This I Believe

Felicia - Manlius, New York
Entered on December 9, 2007
Age Group: Under 18
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This I Believe

What makes a person smart? Is it their upbringing, education, wittiness? Do you need to be completely up to date at all times? Should we instead be asking what makes a person wise? After all, you can be the smartest or savviest person on the earth. But if you abuse your knowledge, then it was all for nothing. Should the real measure of our knowledge be our capability of surviving in the real world? Then, shouldn’t we value common sense over being book smart? These are some of the many questions I ask myself when I consider the person I believe in, my nona (my grandmother)

My nona was brought up dirt poor, the sixth out of eight children, and the youngest girl. She never went to school and received no education whatsoever. She is mostly illiterate, although she recognizes several words and various letters and can only sign her name. I’ve read many of her bills to her under the pretext that the print was too small for her to see.

In her country of origin, Italy, my nona worked to support her family in a small village called Matera. Matera has settled since Paleolithic times, and has a history of wars and pestilence as well as changing rule. The richest in Matera lived in stone or wooden houses while the majority of the population lived and still live in caves, carved out of the solid rock that surrounds Matera. This is just to give you a picture of what her early life was like.

When she was 21, she came over on a giant Trans-Atlantic boat by herself to be a picture bride to a man whom she had only seen in a single photograph. She had to convert to another religion, from Catholicism to Protestantism, albeit by her own choice. This also put her at odds with the rest of her (our) family, who remained Catholic. She wouldn’t see her family again until about a decade later. Because she didn’t have enough money to visit often, her mother eventually disowned her.

My nona is an amazing person despite all that she has gone through, and is my source of hope, faith, and endurance. She can speak 5 languages and has worked at a fabric store for the past 40 years. When my nona originally came to Montreal, she couldn’t count and didn’t have experience with numbers. Now she deals with them everyday, and can easily multiply large numbers in her head. She has an incredible sense of what to do in a sticky situation and is well liked by both her extended family and her co-workers.

Some of my favorite memories were spending 8 hour shifts with my nona at the store. She taught me to count and measure equally well in both the metric system and the English Standard system. She also taught me what kind of fabrics to use in what circumstances, how to carry and restock the bolts and how to cut various types of cloth. She used to let me embroider all I wanted on spare scraps that Fred (her boss) couldn’t sell.

Looking back, I realize that the most important things she taught me were valuable life lessons about patience and endurance, and probably most importantly to have faith. Her belief and faith have helped her through all the hard times in her life, and I hope she has passed this on to me. My nona is very inspirational to me and I am very close to her. I believe in her.