’t think my son has heard it.”

Ron Ciancutti is the Purchasing Manager for Cleveland Metroparks. He is not on Facebook, but he can be reached at rdc@clevelandmetroparks.com.

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