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Success Story: On Track for 100 Years Young and Beyond

This success story is close to home. My parents-in-law.

Sam and Lucia2
Sam and Lucia aka “Lovebirds,” at a special anniversary Mass he arranged

They celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary on Saturday!

Yea, I know what you’re thinking, looking at that pic. Bea and I already anticipated that when I was chewing on the idea of posting about it, when that pic came in as we were having cocktails and dinner in advance of a movie.

“They’ll think they got married at 12!” she told me.

OK, so I have to tell you that Sam is 84, and Lucia just turned 80! So, no laws were broken—man’s or God’s—in connection with them starting a family that spanned having and raising six kids—the oldest of whom is just shy of 60.

These two people are very special to me, and in ways I find futile to attempt explanation—on a blog with over 3,600 of my posts on it, no less. I’m going to tell you that it’s personal, many facets, and that I love to give Lucia as much shit as possible…because she’s such a good sport and just tosses it right back at me to complete the circle of love.

…As the story goes, Sam met Lucia once and when he got home, emptied his pockets into the piggy bank. And he didn’t stop saving money until he had the confidence to ask her to marry him.

Scerenade
Serenade

He enlisted in the Air Force and was trained in air traffic control. He got out and then spent about 3 decades as an air traffic controller for the FAA, much of the latter years in tower supervisory and management roles. He’s a very smart man. One of his sons, “my biatch” Steve, recently retired as a trans-oceanic ATC. And his son, Jr.—Sam’s grandson—has just begun his ATC career.

So to what do they owe their longevity and vitality? Good food. Good Family…mutual love and respect, with low-drama and low-stress downside effects. They’re not “paleo” or anything like that, but Lucia’s cooking, primarily, has always been about simple good food. Think they have a bowl of cereal for breakfast? I’ve never seen it in over 15 years a single time. I see Mexican-style pinto beans, fried potatoes, eggs, tortillas and salsa—and a plate of fruit. (Over the years, I have had success in convincing them to use butter, not be afraid of fat, etc. I get emails from Sam now and then: “Did you see that ‘xyz’ show? Same thing you’ve been saying for years.”)

Lunch is more often to be a sandwich from leftover turkey, chicken or even meatloaf than anything else—unless they make burritos with leftovers, with meat as the mainstay. Lucia likes thick sliced baloney sandwiches. Me too. Mayo, mustard—on white bread. Toss on some iceberg lettuce for crunch.

Dinner? Home cooked pot roasts, meat loafs, pork chops, ribs, chicken…and even liver. Why do you think my wife loves liver? She grew up on it because it was the least expensive, and everyone knew: the most nutritious. Lucia doesn’t say “inexpensive,” by the way. She says “cheap.” She always cuts right to the essence of things with no fluff.

Sam has been a type II diabetic for about 40 years. He manages it thoroughly, and still eats his carbs—but they are mostly Real Food carbs: rice, beans, potatoes, fruits.

And sure, they like the odd outing for fast food, order up a pizza, pie as dessert after breakfast—just like anyone does, but they’re old school in that regard. It’s not done every day or even close…and it’s second best to a home cooked meal. It’s simple, folks. Real Food. Most. Of. The. Time.

Sam is an accomplished cook in his own regard. Try out his chili verde. Seriously. I’ve done it dozens of times and it’s been a mainstay around here since the very first time I had his.

Scerenade
Chili Verde

Sam’s original chili verde:

  • 3-4 lbs. of cheap fatty pork chops with the bones
  • 4-5 large tomatoes; alternatively, a couple cans stewed or diced tomatoes, with or without the spices some of them contain, and one or two fresh tomatoes
  • 1 small can tomato sauce
  • 5-6 cloves of fresh garlic, crushed
  • 2 medium yellow onions, chopped finely
  • 6-10 medium jalapeño peppers, depending on the level of heat desired, chopped finely with or without seeds; again, depending on the heat.

