Marking my one year anniversary of being a resident of Italy has stirred up lots of dormant emotions. Milestones do that to me and I’m always mildly amazed at how these images float through my head and feelings tickle my heart. How suddenly my mind and my soul sync up to retrieve long forgotten memories and emotions and parade them through my consciousness.
My Many Homes
I have lived in five houses in the past seven years. Each one has been a stone on my path to Italy. In 2015, we took a six month sabbatical from our lives in Atlanta and moved to Italy. Living in Italy had been a dream, or an obsession as dreams sometimes become, since our first trip here in 1997. We sold our house in Atlanta – the house we were married in and the one we had Christmas dinners, Fourth of July cookouts, grandchildren sleepovers, and countless dinner parties with friends for over 20 years- and conducted this experiment to see if we would really like living in Italy.
Saying goodbye to that house was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. It was my anchor, my refuge, my solace. It was a modest frame house built in 1941 on a steep hill in one of Atlanta’s many urban forests. It was sold to my step-son, who moved his family in and now my grandchildren call it home. That gives me joy.
Once that tether had been cut, I started to re-frame my definition of home. I had to. The apartment we lived in for those jubilant six months in Italy was a triangular wedge of a place that was the servants’ quarters to the palace next door. It was in the medieval part of town, probably built in the 1400s, and curled over three small floors. Our front yard was the small piazza outside and our view was the narrow stone pedestrian street which gave us many hours of people watching. I went from living in a 70 year old house (which is pretty old by Atlanta standards) to a 600 year old house. Places have always held a spell over me. Maybe it’s because I grew up in an antebellum home with the ghosts of the past whispering to me. If you listen closely enough, you’ll hear what they have to tell you.
Moving back to Atlanta we lived in a couple of rental homes, biding our time until we could make the transition to Italy. We made new friends, good friends, along the way and count ourselves lucky to have encountered so many wonderful people on our journey.
My Wise Dog
When we moved here in 2015 for six months, we brought our small dog, Millie, with us. She’s a mixed up ball of unknown origin who was found running the streets of Decatur. We adopted her with her injured back leg and and her much more injured psyche. Her adjustment with us was not an easy one – she could not know that we intended to keep her and in her one year of life experience was not entirely sure that humans were to be trusted. So we did what we could to give her reassurance and support and finally she came to realize that our love was the kind that dogs know so well – unconditional.
Dragging her to Italy five years later was cause for concern because we thought she was a fragile little thing who would be traumatized by this sudden change. Everything familiar and comfortable to her would be gone and she would have to start over in a strange new place. Given the hard time she had adjusting to us in the beginning, we were concerned that she would not meet this adventure with the same enthusiasm that we had. And she would be stuffed inside a small carrier and shoved under an airplane seat for nine hours with no potty breaks. Not a good way to start a new life.
Our fears were for nothing. She hopped out of that carrier and into Italy like she was going to the dog park. She adapted to the new apartment in about 30 seconds and found her own spot to potty at the small garden at the top of our street. I was amazed at her resilience and over time I came to realize that for her home meant where we were, all together. The place didn’t matter one bit as long as we were there.
She doesn’t know it, but she helped with my own transition. Like I said, places have special meaning to me and I have a tendency to want to make a permanent nest where I am. I knew that would not be possible given the path we had chosen so I did what Millie did – lived in the moment with the security of my family by my side.
Now we have finally come to the place that we have been striving for for decades. We live in Italy, all three of us, together. We’re at home here just as we were in the places we called home in Atlanta. But this is our goal, our dream. It has meaning for us that is lost on Millie, but her dreams and goals have been met as well. That scared, skeptical puppy that trotted into our lives twelve years ago is now sure of one thing – that we can be trusted to take care of her. Wherever that may be.