When I was in my 20’s, at times, I felt like I was 61….and now that I am in my 60’s…I, at times feel like that I have returned to my 20’s.
Age, as it relates to a zest for life, appears to be a moving target!
I was raised in a conservative environment and have, since my adulthood, become increasingly liberal in my social outlook.
The move people that I encounter…the more that I realize that we are all members of the same, diverse, human family.
When my first, foreman, at SIUC’s Building Services, was Jim Walls, an African American and my mentor…I saw that he was my friend.
Jim smoked the most, aromatic, cigars…and I believe that this is where I first saw the beauty and the mystery in an occasional stogie.
Jim told a supervisor, of mine who was mistreating me, that, ‘I was his son…but that I just would not call him daddy.’ The, disagreeable boss, sweetened up, and acknowledged to Jim that he knew that we were close.
My life-long friend, Jeff, is Jewish. Ever since I have known Jeff…I have wanted to be Jewish! And, I really think that I am!
Jeff, sent me birthday wishes, yesterday from Paris. He and Margo and Mary Jane, Jonathon, and I took the, Chunnel, to Paris in 2012, and had three, glorious days.
Jeff says that we must do it again…and I, heartily, agree!
I saw one of the finest chancellors that SIUC has ever had, Sam Goldman, at Schnucks today. He did not see me. I reflected on what an honor it was to sit and talk with him and partake of his wisdom and understanding of humanity. Sam functioned as the Rabbi in Carbondale for many years…and may still do so.
My friend, Alfie, is Muslim. Alfie worked with me at Building Services and he is a fellow member of our human family…that has an extraordinary spirit. Alfie draws people to him with his magnetic personality.
Simply being around, Alfie, was an encouragement to me. He prays to his Creator, according to the manner of his faith, and I pray to my Creator, according to the manner that I have been taught…and it is the same…Creator.
My Hindu friend, who was the Dean of Engineering and Technology, is a kind gentleman. As we drove, for over two hours, looking for a restaurant that he could get something to eat that did not contain meat…I admired his dedication to his faith.
When I, returned him, to his home, in Carbondale, at the conclusion of our journey, he would not enter his house until he waved goodbye to me, from his yard.
In Tunis, Tunisia…our tour guide wept when he spoke of he United States kindness to his country. We stopped at the World War II United States Cemetery…where the graves were kept immaculate and it was, indeed, the most beautiful cemetery that I have ever seen.
On our first night in Edinburgh, Scotland a gentleman, who was in a wheelchair, asked me to assist him to his feet to facilitate his ordering at the counter of the restaurant that we were at. This man spoke to me, so kindly, regarding the highlights of Edinburgh…that…now I love Edinburgh!
At 61 years old…I have learned that if I had another 61 years…I would only have begun…to plumb the knowledge of God’s multicolored bouquet of the human family.
Last year, at this time, I was very proud of having attained the, respectable, age of 60. I thought about what it meant to be entering the door of another decade…and recalled, how old, my family and friends, who were 60, seemed to me…when I was much younger?
My father-in-law was close to my age, now, when Mary Jane and I were married in 1978. My mother-in-law…was younger than I am now.
I attended the movie theatre, the other day, and the young woman, who sold me my ticket, asked me if I was certain that I was old enough to see an R rated movie? I replied…just barely.
We Baby Boomers…are not babies any longer.
My friends and former colleagues, of many years, Ryan and Elizabeth, bought Jonathon and I lunch this afternoon and it made my day!
The Cheeks are wonderful people and their tireless work for the betterment of SIU…is exemplary.
We travel through this life, so rapidly, that often we do not see the forest for the trees.
I have heard it said that everyday is a gift…and it is true. Everyday that we can make someones burden…a little lighter, is a day that is well spent.
There is a myth that older people and retired people are looking for a front porch and a rocking chair…to wile away the hours, daydreaming and snoozing. Nothing could be further from the truth. We, older and retired folks, are seeking challenges and new mountains to climb.
The secret of life, is not only enjoying the passage of time, but also finding a niche…everyday…whereupon you can fit into, and make a difference.
