I was six years old when we left Gaeta. We lived there from 1978-1980 while my dad was stationed on the USS Albany. Who knows how much of my memories are from pictures, family stories, or things I remember. Knowing we were coming to visit Italy, I talked to my parents about these memories. I have been trying to remember what I can that might not exist in pictures.
I think of roller skating in the foyer of our apartment building. In my mind, the entrance was quite large with multiple marble columns in it. Even the floors were marble. The mailboxes and elevator met in the foyer. When I shared this memory with my dad, he didn’t remember the hall being large, but maybe I did some roller skating there. Like most places in Italy, the foyer was marble.
I remember smelling good food coming from our neighbor’s apartment across the hall. I think she was making jars of tomato sauce, described to me as ketchup. I played with their little girls occasionally even though I probably didn’t know much Italian. I remember the smell of the tomato sauce.
I remember going to a shop to pick out fabric for a birthday dress. My mom and I picked red velvet for the skirt while the collar, sleeves, and tie in the back were made of white cotton eyelet. I’m sure there are pictures of me wearing that dress, but I do remember picking out the fabric.
A few years ago I was with some friends playing Canasta and drinking champagne, as you do, when my friend, Sabrina, jumped into our conversation. I was talking about living in Italy. She asked me about the name of the school I went to–Joshua Barney. Coincidentally, While I was in kindergarten, Sabrina was in first grade at that same school. Her mother taught second grade there. She knew the name of my dad’s ship. Gaeta is a small town, and Joshua Barney was a small school with only eight kids in the eighth grade. Our mothers probably knew each other. When she talks about growing up in Gaeta, that fills in some holes in my memory.
This visit to Gaeta didn’t include any illuminating memories. What I did see was a charming town with lots of fishing boats and friendly people. We wandered through my old neighborhood. I don’t think we saw our exact apartment, but the street felt familiar. We stayed at the Serapo Hotel. The same hotel where my family stayed before we left 37 years ago. The beach is beautiful, even in winter. I enjoyed connecting some dots in my head. I could see why my parents enjoyed their stay here so much.