Cut up the pork chops and brown them in a pan. Then take the garlic, onion, and peppers and lightly sauté, just a few minutes; no need for the the onion to become translucent. Place all this in your cooking pot, add in the tomatoes, tomato sauce, salt & pepper if you like, a little water if you need, bring to a boil and then cover and simmer for a couple of hours or so, until the pork falls off the bones and will easily fall apart.

That’s the recipe as it was. I do a couple of things different. I drain a couple of cans of medium black olives and add those. I also cook it low and slow in a crock pot. I prepare in the evening and turn on the pot (low) when I go to bed. Even turning it on at 12 a.m., it should be ready by 6 or 7. If there’s any rubbery feel to the pork, it’s not done yet. It falls off the bone when done.

Now, the classic Mexican version is done with tomatillos (the “verde” is the chili used, not the color of the dish—it would be “colorado” if it were red chilies). I have done it with tomatillos many times, however. Just roast them in the skin (like 400F for 20 in the oven on a sheet) and then juicify them in a food processor or blender. My take is that I prefer Sam’s tomato version for breakfast (our most common meal for it, by far) and the tomatillo version for a dinner.

And why not another?

Well how about his Caldo De Res? Here’s the post from December 31, 2008, one of the dozen-posts-in-a-day marathon I did back then.

Inthepot
In the Pot
Ontheplate
On the Plate

I emailed Sam a while back for the recipe; so, verbatim:

  • Short ribs, beef shank, ox tails, and soup bones
  • Carrots, corn, cabbage, celery, onion, fresh garlic, zucchini, potatoes, fresh mint
  • Salt and pepper

Boil all meat for approx 1 & 1/2 hours. Skim and salt boiling meat water as needed. When through skimming, add chopped celery, whole or halfed onions, and chopped garlic.

While meat is cooking, chop or cut up veggies.

When soup is ready for vegetables, add to the meat and water in the following order to avoid overcooking: carrots, corn, potatoes, and mint leaves.

Just before the meat and veggies start to boil again, add quartered cabbage scattered over the top of everything and add the cut up zuchinni on top of the cabbage. Cover the pot. As soon as the the soup starts to boil again, turn off heat and allow it to sit for 10 minutes. Serve with care to avoid having zuchinni or potatoes dissolve.

“Caldo” is somewhat of a family tradition, as a way to bring everyone together on some afternoon when everyone—or enough of everyone—is in town. “Dad’s making caldo.” And people show up. Heard it a million times.

The entire family has special things they cook and it brings everyone together. My brother-in-law, Damien? The most amazing grilled carne asada you’ll ever have, served up with lime wedges, fresh corn tortillas, cilantro and chopped onion—and cervezas! Bud does menudo and tamales with real masa. Sometimes, he buys them from other home cooks. My favorite is always hot pork, and some months ago he brought a batch down south to Sam & Lucia’s. So hot, you’ll feel it for hours. I showed off by eating one without the beans, rice and salsa diluting elements. …Then there’s my sister-in-law—high-powered attorney for Apple; family from Peru, not Mexico. Best damn guacamole on the planet. Here, try it out, along with Damien’s carne asada.

Mega Guac Essentialls
Mega Guac Essentials
Guacamole
Guacamole
Dinnertime
Dinnertime!

From the whole post back in 2010:

I don’t use fixed quantities but do it to taste, each step along the way. In this case, all 4 avocados, two of the tomatoes, half the onion, two cloves of garlic, two medium jalapenos, about a half cup of cilantro, lime juice & salt to taste.

Step one is to mash the avocado with a potato masher. You want it chunky, not a puree, so don’t use a processor. Mash it by itself so as not to crush your other chunky ingredients. Next goes the finely chopped onion, to taste. I chop more than enough, add most of it, stir in and add more bits until just right (judge for crunch, too). Next goes the garlic, crushed and finely chopped. Then the peppers, seeds removed, very finely chopped and with a bit of a crush from the side of the knife. Do one pepper first, stir in, let sit and taste in about five minutes. Add whatever portion or all of the 2nd pepper, or more if you like. I like it pretty spicy and should have got a 3rd pepper.