As I sat with my friends, at lunch today, I could visualize Mary Jane and I…just a few short years ago. The challenges of raising our boys and succeeding financially…while, at the same time, giving them a rich and diverse life that was full of events and sports and travel,…and never enough money to accomplish it all.
Those years…are exciting and exhilarating…and you never have enough sleep…or enough leisure time…and then they are over…and new challenges await.
When I was young, people, historically, guessed me older. I was told that I had an old soul in a young body.
A valuable lesson that I have learned…do not seek the praise of the mighty and the powerful…but the praise of your family and your friends and your loved ones…and those who have no voice.
I think that my body has caught up with my soul.
The Sun dappled, nuanced and intricate beauty, of a Fall day… is something to behold.
The peace of nature has a calming influence, on me. Often, if I am worried or distressed about something…a walk in the woods or on campus brings ‘serenity now.’
Jonathon and I saw our friend, Chris, and it was a delight to speak with him. Chris is both a friend and a former colleague. He is super intelligent…with a dry and profound sense of humor I marveled that he had developed a, little grey, at the temples…as I knew him when he was, much younger.
I reflected on our fallen, SIUC leader, Chancellor Carlo Montemagno. There is no telling what he could have accomplished for our university…if he had, just, had the time.
I am one of those people that most things have come, somewhat, difficult to me.
However, when I was working at Southern…success…was my friend!
I have, consistently, found that the more that I, pour, myself into others…the happier that I am.
When someone told me that I had helped them…or I had made their life a, little easier, or that I had demonstrated to them that I cared about them…it was better than money in the bank…and I remember each comment up to and including….today.
I sought to be friends of chancellors…so I could talk about…janitors!
I wanted to have a relationship with the president of the university…so that I could have, an open door, to discuss the sufferings of the civil service community.
I loved chancellor Argersinger and President Poshard…because they had demonstrated their concern for the civil service staff.
I come from a, poor background…where there was not money for me to have a car in high school and a banana split at the Dairy Queen.
When I was able to hire a deaf employee…I identified with them.
When I was able to hire a disabled employee in Building Services…I identified with them.
When a chancellor or a university president…love the custodial staff or the grounds employees…I felt that love!
What, many, of our politicians do not realize is that we mid-westerners…were raised….poor.
I lived on West street in Eldorado, Illinois…and the kids on Womack street, which was one street over from West street…did not have shoes.
After my mom and dad, divorced, I saved my pennies…until I could have a dime….and then…went to the local restaurant…and purchased a glass of whole milk.
Meat, was an occasional occurrence in our home…and when I spent an extended stay with my aunt and uncle…my aunt, extolled me, to not take more than one piece of meat…as they did not have the money that we had.
My uncle, Bill, who was an extremely quite man, spoke up, loudly, and proclaimed that, ‘you let that boy eat all of to the meat the he wants,’ aunt Wands said, ‘I guess, go ahead…since Bill said that it was alright.’
As the, great jazz singer Billie Holiday said in one of her famous renditions, ‘you can help yourself…but don’t take to much.’
And, so, politicians…really do not understand mid-westerners. We are not about, hate speech and racism, or cruelty and misogyny, or even xenophobia or ‘fake news.’
We are about the profund need of an understanding of our challenges and our economy…and not in a gratouitous sense. We do not all live on the east coast or the west coast…and we love our neighbor and we love and welcome the stranger among us…and we want to be include in the discussion and to be a part of the solution.
The last few days, in Southern Illinois, have been Autumnal Splendor.
Our temperatures have, cooled off, and have become seasonal. Each Fall I return to the thoughts of my youth and the challenges and happiness of those years.
I often reflected, when I was a child, how the beginning of school was so hot…but the temperature became cool and chilly…soon after out academic year start.
I think, of an obscure memory, of a girl in my class named, Robin, and her desire for us to hide in a grove of trees and proceed to know each other…better?
We were in second grade…and I did not accept her offer…but I, then understood, that there was a difference between boys and girls…that would govern much of my life.
I thought that my first grade teacher, Mrs. Kittinger…was beautiful. She was so nice to me and had such a sweet attitude toward her students…that I have remembered her for, well over, fifty years.
