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How Perry Commo Learned the Importance of Proverbi Italiani

By Rosario Mariani

“Impara l’arte e mettela da parte” – “Learn a trade and put it aside”

Regional dialects of Italy are rich in proverbs. They were particularly important during the turn of the 19th century, as many poor and underprivileged Italians immigrated to far-away lands and needed a set of rules, if you will, to guide them through the uncertainties of what may lay ahead.

In the United States, many new opportunities arose for the new generation, as they learned and assimilated into the American culture. Parents from the Old World could not understand how their children could venture into new endeavors without risking failure or not being able to be self-sufficient. So, many concerned parents would utter the following proverb to their children during dinner time; ricordatevi, figli miei, di “Imparare l’arte e mettetela da parte.”

In 1910, Pietro Como and Lucia Travaglini arrived in the USA from Palena in the province of Chieti, Italy. In 1912, their first American boy, Pierino (Perry), was born in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania. Pierino was quite talented and loved musical instruments and aspired to become a singer or a musician. Pietro understood this but wanted his son to make a decent living and support himself.  Pierino respected his father’s wishes and learned to become a barber by the age of ten.  He was short and thus had to stand on a box to give haircuts.

By age 14, not only was he a good barber, he hired two other boys and ran his own shop. His father passed away during this time and Pierino was able to support the family from practicing his trade. But he also wanted to pursue his singing career. And, as we all know, his voice warmed our hearts for many decades that followed.

Perry Como was confident that if things failed he could always go back to being a barber!