COURTESY OF MICHELLE CALABRO HUBBARD
The author and her father took a gondola tour during their trip to Italy.
Trip to Italy with Dad won’t be forgotten
My mother's father was from Piedmont in northern Italy, and my parents often talked of traveling to that region. Several years ago my mother became bedridden and then died, and I assumed the idea had been silenced.
Then, early last year, my dad called to say he was going on a tour of Italy and asked if I was interested in joining him. When he named the cities he'd be visiting, I knew he was going to take the trip he and Mom had planned.
My initial reaction was to worry about my finances. But then I remembered what a wonderful time I'd had visiting Las Vegas with my dad. A two-week tour in Italy would surely be even more fun. I also considered that although my dad is a very strong and healthy 83 years old, I would worry about him making the trip alone. Plus, if I went to Italy with my dad, we could talk about my mom and grandfather and share our memories of them, almost as if they were traveling with us. It didn't take me long to realize that no matter what the cost, this trip with my father would be priceless.
So we embarked on the definitive whirlwind tour -- 12 cities over 14 days. We ate more gelato, pasta, chicken and fresh bread than our waistbands could handle. We saw more awe-inspiring cathedrals, listened to more fascinating historical anecdotes and studied more ancient ruins than our minds could absorb. We climbed stairs, hiked hills and walked streets until our feet hurt, our muscles ached and our knees cried for mercy, and then we did it all over again.
Each day brought wonderful surprises. We learned new words, made new friends, tried new foods. We pushed ourselves to keep going when we were tired, keep listening when we were sleepy and keep looking when our brains could no longer process the sights.
Although my dad and I have always been close, the trip to Italy made our bond even stronger. He told me stories from his days in the Navy that, even at the age of 52, I'm not sure I was old enough to hear. He talked about growing up in Kentucky and gave me a glimpse of the boy that became my father, and the parts of both of them that are me. As we toured northern Italy, we remembered my grandfather, imagining what his life must have been like, seeing him in the scenery around us.
And we talked about my mom. Through my father's eyes, I saw her as a young woman and wife, and through mine he saw her as a mother. We talked about how much she would have enjoyed this museum, that ristorante, the other department store. Each day triggered some memory, anecdote or feeling that brought my mom back to life, if only for a moment.
SO MANY MEMORIES, cities, hotels, restaurants, people, shops, activities, works of art, cathedrals, ruins, languages, conversations, walks, hikes, rides, thoughts, reactions and emotions -- could anything possibly unify all of these diverse experiences?
One constant presence looked after us as we made our way through northern Italy. It let us stretch our legs after a long bus ride, fed us when we were hungry and brought comfort when everything else seemed unfamiliar. It was Autogrill.
Autogrill is more than an Italian convenience store. Located alongside most major highways, it is a gourmet delicatessen, espresso fix, buffet of plenty, bathroom break, minimarket, last-minute souvenir shop and gas station.
My dad and I developed a comfortable routine with Autogrill.
Morning snack was fresh-brewed coffee and a pastry for him, a bottle of water or Coke for me. At lunchtime a salad of different kinds of fruit and the pasta dish of the day were a satisfying meal. Before we boarded the bus, we'd get an Italian chocolate bar or bag of chips to snack on.
Toward the end of our tour, I was feeling pretty homesick. I was tired of early-morning wake-up calls, tired of the tour bus and even getting tired of my dad. I missed my bed, I missed my husband, I missed my birds and, just to make my depth of misery complete, I missed my mom.
One day, I was in this emotionally raw state as my dad and I chose the usual lunch items from an Autogrill buffet and then carried our trays to an empty table. After sitting down, I looked up and couldn't believe what I saw. There, right in front of me, were Stephanie and Eric, Brooke and Ridge, even Sally Spectra. Back home, I'd spend a half-hour a day, five days a week with them. I'd followed their marriages, divorces and remarriages. I'd been with them through success and failure, sickness and health, and every dirty trick in the book.
Who are these people? Characters in one of my favorite soaps, "The Bold and the Beautiful."
It turns out the soap has a large following in Italy. Although my "friends" were now speaking Italian, I had an easy time following the action as this was an episode that had run a few months earlier in the States. I could even understand the dilemmas of the typical Italian housewife as she scowled at her laundry, frowned at her dishes and became jubilant at the sight of whatever detergent was being advertised during commercial breaks.
This burst of familiarity put all of my spirits right.
Suddenly, I no longer felt isolated in a foreign country. Italy was merely a new part of my own little world.
Soon after this, my dad and I were having our last lunch at Autogrill. We'd had a wonderful adventure experiencing sights, sounds, flavors and people that will fill the rest of our lives. By teaching us important survival strategies, feeding us healthy meals and making us feel at home, Autogrill was more than a convenient rest stop along the way -- it was like being taken care of by Mom.
Michelle Calabro Hubbard is an admissions consultant and freelance writer who lives in Kailua with her husband, Tony, sun conure Flash and lovebird Lollipop. Her first book, "Sour Notes," is about a local teen who goes to drastic measures to lose weight, only to end up liking herself the way she is.