Mrs. Molinarolo had lived in Japan. She had learned how to speak Japanese and how to count in the language. She was a tall woman and a considerate person and I liked her very much.
I still remember some of the Japanese, that Mrs. Molinarolo taught me, and how to count in the, lovely, language.
There was a Molinarolo Liquor Store in the little village of Muddy, that sits, evenly, between Eldorado and Harrisburg, Illinois.
Bernie Watson was my English teacher. When I first met, Mr. Watson, in a different teaching scenario, he was very strict, and seemed to misunderstand me. However, when he became my English teacher…her was a wonderful influence.
Mr. Watson’s, father, was the school custodian at Hillcrest School. He was a dignified gentleman and all of the students respected him.
My school bus driver was, Doc. Irvin, and he was a colorful and friendly person.
Current, Illinois Republican Senator, Dale Fowler, and I rode Doc’s School Bus.
I first rode Doc’s Bus when I was in first grade and I carried a, metal lunch pail, that had the, popular television show, Gunsmoke, embossed, on both sides of it.
Doc, immediately, gave me the moniker of…Gunsmoke…and I carried that title throughout my educational experience at Eldorado Grade Schools and High School.
Mrs. Bramlet, is one of my two favorite teacher or professors of my life. She taught me Speech as a freshman. No instructor, in High School, was more encouraging of me and endeavored more to cause me to excel in a discipline that I had a talent in.
Mrs. Bramlet, was a Gem…from the State of Tennessee, and she had a, commanding presence in the classroom. She was over six feet tall. She often spoke of her first days at university were someone told her that they were surprised to see that she was wearing shoes…since she was from Tennessee. She responded that…she was wearing her first pair!
Mrs, Betty Bramlet…wanted me to audition for school plays and to join the Thespian Club and…even asked me to be the announcer at the Homecoming Game…and I accepted the assignment…but did not have to do it due to the regular announcer…returning.
I, knew, instinctively, that I was important to Mrs. Bramlet…and I never forgot her.
Mrs. Bramlet contracted an illness that first put her in a wheelchair…that she taught from…and then took her life….in a most untimely fashion.
My favorite Professor, at university, was Dr. Carol Burns. I had a Composition 101 class with Carol and she inspired me to seek, additional university course work, and to become a better writer.
At the time that I was taking Carol’s class, 1984, we studied the book, 1984, and we wrote an essay…weekly.
After an essay that I wrote, Carol asked me to speak to her after class, whereupon she told me that I should aim higher than an associate degree…and that I had the academic ability to accomplish any academic pursuit that I chose…including law.
Carol’s constructive criticisms were a, both a burr in my saddle, and a ‘kick in my pants’ to inculcate her advice…and become a better writer.
I absorbed all of Carol’s advice…and became a better writer….and I received an A in the course.
Jo Ann Argersinger taught a Cold War class…while she was chancellor of Southern Illinois University at Carbondale. She was, not only an outstanding professor…but she was, also, my friend and I was a member of the search committee that brought her to the university as chancellor.
I wondered, at the time, 1998, as to her ability to teach the cold war class and accomplish all of the duties of the chancellor of SIUC?
I knew that Jo Ann was having problems with the president of the SIU System, Ted Sanders, and I worried, a lot, about her continued viability as chancellor.
That being said, she taught a academically challenging course…and I had to study, hard, to succeed.
Mary Jane and I were the Argeringer’s guests at The Bistro, in Carbondale…before a women’s basketball game that as near Thanksgiving. Jo Ann, was so excited to have visited with several, university donors, that day, and to be associated with SIUC.
We attended the women’s basketball game with Peter and Jo Ann…and she was so involved with all facets of the experience…including the uniforms…and she was terminated…a few…short…months later.
The other evening I received a telephone call from my, life-long friend, Steve. No matter how long it has been since we last spoke…it is as if we had visited with each other…yesterday. I have, consistently, been amazed at how much Steve and I think alike, on so many issues.
Steve and I grew up in a little non-denominational church in Elkville, Illinois. As the old saying goes…’neither of us had a pot to piss in…or a window to throw it out!’
