A few years after high school. my cousin Gwen and I took our first trip to Europe. It was wonderful. And as can happen in Paris, I got my wallet stolen… from gypsies… in front of the Louvre. My travelers checks (remember those?) , Bambergers credit card (anybody remember that department store??) and prom photos of my besties…gone, all gone.
The next year, I went to Italy with Gwen and our other cousin Jeannie. Feeling more the savvy traveller, I brought less with me, including a much smaller wallet. I found this very soft, rather old black leather one in a drawer. My mom called it a “billfold” and it had belonged to my beloved Grandpop, who’d passed away a few years before. I didn’t think much of it, just that it fit nicely in my bag and off we went on our nine day bus tour of Rome, Venice, Milan and Florence.
When we got to Florence, the guide dropped us off at Piazza Santa Croce and sent us out to shop for what he called “the finest leather in the world”, and where they added 18 caret gold embossing too. I picked up some leather there and was glad to check off a few people on my list for souvenirs. After walking out of the store, I stopped to put my lira away and I noticed the wallet. I’d totally forgotten about it. It’s gold embossing was faded but it was just as soft, probably softer, than the leather pieces I just purchased. When I opened it, I saw the words “Ennio’s” and “Santa Croce, Florence” on the inside…. I then looked up and saw that I was standing directly in front of a store who’s sign said “Ennio’s” and here I was…in Santa Croce…in Florence… in Italy. My parents hadn’t been to Italy before, and it hadn’t occurred to me that anyone else might have. But Grandpop had and he must have been right here. It felt like a sign – he was watching over us and saying hello.
Well fast forward 30 years and I finally got back to Italy, and Florence. This time, I was there with my husband and two kids and our friends and their two kids. After a day of exploring some of the city’s museums and galleries, we sent the husbands and the kids back to the hotel and my friend Gina and I set out to do some real shopping and of course find Ennio’s. When we got to Santa Croce, the square looked quite different from my memory – more open stalls and less nice shops, kind of run down really but still with the beautiful Basilica in the center. We stopped at a few stores and stalls always asking where is Ennio’s but nobody ever heard of it. Disappointed, I picked up a few small items and was ready to leave. But Gina spied a more upscale shop further on – over to the right of the Basilica and suggested we make one more stop. The sign on the building said Peruzzi but we walked in anyway and I asked the older man at the counter if they knew of a place called Ennio’s. The man’s eyes lit up and he declared “THIS is Ennio’s!” And I burst into tears. We were at the end of a long day near the end of our trip. I’d like to blame it on that, but anybody who knows me, know I’m ridiculously sentimental. I babbled to him about the wallet and he brought me to the back of the store where they did the engraving and showed me this strap of leather – the only sign left of Ennio’s. It stood here for many years prior to being bought by the leather house Peruzzi. He offered the leather piece to me, probably hoping I’d stop crying if I took it. But I couldn’t. All I could think of was what if one day another person wandered in and wondered about the store’s past? I didn’t want to take away the proof.
It was enough to know Grandpop had been in this exact spot, probably 60 years before and I was here once again – tracing his footsteps and remembering all the magical times I had growing up, driving to his home every Sunday afternoon and playing with all of our cousins in the back yard.