I am writing this on the eve of our departure from this magical little town of Manoppello.
Time spent with our beautiful daughters, and gorgeous wee grandsons, and wonderful son-in-law has been just amazing and words cannot express just how precious it has been.
We are very proud of Brigitte and how she has coped with great strength and resourcefulness in a village on her own (when work has called Austin back to London) with 3 incredibly active little boys who are strong-willed and pure delight.
Communicating in a new language with her neighbours, shopkeepers and intrigued villagers.
Carting water for washing dishes up and down 2 flights of stairs when the plumbing needed fixing in the weeks before we arrived.
Helping Luca adjust to school (scuola) and his confusion over not being able to communicate with those around him.
Being a most wonderful mamma to her beautiful boys, and missing Austin terribly.
We are also so proud of Gretchen and her role of 'super aunty' and whom her wee nephews adore.
We have not been able to travel to other parts of Italy and do the 'tourist thing', but we feel we have captured what Italy is about after experiencing the uniqueness of village life in Manoppello, with the culture, food, and warmth of the villagers everywhere we turn.
The man from the tiny overcrowded haberdashery shop where I was able to buy some beautiful quality red and white gingham. He is our local 'run-to' man who has loaned Eon a hammer and nails to build extra shelves in the kitchen.
The lady who calls out to Beniamino and Massimiliano from the tiny grocery store into which you step down from the street, over centuries-old cobbled steps, and who lovingly pinches their cheeks.
The old man and lady who live next-door up the tiny alleyway and who also call out to the boys and shower them with toys which have been in storage in their basement since their grandchildren have grown up.
The lovely lady next door whose balcony is a handshake from ours and whose daughter got married last week. The whole village turned up to clap and cheer their walk from their house, through the piazza to the waiting bridal car.
The above lady's dog 'Lilo' whom Beniamino loves to pat and hug on his walk up the tiny alley and past their house.
The calls of 'Beniamino!', 'Massimiliano!' and 'Luca!' as we walk through the village and little old ladies coming up to pinch their cheeks, blow them kisses and chorus 'Bellissimo!' as we walk past.
The grumpy old lady who lives downstairs and who loves to complain about the boys' noises.
The long-suffering music and singing teacher next door and his pupils who need many more years yet of practice before they are let loose on society.
Market Days twice a week where we buy fresh fruit and vegetables, and the delightful wee man who gives the boys fresh strawberries and who has introduced us to the most flavour-filled mushrooms.
Brigitte's wonderful new friend and her husband and their little boy and girl who are fast becoming firm friends with our wee boys.
The local bakery and the wonderfully-friendly owners who love giving wee treats to the boys when we walk in.
The delightful restaurant 15 minutes walk down the road and into the country, past picturesque wild flowers and where you get the 'genuine article' in taste sensations.
The equally wonderful, lunches on Brigitte and Austin's roof-top terrazza under the sun umbrella and with beautiful views of the village roof-tops and over to the countryside dotted with olive groves and old crumbling farm houses. The times of deep companionship, eating, talking, laughing, reminiscing, and absorbing.
The wonderfully simple yet flavour-filled evening meals at home accompanied by good (cheap!) wine.
The firework displays which introduced the Festa Di Volto Santo and which continued throughout, ending with a triumphant display on the last night and through which Beniamino had to be held to convince him the world would not be ending quite yet.
Walking through the village and absorbing the sounds, the beautiful flower-filled balconies, the tiny centuries-old alleyways and the beautiful linen which was hung from balconies during the festa for the processions.
But most of all, spending time with our children and grandchildren and building relationships with our precious wee grandsons.
It is truly heart-wrenching to think of leaving tomorrow, knowing we won't be seeing them all for another few years and recognising that we won't be the nonnas and nonnos who will be blowing our grandsons kisses and giving them cuddles each day, and knowing it will be that long before we see our beautiful daughters and wonderful son-in-law again.
However, we can't think of that and we will make the most of our last few hours together.
Brigitte and Austin are amazing parents, Gretchen is an amazing aunty, our grandsons are in wonderful hands, and God is holding them all in his everlasting hands.
Yeah, a little bit tear-jerking I know, but that's what happens when one lives on the other side of the world to one's parents...
Thank you for writing so beautifully about your experiences here mum. I know you wanted to say so much more but these words of your memories and thoughts are so precious to me.
Mum & Dad - you will be in London with my amazing husband now before you take you flight back to New Zealand. Thank you for coming over and being the wonderful grandparents you are to our boys. You are naturals. Full of love and laughter. Seeing you in action with your grandchildren constantly reminded me of the wonderful childhood I had with you as my mum & dad. I'm so very blessed.
Although saying goodbye to you is always like pulling out all my teeth and exposing my nerve endings to the wind.... I have such wonderful memories stored up in my memory bank. Memories of all of us in ITALY of all places!! Crazy. Who would have thought huh? :)
I love you both to the moon and back again 20,000 times. XX