Steve and I shared a house, in the poor section of Elkville…with, at different times, David B. and Doug D. and Jimmy D. and Ronnie B….and there may have been others…
It was a bit like boot camp…hard and harder…with little sleep and little to eat.
I was, commiserating with Steve on the Thanksgiving that we received a, especially large snow on…and he and I were, feverishly, shoveling snow to facilitate a church service that evening.
I recall, like it was yesterday, Steve and I driving to a, cleaning, client’s offices in Johnston City, Illinois in a blizzard. As I drove…I beseeched Steve to open his car window and see if her could determine where the road was!
About that time…we landed in a six foot snow bank.
Steve pushed us out while I steered the car, a 1963 Ford Fairlane, and we turned around and headed for home.
I began working for SIUC in 1978 and, nine months later in 1979, Steve began.
It was the best jobs that either of us had had in our lives.
I wanted to be a minister. I, actually, assisted or preached over twenty funerals.
Now, Steve will be turning 66, on October 24th…and I will be 61. The years fly by like a weaver’s shuttle.
My brother, Brock, and my sister in law, Marcy, are coming to visit us tomorrow. We are all excited to see them!
When I look at Brock…I see our Dad. Marcy is like a sister to me.
I have never been with them that I did not come away, enriched and renewed for another, helping, of what life has to offer.
My Mom and our Dad…divorced when I was 6 years old. I missed him…terribly…and wondered what happened?
Brock and Marcy and their wonderful children, Jaime and Jeb…have been an extra special blessing to me and my family…and a sign that there is a God that is watching our lives.
Life has brought me reversals…as it does for all of us. I have been mystified why good friends and family have, chosen, to walk away from me?
But, there are constants that encourage me…and Steve and Brock are two of those, fundamental, constants!
So, we will enjoy Marcy and Brock this weekend and we will laugh and talk about future plans, perhaps Gatlinburg, and, marvel, that although we have not know each other for most of our lives…we are very much alike…
And, so, a salute to Steve, who has always been like my brother…and my brother, Brock, who cares enough about us to come and see us and bless us with his and Marcy’s good humor and love!
As I walked the beautiful campus of SIU, today, I was sad when I looked at Anthony Hall, where is housed the office of the chancellor.
I walk campus, daily, and for many years I have strolled by Anthony Hall and wondered what the, current chancellor at the time, was doing?
Having worked, closely, with some of the past chancellors…I have had an affinity, for many years, for them and their struggle to return SIU to its former glory.
To work with chancellors is to know them, in part, and their humanity and vision for the campus.
I was impressed, both, with chancellor Montemagno’s roadmap for the university and his courage in the face of adversity.
Indeed, we require a leader with a vision for our future and a ‘calling’ to serve others. Being the leader of SIUC is so much more than a good paying administrative position.
The university is located in what was, at one time, coal mining and farm land. I was watching a old horror movie, the other night, about the Mummy. It was a comedy, and one of the characters announced that he was from Cairo….Cairo, Egypt asked another….whereupon he announced that he was from…Cairo, Illinois.
And, so, we are Little Egypt, and Carlo wanted us to be the, Maroon jewel, in the Academic Crown of Illinois.
The miracle of SIU is an extraordinary story!
In many ways our university can be likened to the Egyptian desert, in that it is an oasis in the midst of a land of hard working people who would have little opportunity, without it.
The burden on a chancellor is multi-faceted. Not only is the success of our students and the academic community of paramount importance…but there is the entire Southern Illinois community that relies on SIUC for both employment and as an engine to the regions economy.
For 40 years…SIUC has been a primary passion of mine. I was speaking with someone, the other day, who said that when they retired they certainly would not be returning to the job site that they had spent so many hard years at. I, on the contrary, spent over 32 years in a delightful and rewarding career and benefitted, in every way, from my association with Southern.
I think that it is healthy to discover something that you love and to consequently immerse yourself in it.
SIU would be one of those areas, for me. Both the university and my church are areas that I want, desperately, to succeed, and although I grow weary at times…I can never give up on these two, almost, life long pursuits.
Many, dedicated, staff and faculty and administrators and managers and supervisors…are working tirelessly and, often, without compensation to ensure that our great school holds its banners high…and that it is poised for a return to its former greatness!
