By Vincenzina Grasso, La Nostra Voce 
It was autumn, when everyone was busy hunting and collecting provisions for the long winter and spring months. We were human scavengers, searching for anything that was edible. In addition, we hunted food for our pig, goat and chickens, who sustained us with their nourishment.
This article first appeared in La Nostra Voce, ISDA’s monthly newspaper that chronicles Italian American history, culture and traditions. Subscribe today.
It was during those hunting trips that we collected bits of wood since we needed fuel to keep us warm and cook our meals. I vividly remember when my sister, Maria, and I went to our land in San Pietro in search of firewood. First, we scoured the vineyard to see if we could find any grapes that were overlooked by previous pickers. We were delighted when we found a handful of shriveled raisins. Later, I was thrilled to find part of a large log. When Maria had gathered a few limbs, we were ready to make our cloth corona (our crown). It was a piece of burlap cloth that we twisted into a tight circle and placed on our heads. It was a necessity since it protected our heads and helped balance the load. Happy with our success, we started our two-mile, uphill journey home. Soon we had to cross a stream that swelled up due to a recent storm. When I lost my balance mid-stream, I fell into the water. Broken-hearted, I watched my prized log and crown swiftly glide away. My sister helped me to cross the stream and I tried to ring out water from the bottom of my skirt. She gave me her dry sweater. I will never forget going home shivering, dripping wet and disappointed.
We desperately depended on solar energy. It warmed our bath water on our balcony. To save fuel, the spaghetti water also got lukewarm on the balcony. When the spaghetti was cooked, it was drained in another pot and used to wash the dishes. Because we never used soap, my mother added some wheat husks, and it became a nutritious meal for our pig. Nothing was wasted!
Many colorful vegetables were hung on balconies, such as plump tomatoes, red hot peppers, zucchini rings, and many herbs that were sun-dried, a very economical way of preserving food. In the back yard, large planks of wood were used to dry large quantities of figs, plums, olives, grapes, tomatoes and even tomato paste.
The laundry always swayed in the breeze, as it hung on clotheslines, fastened from balcony to balcony across the narrow streets. When water became scarce during the arid summers, our supply in our homes was promptly shut off at 7 p.m. from 7 a.m. When in dire need, often religious processions were organized to pray for the much-needed rain. Sometimes the fervent prayers worked!
I learned many frugal lessons in my childhood, which I practice to this day. My sons often tease me, “Why you still hanging laundry outdoors?” My answer is: the sunshine is free, the fresh air is invigorating, and as a bonus, I get some much-needed exercise, plus fresh-smelling clothes. In the winter, my dear Sebastiano had installed three clotheslines in our large cellar, and the furnace did the drying.
As we approach 2023, we pray that our present turmoil will be solved. I will keep a journal of the events of the last couple of years, so at least our future generations will get a glimpse of how we dealt with so many hardships. Hopefully, we all learned many frugal lessons along the way!
Vincenzina Grasso, La Nostra Voce 
Paolo Gagliardi, iStock
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