Sardinia is very hilly, this is a view on a ride we took on the island.
Ten years ago about this time of the year, my Mom and I were planning a trip we would be taking in September to Sardinia and then Rome, Italy and I was so excited. It would be the first time back to Italy after having gone to school there for a semester in 1975, and then having spent a very wonderful 10 days there a couple of years later.
I wanted to show Mom all the places, sites, ruins, churches, museums, restaurants, streets and more that I had experienced in college, and we were eagerly looking forward to shopping for that upcoming Christmas holiday for the family, especially my nephews and nieces. As we got closer to leaving early in September, Katie (who was about 16 years old at the time) would kiddingly say to her Grandma and me “will you bring me back a black leather coat?”
A view of the resort we stayed out in Sardinia
We first went to Sardinia for 4 days, then we were to spend another 6 days in Rome. We had really been enjoying the trip so far, and we were staying in a lovely place right on the water in an inlet area near a yacht club, restaurant and shopping area. I was strolling along the dock late on the third afternoon, and as I headed back to our hotel, I saw a woman I had met from New York who was with my tour group. She was frantic and walking rapidly towards me and said, “did you hear the news? A plane has crashed into the World Trade Center.” She asked me if I had seen her husband, and I hadn’t, and she said we’d talk later at dinner.
I tried to comprehend what she meant. Was it a small plane, how did it happen, was anyone hurt, etc. I went back to our room where my Mom had been reading, and I turned on the TV, flipping the channel to find CNN International or BBC or something that would have the news from New York. Our hearts sank as we saw what had happened, and as we were watching, shortly afterwards another plane went into the second tower. We were shocked, horrified, saddened beyond belief, scared and wanted to be at home with the rest of the family as we saw the Twin Towers collapse and cried as the third plane hit the Pentagon, and the fourth crash into the rural Pennsylvania field.
Here's a cute picture of my Mom in Sardinia on 9-10-01, the day before 9-11 happened.
I tried to call home, but the lines were all tied up. The tour group met before dinner and updates were given – no international flights were leaving, so we couldn’t go home, but we could still go on to Rome and continue the planned activities until we could get a flight out. We flew out the next morning for the hour or so flight to Rome, and then checked into the Excelsior Hotel on the Via Veneto.
The hotel and the area was on high alert with police and Italian army guarding the hotel as the Excelsior was up the street from/next to the American Embassy. We finally were able to make a call back home and while everyone in KC wanted us to come back right away, Mom and I were stranded with the tour group until international flights could resume again. All the plans we had for the trip went out the door as we stayed riveted to the television watching the news. On the third day I said to Mom that we couldn’t just sit in the hotel room all day again, that we should go on and see and do some of the things we had planned on our itinerary. But the Roman authorities and the U.S Embassy were telling Americans to not take tour buses and to stay in smaller groups vs. larger.
I didn't take many photos once we arrived in Rome, but did take one of the replica statue of Roman Emperor, Marcus Aurelius, in the Piazza Campidoglio. The original is in the nearby Capitoline Museum which we did get to visit as well.
So I hired a driver through the hotel concierge, and outlined all the places we wanted to go to: Sistine Chapel, St. Peter’s Basilica, the Vatican Museum, the Colosseum, the Roman Forum, the Imperial Forums, the Pantheon, Piazza Navona (then lunch at Tre Scalini), the Borghese Galleria, the Piazza di Spagna, an espresso at the Antico Caffè Greco, the Trevi Fountain, the National Monument of Victor Emmanuel II (aka the “Wedding Cake”) and the statue of Marcus Aurelius at the top of Capitoline Hill.
We did this over a series of three days and the driver was great – he often pulled up in a restricted parking area, had us wait in the car, he went in and bought museum passes or whatever tickets were needed, then came back and ushered us in via a special entrance. I’m confident he was giving ticket takers a few extra Lire’s for the special treatment, but glad he did. I was able to show Mom a whirlwind view of Rome in three days to take our minds off what was happening at home and the fact we couldn’t get home. But again, we stayed glued to the TV late into the evenings and made quick phone calls back home nightly.
Flights were sill not leaving the airport, but we were told our original flight probably would leave just two or three days later than scheduled. The Italians and people of Rome were so great to Americans, and were just as horrified and saddened as anyone. In our extra days, we went to several churches, not only to see the majesty of these beautiful structures, but primarily to pray for our country and all the lives lost.
As we were walking back to the hotel one afternoon after visiting a church, I said to Mom that we needed to go shop for Katie’s coat. I had a name of a store from the same woman from New York, and it was down a side street on the way back to the hotel. It was an inauspicious little shop, with a few nice looking leather garments in the window. As we entered, they had just reopened after the afternoon siesta so no one else was in the shop. The clerk had us follow her a few stairs down and it opened up to this huge room of row after row of leather coats and jackets. Katie had wanted a 3/4 length black coat and we found the perfect one, with the leather so soft and the stitching and craftmanship of very high quality.
Katie at her sixteenth birthday
The next day we left early to finally go back home. International flights were commencing again, and our flight was tentatively scheduled to leave. The Fiumicino Airport was a mad house due to it being the first day of flights leaving and long lines were everywhere. With all the chaos, we were a little concerned about our bags making it on the right flight and getting lost, so Mom decided to take Katie’s coat out of the luggage and carry it on. Lost luggage really didn’t matter given the circumstances, and we just wanted to get home and hug everyone. But we did want to bring one special coat home to one special girl.
Mom held that coat as we stood in the long lines to check the baggage, and the long wait at the gate, and finally throughout the long flight home. She kept it on her lap, and ever now and then I looked down, and she was passing her hand over the leather ever so softly, and kept drawing the coat closer to her as if it would make Katie closer somehow.
It was a very emotional ride home. Rather than the normal hustle and bustle that happens on an international flight, everyone was very quiet, very respectful with each other, very absorbed in their own thoughts about the tragedy and about going home. As we landed at La Guardia, several people around us, men and women alike, had tears rolling down their face, including the flight attendants who were buckled up in their jump seats looking out the window.
We went through customs and then caught our flight home to Kansas City. When we pulled up to the house, the family was standing outside, and Ian and Elyse (then 10 and 6 years old) had made signs with American flags on it that said “Welcome Home,” and “God Bless America,” and “We love you Grandma and Aunt Sheree.”
Katie's leather coat, our touchstone on the way home from Rome.
We put Katie’s coat in my closet to later take out and wrap to give her for Christmas that year. I wanted so much just to give it to her upon our return, but decided to wait so she’d be surprised. And she was, and gave us extra special hugs that Christmas Eve as she knew what had happened while we were in Rome, and wasn’t expecting us to go shopping to find her a leather coat.
It’s the tenth anniversary of 9/11 in a couple of weeks, and I don’t think anyone will ever forget where they were the day this heinous crime against America happened and the national sorrow it created with such a senseless loss of life. When I think about that trip to Italy and the tragic events of 9/11, I think about the flight home from Rome and all the heartfelt love but sadness that was on the faces of everyone on the plane. I think of the flight attendant peering out the window, looking down at New York City, with tears running down her eyes. I think of how much Mom and I longed to be home with the family we loved. And I think of Katie’s leather coat, and how it became our touchstone to home, with Mom carrying it so close to her as if she was hugging Katie all the way home.
One of my favorite quotes is from Marcus Aurelius, and on this upcoming anniversary of 9/11 it seems appropriate to share:
“Understand that your time has a limit set to it.
Use it, then, to advance your enlightenment;
or it will be gone, and never in your power again.”