There are civil service staff that, literally, are dedicated to SIUC…24/7.
I have known, and do know, many staff who work, on a regular basis, when they are…quite ill.
I am aquatinted with staff and administrators that, regularly lose vacation time and who do not utilize their sick time…in order to guarantee that SIUC is functioning…at its full potential.
I know, civil service staff, that regularly accomplish all of their job duties, as outlined in their classification…and seek and accomplish many, additional duties, because they love Southern Illinois University.
There is such, profound dedication, to SIUC…that I do not believe that it can possibly fail!
Chancellor Carlo Montemagno was proud of his staff…..
I was reflecting on the beginnings of my SIU career, 40 years ago, and smiled when I thought of one of my primary, take-away, memories of the decades of experience.
Few members of the university community, know, what the housekeepers understand about the daily life and its intricate nuances at SIU.
You see, the, full time, custodial staff get acquainted with a plethora of members of the university…from all areas of its operations.
In better years…we were everywhere and saw everything.
We were a bit like the FBI or the CIA…sworn to secrecy.
However, professors and administrators and staff and students…often confided in us.
In the old movies about the upper crust of society…Jeeves, the butler, and Matilda, the maid, heard and saw much more than they ever spoke of.
Simple, but compelling, reasons for the loss in our student numbers, for the past 20 years…have been, both, observed by the Building Services staff, as well as confided to us by our wonderful students.
At one time…’we knew what the president knew…and when did he know it.’
We know that hierarchal leadership structures do not work very well…anymore.
Everyone, that works, has a boss, and the boss…has a boss. However, ‘sucking-up-to-the boss,’ is painfully evident to all who observe the process…and creates dysfunction rather than unity.
When, administrators are constantly afraid of loosing their, ‘position,’ they tend to be risk adverse. If the suggestions of the rank and file…must travel through the brains and ‘verbal mills’ of several lieutenants…the ideas, likely, will never reach the leader that they are intended for… or if they do…they will be, forever altered…much as the old, childhood, game of Telephone…where the sentence begins as one idea…and arrives at the end of the telephone line…as something totally different.
Speaking, ‘truth to power,’ is never easy, and will never happen without a collaborative leader and an atmosphere of collegiality.
Another secret that we housekeepers knew was that the university was comprised of a multitude of; shops and offices and academic disciplines and administrative silos.
Some of these workplaces, within the university structure, are happy and productive enterprises…while other are fiefdoms…replete with lords and vassals.
I have, always, been a person who enjoys being in the background of the scene and a observer of good leadership.
However, I have worked for dictatorial leaders and have, sadly, observed the health and happiness, consequences, that they have on their employees.
When I was promoted, through the ranks, at Building Services, I never forgot that I was a member of the team…and nothing more. I was humbled and honored that my colleagues trusted me to lead them…and upon retirement…I returned to the ‘back bench’ of life…and continue to admire effective leaders.
We housekeepers know that our students seek someone who cares about them. Many come from broken homes and families where they, by and large, raised themselves. Many are worried and anxious about their futures…and many have challenges that do not fit the ‘Norman Rockwell’ paintings of the 1950’s.
Many of our students come from homes where it is dangerous to sit in your front yard or walk to the theatre or play a game of hoops…at the basketball court.
Many of our students have seen their parents argue and fight over…so many things…that they are unclear what a health relationship…looks like?
We humans have a much larger percentage of mental health issues than our society biases…make us comfortable to admit and seek help for. Our students have these challenges…and they are looking for someone who cares and understands.
When a supervisor or a manager or an administrator…fails to see a member of their staff as a complex human with a rich and, often, difficult life, outside of work…they have missed the first principle of good management.
When we reduce people to cliches or when we ‘pigeon-hole’ them into less than what they are capable of accomplishing…we have done them and the organization…irreparable damage.
James Taylor sang, ‘the secret of life is enjoying the passage of time.’ ‘Any fool can do it, there ain’t nothing to it.’
I have found that the quest for happiness, that all humans engage in, can be found at your own back door or at your fingertips.
