Formulating Perspectives | Teen Ink

Formulating Perspectives

August 12, 2008
By Amanda deBerardinis GOLD, San Diego, California
Amanda deBerardinis GOLD, San Diego, California
18 articles 1 photo 0 comments

While communicating with my grandmother about her life, I realized that she has had many interesting life events that have molded her perspective in making decisions and perceiving the world around her. In To Kill a Mockingbird, Atticus Finch, Scout and Jem’s father, taught them to walk in another person’s skin to understand other perspectives. Enthralled with her life changing experiences, I learned values, such as the importance of family, important to her discovering her source of happiness. When my grandmother was in middle school, she made a very difficult but significant decision that taught her about perspective.

During the interview process with my grandmother, I realized it all began with the time when my grandmother at age seven, was asked one of the most important questions in her lifetime by her father while he had double pneumonia. It triggered her formulating her perspective as well as her family background and environment. Throughout my grandmother’s life, she learned from shaping her perspective, that happiness through family was the key to life.

My grandmother was born in Corona, New York, where the first World Fair took place in 1927. The story of her birth, I found quite an eye-opener. Her mother, Maria Farucci, my great-grandmother, gave birth to Rosa, my grandmother’s twin, with much struggling and the help of a midwife to deliver the baby. After Maria thought she was relieved from the hardship and searing pain of childbirth, she immediately began washing clothes as if nothing had happened, but realized too late that there was yet another baby still in her stomach. Her husband, my great-grandfather, Alberto, panicked and scampered out the door to fetch the midwife, but she was already long gone. Her birth displayed the difficult living conditions of her environment. The fact that the birth of my grandmother took place at their two room apartment reminds me of when Jem broke his arm and Atticus called the doctor to treat him at home. Living in this day and age with the easy access of hospitals, I cannot even begin to imagine life without them.

Alberto could not support his family with a wife and four kids, so he sent my grandmother, Lena, her twin, Rosa, Louis, and Theresa to live in Italy for one year while he made money in the United States, but the one year turned into three-and-a-half years because Maria was unable to part from her mother on her deathbed. My grandmother survived under harsh living conditions and still managed to be content nevertheless. Six people were crammed together in one apartment; Lena and her siblings, her mother, and sick grandmother who passed away during my grandmother’s life in Italy, learned to cope with being stuffed into one room like an oversized potato sack. For her entire life until marriage, my grandmother slept with at least one other family member, for there was limited space in their overcrowded apartment. I marveled at the thought that she had not slept alone in a bed until after her own husband died, when she was sixty-three years old. The fact that she had to endure sleeping in the same bed as her three other siblings with her mother on the floor of the apartment startled me. This incident splashed cold water in my eyes, for I sometimes complained about the size of my room. I take for granted having my own room and soft and cozy bed to retreat to at night, but to think about what she lived with makes me feel very lucky and privileged, but at the same time, guilty and shameful, for I know there are people in the world without a safe and comfortable shelter.

Her family journeyed to America on the immigrant boat to rejoin her father after the three-and-a-half year period. A raging storm occurred and lightning struck, thunder rolled, and the waves sloshed in the cold and foul-smelling boat. Packed together closely like rats, soaked through with ocean water, my grandmother’s eyes welled with tears upon seeing the Statue of Liberty, a sacred symbol of her life and journey to the United States of America, her home sweet home. Although the voyage home was rough, it was worth shedding joyful tears at meeting her father’s family there. Her relatives from Brooklyn arrived with delicious delicacies to celebrate their safe arrival; the day she would never forget, tasting foods exotic to her, such as bananas, which she had never laid eyes on before. My grandmother recalled herself as a seven-year-old child, scanning her eyes for her father in the crowd, and stepping off the immigrant boat, hoping and pleading to see her father’s face. Finding that her father was in bed dying of pneumonia, he asked Lena, my grandmother, a thoughtful question that penetrated deep into her thoughts later as she reflected upon it. He had asked what she wanted most in life, and being extremely poor at the time, replied that she wanted to marry a rich man with a car, and desired to enjoy the glamorous activity of smoking. Later, as she matured, her desires and goals changed extremely. The only part of her childhood she regretted was that she lost her father at age seventeen and missed him terribly.

