I was struck by the differences in the airport, as I descended to the tarmac below. Blossoming bougainvillea trailed over the security fence to my right. The vivid colors were in sharp contrast with the drab surroundings of the grounds. It was nothing like J.F.K. Airport. Passengers formed a line readying their passports for inspection at customs.
As I stood in line, I patted the urn in my carry-on, “Well, here I am Mama, I kept my promise and brought you home to rest at last.”
This was the fist time that I had been out of the States. My husband was eagerly awaiting my arrival in a neighboring town, compliments of the Navy. I had taken this leg of the journey on my own. As I handed the military inspector my passport, he ogled me up and down. My face burned while he reveled in my embarrassment, barring my way. Travel weary and out of my element, the sound of his pen tapping on my passport became my only focus.
I was a military wife, and what instincts I had, slowly kicked in. My chin rose a little higher as I looked him in the eye, commanding respect. I waved over a gentleman from my flight that could speak both English and Italian. I asked if he would translate what I had to say to this ‘fine’ Italian gentleman. He agreed to do so.
I turned back to the officer holding my passport and began, “My name is Mrs. Mancini, and I would appreciate the hospitality and respect that your beautiful country is known so well for. Your mother would be ashamed of you for your poor behavior, your grandmothers would weep. I would appreciate my passport, and your kindest apology before my honeymoon begins in my mother’s homeland.”
My translator had started to perspire. He looked apologetically towards the officer as he spoke. Perhaps out of a sense of honor, surprisingly, he did as asked. I knew this for a fact because I understood Italian perfectly. I was testing the waters, and was ankle deep five minutes off the airplane.
The Italian customs officer who had given me grief bowed his head and spoke to me in perfect English. “Madame Mancini please accept my deepest, most humble apologies. We wish your stay in Italia to be a pleasant one.”
I replied in turn in Italian, the language of my ancestors, “Grazie, I hear that Sorrento is the most beautiful place on earth this time of year. Buon giorno!” I smiled graciously and walked away. With my passport in hand and a smile on my lips, I was allowed to enter into the world of Italian serendipity.
Reaching into my bag to ensure that the urn was still safely with me, I thought about Mama. She had asked me just before she died to return her to her native homeland. She had immigrated to America as a young military bride, leaving behind both family and friends. It was the least I could do for such a great woman, wife and mother. I had planned on taking a bus, but they were on strike again. Taxi drivers stood outside their cars vying for customers. I searched the sea of yellow, settling on one who looked honest.
He opened his trunk and placed my suitcases inside. I hopped in and braced myself for one wild ride to the train station. These guys had a reputation for driving fast. Just as expected we shot out of the airport like a rocket. I wished we could drive like this in the U.S.! We were soon on the Autostrada making great time. After a short train ride I was there.
Sorrento by the sea was magnificent. Mama wanted her ashes poured from the window of the sixteenth century Imperial Hotel Tramantono, set against the beautiful Mediterranean Sea. This is where her life with Papa had begun.
I leaned out the balcony of my room, taking in the scenery. I could hear the pleasant strains of a single violin playing in the distance. The sun glimmered off the sea below me, reminding me of Mama’s life. She had always embraced life with a perfect brightness of hope. The wind billowed cooperatively as I returned her to her birthplace, and to the place where she and my father had honeymooned so long ago. My life had been the fulfillment of her dreams, she had once told me. I wept openly while I fulfilled Mama’s last wish.
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