We imagine that happiness is probably residing in another state or country. It is obvious that, happiness, has taken up residence on ocean front property…or in the, beautiful ‘smokie’ mountains, or, without a doubt…in sunny California.
At times in my life, I have been sure that if I could just obtain the promotion that I was seeking…or purchase the house that looked like a dream…I would be, eternally, satisfied.
Money is not the answer to happiness. It is nice to have enough…but rich people are sad.
It is said that the famous comedian and radio/television star, Jack Benny, found enjoyment in the smallest blessings of life. One of his friends noted the Mr. Benny, went on and on about a delicious, white fish sandwich, that he had discovered in New York…and how economical that it was.
I have always found pleasure in the most trivial of items and pursuits.
For instance, I have a vintage toy collection of action figures that were popular when I was a lad. There is Johnny West and Chief Cherokee as well Daniel Boone, that has the face of the actor that played Boone on the popular television show, Fess Parker, and the most current addition of Captain Kirk, that Jonathon purchased for me…and a foot tall Mr. Spock.
I continue to enjoy my vinyl LP record collection and playing them on my new, Barnes and Noble stereo. Jonathon and I have convinced Aaron, that vinyl is the way to go…and he is getting a Barnes and Noble stereo…for his birthday.
I love to sit at the Cunetto’s Bar and enjoy a Dirty Martini with my family. Cunetto’s is located on The Hill in St. Louis and it has been my restaurant of choice for fifteen years or more. We are going there for my birthday.
Cunetto’s House of Pasta has the most generous ‘pour’ of any bar that I have been to. They make a great mixed drink!
I, throughly, enjoy viewing an independent film at the theatre located in Plaza Frontenac in St. Louis…we are going there for my birthday.
I walk the campus of Southern Illinois University, almost daily, and often take photographs…and I always see something new.
I am always ready to enjoy a slice of pizza!
I have been collecting, pocket knives, for forty years…and I constantly see another that I desire.
I am a fan of audible books. I listen to twenty five – thirty per year…and they are the ‘bees knees!’
My brother, Brock and my sister-in-law Marcy, are coming, next Saturday…and I can not wait to see them! They are a rich blessing to my retirement years!
The last time that Brock and Marcy visited us…Brock and I got matching tattoos of a ‘B’ on our forearms…I suggested that we get ‘skull’ tattoos this time…yet to be determined?
Each time that I attend church…I feel better…more grounded and appreciative for the experience of life.
I think of my life long friend, Steve, and the many financial and survival challenges that we experienced in our youth.
Steve and I did not have two nickels to rub together and worked, constantly to aid our pastor and the little church that we attended in Elkville, Illinois. One day as we were driving through DuQuoin, Illinois…Steve said that he was hungry of biscuits and gravy at the Maid-Right Cafe…and so he pulled in the parking lot of the restaurant. We entered and sat down. The waitress came over and asked us what we wanted and we replied that we would begin with two, ‘piping hot cups of coffee!’ as the waitress departed, Steve asked me if I was, springing’ for the breakfast…and I replied that I did not have a penny on me. He responded that, indeed, he did not have any money, either.
We arose…before our coffee arrived…and exited the establishment…before we were compelled to wash dishes!
I love to see a hungry person…fed.
I love to see a lonely person…befriended.
Mary Jane and I became friends of Jo Ann and Peter Argersinger, after her untimely termination as the chancellor of SIUC. The friendship lasted for ten years…and I enjoyed it immensely. I received nothing but the ‘glow’ of wonderful fellowships with our friends and the, memorable Christmas Season, visits around their majestic Christmas Tree….and the Irish Coffee!
I enjoy hearing from my friend, Ryan, and sharing the, Joke of the Day, with him.
I have loved Christmas since I was a child. Since the days of Mom and Dad giving me the Laughing Santa. Laughing Santa had the most jovial beatific face and a crank on his back, that when turned, produced the most uproarious laughter!
Everything about the Christmas Season…is home to me.
I enjoy hearing from my friend, Elizabeth, and her struggles and efforts on behalf of the civil service staff at SIUC.
Mary Jane has made me an art aficionado.
I bond and connect, by default, with SIU leaders…due to my, many years of working with former leaders of the university. I was saddened at the, untimely passing ,of chancellor Montemagno.
