by Julia Powers.
Everyone in Hingham knows Pete Rando. For over thirty years, he was proprietor of Pete’s Barber Shop and his warm and engaging manner helped endear him to the generations of Hingham families that patronized his shop. And, as he turns 96 on April 19th, his life is a testament to the value of friendship, working hard at a job you love, and, last but certainly not least, the importance of good food.
Although he was born in this country, Pete moved back to Italy when he was three years old because his father, who suffered from asthma, thought the warmer climate would improve his health. Once they were settled back in Italy, Pete spent his childhood immersed in the culinary culture of his parents’ homeland, working with them in the garden and raising rabbits, which would ultimately end up on the family’s dinner table. In 1935, when he was 17 years old, he decided to strike out on his own and return to the States. Pete arrived in New York with only $8 in his pocket. This money didn’t last too long; after paying for the bus to Boston, he arrived at his uncle’s home in Hingham with $3 to his name, no job and not speaking any English. At first, he lived at his uncle’s Hingham home and earned room and board caring for the family’s 1400 chickens. Yes, you read that correctly! His uncle, who lived on Pleasant St., had seven chicken houses on his property and, until he landed his first job as a barber, Pete looked after the birds. Trained in his father’s profession, he eventually found a job at a Weymouth barbershop, where he was able to learn English and save money to purchase his own store, which he did in 1948. Given that a haircut cost 35 cents when he started, saving money wasn’t an easy task!
As a barber, hard work and a friendly manner defined Pete. As he is fond of saying, “I only worked half a day, from 6am to 6pm. That is half a day.” And, he was not kidding. After he sold the store in 1982, he continued to work at the shop and today, at age 95, Pete still cuts hair each morning from 6:00am until 9:30am. Through the years, he also worked hard at his other love-his garden. Like many immigrants, preserving the culinary traditions with which he was raised was vitally important to him. Over the decades, he grew much of the food his family ate while his wife, Nellie, preserved the bounty of the garden for the family to enjoy throughout the year. And, being from Italy, another one of the culinary traditions he continued was he making wine. Each year, he orders grapes from Napa Valley and, with the 100 year old wine press in his basement, makes both merlot and cabernet sauvignon.
As he approaches his 96th birthday, Pete is spry and his mind agile. He longevity and vitality are a testament to the way he has nourished his body over the years. His diet is filled with vegetables and fruits, many of which he grows himself. Other staples of his diet include chickpeas, lentils and beans. And, although he eats chicken and fish, he estimates he only has red meat once a year. Oh, and then there is the wine. Pete and Nellie have a small glass of wine every evening. What a lovely way to eat and an even lovelier way to live. Happy Birthday Pete!
Some first generation Americans, like Pete, choose to eat as they did in their homeland, often growing their own food in order to make this happen. Learn more about Pete’s fascinating story, as well as that of another first generation Italian-American who is also a gardener extraordinaire, in an upcoming edition of edible South Shore & South Coast.
Like Pete, Julia Powers lives in Hingham and shares his love of gardening, good food, and an occasional glass of wine.