Last November on Cyber Monday, right after after Thanksgiving, my dad was seriously ill and my marriage was on the rocks. It seemed everything was falling apart at once. I was staying that day with my dad, who couldn’t be left alone, as he needed help to get around the house after his surgery. My stepmom, a college professor, was at work, finishing up the semester. She was planning to take the next semester off to care for him.
We were talking about the days when we had our small village house in Languedoc, France in the late 90’s, and he would come and visit me and the kids. All the lovely walks and bike rides we would take. And the photos he took. Dad, the gifted photographer. When Oliver and Isabelle were still little and Alana, now 31, was still a skinny pre teen. There was no 9/11, the Franc was still being used, there was no recession tech bubble. Only the bubble discos I used to dance in in nearby Cap d’Agde.
Those are some of my happiest memories. I wasn’t even thirty yet. For us, it was like the roaring twenties. Hard times were to follow a few years down the road for in the recession, and then the real estate crash of 2008 which almost wiped us out.
“Why don’t you take the girls to Europe? They haven’t seen much of it like their older brother and sister have.” My dad said that day. Yes! That was exactly what we needed after an extremely rough year. I got on my phone there on his sofa and bought three tickets on sale to Italy for a month long journey. Was it impulsive? Yes. And I do realize I am privileged to be able to do such a thing. I know many moms would love to run away from their problems for a month, but it’s not a luxury most of us can afford. I remember all too well after my parents split up at thirteen, not being able to take a road trip, much less an airline journey.
Well, the next month Dad died unexpectedly early. The day my dad died, my husband left an angry outbust, and we have been on again, off again since then. But mostly off. The Thomas fire had started about two weeks before dad died, a few miles from his home, and he had had to be evacuated, which I’m sure sped up his decline. As I watched the fires across the river from my porch grow to the biggest fire in California history, it seemed the whole world was going up in smoke.
But you have to take the good with the bad and the week of dad’s death, I got to know my new brother, a son who had been put up for adoption when my dad was a teen. I had not known of his existence and we quickly bonded during this tragic week together.
Then a few weeks later, a sister, who I never knew about, sent me a long email explaining who she was. What crazy timing it all was. She had found my blog when googling my dad, who she hadn’t had contact with since she was a kid. So I never got to ask my dad about it. When she read he died, she came forward, and we met in person to get to know each other for a few days, along with my older brother. We have since formed a bond, my brother, myself, and our new little sister.
All these years since my brother was shot at twenty two, I thought I was an only child. We shouldn’t ruminate on the past. But that’s exactly what I had been doing all year.
Back to the present and my formerly sweet daughter had become a hormone fueled rebellious teen, and I was not sure what to do. She was the first of our kids to seriously rebel. It made me have more compassion for my own mom , and what I had put her through as a teen. Apparently, my daughter was a lot like me and it was my karma to have to go through it. I thought taking her away for a month would be a good thing for her. Help her to see the bigger picture of the world and maybe something would spark a passion. When I was fifteen myself, I had been getting into a lot of trouble in Hollywood with my punk rock friends. My dad had my mom send me to Vienna for the summer. He was working on a movie there as an editor, and mom wanted to get me out of LA.
I think the trip helped me a lot. When I got back I started thinking about doing well in school, as I realized there was more to life than my teen world of hanging out. That was also the summer my sister was born, unbeknownst too me.
It seemed history was repeating itself.
In the meanwhile, since dad’s death, I had been going to counseling with my husband and things were getting better. We decided we would move out of the country at some point and get closer to his work in LA, and closer to all the activities and culture the younger girls had not been exposed to, being on a ranch, miles away from things. We had been separated for awhile and we decided to get things back together, We just happened to find a house we liked, and the escrow was just happening to close one week before I had planned my big trip. But we hadn’t sold the farmhouse yet.
I had non refundable, non changeable tickets, thanks to Priceline, and had already put payments down on the rentals. Plus, I had been dreaming about it for months. I was going to go.