The tomatoes are coarsely chopped, seeds & mush removed. For the cilantro, I like to chop up both leaves and stems in about equal portions from both sides. Be careful. It’s pretty powerful and can overpower the other flavors. Last is lime juice & salt to taste. As mentioned, I recommend going a bit liberal on the salt.

But I couldn’t get a hold of ‘sis-law’ before I made it, so:

I have a sister-in-law who makes awesome guacamole. I couldn’t reach her yesterday to confirm the particulars of her recipe or method, but this is what I imagined it might be close to. The jalapeno is the essential ingredient — other than the avocado, of course.

I never checked up with her after, but it tasted pretty damn close so I hope I did her inspiration proud. But I can’t know for sure. She’s tough as nails.

And last, but not least, Bea makes terrific Albondigas. Whips ’em up in a jiffy, too, and nice & spicy.

…Moving on. Sam is an accomplished singer and it’s a huge family thing, including in-STRUM-ents; picking at ’em too. Sam sang at our wedding. One day some years back, Bea got a CD in the mail from her dad with some recordings they’d converted. Next time we were down there I said to Lucia: “break out the shoe box!” Then I went to work snapping pics of pics and tossing them into iMovie. As recorded by Los Tres Hermanos Fabela: Sam, Fred and Trini.

Mananitas a Mi Madre (Serenade to My Mother), with 40,000 Views on YouTube by now.

Here’s the other one I did: Surfro Tu Ausencia (I Suffer Your Absence):

So, indeed, I have a private life outside of blogging. Much of it is too personal to share often; because just as often, I’m at a loss for words.

I was fortunate early on in life to realize the importance of a good family behind your mate. So essential. You have to love and adore the family. You have to be anxious to be around them. It does not matter how good she may be or appear to be; if you don’t love that family: run away, and fast. Took many years to do, but I found Beatrice, and her family. I simply could not settle for less.

…Ha, I’ll bet you want to know Sam & Lucia’s terms of endearment for each other, don’t you?

He’s Sammy. She’s Lu.

Richard Nikoley

I'm Richard Nikoley. Free The Animal began in 2003 and as of 2021, contains 5,000 posts. I blog what I wish...from health, diet, and food to travel and lifestyle; to politics, social antagonism, expat-living location and time independent—while you sleep—income. I celebrate the audacity and hubris to live by your own exclusive authority and take your own chances. Read More

13 Comments

  1. Chris Sturdy on November 19, 2013 at 15:06

    I just created a new “recipes” bookmark folder for this post!

  2. Sam Fabela on November 19, 2013 at 15:11

    Richard,

    You touched me deeply. And I always thought you weren’t paying much attention.

    Lucia and I are honored. Thank you.

    love,
    Sam

  3. gabriella kadar on November 19, 2013 at 17:05

    That’s what I call aging fabulously. I bet they don’t feel a day over 40.

    Somewhere there’s a saying about look at your future mother in law to see what you’ll have in store.

  4. Richard Nikoley on November 19, 2013 at 17:21

    Sam

    I always want everyone to think I’m not paying much attention. Easy to surprise that way. 🙂

    Loves your way. And tell Lucia I want meatloaf!

  5. Bea on November 19, 2013 at 18:56

    Hi sweets,

    Just read and listened to the entire post. It brought back a lot of great memories, especially the music and food. Those were great times for me.

    I only can dream that I age as gracefully as my parents. Thanks to them growing up, and thanks to you, now, I think I’m on the right track, for sure.

    I love my family. I love my Mexican heritage. I love you.