Lena and her twin were put in kindergarten a year later, at age eight-and-a-half. Their parents knew no English, for they taught their children Italian, their native language. Being bright; however, her and her twin learned easily and skipped three grades with pleasure and readiness, so they graduated from middle school at the same age as everyone else, although behind at first. Growing up during the Great Depression in a tiny apartment in Westchester County, in White Plains, New York was difficult, for there was a large gap between the rich and poor, until the rise of the middle class. I found that surprising because now communities are integrated between the rich and poor, and then, the towns were separated based on economic class, rather than race. She lived on the poor side, but at school, rich kids attended, for it was an ordinary public school that took walking three miles for my grandmother to travel every morning.

I felt in shock upon hearing how the wealthy had special privileges in a public school. Connie Swackhammer, a girl in my grandmother’s class, was a wealthy girl whose father owned a business that delivered coal for furnaces, which was a large and successful business. Surprisingly though, teachers and policeman were the richest and highest in the economic classes; a contrast to today. Lena wore outfits given to her family meant for welfare people, which she despised. Thinking how Connie owned the most gorgeous dresses, regularly visited a nice beauty salon, ate lavish meals, took vacations that she bragged about, and practically bathed in gold, Lena thought she had nothing compared to them. My grandmother voiced her opinion strongly, and replied that it was, “disgusting how she would have the privilege of eating milk and graham crackers every day in front of the poor kids in class,” while she fattened up like a honey-baked-ham. I would have been very uncomfortable in my grandmother’s place, feeling poor and sorry for myself because I did not possess what Connie had. I admire my grandmother for making the most out of her economic situation and staying confident, not putting herself down.

Economic class is portrayed in To Kill a Mockingbird. I believe the author wants the reader to side with Tom Robinson; therefore, drawing the conclusion that the Ewells were low class and disgusting as well, while the Finches were well-respected in terms of economic class. The blacks were obviously the lowest class because of their race in society. Social and economic class affects the environment in which someone like my grandmother for example, lived in, and relates to the novel. After witnessing Connie’s lifestyle, she realized that the wealthy brat was still miserable regardless from the lack of her parents’ love. That was something my grandmother possessed and was proud to have a loving and caring family. She saw Connie’s perspective, from at first thinking Connie was a rich and stuck-up girl, realized that although she was bathed in luxurious materialism, there was a placid frown on her face regardless, and my grandmother, to this day, feels sorry for her.

Another incident of the wealthy being treated unfairly like Connie was when Robert Rubin, a grade-school classmate, took extensive winter vacations with his family to Florida, and the teacher used to mail him his homework, and he mailed it back. It was not even necessary for the wealthy to attend school all the time, but mandatory for the poorer kids, in a situation like my grandmother’s. She, as well, saw he had brains, and did not dislike him; while walking inside his skin for a bit. What would it be like to be rich for a change? The wealthy, while my grandmother barely had three meals a day, went to the extent as to bury their pets in caskets in the animal cemetery, which remains in White Plains, today. It is a very pricy neighborhood, but the neighborhoods are not separated based on economic class anymore. The middle class evolved and the people are more integrated in communities nowadays.

