It must have been the summer of 1972. I’m almost positive it was ’72 because I’m pretty sure it was just months before I went to the Munich Olympics. It was a typically beautiful, warm Italian summer. My buddy Denny Paxton had met a British nanny in Rome. Don’t ask me how because there’s no way I can remember. Just one of those things that happened to us Army pukes in search of companionship (see American secretaries from Berlin episode). Denny wanted to go visit her but didn’t want to go alone. I was in a weekend funk because my Alfa was in the shop having the gear box replaced (another story) and was kind of stuck on base. He talked me into going along and we left before of dawn on a Saturday morning. Denny had an old panzer gray VW bug, early ’60’s. Slow, noisy, smelled like oil but it was transportation.
We arrived in Rome not too late in the morning and we met up with his young lady friend in front of the train station. She had two two friends with her and they’d arrived shortly before from Lido di Ostia where they plied their nanny trade. They all worked for well-to-do families. One of the two friends was an Irish lass and the other Scottish. I immediately fell in love. To this day my heart will stop when I hear an Irish or Scottish accent spoken by a lovely woman. I’m sure if I listen too closely it could be fatal. I cannot for the life of me remember the Irish or the British girls’ names but the Scottish girl was named Fiona.
The ladies wanted to spend the morning shopping so we accompanied them most willingly. Well, as willing as any man can be when shopping with women. We strolled around an open market in Rome with all its noise and commotion. The variety of goods you can find in an open market in Italy is astounding. We meandered about while the young women made some purchases and toward late afternoon we headed west to Ostia. We arrived at a gated community and were scrutinized closely by the guards. Two young Americans with a back seat full of ladies from the British Isles. Very suspicious. I’m pretty sure they thought we were up to something. We dropped the Irish lass at her family’s home as she had to work that evening. By home I mean a mansion. It was huge.
The family that Fiona worked for was on vacation and she was staying with the British girl at her family’s home. Apparently this family was in the states on business and would not be back for a month or two and the young lady was taking care of the home. And what a home it was. Six bedrooms with a guest house and a huge swimming pool. It was furnished in a relaxed but luxurious style. I asked her who the owners were and she casually said ‘Oh, they’re the heirs of the Olivetti business empire’. ‘Oh’ was about all I could muster.
The girls wanted to take in a movie before a late dinner. They took us to a small, small theater that showed foreign movies. In this case it was Doctor Zhivago in English so I guess I lucked out there. Great movie and a great dinner at a small trattoria.
We spent the rest of the weekend in Ostia and it was everything you could imagine it was. Great fun, great food and great company. We spent most of our time at the pool and for some reason never ventured far from the house. Kind of surprising because the beach was just down the road. But even without the beach it was a wonderful time. It was just one of those rare but perfect weekends.
As we were getting ready to leave Denny was making plans with his girl friend for the following weekend. I was saying a somewhat awkward goodbye to Fiona. Denny turned and asked if I would be coming along the following week. I looked at Fiona and with the saddest eyes and that accent she said ‘I won’t be here. I’m going home and back to school this week. I’m sure you can find someone to visit with if you decide to come back’. Needless to say my heart was shattered. I took a moment to look at her and eventually said ‘No, I’m pretty sure I have some things to do’. She smiled and gave me a little kiss and said ‘Well, I guess it’s goodbye’. I muttered a reply ‘It’s a small world. You never know who you might run into’.
I didn’t go back with Denny the next weekend nor the weekend after. He gave me a hard time about it but I just couldn’t muster the will to tag along. It’s not to say I never went back to Rome. I went back many times. I used to race down the via Aurelia my buddy Jack every other week in our Alfas and have breakfast in Ostia. But not that summer. I guess you’re wondering how I could say no to such an opportunity and you’re probably sure I totally lost my mind. But I think it was actually my heart that I’d lost.
I never heard from Fiona again and that’s just as it should be. There should always be the occasional reality that seems almost dreamlike and for the very reason it’s so so very short and so very intense it remains a special moment in one’s life never to be relived but never to be forgotten.