Updated: Dec 21, 2020
It's impossible to celebrate holidays without thinking about my parents, both now deceased; so many memories wrapped within seasonal traditions. Having a keen sense of my own mortality, it's also hard not to look at my kids without wanting to stop time. I find myself fixing every moment in my mind with what I know is probably irrational exigency.
That night before my dad's funeral, I shared two stories. The first was a modified version of a post I wrote in 2009 about ten things I learned from him, and how I came to think of him as my "hero."
The second share was about our father-daughter getaway in 1994. Though we stayed in Florence, my dad and I often ventured to other places via train.
These excursions were always adventurous for reasons beyond destination. For one, the 'Information Desk' clerks at the train station seemed hell-bent on only confirming or denying information already had from other sources, not providing what was actually needed.
I'm sure the language barrier exacerbated this perception. My dad would have said that he spoke, "very good Italian." However, he was also slightly hard of hearing.
Thanks to four years of Latin and a knack for languages, I can understand enough Italian words to be dangerous, but can't hold a conversation thanks to my poor accent and total lack of grammatical understanding.
Therefore, our routine was for my father to ask a question in Italian and receive a reply in Italian. Knowing he didn't hear it completely, I would tell my dad (more loudly in English) what I thought the clerk had said, and then my dad would reply back or ask another question in Italian. And, so it went.
Luckily my dad was never one to get his feathers ruffled. He almost seemed to enjoy the game of train roulette when we couldn't get a straight answer out of anyone. Or perhaps more fairly, they couldn't get us to understand.
On one occasion, my dad and I had spent the day in Pisa then boarded our train back to Florence. After a few minutes, someone came around to collect our tickets.
Upon glancing at our tickets in a bored manner, the collector droned something to the effect of, "Your tickets are for Florence, but you are going to Livorno."
I loudly translated, adding that I must have misheard. In Italian, my dad asked, "Will you say that again, please?"
The ticket collector repeated his casual observation, then walked away to the next passengers. Wait... what?! I started to panic. We should have been going back to Florence. Our hotel was there. That was the PLAN. Florence = right direction. Livorno = wrong direction. I had no idea how far it was, but we were clearly stuck on a train going the wrong way.
My dad simply took off his Members Only® jacket, gave an easy shrug, and said unconcerned, "Well, I guess we're going to Livorno. Ya know what? I've never been to Livorno before."
He had this really cute way of raising his eyebrows and making his eyes wide which I can't avoid imitating as I recall him saying the words. It was my favorite of his many facial expressions, even at the very end when verbal communication took too much energy.
We had barely settled in for the adventure when the train came to a full stop at a nearby station. "LIVORNO!" the conductor announced.
"Well, that didn't take very long," my dad remarked in his easy way as he gathered his things. "Let's go, little kid."
No doubt, this year felt a little like we got on a train heading in the wrong direction. For many of us, it ended up being a fun, unexpected adventure. Others may still be hoping to get off at the next stop. Either way, I wish you and yours a holiday season filled with love and light.
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