When it comes to luck
You make your own
I’m gonna lose these blues I’ve found
Over the weekend I enjoyed hosting a dinner party for a few of my wonderful friends. Cooking for friends is all part of following through with one of my 2013 resolutions. I’m channeling my inner Julia Child meets Nigella Lawson.
At one point during the evening, my friend Sarah announced that she forgot to buy a Powerball ticket. The jackpot hit 100 million. I just smiled at her and said, “Oh well.” It was the perfect opportunity to segue into an incredible story but I decided against it. I opted to write the following truly insane story instead. So hear it is…
When it comes to luck, you make your own
My maternal grandparents married in 1946 in Torre del Greco, Naples, Italy. My grandfather worked on the luxury ships that sailed out of the port of Naples. He sailed all over the world sometimes for weeks at a time. My grandmother meantime stayed back in Torre del Greco. Her daily routine consisted of cleaning, cooking, and visiting with her family.
My grandfather had a routine of his own too. He bought lottery tickets every week. So while working on long trips at sea, he asked my grandmother to carry out the weekly task. Along with the ticket, she also had to purchase the following day’s newspaper. Back then, the winning numbers were printed in the paper. No immediate announcements via the Internet or television. He always left my grandmother extra money specifically for tickets and newspapers and he always played the same numbers. She only had to make a point of leaving her home to physically buy the ticket. Easy enough.
Every time my grandfather left Naples for work, she’d buy a weekly lottery ticket. Well, almost every time. One day her Mom was visiting. They were enjoying biscotti and espresso. My great-grandmother asked, “Did you buy his lottery ticket yet?” My grandmother’s response? “Oh please, never mind him and his crazy delusions! He actually thinks he’s going to win. He’s nuts. I’m sick and tired of buying tickets week after week and dealing with piles and piles of newspapers all over my house.”
BREATHE. THIS IS A TRUE STORY by the way and quite a saga.
In an effort to gather more details and facts from an event that took place over sixty years ago, I decided to confront my grandmother directly about it. I put my journalist hat on and went right to the source. Unfortunately, I can’t get the other side of the story from my grandfather since he passed away 25 years ago. That would have been priceless or may have triggered a heated argument.
My grandmother is 93 years old now. A few months ago, I was fortunate enough to spend quality time with her. She lived with me for a few weeks while my parents enjoyed a Mediterranean Cruise.
Here’s part of my interrogation…(we spoke in the Neapolitan dialect to each other)
LeeLee: So Nonna (that’s grandmother in Italian)… tell me what you remember about the lottery story.
Nonna: Oh no. Please, not the lottery story.
LeeLee: You have to Nonna! It’s somewhat hilarious after all these years.
Nonna: (with a HUGE sigh) Well, I was the dutiful perfect wife until that day. Until I just couldn’t deal with going out and getting dressed to the nines just to buy a damn lottery ticket. You know, in the 40s, women dressed! I couldn’t run out in a baseball cap! Anyway, plus then I had to go out again the next day to pick up the paper. Week after week. It always felt like such a waste of time and money. Ugh! I should have listened to your great- grandmother. She was on my case about it.
LeeLee: So you never thought…
Nonna: what ended up happening would actually happen? Hell no! Your grandfather was in Australia. Yes, the other side of the world. He somehow found out what the winning numbers were and booked a flight home to Naples. A flight! Nobody in our family flew on an airplane in those days. (Another HUGE sigh) Every single one of his numbers came out. We won! Oh yes, we won millions…if I had only bought the ticket. No wonder your grandfather flew back home, he thought he was a millionaire! Unbelievable!
LeeLee: Nonna! You’re killing me!
Nonna: Let me tell you, I wanted to kill myself!
LeeLee: What did you do when you realized they were all of his numbers?
Nonna: I was devastated and so scared. When he suddenly showed up back in Naples, everyone in our neighborhood knew that I had screwed up. It seemed as if I caused a huge scandal. I was most definitely the talk of the town. A lot of people felt bad for me. I was speechless, in shock, in mourning. It was dreadful.
LeeLee: So who told him the bad news?
Nonna: I made my mother do it. I was sick to my stomach. I couldn’t speak.
LeeLee: What did he say to you? How did he react?
Nonna: (Another HUGE sigh) Well, I physically hid under the bed for a few hours and wouldn’t come out of the bedroom. I was petrified. I was so scared to confront him.
LeeLee: Answer the question! What did he do?
Nonna: Silence. Complete silence for over 1 month. We didn’t look at each other or speak to each other.
Nonna: It was awful.
I’m gonna lose those blues I’ve found ….
LeeLee: Did you ever talk it out?
Nonna: Briefly. He finally broke his silence after several weeks. I remember it well. I had just served him his dinner and he looked at me and said, “Well, at least you know I really do love you. I’m letting it go. I’ve accepted it. I guess I’m meant to work for the rest of my life.”
Nonna: He let it go but I just cried and cried and cried.
When it comes to luck, you make your own
No ticket, no winnings! My grandfather obviously went back to work on the ships. A few years later, my grandparents and my mom immigrated to the United States. My grandfather briefly worked in the construction industry. He injured himself on a jobsite but thankfully, he fully recovered. He left construction and opened several successful pizza shops. My grandparents worked together well into their 60s. They worked really hard and tried to make their own luck.
The story is truly insane. I’m grateful to my Nonna for having the courage to share it with me. I’ve always heard bits and pieces but never any specific details.
For the past 13 years, I’ve been buying Powerball tickets…. religiously. It’s all for sentimental reasons. Every time I purchase a ticket, I think of my grandfather. And every time, I play the same numbers. Two of the numbers honor his birthday…3 and 23. He was born on March 23, 1916.
How does that lottery saying go? ….. “Hey, you never know?”