Gifts ideas for an octogenarian, Italian-American barber.
August 4, 2018 4:05 PM   Subscribe

I'd like to assemble an un-retirement gift for a friend in his late 80s. 70% of our conversations involve him telling me stories about growing up in a small village in Sicily in the '30s or working in Rome as a teenage barber beginning just before WWII. He moved to the US in the late '50s and doesn't get back very often. I'd ideally love to include something that's vaguely traditional, imported from or closely related to Italy, and shows that I've been paying attention. (Extra points for Southern Italy.) But, I'm stumped.

In more detail, this guy has been my barber for years. He recently announced his retirement before changing his mind and returning to work. I suspect he'll be on his feet until seconds before he dies. Instead of the retirement gift I'd intended, I'd like to give him an un-retirement gift.

Gifts which are physically small and or edible seem ideal, since I don't know what his home is like. He's always been very excited about fancy or historic events and important people and he's a fan of the Catholic church. His politics are complicated enough that I'd rather steer clear. I'm game to spend up to a couple hundred dollars for something nice, though cheaper things are also good. (Everything relevant I can think of is available for $5 at the local supermarket, which makes for an underwhelming gift.)

If there's something genuinely useful to barbering that isn't so personal that it would be absurd for someone who knows nothing to give it to an expert, I'd also be keen to hear about it. I'm also happy to be told that this is a dumb idea and I should just buy him a card and stop fussing about it.
posted by eotvos to Shopping (17 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
What about looking into getting something signed from the Pope
posted by Ftsqg at 4:24 PM on August 4, 2018 [1 favorite]

Zingerman's sells a variety of Sicilian delicacies.
posted by Iris Gambol at 4:34 PM on August 4, 2018 [1 favorite]

What about something for his work, like a really nice pair of scissors or whatever? You could pick something up from Sally’s Beauty Supply.
posted by Autumnheart at 5:11 PM on August 4, 2018

The Daune Shavette is apparently an Italian Barber staple. If he doesn't use old-school stuff like that anymore, he might appreciate the throwback.
posted by rhizome at 5:18 PM on August 4, 2018 [2 favorites]

A lot of monasteries support themselves by making and selling food. This one sells fudge, fruitcake, honey, and biscotti.

If you can wait for his 90th birthday, you can get him a Papal blessing parchment.
posted by FencingGal at 5:19 PM on August 4, 2018 [5 favorites]

something related to the saint he's named for.
posted by brujita at 5:24 PM on August 4, 2018 [9 favorites]

I'd figure out where he's from in Sicily and get him some traditional foods from there. Off the top of my head, limoncello, almond cookies, and mulberry jam. Panettone. Cannoli. Italian coffee beans. Wine.
posted by tooloudinhere at 5:45 PM on August 4, 2018 [4 favorites]

Also, a lot of Italian-Americans, at least those I know, really identify culturally with opera. Assuming you’re still in Chicago, maybe he’d like tickets to the Lyric Opera.
posted by FencingGal at 5:47 PM on August 4, 2018 [3 favorites]

A map of his childhood hometown, perhaps? I did something similar for my grandparents one year, and it went over very well.
posted by steady-state strawberry at 6:24 PM on August 4, 2018 [2 favorites]

A coffee-table/photography book related to one of the topics he's talked about?
posted by trig at 7:38 PM on August 4, 2018

If you want to go with something related to the saint he’s named for, Trinity Stores has really lovely icons by different artists in a variety of styles.
posted by FencingGal at 7:23 AM on August 5, 2018 [2 favorites]

Round-up of books about Sicily, summarized and categorized (general/ancient/modern history, genealogy, literature, art, cooking, archaeology...).
You could donate vestments for new priests in his honor, or perhaps make a $ donation in his name to his local church/an Italian-American organization.
Rosaries sold through the Vatican gift shop ("At your request we will bring it to receive the Blessing from the Holy Father"); rosaries made in Italy; more rosaries made in Italy; commemorative medals. (While Agatha is the patron saint of Sicily, each town has its own saint as well, and he might have a personal connection to a specific saint.)

[It's really nice that you're doing this, and putting so much thought into it.]
posted by Iris Gambol at 10:29 AM on August 5, 2018 [2 favorites]

Also, Martin de Porres is the patron saint of barbers. Trinity, linked above, has icons of him here. Or google Catholic book stores in your area. These usually have a variety of medals, statues, and icons. Lots of things on Etsy too.
posted by FencingGal at 2:37 PM on August 5, 2018 [2 favorites]

Jerry Vale published his memoirs a few years back.
posted by KazamaSmokers at 3:10 PM on August 5, 2018 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks, all - there are some great ideas here and many things I never would have thought of. I really appreciate it.

(I'm going to spend a little time looking into the less familiar ones before trying to figure out best answers.) I'll come back and let you know what happens when it does.
posted by eotvos at 6:34 PM on August 9, 2018 [1 favorite]

- His politics are complicated enough that I'd rather steer clear.

-- Martin de Porres is the patron saint of barbers.

Martín de Porres is also the patron saint of people of mixed race / interracial harmony, on the off chance this detail constitutes a complication.
posted by Iris Gambol at 8:01 PM on August 9, 2018 [1 favorite]

Mod note: Final update from the OP:
Thanks, all, for the thoughtful answers. I'm sorry for the delay in responding. I put this off an embarrassingly long time.

In the time between posting this question and actually finding a gift, my barber had emergency heart surgery and has now actually retired. He's doing well, last time I heard. I went with a somewhat lazy option: a pair of nice Murano glass tumblers that I found on a business trip to Rome, a tiny and cheap Martin de Porres emblem, and a bottle of Amaro from the city near where he grew up. I offered to come by and take him to lunch once a month, but that's on hold at the moment for obvious reasons. I'm hoping to make good on it once doing so isn't a health risk.

Regarding Martin de Porres, thanks, FencingGal for the suggestion, and Iris Gambol for the warning. Our political disagreements are mostly about things that happened in Europe the 1930s, probably because I'm the only person he knows who has strong opinions. He loves his openly gay, motorcycle leather wearing apprentice (my new barber), so I'm guessing he wasn't offended.

The Daune Shavette rhizome suggests is delightful. This guy has a very long story about how he tricked the world champion shaver into sharing his secret for keeping really sharp straight razor blades that sounds like a Mark Twain piece. It involved dulling a razor on a marble table and destroying the locks on a closet door in order to catch the guy in the act of fine honing. . . I have no idea if it's true, but it's fun. I'm guessing he would be insulted by the gift. But, I'm very tempted to get one for myself, 'cause it's really neat.

The idea of a papal blessing parchment is great. I'm planning on it in two years when he hits 90.

I tried to feel him out about the Lyric Opera. He didn't really have much to say about music he liked except some very general things about a song with a nice tune. He's really hard of hearing, even with hearing aids - I used to answer the phone for him when I was in the shop - so I'm not sure how well it would work. It didn't seem like something he already cares about.

I really appreciate all the other suggestions. I'm considering some of the others for use in the future.
posted by cortex (staff) at 12:44 PM on April 23, 2020 [2 favorites]

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