By: Felicia LaLomia, ISDA Contributing Editor
In the arc of my family’s history, there have been many hardships—grueling emigration, job loss, war, poverty—much of which I can’t fully relate to. But in the growing crisis that has paralyzed Italy, the U.S. and much of the world, I now have a glimpse at just one of many unforgiving realities that our ancestors faced for much of their lives. It gives me pause, and it will define a portion of my life. This will be the experience I tell my grandchildren about. They’ll sit in awe like I once did, while listening to my nonno and nonna.
I would always ask my grandfather about growing up in rural Buffalo with immigrant parents. Being one of the first to go to college, to not work in a factory or on a farm, was a big change. I remember him telling me that after spending two years in community college, he wanted to continue on to get his bachelor’s degree. This was something his father, my great-grandfather, would never understand. Why go back to college when you already have a good job with the degree you have?
But my grandfather still went on to get a four-year degree, and it’s a good thing he did. He earned an engineering degree and had a successful and stable career.
Today, many of us aren’t so lucky. Since the coronavirus struck, many people I know—recent college grads like myself—have lost their jobs or been indefinitely furloughed. Before it got too bad, I left my apartment on Long Island and came back to my childhood home in upstate New York. If this uneasy period of time was going to take a few months, or longer, to ride out, I wanted to be with my family.
Now, looking at our house, it’s the same but different. I’m living with my parents and younger brother, but my boyfriend has joined me. Instead of getting up to go to school in the morning, I head down to the kitchen table, my new office, making phone calls and conducting virtual meetings. My boyfriend sits across from me doing the same, as if we share a cubicle wall. My father has his own office with a view, our dining room with a window. This has become our new normal.
But even in these uncertain times, we have found ways to keep spirits up and bring the family closer. This past weekend, my grandmother celebrated her 87th birthday, quite a milestone. Because we couldn’t celebrate in person, we did the next best thing. We made happy birthday signs and brought over some champagne. We stood 10 feet away from her doorstep and six feet apart from one another and sang until she came outside. We uncorked the champagne, and despite the circumstances, it’s a moment I’ll never forget. It was the only way we could celebrate in these times, but I know she loved it.
Coming back to the house that night, we brought back a tradition—homemade pizza. My dad spent the few hours previous kneading the dough and letting it rise. Then we poured some wine and made a mess of the kitchen. Flour, cheese shreds, olive oil droplets and pepperoni bits were everywhere. We ate way too much, and enjoyed ourselves. We had long conversations about life, love, family and the days (and months) ahead.
Like with countless others, this will be my new normal for a while, but I’m grateful to be surrounded by the people I cherish most.