I, throughly enjoy, vintage radio shows that I listen to on my satellite radio in my Camry.
I love the, pleasant sound of, Mary Jane’s laughter.
I love when Aaron and Jonathon are happy about their accomplishments and opportunities that are available to them.
I like rye bread and dill dip…anytime…anywhere!
I enjoy Halloween movies…and Christmas movies…’Christmas Vacation is a panacea for my soul!
I reflect on England and London and Oxford and York and Edinburgh…and I am transported there…once again.
I think of my friends, Jeff and Margo, who I had not seen for over twenty-five years…and I am happy!
I watched my former pastor, Janice, on a live feed from Africa…where she is working to aid in the installation of wells for africans who have not, previously, known clean water…and I rejoiced that I know her and her tremendous work!
Life is a chain of the little occurrence in our lives…that creates a kaleidoscope of events that construct our story!
In 2011, we visited Rome, in two installments.
We flew into Leonardo da Vinci-Fiumicino Airport, after a 13 hour flight from the United States. We had a packed schedule of visiting the catacombs, that evening and the Vatican the following morning, before being taken, by Bob’s Limo Service, to the port city of Civitavecchia, that afternoon to board a Holland American cruise ship…for the purposes of cruising the Mediterranean.
We toured the catacombs, Jonathon and I reluctantly, due to our extreme jet lag.
Aaron and I napped in the hotel room, upon our arrival at the Monte Carlo while Mary Jane and Jonathon indulged in lunch, at what became our favorite Roman Ristorante, during our visit.
The following morning, after I showered in a tube that was big enough for half of me, we proceeded to the Vatican, with an extremely friendly driver…who loved the ‘Boss’…and who exclaimed to us…that ‘to him…he was the best!’
Our private tour guide, Sergio, was waiting for us and escorted us into a side door of the the Vatican Museum, while we passed long lines of tourists waiting to enter the facility.
Sergio took time to explain many of the works of art to us…as well as physically guarding Mary Jane from the pressing throng that were in the other tours.
Sergio, simply, made the Vatican Museum and the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s Basilica…come alive for us!
As we were touring the Sistine Chapel…the majesty of Michelangelo’s paintings were breathtaking. Vatican staff, who were dressed in black, constantly admonished the large crowd, ‘silencio’, and we were soon to experience, first hand, that the admonishment was extremely serious.
As Sergio, who was speaking in a whisper voice, guided us through the facility, a woman admonished him to be silent. He then explained to the lady that he was a tour guide and that he was only doing his job. She proceeded to regularly berate him for his speaking…and he became, quietly, angry with her persistence.
I neglected to mention that on our first night in Rome we walked to the ristorante that Mary Jane and Aaron had visited for lunch. We passed several embassies on the three block journey. The complexes were guarded by serious looking soldiers with sub-machine guns hanging from their shoulders.
The most delightful waiter asked us what we would like to order and I told him that I would like to have his specialty. He responded that his speciality was not on the menu but that he would make the dish for each of us…if we desired.
The special dish…was to die for.
When we left the ristorante we include a 20% tip for the kind gentleman…and as we were walking away from his business…and already out in the street he hurried after us. He implored us to come back to his eatery…and we assured him that we would…as three of us were returning to Rome and the hotel, Monte Carlo, for several days after the cruise.
Upon our return to Rome, and after our cruise of the Mediterranean, we took a 7 hour tour to Assisi. The tour was by bus and our guide spoke 3 languages, fluently, and proceed to tell us what we were passing on our 2 hour ride to Assisi.
We first stopped at a little Italian village to see a church. We walked up hill for about a half of a mile. When we arrived, exhausted, our guide, announced, that, ‘there is the church and I will be under the tree.’
A woman from South Africa, chastised our guide for the majority of the journey and exclaimed to him, in all of our presence, that he was not doing his job and that she had been in charge of all tourism in South Africa…and that he could be better!
Our guide responded, on the countless occasions of constructive criticism, ‘Madam…Madam.’
Mary Jane, felt sorry for our, reluctant guide, and gave him a very generous gratuity.
