Ok – so, how did we end up living in Italy? Let’s start at the beginning. Way back at the beginning. Like 1980’s way back. Back to when my dream of living in Italy first formed. Back when I was just a little girl growing up in the small town of Lolo, Montana, a one-stoplight junction between Highway 12 and Highway 93, bordered by the Bitterroot River.
My hometown’s biggest claim to fame was a brief mention in the movie “A River Runs Through It,” as the gambling hall and house of ill repute location. And in real life, my hometown was also known for a life-sized wood carving of a naked cowgirl bathing in a beer stein, set atop the local bar. In the early days, there was some debate about whether or not the carved cowgirl really was naked. After all, it was a uniformly brown wood carving. Maybe the clothes just blended in? Then, a few decades ago, the bar owner settled the matter by painting the cowgirl light pink with brown hair, brown cowboy boots and a red hat. Keepin’ it classy.
Lolo wasn’t a sophisticated town, but it wasn’t a bad place to grow up either.
However, like many small-town kids, from an early age, I yearned to escape. The wide and wonderful world beckoned to me from the pages of my school’s National Geographics. And, as fate would have it, I also happened to have two incredibly adventurous role models – my grandparents.
My paternal grandfather worked for the federal government in a role that took him and my grandmother, a DOD accountant, all around the world. They lived in Germany, Guam, Japan, throughout the United States and – the place that drew my fascination like no other – Italy. From each location, my grandparents sent me letters, mementos, and often, a locally made doll for my growing collection. Each item ignited my imagination. And, as I grew and contemplated what kind of life I wanted to build, I knew with a unobscured clarity, more potent and definite than any other, this was it.
I hit the ground running as soon as I graduated high school (kind of – more on that later). I went to college in Laie, Hawaii, then did a study abroad in … wait for it … Italy. My dream location had finally, if temporarily, become my home. It lived up to the hype and so much more. It was a wild and wonderful adventure.
Those few short months ended quickly. Then it was back to Hawaii, Honolulu this time, then Montana, where I married my husband who, fortunately, was equally up for adventure. Eleven moves over the course of a dozen years took us throughout Montana, Utah, South Dakota, Wisconsin and Washington, following the lure of our wanderlust and job opportunities. And all along the way, we tried and tried to land that white whale – a highly coveted international assignment. But almost 13 years and at least as many attempts later, it remained out of reach.
So we prioritized travel and, thankfully, were financially fortunate enough to pull it off, both with the kids (US road trips, Hawaii, Canada, Bahamas, Mexico, China) and as a couple with our friends (England, France, Italy, Thailand, Cambodia, Grand Caymans, Jamaica, Haiti, Peru). This satiated my almost manic wanderlust, but that dream of living abroad still remained.
Flash forward to December 2021. We were at a Cacao Farm in Costa Rica with the kids and our close family friends. We’d just finished making chocolate from scratch (fresh from the beans!) and were walking through the cacao trees. As we crossed a rough-hewn wooden bridge, my husband pulled me aside and excitedly whispered, “We got it. We’re going to Italy.”
“I know,” I said, concerned. We had been planning a December trip to the Christmas markets in Italy and Germany for the coming year. He seemed to have forgotten that I was in on the plan.
“No,” he said. “I just got the email. We got the job. We’re going to Italy.”
There are a lot of ways I’d like to say I reacted to this incredible news. Maybe I could have said something profound that perfectly encapsulated this unbelievable announcement and the accomplishment it represented. Or something that wrapped up over a decade of striving and commemorated this phenomenal success. Instead, I fell down. Like, in a 1920’s black and white movie. My legs turned to jelly and I literally melted to the ground in a complete and utter stupor.
There are a lot of feelings you expect to feel when you accomplish one of the biggest goals of your life; bliss, exhilaration, glee, ecstasy, disbelief, delight. I felt all of those and more in the span of about 12 seconds. It was unreal – like something out of a dream. After a decade and a half of trying, we were finally realizing our dream.
To be continued…