Archive | September, 2012

A Rome Reunion to Remember!

30 Sep

There are many things that can make one fall in love with a country. I was reminded of so many of them this weekend as I celebrated the 40th reunion of my junior year abroad with many fellow “Rome Campers” at the 50th anniversary of Loyola’s John Felice Rome Center.

In the fall of 1971, 358 students, mostly from across the U.S., descended upon Loyola University of Chicago’s Rome campus.  Eager with excitement and perhaps a bit nervous about the unknown, we came together to spend our junior year in Italy. And what a year it was!

Although our classes were in English, we all studied the Italian language and became fluent enough to eat, shop, travel and carry on with the locals. Our beautiful campus on Monte Mario provided the perfect setting for our home away from home, and our teachers and classmates became our new family.

We ate, drank, socialized, studied, shared our innermost thoughts, chased our dreams, learned about new cultures, confronted our fears, and most of all, had an amazing opportunity to discover who we were and what made us tick. Most of us turned 21 that year.

Besides the classroom academics, much of our study abroad learning happened in the classroom of world travel. Over the course of a school year, and with no classes on most Fridays, travelling was easy…I visited 17 countries.

In small or large groups, spreading out in all directions like the spokes of a wheel, we ventured from Liverpool to Leningrad, from the Netherlands to the Nile, and just about every place in between.  We rode camels to the great pyramids; saw the birthplace of Jesus; toured ancient Greek ruins; visited the home town of the Beatles; hosted a Christmas day party for an orphanage; gathered on a hillside to film a Coke commercial;

celebrated numerous 21st birthdays at Carmellos; wrote a letter to Pope Paul VI about Vietnam; rode Vespas throughout Rome; literally “jumped” into the Trevi Fountain (ok, it was the night before we were heading home and a few of our classmates wanted to be certain it was a memorable evening!);

marveled at the amazing art and antiquities throughout Italy and wherever our travels took us; flocked to the Vatican after the Pieta was damaged (before it was behind glass);

attended the “real” Oktoberfest and Mardi Gras; learned to eat calamari; loved to drink cappuccino; and just simply had the time of our lives.

Over the last few days, with friendships renewed and hugs abundant, many of us gathered from near and far to retell and relive the stories as if they had happened yesterday. We raised our glasses – to each other, to those who could not attend, and to those who have left us. How incredible, after 40 years, to so vividly remember each other and the events that shaped our lives that year. Sure, a few well earned wrinkles and gray hairs have emerged, but they have done nothing to lessen the sparkle in our eyes and the smiles on our faces. We loved our experiences then and still cherish them to this day. For most of us, our year together in Rome still ranks among the best years of our lives.

Saturday night, at the 50th anniversary gala, a Fiat 500 was auctioned. None of us won the car, but for sure, we all walked away winners. You don’t need to look hard to see that!

Over the last 50 years, more than 14,000 students have attended Loyola’s Rome Center. Not surprisingly, those just returning shared the same enthusiasm and reaped the same rewards as we did so long ago. At Saturday night’s grand celebration, 50 years of Rome Center attendees, aged  20’s to 80’s, gathered to celebrate. While the heels were higher and the dresses shorter for the younger generations, there was little difference in the glow of all the faces of alumni brimming with stories to share. In fact, some of our stories trumped those of the more recent attendees as they discovered we actually had birrra machines in some of our hallways!

When our class left the Rome Center in 1972, I’m sure most of us thought we’d return within a year or so. I know I did. But after college came my career and graduate school, then a wonderful marriage and family, and incredibly, it took me 25 years to return. My advice, especially to students, is to take advantage of any opportunity you may have to study abroad and learn about other parts of this world we share, whether for a year, a semester, or a summer. Careers and yet unknown responsibilities have a way of postponing your best laid plans for travel, so jump at the opportunity if you can.

To my classmates, ci vediamo a Piazza Igea, alle otto, domani mattina! Well, perhaps not tomorrow morning, but hopefully our paths will cross again soon. And thanks to all whose pictures I have copied and shared here. I can’t believe I found the commercial!

Grazie tutti for a most memorable and wonderful weekend! Campers, and spouses, you’re the best!



RIP Our Dog Paco

5 Sep

Our dog and friend Paco died peacefully in my arms around noon today. He had been failing this last week and letting us know it was his time to go. We were fortunate to have had him nearly 17 years, almost 119 in human years. Unlike humans, however, he never lost his puppy look. Rarely could a person pass without commenting what a darling puppy he was.

Paco was born in Marble Falls, Texas, in late 1995. A lady who worked at a Drexel Heritage furniture store found him in a field (covered in burrs) and didn’t know what to do with him. She had named him Drexel. Len and I were supposed to be playing golf, but it was pouring outside and the courses were closed. Not much else to do in Marble Falls besides golf, so we wandered into the store.

The cute little black puppy followed me around the store and we offered to take him home. Benita was not quite three and we were thinking about getting a dog anyway. Why not this one, a homeless mutt?

We changed his name to Paco. None of us know where the name came from but it certainly fit him better than Drexel. Ironic thing is, I bought a Drexel Heritage sofa this week.

The rest is history. Paco was an easy dog and just about everyone he met couldn’t help but like him…including my Mom, who really wasn’t much of a dog person. I guess it’s just hard to resist a dog with a perpetual puppy face, a snaggle tooth, and jet black fur that felt like mink.

My friend Glenys recently told me about a book written from a dog’s perspective. The dog is nearly Paco’s age, failing and not wanting x-rays, tests, and treatments –  just wanting his beloved owner to know it’s ok to let him die peacefully with dignity.

Paco had that look in his eyes as I held his head in my hands.  It was his time…we both knew. Farewell, buddy… we’ll miss you, but we sure had a long and great run together.



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