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Tiny Appliances and Other Adventures in Italy

Dear Rudy,

My husband and I met in 1977 when we were both stationed at San Vito Air Station near Brindisi, Italy. I was 18 at the time, and it was my first permanent duty assignment in the Air Force.

In 1980, we returned to Italy, where we lived for another three-and-a-half years. This time we lived in an apartment off base, which was a real eye-opener. We were impressed by the spaciousness of the apartment, the high ceilings, the marble floors and the balcony. We were NOT impressed with the bare wires hanging from the ceiling or the kitchen, which had no appliances.

Eventually, we were able to afford a kitchen, but it was nothing like the kitchens most people have in the U.S. For one, everything was made for a woman much shorter than myself. I looked like a giraffe every time I stooped to do the dishes at the sink. All the cabinetry was very low as well. The appliances were a joke. My mother said I had bigger play furniture as a child. The refrigerator/freezer came up to my chin. The stove/oven, which ran on propane tanks, couldn't handle even a small turkey or a cookie sheet! Oh, did I mention we had to carry potable water from the base?

Even with all these trials, I miss the market that was held in my town every Tuesday and the clip-clop sound as the horse carts traversed the cobblestone street in front of our apartment. And I miss the nearby town of Alberobello with its unique round white stucco houses with their stone roofs. (It's rumored that Walt Disney used these homes as a model for the Seven Dwarves' house.)

By far the most challenging event of those years in Southern Italy was giving birth to our first son, Jeremy, two days before Christmas 1983. To say that medical care was different than in America would be a complete understatement.

They were just beginning to get used to the idea that American men wanted to be in the delivery room when their wives gave birth, and were still clueless about Lamaze. In my Lamaze class on base, I was taught to sit up during contractions. But every time I did, the midwife kept pushing me back down. Because I was exerting so much pressure, I managed to break every blood vessel in my face. The doctor said, "Missessa Roman, you no poosha good. Nexta pain, you no poosh, I poosh!"

I didn't like the sound of that, so I didn't tell him when the next contraction hit. Of course, one look at my face and the doctor asked, "Missessa Roman, you hava pain?" With red face contorted I hissed, "Noooooo!" The doctor replied, "Si, Missessa Roman, thatsa pain. Nexta pain, you no poosh, I poosh!"

When the next contraction came, the doctor hopped up on the rails of the delivery table, grabbed the opposite side with his left hand, and -- "FWOOOOMP!" -- jammed his forearm down on the top of my pregnant tummy. I think the midwife could have been six feet from me and still caught my son!

Despite some of the cultural hurdles, I have met wonderful people in my life abroad. I am involved with a terrific group of women here in Germany whom I will truly miss when I leave. We are called the English Morning Tea (EMT) group. It was started more than 10 years ago when a group of German women got together to learn English. They enjoyed each other's company so much, they kept meeting and invited English speakers. It slowly evolved into a social group with members from all over the world who come and go every few years.

The EMT group meets weekly and at least once a month we go out to eat at a different ethnic restaurant, or for walks in the woods, or shopping trips, or educational tours. It gives us ex-pats a chance to learn more about the area, and the German women graciously help us translate bills or traffic tickets.

Since I've been involved with the group, I've met women from Great Britain, Finland, Austria, Belgium, Israel, Botswana, Pakistan, Spain, Mexico, Canada, South Africa, Japan and many more countries. How lucky we've been to live abroad - and to share this wonderful opportunity with our sons, now 18 and 16.




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