Papa, in blue striped pajamas, Mama, in a worn flannel nightie, snuggle each night in their double bed. They have slept this way for forty-five years. When they finally agreed to replace their old, lumpy mattress, we suggested they buy a larger bed, perhaps a king or queen. Papa looked at us with a twinkle in his eye and said,
“Then how will I find mama? Maybe I lose her in a bed so big.”
That’s my parents, Felix and Francesca - stuck in their ways and very much in love.
Tomorrow they leave for Europe to visit their home countries of Germany and Italy. It will be their their first trip back since immigrating to the United States. Papa has been here nearly fifty years and Mama, about forty-five. They will spend time with Mama’s sister and her family in Italy. Papa wants to see his older brother, Frederick, “before Gott calls us zwei alte Kauze (two old codgers) home.” They are looking forward to this trip, their first vacation in many years.
Papa and Mama met at a crowded outdoor cafe in New York. They've shared this story many times. He had been in the U.S. for five years, Mama, just three months. Drinking coffee and reading the paper, he was totally oblivious to the clammer surrounding him. Mama, with a leather art portfolio slung over her shoulder, wove through the pedestal tables balancing a steaming cup of espresso. She was beautiful in a yellow sundress that offset her olive complexion and raven hair. Spotting Papa sitting alone, so handsome with blue eyes and strong chin, she strode up to his table. Unabashed, she said,
“Do you mind if I sit here?”
Doing a double-take, Papa said, “No ma'am, the chair is empty.”
“Please don’t call me ma’am,” she replied, flashing her best smile. “I’m Miss Bellavia, but you can call me Francesca.”
“Pleasure to meet you, Francesca. I’m Felix, but you can call me Felix.”
He spoke English well with a touch of German accent, her English a little spotty. “He has a sense of humor too.” Mama thought. “A handsome man who makes me laugh. I wonder if he’s married, I don’t see a ring.” Testing the water, she said,
“Have you been in this country long? Does your wife speak English as well as you?”
“No, no wife, Francesca, just me. I come to this county alone, five years ago. I’m a plumber, work hard and make a good living - not rich, you see, but do okay. No wife yet.”
“Hmmm,” Mama thought.
Three months later, Papa and Mama were married and a year after that, my sister, Katherine, was born. Then came Carl, then me, Julia, and lastly, my little brother Timmy. They decided to move to this small town in upstate New York shortly after they had Katherine and have lived here since.
Papa, retired some time now, kept us well fed when we were growing up. These days he enjoys puttering around the house and yard. Mama still dabbles in art, mostly pastels and watercolors. She brought in a few extra dollars over the years giving art lessons at the gallery and selling her work at festivals. Both my parents, unique in their skills and talents, have passed on to us a passion for life. Sometimes that fire wrought sharp disagreements, but their affection and rapport always led to the door of forgiveness.
We have all come to see them off on their three month journey to their homelands. Katherine and daughter, Emily, flew in from the west coast. Timmy and his girlfriend, Alice, home from Albuquerque. Carl and I still live here. He followed Papa into plumbing after serving in the military, manning the business alone after Papa’s retirement. Me, I dabble in art like Mama, only I prefer oil and acrylics.
Tomorrow they leave, having earned this vacation. Life wasn't always easy, but their faith in God provided the courage necessary to be models of hard work and commitment. We will drive them to the airport and wave goodbye. Tonight, I hope they sleep well. I picture them spooning in their double bed, Mama whispering in Papa’s ear,
“Good night, dear husband, il mio innamorato.”
Papa, holding her in sweet repose, will say, “Ich liebe dich, dear wife.”
A rich heritage of love and loyalty has been given me - my folks - Felix and Francesca.
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