    Beatrice

  6. Denis on November 19, 2013 at 21:38

    Richard,

    I gotta tell you.. for me, this was your best post ever. I come from a large a Mexican family (dad’s side), where everyone gathers every couple of weeks for pozole, we make tamales for Christmas, and no one grows old in retirement homes. The things you shared are the glue that binds.

    I’ve wondered many times what it is about this blog that’s kept me coming back… and then you post stories like this, and it becomes very clear. Thank you.

  7. Marc on November 20, 2013 at 04:26

    Richard,

    I love a good cry, and this AMAZING post got me going.
    I love my wife SO friggin much, and reading this just re-confirmed how lucky we are to have each other.
    Sammy and Lu look regal…the respect and love they have for each other comes clear off my screen.

    Observation…

    The one sentence you used that put your whole post together for me…..”low-drama and low-stress downside effects.”

    I grew up in Amsterdam Holland, and during my last years of visits (about every year and a half for the last 26 years), I was blown away by how much faster everyone here stateside seems to age.
    Many of my parents friends, now in their late 70’s and early 80’s all look fantastic…very much the same when I left them when I was 19 years old.
    Low drama and low stress downside effects hi me lik e ton of bricks, as I’ve always wondered why they seem to age so well. They all eat real food most of the time, but the don’t exercise…nor do they worry about going out to eat and enjoying a nice baquette with delicious dutch cold cuts.

    You’re right Richard, it’s the low drama low stress deal AND as you pointed out also… family, a sense of community…truly caring about one another…and eating real food most of the time possibly last on the list.

    Thanks for sharing…..
    Love it.

    Marc

  8. John on November 20, 2013 at 12:49

    Its great to see such appreciation for “chosen” family.

    The present norm and expectation that time with in-laws (or partner’s parents) should be dreadful is sad, and your story is very happy.

  9. marie on November 20, 2013 at 19:46

    I told my husband I married him for his mother. She’s in her 90’s now and going strong, still dedicated to caring for her far-flung family – and I mean dedicated, she Still climbs the olive trees to prune them herself because of course the seasonal help can’t possibly do it right and then how would her family survive without the very best olive oil, good olive oil is medicine didn’t you know? (of course who can gainsay her, she can still climb trees!)
    Family is all.
    I’m glad for yours, all of them, chosen and by birth. Your writing does justice, thanks for sharing.

  10. Richard Nikoley on November 21, 2013 at 09:57

    Marie:

    I think I’ve told the story on the blog….yes, here, actually:

    https://freetheanimal.com/2011/01/amazing-fat-that-does-not-come-from-an-animal-euphoria-olive-oil-from-peloponnesus.html

    ~~~

    …It was December, 1991 when, as a US Navy exchange officer and navigator of the French missile destroyer DUQUESNE (pronounced kinda like: Duquain), we pulled into port at Patras, Greece on the peninsula of Peloponnese.

    And after a few days of doing the standard Greek thing of going to eat dinner at 10-11pm (restaurants are empty until then, even on weekdays) and being shit tired the next day and absolutely needing the 12-4pm siesta break that describes the Greek way of life which is essentially, in my estimation, two days in every one, three other officers from the ship and I decided to rent a car and trek.

    Olympia is on that peninsula, so that’s where we headed. As I recall, it’s quite mountainous and along the way near the top of one summit or the other, we came across the typical Greek rural restaurant…some family’s home, with a dining hall attached.

    …I must first spend a moment telling you how much I love this. My first experience had been another trip, to Athens. You don’t get the same sense of rural Greece, there. But again, a different ship (Le COLBERT — pronounced like the comedian), a different set of officers and we set out in a rental to the outcropping of Corinth. Having attended divinity school I’d have expected something quite more substantial (actually visiting Biblical places will make you an atheist more than anything). We got there about 1pm to a literally deserted town in any important way. It was so empty and quiet that I had to wonder if Jesus might not actually have come again whilst we were on the road en route and typical, I’d just fucked myself in the last year, ’cause I was assured I’d be along for the ride before I became such a blasphemer. But what the hell, at least I was in good company…sure glad the driver musta been my kinda heathen. And after all, the city’s Biblical, so how could I hold any grudge that they all got raptured out?

