The same tree that always started changing its colors to red in late August is changing its colors now; the same cloud formations that Franco loved to look at are up in the bright blue sky right now; the screams from the toddlers running through the water park are the same screams that used to come from our two-year-old grandson.
I walk around the path of Filippello Park as often as I can, and as I walk, I do my neck exercises. Turn to the left, to the right, look down, look up. As I look up I see again that pristine blue sky with those puffy white clouds, the same ones Franco and I looked at when we walked together in this park.
He adored anything that was in the sky: clouds, birds, airplanes, gliders; he had once flown gliders all by himself. Few people were aware that he had gotten his degree at Rome University in aeronautical engineering. He knew all about clouds and could identify for me: cumulus, nimbus, cirrus, stratus, and which of them would portend good weather and which one a storm coming. Then he’d ask if I could see the unicorn in that formation. When we were in Ushuaia, at the very bottom tip of Argentina, he could even tell me the names of all the constellations in the Southern Hemisphere.
Now in my third August walking around the park alone, I still look up. If he were looking down at me from anywhere, it would have to be from those clouds.
These are the very best days. The late August days in New England, when it is still warm but there is a hint of fall in the air. Franco always said, “After Ferragosto (the major Italian holiday on August 15), summer starts to fade away and you can feel that fall is coming.” He was right again this year.
These are the days when you can take long walks and feel the hot sun, but not get steamy and sweaty; you can feel the soft breezes on the sleeves of your shirt, and never want to go back inside.
The skinny little boys, so much like another grandson, Rory, are running through the water park, arms and legs all akimbo or askew or awry. I love those three words. Especially awry, which always reminds me of Sean when he was young. He was reading a book to me one day and said, “Things went awe-ree!” Actually, if you look at that word, that is exactly how it should be pronounced, and from then on, I have never been able to pronounce it correctly. It will always be awe-ree to me.
Walking in this place brings back to me all kinds of memories. When Franco and I were in the park, we would often look back on the days when our children were little, and marvel at a new phenomenon: fathers.
When we’d arrive at the park, we knew exactly what we’d see when the minivans pulled up. The fathers would get out and unbuckle the children from their car seats. One by one they’d lift them to the sidewalk, go around to the back of the van, and extract tricycles, scooters, bicycles, sacks full of helmets and kneepads, soccer balls, baseballs, baseball bats. This has become my favorite sight here: the fathers alone with their kids— strapping on the helmets and the knee pads for a scooter ride; teaching them to play baseball; holding onto strollers while they jog around the path; opening up picnic baskets on the lawn; changing diapers on the benches; pushing the child on the swing, where she shouts in unison with all the others: “Again, again!” There is hardly a mother in sight.
When Franco and I were young, we never saw a father alone with his children in any park or field or jungle gym. Not here in the U.S., and certainly not in Italy. When my son was little, we would go on weekend afternoons to one or another of Rome’s glorious parks. There he would play with the other children while I sat on a bench watching with all the other mothers, the nannies, the maids, the foreign au pair girls, but nary a man. It is of great importance to make a bella figura (that is, to always make a good public appearance) in Italy, so children were always dressed in their best clothes to go to the park. That would cause the perpetual refrain to be heard: “Non ti sporcare!” “Don’t get dirty!” Every time children got too far into the sandbox or into the dirt under the swing, their mothers would make them come out immediately so they could stay clean.
Now I watch kids with raggedy T-shirts and jeans with holes in them, running and skidding in the dirt, racing after Frisbees, jumping off the slide into the sand, or rolling all over the grass with their dogs. They are having a ball, and after all, there’s a washing machine at home.
As I circle the path, I am listening once again to the Rach 3 on the iPod Sean gave me for Christmas last year. Obviously a big favorite of mine, Rachmaninoff somehow makes Filippello Park feel majestic, though that is probably not an adjective anybody else would use. This is, after all, just your plain old city park. On Saturday and Sunday afternoons its two fields are filled with children and teenagers playing soccer, and generally not a word of English can be heard. The teams are a wonderful international mix of Armenians, Indians, and Hispanics.
The walking path, on the other hand, is for everyone: those fathers holding the bikes of the kids they are teaching to ride, the teenagers on scooters, the middle-aged joggers, and others like us, older people just out for a stroll. In fact, today I see again that couple I often see here: “elderly” is probably what people would call them, and they could be us. They are walking arm in arm ever so slowly around the track. When we started our walks on that track around the park, Franco was faster, and I had a hard time keeping up with him. But as the years went on and he got sicker, I’d be faster, and he would lag behind. Or he’d be just like that husband I see today, sitting down on the nearest bench, resting.