We were looking for a red suitcase in Rome. As we gleaned, bits and pieces, from the Romans that we met on the street…as to where the suitcase stores were located, they spoke Italian and we spoke English…and somehow we communicated.
When we finally found the store that had the red ‘gem’ we used a combination of hand gestures and smiles to purchase the clothes carrier and pay the proper amount of Euros.
On our last night in Rome we dined at a ristorante that was just across from our hotel. I was so tired…but I revived when, Jonathon presented me with a book by my favorite author, Ernest Hemingway. He purchased it in an old Roman bookstore that had some English titles.
We admired the Colosseum from the outside…but did not enter.
The traffic in Rome is the worst that I have ever seen or experienced! There are Priests riding red Vespas and cars that are half the size of our economy models. There seems to be no rhyme or reason to the rules of the road…and I could not distinguish if there were even lanes that the crush of vehicles were driving in. It appeared that each driver or motorcycle rider or Vespa rider or bicyclist…was searching for the….crack in the spacing of motorized madness…to place their vehicle in!
Our driver, for Bob’s Limo Service, told us that you must not make eye contact with the other drivers…as it was a signal to them that you were yielding them the right of way.
To dine in Rome…or throughout Europe…is to dine al fresco. Often we sat on the sidewalk that adjoined the ristorante on the left and the, busily traveled road, on the right.
I observed that most of the men that I saw had a bag that hung over their shoulder…called a ‘man bag.’
We visited a leather shop where the owner, handcrafted leather bags and satchels, and the work was well done and intricate and expertly fashioned.
I told a young woman that was working in the store that I wanted to purchase a ‘man bag’ but that my friends in America might think me, different, for doing so. She insisted that I purchase the bag and wear it proudly…and I did as she instructed!
Romans are warm and friendly and inviting of tourists.
The first morning that we awoke at the Monte Carlo Hotel…we were blown away by the luxurious breakfast that we had displayed before us. It included the finest of salamis and cheeses and croissants and chocolate and the hotel was immaculate.
The young waitress asked me if I wanted my water, ‘con-gas’, and I responded that I wanted no gas…but only water. She looked at me in a perplexed manner…and I soon learned that she was inquiring as to whether I desired regular water, still, or carbonated water?
On one of our last evenings in the hotel, we were enjoying a drink from the bar, and made the acquaintance of a man and his sister, who were from England. The man told us that he had been robbed on the train and that if it had not been for his sister…he did not know what he would have done. He was quite friendly and jovial and the next morning when we spoke to him…he did not seem to remember us.
‘All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
And one man in his time plays many parts,….’
As You Like It, Act II, Scene VII William Shakespeare
Life can be likened to the seasons of nature.
We, first, are young and blooming and the sap is rising and we are ready to meet the challenges that life has for us.
Then, we excel under the bright sun shine of summer. We grow and flourish with each passing day…and we, even, have to engage in some weeding…on a regular basis.
And, in the autumn of our lives…our colors are most brilliant…and our accomplishments are great…and we feel the slowing process of time.
In the winter we warm ourselves by the fireside of our memories and we lean on our faith and our family.
I woke up to the sad news of the passing of our universities chancellor, Dr. Carlo Montemagno. Chancellor Montemagno had announced to the university community, in June, that he was battling cancer.
I had the privilege of hearing him speak, on more than one occasion, but the last time that I had the honor was at a Presbyterian Men’s group meeting, last month.
I had always been inspired by the chancellor’s words…but never more so than that, evening, meeting of our church group and my connection with Carlo and his care for others and his struggle and humanity.
I could see that Carlo did not feel well…and that a lesser man and leader…probably would have not been there.
His words regarding his desire to see SIUC, flourish once again, and to ensure that the faculty and staff were considered and protected and valued by him…in the most difficult times that our university has experienced…were heart warming.
Many times the greatest of leaders…are the most misunderstood.
My friend, Jeff, asked me that last time that we visited he and Margo, if I thought about my mortality…much?
I said that I often considered our earthly lives…the foyer of the house of our dreams.
It is the audition for something much greater than we can imagine or conceive.
When the door opens…we will think…what was I worried about?