Before the WNBA, talented women basketball players traveled overseas to play professionally in Europe. Well, they still do, but there was no WNBA during the summer months. They got paid to play the sport they loved, but they had to sacrifice a lot. Before there was Wi-Fi, Skype, and WhatsApp, these women communicated less frequently with long distance phone calls and sending postcards. They didn’t have Netflix to fill up their downtime. They probably turned on the TV and saw Sanford and Son, grinned in excitement, and then realized it wasn’t in English, it was in Italian—like my mom did.
Throughout the years I’ve heard my mom share some amazing stories about her time playing basketball in Italy; the wonderful people she met there, the amazing food, and the breathtaking views. Her reflections made Italy seem tangible and magical, although we were in Oak Park, Michigan in the midst of our day to day.
Decades have passed since I first heard a few of her Como, Italy stories. Now, I am usually amused when I hear my mom tell someone else some of those classics, as if I’d been there too and experienced everything with her. That’s because of the way she speaks of Como, Italy, and it’s just how close we are.
Since I was a kid, we’ve always shared a special bond (one I’m grateful for) and since I’ve gotten older, I’ve picked up some of her ways—you know, the ones you tell your parents you will NEVER do when your older. So yeah, I was totally wrong about that, but two cool things I’ve inherited from my mom has been my love for helping others and a love for surprises.
When I was about 11 or 12, I remember coming home, after spending the weekend with my dad, turning on my bedroom light and seeing a new set up; new paint; a new comforter; a new mirror. That actually happened on three different occasions during pivotal times in my life (thank you, Mommy). Back then I was so wrapped up in what it meant for me, but now it makes me think about what that says about my Mommy. How much she loved me, and how she’d been thinking of me when I was away. The truth is, my mom has shown her love like this to so many people. Whether it be my friends that she has taken in as her own, or her friends who’d co-sign that she’s very silly, but will do all she can for you.
I decided it was time for her to feel that love she showers other people with. So shortly after her 59th birthday, I had the idea to surprise her with a trip to her favorite place on earth for her 60th birthday. I shared the idea with my mom’s older sister, because that’s her best friend and I wanted to hear her opinion about it. When I finished telling her, she beamed from ear to ear and said, “I’m going to pay for your mom’s plane ticket. I want to bless her. She does so much for everybody and she deserves this.” After that, I should have known that God was going to make it the surprise of a lifetime; something greater than I could have planned or imagined.
Initially, the plan was to visit Como and hope to run into some of her former teammates and coaches. However, when I told my Aunt Kathy (my mom’s good friend from her playing days in Italy) about the surprise trip, she said she’d fly to Italy and surprise my mom, and get in contact with some of my mom’s old teammates that she’d kept in touch with—because she played professionally there as well. That alone was awesome! I couldn’t believe she’d fly from Wisconsin to Italy for the occasion. After hearing from my Aunt Kathy, my mom’s old teammate Serenella put a group message together and over 30 of my mom’s former teammates and coaches RSVP’d to the reunion lunch. They decorated their old practice gym for the surprise, made T-shirts, arranged a boat ride to our amazing lunch on Lake Como, amongst so many other things. The entire reunion was unbelievable and a testament to how they felt about my mom. After all these years, they missed her as much as she’d missed them.
I wanted to share a short version of the story on my blog because I know it’s an example of God’s goodness. From the GREAT ticket prices to Italy, to all the people who willingly stepped in to make my mom’s return a grand one, God just really outdid himself. It was surreal to experience the wonder of Como that my mom always talked about; to meet the people that she kept in her heart all these years; to eat the food that’s been her favorite since she first tried it. I don’t speak Italian, and some of her old teammates and coaches didn’t speak English, but I know I experienced the magic firsthand. However, I quickly realized, after hearing heartwarming stories about my mom, that all along I’ve had a piece of that magic in Michigan with me. You see, I’d always hear her versions of the stories, but hearing her teammates and coaches share their own about her left me in awe and feeling proud.
What a player.
What a woman.
What a mother.
I am blessed!
Check out some of our photos and the video at the end to experience the enchantment for yourself:
When my mom found out about our trip to Italy, the first thing she said was that she had to find Laura, her old teammate and roommate. It was so good to see them reunite and celebrate after 32 years!