Meanwhile, my grandmother and her twin, Rosa, were so intelligent and had such amazing potential that something incredible happened. Equitable to today’s scholarship program, three teachers approached them separately and without consulting one another, inviting her and her twin to live with them, offering an education free and paid for by the teachers, so they could succeed in pursuing their education and later become any profession they dreamed of. My grandmother always wanted to own a dress shop, for she was deeply interested in fashion at the time. Rosa aspired to be a doctor or artist and could easily have followed that dream. They declined the offer, and my grandmother regretted her choice. They could not do that to their parents, who were poor and needed the twins, for they supported their parents until they were both married. Family was a value and my grandmother, Lena, learned that living with her family mattered more than having a lot of money. She overcame her troublesome decision and says she did the right thing. If I was in her position, I honestly do not think I would have been able to make a decision when it was so tempting to leave her family for the money, and I admire her for choosing what was right. She imagined having maids, beautiful clothes, a fine education, fancy meals, and anything else she desired, but that was not enough to tempt her to leave her parents’ side. She could not live without them and likewise, revealing how her family meant more than anything else in her life.

She therefore graduated from middle school and straight to a Manhattan sweatshop at age sixteen as she worked tireless labor. She imagined having a Christmas tree, and dolls, which she never had as a child, a contrast to her favorite Christmas present: a doll from the dumpster. This experience shaped her life and changed the way she saw the world, concluding that it was nice to have money, but leads to bad habits: never being happy, taking everything for granted, and not valuing anything like what she cherished most, her family.

Recalling an experience when she was younger and felt extremely close to her family was when her younger brother, Louis, was forced into the Fascist concentration camp under the dictator, Mussolini, in Italy. He had no true obligation to Mussolini, since he was born in the United States as well as my grandmother, but catching pneumonia saved him from further turmoil. She cherished her family and could not bear to lose her brother, and kept her hopes high during that time. It was a tough experience after my grandmother was worried sick over the possibility of where her brother was at the camp and how he was doing, but he was kicked out, for what camp would want a sick boy?

Overall, she had friends and family and was happy with her life, unlike Connie Swackhammer who lived a materialistic life. I cannot believe she had some extremely difficult times, but showed no sign of misery or depression. Instead of owning ten different pairs of shoes, like what would have been possible if she had chosen the rich and prosperous life with the teachers, she chose the alternative, buying boots two sizes too large in order to wear them for a longer period of time. As a teenager, she would scrub like little orphan Annie on her hands and knees for twenty-five cents from a wealthy family, which she used to pay for church dances, which shows her desperation for money at the time, although casting aside the rich and glamorous life. Today, she discovered that celebrities with too much money on their hands damage their lives with it, and my grandmother would rather have her family close to her heart than a bunch of money separating her from the people she loved. Having to make this huge decision of her lifetime led to develop her current perspective of the world. Money is not a necessity for happiness, it often makes it worse. People begin to desire more and more and are never satisfied. Her family was everything to her, and nothing those teachers could offer her would entice her enough to leave her family out in the dust to fend for themselves.

My grandmother was genuinely grateful for the opportunity to share the valuable events in her life; she had never had the opportunity to spill these beans inside of her. These events in her life were the foundation of her perspective of the world. I enjoyed this interview and appreciate my findings of how perspective is formed based on events and the world around you. The only part of her childhood she regretted was that she lost her father at age seventeen and missed him terribly.

My grandmother Lena’s perspective gathered over the course of her life’s journey began with the speculation of her birth when the midwife left, leading to endurance of harsh living conditions. Later, she realized the first real experience of shaping her perspective was when she told her father with pneumonia her goal to be wealthy at age seven. This original perspective changed while she lived her life from a poor person’s perspective. She realized money was not everything. What was important was happiness, achieved through a strong family bond, extremely necessary to have a fruitful life.

The author's comments:
This piece was inspired by my grandmother, whom I call Nonni (from Nonna meaning grandmother in Italian) and I wanted to share with others my view of perspective incorporated with her interesting life and hardships.

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This article has 1 comment.

Ann Mott said...
on Aug. 29 2008 at 10:21 pm
Amanda: I have only read the first half of this (given that I'm at work:)). What a heartbreaking history...though, it is incredibly special that you had the opportunity to hear it first-hand from your grandmother. Perspective is EVERYTHING... It is paramount to understand the various ways life plays out for the "haves" and "have nots" - perspective is the grace with which we learn to make a difference.