I frantically packed up the house every day for two weeks to put it on the market before our trip, and hoped my husband would be understanding about me ditching everything. Which was a bit too much too hope for when things had been so precarious already. I left him to finish dealing with the house stuff on his own. As a write this, I see how selfish this all seems, but I didn’t see it at the time. I was determined to take this trip. I had discussed it for days with my dad before he died, and it felt like the right thing to do. I made a wonderful dress from vintage fabric with an Italian music poster theme and packed all of my favorite hand made pieces in my carry on.
So the trip…. a few days in Naples and Pompeii, followed by ten days in a rented Roma apartment near the Pantheon. I was to meet with one of my best friends and her kids, who live across the country from us. Then we would all take the train to Venice and stay in a rented apartment there. While they left after five days, we ended up staying there ten days, to wait for my husband, who ended up coming several days late late, and then angrily left by train after two days with us in Ravenna. But that’s a long story…. I had rented a car to drive to Ravenna from Venice for a few days, and from there we would go stay on a farm in Assisi for four days. I would drive to Rome afterwards and go home from there.
So how did the trip go? Besides the fiasco in Ravenna and a theft at the end of the trip, it was incredible, and I think it will be something my girls will remember for years. I spent time with one of my best friends and her kids, and my older daughter who had come with my husband, spent the last week with us in Ravenna, and in Assisi, tracing the footsteps of St. Francis and St. Clare.
We went to Pompeii, The National Archaeological museum, The Vatican, The Roman Colosseum and Forum, and countless churches and palazzos. In Venice, we went to the Guggenheim and the Accademia Gallery, the Ducal Palace, St. Mark’s, and we rode on a gondola together. We visited the 1500 year old mosaics at the basilica in Ravenna and went to where St. Francis was born in Assisi where we stayed at an old farmhouse. I prayed at the cross of St. Damiano, the same cross where St. Francis heard his calling. I drove through the mountains in the rain in a stickshift, conquering my fear of driving in the mountains. I attempted to speak to people only in Italian, and I got better at it.
Then on the last day when we were parked outside of our Air BNB in Rome, I foolishly decided to lock up my suitcases hidden in the trunk of our rental car after we checked out, so we could go to lunch and buy some souvenirs at nearby St. Peter’s square. When we got back, all of my things had been stolen from the trunk. All my handmade clothes I had brought, toiletries, gifts, and my brand new blogging camera. A full format Canon. They had miraculously left the girls suitcases in the car, so they didn’t have to deal with the horrible feeling of being stolen from. So at least there was that. And to make matters worse, I had to pay for the broken window. But at least I had our passports and my money and credit cards so we could go home.
In the past week since we returned, I have also learned that my sewing machine has been stolen. My Bernina 560 which we spent two years paying off. I really can’t believe it, but there were people coming in and out while I was gone, and they had moved all of my sewing machines outside while they painted.
Is it normal to feel so depressed about losing a sewing machine? I don’t know, but I do. Obviously, I have other things to be depressed about. On the bright side, I still have an old Viking and my vintage 80’s Bernina and Lily’s Janome.
So here I am back in the farmhouse unpacking all of my things that were packed up and moved, and then brought back again while I was gone.
I am reminded of another sewing machine I unpack. A Babylock Imagine serger that was thrown across the room by my husband in a fit of anger several years ago, cracking it. He tried to glue it back together the next day when he was feeling remorseful, but it was never the same. It always clunked when I was used it. It had tension problems after that and the air threading was very unreliable. When I would use it and see the the crazy glued crack, it always reminded me of that night. I started sewing on my old serger again. And it works fine. It seemed I never really needed to buy that fancy Babylock after all.
I learned to sew on my mom’s 1970’s Sears Kenmore and as much as I loved that Bernina, it’s not the sewing machine that makes the seamstress. But it sure made nice buttonholes.
A new handmade wardrobe awaits. BECAUSE I HAVE NOTHING TO WEAR.