43. Looking Back

In 1987, Ben and I decided to honeymoon in Italy. And what a wonderful trip that was, three weeks driving aimlessly, stopping in any town that caught our fancy. Of course, many of our highlights were food-related: not surprisingly, a wonderful dinner In Parma, known worldwide for its prosciutto, but also a great restaurant in Bra, a charmless industrial city in the north, where we stopped simply because it was getting too late to continue any farther.

A definite stop on our itinerary was Gaeta, my father’s birthplace, where we would spend a few days. My family had spent a month there in 1965, but not been back since, and my father was both excited and emotional about our upcoming visit. He wrote me a letter suggesting names of people who might still remember him, and instructing “Do make yourself known as the granddaughter della Maestra Angelina,” the town’s elementary school teacher. He went on to say:

“Visualize a well-tanned, almost burned, young man, running from one rock to another – the rocks were jagged, and a healthy precipice would separate the rocks- without any pause, without any hesitation. This young man’s accompanied by many other young men, would dive in and swim to that huge rock known as Nave di Serapo.

This picture was sent to my father from his Gaeta pals in 1941. I wonder how they made out in the war.

“Look at this rock … again, visualize a young man, in his leopard skin bathing suit, hair a la Tarzan, getting to the beach at seven in the morning… The rest of the day was spent swimming for the fun of it, running, always racing, broad jumping. In the afternoon, after the grown-ups left, we would start playing soccer.”

It is nearly impossible to imagine my father, who suffered from a degenerative eye condition, retinitis pigmentosa, with the exuberant freedom to leap, run, and dive, and the pathos comes through in his letter. Because of his blindness, I think he was hesitant to return to Italy, where he felt he would be needed to take the lead for navigation and translation, so he only went that one time in 35 years, in 1965.

My mother, my father, and his Aunt Clara, Serapo Beach, 1965.

He put those fears aside, however, when I became pregnant a few months after the wedding, telling his cousin that we would all come to Gaeta for the summer when the baby was two years old. But he died a few months later, never even meeting baby Elizabeth.

Now, I can’t even say how many times I’ve been to Italy; I seem to pop over there every year. It’s so easy. How I regret not taking him there when I had the chance!

My father and me, Rome, 1965.

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