… My school year abroad in Italy saw many trips to Rome to meet my Sicilian soldier. I also made two additional trips to Sicily, once with my parents and brother in tow over Christmas, and another for Valentine’s Day when Benny took me to a Michelin-starred seafood restaurant not knowing that I really don’t eat much seafood… that’s a great story, by the way!
The years that have followed those perfect 9 months studying in Viterbo are chock-full of amazing, beautiful, heart-aching, and, yes, at times, hilarious, vignettes of love, culture clash, frustrating bureaucracy, delicious food, entrepreneurial dreams that just won’t quit, but most importantly, they’re the years in which we have built our improbable, almost impossible, family.
I could recount everything that’s happened since I left Viterbo in May 2004, but then we’d probably end up with 50 installments of “How I fell in love…”. I do plan to write a book someday, and that’s where those stories will live, so to conclude this story I want to introduce you to the loves of my life, Benny and Enzo.
Benny is not what you might think of when you hear: Sicilian (or maybe he is, who knows what that word conjures up for people!). He no longer eats pasta everyday for lunch (probably much to his chagrin), but the man can tear. up. a Chinese buffet. He’s about the messiest person you’ll ever encounter, and, boy, can he dirty up every single surface of the kitchen when he cooks. He doesn’t wear gold chains, play the accordion, or wear a coppola every day… oh wait, scratch that last one.
All joking aside, my husband is hands-down the BEST person I know. He is kind, sincere, and there’s not a malicious bone in his body. He has the ability to laugh at himself, which being one of very few people who “talks funny” in a US tiny town, is essential. This quality also comes in handy in my family where our love language is poking fun and we *never* let funny stories go. (Case in point: if you’ve ever heard about Benny’s first Christmas in America and what he accidentally told my dad he was going to do to my presents, raise your hand.)
But the most important thing to know about Benny is that he LOVES people. He’s terrible with names, but if he knows you, you know this to be true in the way he greets you - a smile ear to ear, eyes lit up, and his signature bear hug. Benny’s gift is engaging people. He may talk your ear off on occasion, but it’s only because he’s got something exciting on his mind and he wants to share it with you. The man has never met a stranger.
He has supported me, blindly, wholeheartedly, and enthusiastically, in every idea I’ve ever had or venture I’ve attempted. He is my #1 supporter, and I absolutely love how his passion for food and wine is perfectly put to use in this business to make sure our travelers have the best wine in their glasses and delicious food on their plates.
In May of 2018, after 10 years of marriage, Benny and I welcomed our son Enzo, perhaps one of the happiest babies you’ll ever meet. He is Benny with my coloring. Of all the ways I imagined our son looking, I never could have guessed he’d be this perfect combination of us both!
On November 4, 2018, we took Enzo and stood in front of our church family, exactly where stood 10 years before at our wedding, as the pastor told our story. See, this now-pastor was on staff at the church when I was in high school and he remembers when I left to study abroad, he remembers hearing how I’d met this guy, and how things were actually serious. He remembers hearing of our marriage, and now he’s the one who baptized our son, 15 years after our story began.
But that’s not really when our story began, is it? When I look at my sweet, beautiful, perfect little boy, I see:
The alarm that wasn’t set in October 2003 that made me late for school so I wouldn’t be just another American student streaming through the door in the midst of other students. I was the singular, disheveled, red-headed student running down the street 10 minutes after everyone was already inside. And he noticed me.
The soldier who wanted to be sent to Viterbo but ultimately wasn’t because he outranked Benny, so Benny was sent instead.
The program representative who came and spoke to my freshman Latin class with Dr. Conwell about the opportunities to study in Spain, France, Italy, or China. I went home that same day and told my parents I was going to study abroad in Italy my junior year. They kind of laughed, but then I filled out the application, got a scholarship and actually went.
The split-second decision by a Sicilian soldier to put ‘Rome’ at the top of the list when filling our placement preferences on his mandatory military service paperwork, instead of ‘Rimini’ (he wanted to be close to the beach!)
And a host of other seemingly random, insignificant decisions or circumstances that made us what we are today: a family.
You may not believe the same things I do, but for me, our story is a tangible, daily reminder of how God works in our lives. The decision to study abroad in Italy was no accident, and neither are all of the wonderful things that came from it. And I don’t think this travel business, which perfectly blends all of my passions and talents, challenges me, feeds me, and keeps our family’s cultural heritage alive, is an accident, either.
I am so incredibly grateful for our story and the opportunity to share it in a very real way through our trips to Sicily.