    Long story only a little longer: we found this family home / restaurant at the southern end of the Corinth canal and they served us a Greek salad, the equal of which I have yet to taste. Not even close. Not anywhere. Price, location, ratings irrelevant. This was the best ever.

    Now back to the original story, we stopped at this rural home / restaurant at the top of this mountain with a wondrous view, and it was dead. No customers. Long story short this time, the family roused and prepared us a meal I still remember. Very simple — minimalist, actually — grilled thin lamb chops with essence of garlic & rosemary, drizzled in luscious olive oil. There were other things, but I still seem to recall only the lamb and the way it was prepared and so modestly presented.

    …Uh don’t tell the FDA or local food service police, y’know, in this place that lazy, fat, complacent, slumbering “Americans” still ignorantly refer to as “The Land of the Free.” It’s complete BULLSHIT! for anyone who has bothered to actually travel or live outside its borders.

    LOL.

    We made our way from there to Olympia, getting there after noon and as typical, the town was desolate. But being a bit more touristy, there was a shop or two open — even a museum — as I recall. And of course, the original stadium…which is only really impressive if you consider the timeframe, and not the hype surrounding the Olympic Games. But al least we got to see the vestal virgins (I’ll bet) in white silk robes rehearse the lighting of the torch for the 1992 winter Games in Albertville, France.

    …OK, Richard, is there, after all, any point to this post?

    I’m glad you asked because we did have to get back to Patras, back to out staterooms on the ship. But not before a coupla more memorable encounters. The first was some ancient amphitheater high in elevation which I know only because I recall the snow on the ground. Anyway, it was parabolic, very well preserved, and there was a disc in the very bottom center to stand upon. We found that you could talk at normal volume and be heard in the cheap seats. Fun.

    And then it turned dark and we were still on the road, now low on gas. And so it was that we came upon a rural station and filled up. This would have never occurred to me, a crude American lacking in culture, refinements and essential tastes. But the subject turned to olive oil, of all things. You see, while Italians may likely have turned up their noses in stubborn pride, the French are kinda like the Swiss in terms of olive oil neutrality. Or perhaps not, as I recall a few mon dieus expressed in describing the wondrous fruit of the region.

    Olive JuiceSo we asked. It was mom & pop and present was the obligatory, pretty fat, nice old lady sitting inside. You could tell she finally understood by the ear-to-ear smile and before we knew it, we had in our possession two, 2-liter bottles of the most lime green olive oil you have ever seen in your life. And it was unfiltered: teentsy, tiny bits of olive colloidally suspended throughout. I described it at the time as “olive juice.”

    I don’t know how long we spent heading down the road whilst dipping our pinky fingers into those bottles, tasting.

    I never, ever forgot it and to this day have always tried to source Greek olive oil. But kalamata olive oil is about all you can get, easily, and even that’s difficult though very worth it in my estimation. The Italians have really fucked us. Or, it’s those excessively late dinners and 4-hour naps on the part of the Greeks…

    Whatever the case, I will go to my grave flatly asserting that Italian olive oil is rat piss in comparison to koroneiki olive oil and can barely, but not quite, hold its own against kalamata, my everyday oil.

    ~~~

    I cover all bases, Marie. 🙂

  11. […] Did you see my post about the 60th wedding anniversary of my parents-in-law? […]

  12. Denny on January 6, 2014 at 04:43

    Congratulations Sam and Lucia. May the God of heaven give you another sixty healthy years. Great post!

  13. ...Oh, One More Thing... | Free The Animal on February 1, 2014 at 14:40

    […] time back, I posted about my parents-in-law's 60th wedding anniversary. Sam has been a type 2 diabetic for 40 years or more—more than half his life. I've been there […]

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