An Italian Parking Lot

An Italian Parking Lot

Here’s a true story from last week, set in Italy, starring my family.

THE CHARACTERS:

Dad: My healthy, for an 85-year-old, Dad. He had a small stroke last summer, he also fell on some ice this winter and broke his shoulder. But he’s working hard at not slowing down.

Mom: My 79-year-old Mom. Of the two, she has had less health things to talk about, so spends more of her time thinking about her kids and church.

Gord: My 51-year-old brother. Of all of the 10 kids Mom and Dad had, he’s the tallest.

Genevieve: My high-school-aged niece who lives with her Mom (my sister Julie) and Dad (her husband Jean Louis) in Quebec.

THE SET UP:

Mom and Dad were in Italy visiting family. With the time change, the airports, and foreign languages, these overseas trips were getting to be hard for Mom and Dad, so Gord steps in to be the Awesome Son and go with them. There is a sense that this might be their last trip to Europe. Then, a few weeks before the trip, Julie thought, “This is a once in a lifetime opportunity for Genevieve to travel with her Grandparents.” So she came along. A family vacation.

THE LOCATION:

Assisi, a small town in central Italy.

THE DECISION THAT STARTS IT ALL:

Standing in Assisi’s town square. Mom says she wants to go to a souvenir shop to buy candles. Dad is done with walking around and done with stores. Mom says, “It will only take 10 minutes.” He says, “You three go to the souvenir shop, I’ll walk back to the parkade and wait by the rental car.” Everyone agrees this is a tremendous plan. “The car is on the 3rd floor. Don’t forget. The 3rd floor,” says Gord. “I know, I know… see you there,” says Dad. Gord, Mom and Genevieve (The Three) go to the shop, Dad makes his way back to the parkade. “See you in 10 minutes,” calls out Mom.

THE OVERZEALOUS SHOPKEEPER:

The Three go into the shop. Mom picks out six candles and brings them to the till. The shopkeeper carefully takes each candle and wraps each one individually, then places each one in its own bag, then takes each bag and seals it with tape. Mom can hear her own voice calling to Dad, “See you in 10 minutes,” while the shopkeeper takes “about seven hours per candle.”

THE RUSH TO THE PARKADE:

Once the candles are done and paid for, The Three make a beeline for the parkade, which is only a couple of blocks away. The total elapsed time is definitely past 10 minutes, but what do you do? Dad doesn’t have a cell phone there’s no way to get ahold of him. So they just rush back.

THE FIRST SIGN OF TROUBLE:

Dad is not at the car. He is nowhere near the car. They look all over the 3rd floor. Nothing. It’s a six-floor parkade, so The Three decide to check other floors. Mom stays by the car with Genevieve, and Gord goes up to the 4th floor and walks around. Nothing. He goes up to the 5th floor and looks around. Nothing. He goes up to the 6th floor. Still nothing. Now he’s getting nervous. What if something has happened?

THE THREE MEET AT THE CAR, PART DUO:

Gord comes back with no Dad. Mom and Genevieve have no Dad. Concern sets in. Genevieve says she’ll go check the stairwells, and off she goes. Gord says he’ll go see if they have security cameras at the office.

THE ITALIAN SECURITY GUARD:

Genevieve goes through all the stairways, calling for her Grandpa. Gord finds the parkade security office and in a mangled Engli-talian hand waving conversation, they bring him to the TV cameras so Gord can see the entire parkade. He and the security people look to see if they can see Dad wandering around anywhere. Nothing.

PART THREE-O:

By now everyone is worried. There is no sign of Dad and no reason anyone can come up with why he wouldn’t be there. He’s not much value as a hostage, so the only thing anyone can come up with is either: 1. He’s had a stroke and is wandering about lost. 2. He’s had a bigger stroke and is lying somewhere.

Gord says, “I’ll go search between cars.”

Mom says, “I’ll stay here… and pray.”

Genevieve says, “I’ll help Grandma.”

THE SEARCH FOR A FALLEN FATHER:

So Mom and Genevieve start praying, and by now Mom’s mind is racing… What if they can’t find him? She thinks… they’ll send Genevieve home alone and she and Gord will stay and start a national search. She prays harder. Meanwhile, Gord is going car by car, looking under and around the vehicles for Dad. Trying to stay calm, trying not to run, but aware that it’s now been almost an hour since they’ve seen Dad.

THE CALL FROM THE WILD:

About 10 minutes into his search, Gord is calling out “Dad?…. Dad?…” and thinks he hears a faint, “Gord?” from somewhere near. He turns around and a car door opens. A voice comes from within “Gord?” says Dad.

“Dad?” asks Gord.

Dad is clearly a bit put off. “I’ve been waiting for almost an hour… where in blazes have you been?!”

“We’ve been waiting at the car Dad,” says Gord, “What have you been doing?”

“I came back, found the car and we’d left the door open, so I sat down.”

Gord pulled out the rental car keys, and pushed the lock/ unlock button. Nothing.

“Dad,” said Gord to Dad, who is still a bit angry, “this isn’t our car.”

“What?”

“We’ve been trying to find you for the past hour. Our car is at the other end of the parkade.”

Now what is Dad supposed to do with all that suddenly unjustified anger? Get out of the stranger’s car, close the door quietly, and walk away.

Gord and Dad make their way across the 3rd floor of the parkade to find Mom and Genevieve, who are about to have their prayers answered. Literally.

THE REUNION AND.. EXPLANATION:

Intense teary hugs follow. Then they all get in the car. “Well,” says one of them, “I guess we have a story from our trip now.” And they laugh. And every time they tell the story, they laugh harder.

Dad: “Can you imagine, me sitting in some stranger’s car, mad at everyone?”

Mom: “I was asking God to please let us find you… and then you walked up. He was really listening.”

Gord: “Probably because Italians have fast internet. ”

LA FIN DELLA STORIA

And that’s my family. No matter how scary or tragic something feels at the time, there are only two really important questions: Can you turn it into a good story? And … Can you turn it into a good laugh?

Check and Check.