I love reading Maeve Binchy novels; she is such a great character writer. I owe her thanks for all of the hours of pleasure she has given me with her writing, as well as for the fulfillment of a dream that came about because of one of her books. Evening Class (1996) is a novel about a woman who returns home to Ireland after years in Italy. “Signora,” as the character is named, offers to teach a class in learning Italian to her Irish neighbors. It is a wonderful read and very heartwarming. It’s no wonder that my friend Nancy, another avid reader, enjoyed it as well.
I didn’t realize just how much that particular book touched Nancy until she called me one day in 2002 and said, “pack your bags, we’re going to Italy.” Seriously, she called and said that the two of us were going to use her travel miles and her Hilton hotel points to travel in Italy for 10 days. At first I said I couldn’t possibly go. John and I had very little money as we’d just gotten re-established in Las Vegas. But how could I pass up such an opportunity? True to my nature, I leaped without thinking and said, “Yes!”
With $350.00 to my name, Nancy I embarked on another journey (how we did it so cheaply is another story!). Needless to say, it was a trip of a lifetime. I have written about the whole thing in a travel essay; if anyone is remotely interested in reading it, just ask. I talk about every experience: the drive from Vegas to L.A. when I rescued an old dog that had been hit and left on the roadside to the flight in business class (the only way to fly; from the first hotel in Rome to the day and a half we spent in Sicily; from the welcome we received in Valledolmo at the agricultural farm/bed and breakfast owned and operated by the Gioias (Relations? We never truly established that) to my driving in Palermo; and from the train rides to the people, it was a magical, memorable and amazing trip.
How to thank my friend for giving me such a gift? When I returned home I looked on my bookshelf and found my hardback copy of Evening Class. I wrote a letter to accompany the book, included a 10 Euro bank note and addressed the package to Ms. Maeve Binchy, Dublin, Ireland. I crossed my fingers that it would reach her. I asked Ms. Binchy if she would sign the copy of the book, explaining that because of her writing gift and my friend’s generosity, I realized a dream I never thought would come to fruition.
A few weeks later I received the book back, signed with a loving inscription and autograph by the author. Also included with the book was the 10 Euro returned to me. I wrapped the gift and could not wait for Nancy to open it on Christmas day that year. To this day that remains one of my most creative moments!
(The Amalfi Coast)
(Palazzo di Montecitorio)