7. Grateful for Assisi

Published on 8 August 2022 at 13:50

©2022 Robert Sickles

It was only a short time until the snotty years of my adolescence hit the fan, when I became a gnarled mass of secretiveness, indignation and disgust toward my elders. Ah, but the memory of one sweet moment from before my “reign of terror” somehow survived to my maturity, it was a perfect day with Mom and Dad in Assisi, Italy.

At the age of 13 I still really liked being with my folks. It was our first trip overseas together and I was enjoying everything about Europe. Assisi is perched on a hillside overlooking rolling landscape of farms and villages. From our hotel veranda on one evening, I faced a beautiful Umbrian sunset over the distant hills and felt an intriguing cool air on my back, drifting from the 800-year-old arched stone passageway to the piazza and Temple of Minerva, Roman goddess of peace and wisdom. Overhead the entire veranda was shaded by a grape arbor, in one corner a simple fountain splashed gently, and a piano, guitar and accordion trio played Italian standards for the guests who met for cocktails and dinner. Not grandiose or sweeping like I'd experienced in Rome or Paris—just a moment, a mood, a view, an ambiance.

The combination of all those things was like a healing balm created in that moment just for my later use. It was this scene that I tried to capture in a sketch and a letter for my father when he was in the final stages of cancer several years ago. Because he was suffering and afraid of what lie ahead, I wanted him to remember that place with me because it was restful and beautiful—a safe haven for the mind and heart. I really wanted to thank him for making that trip possible, and to let him know that the Assisi-place in my heart always soothed me whenever the weight of adulthood was too much for me. I hoped if Dad could recall that place, he might find some peace as he approached the end of his life. Dad and I didn't have a chance to speak again because very soon afterward he passed away. Months later, when I was clearing out his desk, I found a few of his 35mm slides of Assisi wrapped in my letter and sketch. He had left that for me to find, and without needing to hear his words, I knew that Dad understood the meaning of my letter and drawing.

I had been yearning to go back to Assisi ever since. When the opportunity came up to travel to Italy a few years ago I began to prepare myself and my wife for my emotional return to Assisi. I needed to be in the city of St. Francis and have a reunion with Dad in spirit— as if it were in Rumi's field “far beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing.” Far beyond the ideas of suffering and loss sits the little town on a hill where the miracles of a saint of peace and brotherhood is honored and praised every day—I can't think of anything more perfect.

The pilgrimage went like this: After touring the city and cathedral, it was time to find that hotel. I asked around but no one was sure about a place with a veranda and view of the valley that matched my description. In the scorching summer heat of early afternoon, I began to doubt we had the resilience to keep looking… but just as we were about to call it a day, I did a doubletake as we passed a narrow lane that led down a slope to a hotel door, “Hotel Umbra.” Was that the one? Yes, it had to be! Across the piazza behind me, there was the Temple of Minerva. Eagerly following my hunch, we entered the lobby, passed through an ancient stone archway and walked onto the veranda. There it was, all shaded by a fine old grape arbor, the trickling fountain in the corner. The vista had been narrowed slightly by some recent buildings and trees, but over the rooftops it was still beautiful.

Except for a friendly cat, we sat alone there for a while until a woman emerged from the lobby and asked if we needed anything. She seemed to have a moment to listen to the story of why I had returned to see this place after 40 years, and she agreed it is a place that people remember fondly. She took my hand and said “Welcome back, sit as long as you wish. I’ll bring some wine.”

We raised our glasses toward the western horizon in the broiling afternoon heat, imagining instead a mellow golden sunset. I looked at Linda and we both wiped our tears, then smiled and chuckled at some thoughts of my funny old friend and tour guide, my father.

In my box of odds and ends, souvenirs that remind me of the people, places and events in my life, I ran across thise 1996 sketch and the letter that I had sent to Dad.

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2 years ago

Ah such a beautiful loving recounting. Yes, I too think Assisi is magical.

2 years ago

This trip to Italy was a long planned for and wonderfully experienced one. But by far, our trip to Assisi and Robert's communion with his father was the highlight. Thank you for allowing me to share it with you.

2 years ago

Moving story Robert and lovely to have such vivid recollections of a beautiful time in your life!

Zenda Boss-Hall
2 years ago


2 years ago

Oh so touching. Thank you for this beautiful memory sharing. My heart is warmed.