As you know, we treated each one of you as a father treats his children, exhorting and encouraging you and insisting that you conduct yourselves as worthy of the God who calls you into the kingdom of his glory. 1Thessalonians 2:11
In 1997, in celebration of our twenty fifth wedding anniversary, Diane and I and our two sons, Matthew and Mark, took a wonderful vacation to Italy.
To travel to Italy had been a lifelong dream of mine, fueled by my mother’s longing to return to the land of her roots. Mom had planned to go to Italy many times, even getting her passport, but something always happened to cancel her plans. A death in the family, an illness, something always got in the way. She never made the trip, and I vowed that I would take it for her. I even brought her passport with us and had it stamped as we travelled in Europe.
One sunny afternoon in Rome, we decided to visit the beautiful museum, Museo e Galleria Borghese, on the grounds of the beautiful Villa Borghese. We loved the beautiful sculpture and were impressed that our son, Matt, recognized sculpture from masters like Canova and Bernini, particularly Bernini’s masterpiece, Abduction of Prosperpina by Plato. There were paintings from Rubens and Raphael. It was magnificent! Matthew must have been listening that day at school.
Alongside of the museum was a beautiful garden, one of many on the grounds and we decided to take a stroll while we waited for ride back to the hotel.
As we walked, I spotted a cart with a vendor selling lupini beans! For the uninitiated, Lupini beans are a snack food that you eat by tearing the skin of the soft shell and “popping” them into your mouth. They are served like French fries in a paper cone.
The vendor spotted me as I walked closer. “Il mio amico, ti piace lupini fagioli?” (My friend, do you like Lupini beans?) he asked in Italian. Sì, io li amo!” (yes, I love them) I responded.
As I got closer I was amazed at how much he looked like my father-in-law Papa Charlie, who we had lost eight years earlier in 1989. He could have been his twin!
He carefully took the cone and filled it with our snack, and reaching into his shirt pocket he produced an envelope. In the envelope was salt, which he sprinkled over the top.
Giving me a big grin he handed me the cone and with a wink, he nodded at Diane saying, “enjoy them with your beautiful wife.” (Godetevi con la vostra bella moglie.)
As I walked to the bench where Diane was now sitting to share the Lupini, I said, “That man could have been your dad!” As we both turned to get one more look at him, he and the cart were gone. Not a sign of them anywhere!
Almost simultaneously we realized that there were NO vendors in the park. We hadn’t seen any before or after this encounter. I’m not certain if they are allowed.
Was this a coincidence, an illusion, or just a man with a fast cart that could disappear quickly into the trees, we will never know. But we were both convinced that this WAS her dad. Or if not, then he was sent to us to tell us that Papa Charlie was at peace. Looking down from heaven, he was telling us how happy he was that for 25 years we had shared our lives together.
Today, October 28, 2012, Papa Charlie would have been 100 years old. This past June, Diane and I celebrated our 40th anniversary. Papa Charlie would still be smiling.