I looked up and saw something incredible.
There on the hill across the valley was the star that I had all but forgotten about. It’s actually a deep woods surrounded by olive groves and old farm houses, where the edges of the woods are delineated be different plants so that it resembles a three-dimensional star gently laying on the hillside. I first saw it about 6 years ago when my mother (then in her early 80s) and her husband, Harold, were visiting for several weeks. I’ll never forget it. We were sitting on the terrace overlooking the valley and Mom asked, “Have you ever noticed that there’s a star on the hill over there?” We exchanged a look wondering if she had possibly just slipped a gear or two, we glanced up not expecting to see anything and therefore didn’t—no big surprise. Then with a little pointing and prompting, she was able to lead our eyes to it. Sure enough, there it was, just like she said. A star! How many times had we sat there looking at that hillside without ever seeing it? The answer is: too many to count.
First, a little background before going any further. You need to know that my mother happens to be one of the most optimistic people in the world. Of course, we haven’t met all those other people, but we’re willing to bet on it. She remarried at 80 to an absolutely wonderful person, Harold (an older man ha ha) who would come in a close second in the global optimist competition. Maybe a few examples could help.
Harold bought a new heavy-duty lawn tractor just before turning 90 because he wanted to haul fresh dirt around the yard before replanting the grass (which meant, of course, that he had to have the barn enlarged to hold the new equipment). He also maintains the most beautiful flower garden every year, making sure Rosie has a vase of roses in the house at all times. Mom has some difficulty walking, but it doesn’t seem to slow her down. She still buys a new evening gown for their annual trip to the Air Force awards celebration in Washington DC, where they party right along with thousands of other muckety-mucks. Of course, they drive to DC from Indiana in their newest roadworthy Chrysler. They are like the mail—come rain, sleet or snow, they’re gonna show.
Now, back to Italy. In their early to mid-eighties, they wanted to come to Italy for a visit, and so they did. I would have crashed almost immediately upon arrival, after traveling that far, but not them. Oh, no! Sitting at the kitchen table after dinner we asked them what they wanted to do while they were in Italy. I’ll never forget the answer: Harold said in his slow drawl, “Well . . . how far is it to Rome?” Gulp! Of course, the answer is not far. So within a few short days, we found ourselves on the bus, then the train, pushing a wheelchair around the busy alleyways of ancient Rome. We saw more than you can imagine in one day and made it back to Florence in time for bed. No question, they can match our energy any day of the week.
A couple of years later when they were in their mid to late 80s they decided to come for another visit. This time, they couldn’t land in foggy Florence, instead they were forced to land in Bologna and took a bus for the last hour-long leg. Even after that exhausting challenge, they were still bright-eyed and bushy-tailed upon arrival as we stayed up late making plans. I said, “So, what do you want to do while you’re here this time?” Harold started that slow drawl again, “Well . . . how far is it to Venice?” Our mouths dropped. Within a few short days we made all the arrangements, complete with a map of the strategically located bridges with elevators, specifically designed for wheelchair access. Again, we were off and running (rolling). We made another whirlwind tour and by the day’s end, we were back, asleep in our own beds. Incredible!
They are now 88 and 91 years old, and still acting like school kids out on break. If anyone ever wants to play Scrabble, euchre, rummy, Dominoes or double solitaire, we can arrange a match any time of day or night—just say the word. We’ve watched the constant game playing and gallivanting over the years, and have perhaps discovered their hidden secret to perpetual youth and happiness. The best we can tell, it has something to do with optimism, like that day we all sat looking out over the valley—while the rest of us saw trees, Mom saw a star!
Note: You might also enjoy several stories with music that we wrote for Rose and Harold—they are “live Again,” “Lover’s Leap” and the unforgettable “Motorcycle Mamma.”