There are too many things to remember about our vacation. I’ve jotted down lines in my moleskine journal to jog my mind. Each phrase leads to a memory, to an event, to something we saw. One line that’s not in my journal is the subject of this post. I’ll finish up tomorrow with some pictures from our time, each one a memory in itself.
The evening I’ll write about was half way through the itinerary. We left a show in one of the theaters on the ship. Dawn was saying something about getting some popcorn when I went to have my nightly cup of tea. From time to time we’d split up and agree when our next meeting would be. We’d see a show together or make fun of people from Michigan as they guessed Motown tunes in a cafe. Then we’d separate for a while so we could do whatever we wanted to do on our own. We’ve found a nice complimentary system for vacations when we can do this–spending time together and apart.
Well, as we left the show, we agreed to meet on one of the upper decks. It was the last night in Italy. That port was Messina, the one closest to Silicy and Taormina. We spent that day walking around, me trying to look stern about not staying long in stores and Dawn trying, well, to do the opposite. She looked at bags and hats and clothes. We walked the streets, ate gelato (a practice at least one of us engaged in daily), and listened to music outside a large church near a city square with five hundred other people. We stopped into a hidden restaurant. I asked the woman at the door for a menu, made the decision to stay, and Dawn came in. We asked the woman if she spoke English, and the look answered us before she could lie and mutter that she knew a little. We thought to order by piecing together what we knew from Spanish but then chose to indulge only from the course of dishes spread on a kind of buffet table. When Dawn asked something, the woman’s “Oh, Dear” became a joke between us, one that I’ll tell again and again. I have no idea what we ate.
That night we passed through the last unseen Italian islands in the dark. The decks were crammed with people. The cruise director and the captain had promised to alter the route a bit so we could see the island of Stromboli. It looked as if 4000 passengers lined one side of the ship to see the island, to get a glimpse at one of the world’s active volcanoes. Me and Dawn decided to meet at a spot she’d found earlier that week, at the front of the ship. Floors 5-7 were relatively quiet, and we were betting that most of our fellow travelers were cramping on the upper decks on the ship’s starboard? side. We were right. The forward portion of the vessel wasn’t empty, but we had more than enough room to ourselves in a quiet corner. Quiet until some lovely father brought his three children, one of whom loved to say things. She asked questions. She made statements. She talked about dinner. She pointed out all the little boats around the island and wanted to know about all the 200 people on Stromboli and why they hadn’t moved since they lived under a volcano.
I looked at Dawn with that pre-parental expression, the one that’s not quite an eye roll. I softened quickly. One of us said something about Bryce. He was soon to ask us a million questions about things too. But that night, Bryce was in Chicago, having just seen his Grammie leave so that his Grandma could take her place. It would have been about time for his afternoon visit to the park if the schedule was followed as customary.
John, the director, came on the speaker system. Everyone quieted, even the little girl, as he told us what we knew–that we were at the island. We stood on the front of the ship listening to the slapping of waves in ours ears. I imagined those citizens of Stromboli, and I asked Dawn some of the same questions that little girl asked her father. As we approached, Dawn mumbled something about going to get our camera. I said it was too late. We were upon the island, beyond the long wide rock it took so long to get to, and across from the volcano.
The sputtering red and orange took our collective breathes. The kids were silent during that first bump and spray of color. Red and yellow splattered and rolled downward. After a while I wondered if what we saw was just for us. It was timed too perfectly. I told my wife that the islanders must have been pressing the big button on the side of the mountain because a ship was passing. I also thought about those ruins of Pompeii we had seen and wondered why we were all so excited to be so close to a volcano. Nonetheless, we saw five or six such eruptions in those too-brief moments. They were dramatic and gorgeous and awesome. They made me think about the greatness of God and about how many times God had seen what for us was a first.
We had been to a state park on the Hilo side of the Big Island with Karlos and Michelle four years ago. (Incidentally, I could still move to the Island in a week if proper conditions existed.) That day we traveled around the crater. We ran along the edges of these huge rocks. But we only saw steam. We closed our noses to the smell of acid and sulfur. We followed Karlos, running toward the red and orange, well past the STOP HERE signs. But the lava was too far. We were losing light. Our wives were slowing down but still hardly complaining that they were wearing flip flops and not good shoes for volcano hopping. That evening we went to the restaurant there in the park for dinner, somewhat disappointed.
I thought about that disappointing trek from 2007 when me and Dawn stood there whispering near Stromboli. I love the Dodsons and would probably go anywhere with them. But that night as we looked at those brilliant sprays and stretches of all those colors, I couldn’t think of one other person in the world I’d rather be with than my wife Dawn. We took no pictures, though we bought one from the ship. It’s the equivalent of a big rock with droplets and squiggles of fiery orange and yellow and red. It’s a good picture, but I hope I can keep the images in my head for as long as I live. I wouldn’t mind remembering those little children for all their noises either.