Ella Numera Una continues her Eurotrip series today with a contribution to Pseudo's Travel Tip Thursday and Mama Kat's Writer's Workshop. The topic: If you had the time and money...what charity would you help raise awareness for?
Baba, my maternal grandmother, lived down the street. She was our go-to babysitter when Mom had to run errands, our after-school picker-upper, an excellent lemon cake-baker, and much, much more. We would go to the park, go to the National Gallery where she worked, go shopping, go to the theater, pretty much go anywhere. We were very well-traveled young women.
Baba was diagnosed with Alzheimer's when I was in high school. We still continued to go on our adventures, but slowly, I began to notice changes. First, she couldn't go to the grocery store by herself. Then, we began parking her car at our house. Eventually, she sold her rowhouse in D.C. for an apartment next door to my Aunt and Uncle. When we would go to visit, she was always the same, bright-eyed and tremendously opinionated, but remembering my age began to become a problem.
You are probably wondering why my relationship with Baba has anything to do with my recent trip to Rome. Actually, a lot!!
We decided to get a tour guide in Rome so we could catch as many sights as possible. We saw Trevi Fountain, The Pantheon, the Coliseum. After eating lunch at a cafe ~ mmmmmmmmm, more pizza! ~ we hopped on our "coach," as our tour guide referred to it, and headed for St. Peter's Basilica.
With a tour guide, you get the complete, detailed rundown of everything historical, worthwhile, consequential or remotely interesting. As we were wandering around St. Peter's, we came across a man enclosed in a glass case, dressed in Papal robes.
The exchange between the tour guide and me went something like this:
Tour Guide: "And this is Pope John XXIII." He was embalmed and placed up in St. Peter's shortly after his death. Pope John Paul II will be placed in the Basilica in the fall. He is wearing a wax mask for obvious reasons."
Me: "Wait, this is the real guy? Like the real Pope? Really him? (Obviously confused as to why a man who has been dead for more than 30 years is lying in a glass case next to my leg).
Tour Guide: "Yes ma'am, the real Pope John XXIII. Not the fake one."
I had to take a picture immediately, and upon my return to the United States, this was the first photo I showed my Mother from my Eurotrip.
Me: "Look Mom, it's a dead priest."
Mom: "A real dead priest?"
Me: "Yes, a real dead priest, not a fake one. Baba would be so proud."
Okay, I promise we aren't crazy. We aren't dead people-crazed, nor are we Catholic. So, what's with the fascination with the Pope?
Shortly after Pope John Paul II's death in 2005, Baba was at our house for the afternoon, to give my Aunt some time to herself. After school I came home to find Baba on our couch, watching the news, which was covering Pope John Paul's death. With her age, Baba had become a tad confused, and usually things had to be repeated 3 or 4 times. While my mom made dinner, Baba and I watched the news, which got a little repetitive.
As the newscasters talked about the Pope, Baba questioned things out loud. She repeatedly referred to Pope John Paul II as the "dead priest" and did not understand why the news continued to talk about his death. She also didn't seem to understand why all these people were walking past the Pope, who was lying in state at the Vatican.
In Baba's opinion, "the dead priest" would probably be pretty smelly, since he had died some days before.
I tried to explain to Baba that "the dead priest" was actually the Pope, and it was a big deal that he had just died. But she just didn't seem to care. Every so often my Mom would come in to check on us, and ask what we were watching. The general response from both of us was, "Oh, you know. Just more about that dead priest."
This is one of my favorite memories of Baba in her later years. I don't remember it because I thought she was crazy, but because she was still the same person ~ not ever afraid to speak her mind. It's something that is filed away with the lemon cakes, the shopping trips, and the musicals, and whenever I think about it, I still laugh.
So, to answer the question at the beginning of this post, if I had the time and the money, the charity I'd want to raise awareness for is The Alzheimer's Association. For Baba. And for the dead priest.