I once had a lava rock from Mount Vesuvius. My parents brought it back with them after a short trip to Rome to celebrate their anniversary (we lived in Aviano, Italy at the time). They also returned home with a lot of postcard souvenirs and stories of the Pope, but what really held my attention was the rock from Vesuvius.
My brother and I had to endure a torturous week without our parents just to get that rock. Left in the care of some other woman whose husband was deployed elsewhere, Brian and I suffered greatly. This woman’s son, who was about my age, was a child of Satan. Maybe Satan’s only child, now that I think about it, because after a firstborn who turned out to be that evil – why have more? Anyway, I remember very little of that week although a couple of incidents stick out.
The first is that I was forced to eat a dinner that consisted of foods I didn’t particularly like. Either I whined enough or I ate it, I can’t remember which, and I was rewarded with a dessert of green gelatin. As I looked at it, disgusted, so did Satan’s son. Then he sneezed on it. The little boy’s mother accused me of being disrespectful because I wouldn’t eat the gelatin and when I tried to explain to her what had just happened, I cried. She accused me of lying. So I cried some more. Then she made me eat the gelatin. I couldn’t wait for my parents to come home.
Sometime later that week, my brother and I were playing in Satan’s son’s bedroom. Satan’s son had a lot of books. This made me happy. But that Brian and I were even touching his things turned him into this monster of a child who screamed and cried and threw a hardcover book at my brother’s face and made my brother’s nose bleed. I couldn’t wait for my parents to come home.
Another night that week, the woman’s friend had a baby and called her on the telephone to invite her to the hospital for a visit. Satan’s child was with someone else that evening and Brian and I were dragged to the hospital where we sat outside in the hallway for hours. I even asked if we could bring some books and was told no. Then I dared to ask if we could see the baby, since that was why the woman had taken us there in the first place, and was again told no. So we sat there. I couldn’t wait for my parents to come home.
They eventually did, of course, and Brian and I never saw that woman or Satan’s son ever again. It was the first time I had ever heard of the Coliseum and the Vatican and the Pope. The postcard books featured all of the usual tourist stops and a massive picture story about the city of Pompeii. When I saw the shapes and figures of the people who were comforting their children and trying to protect their loved ones from the burning ash, I fell in love with history. And then my parents had a true, honest-to-goodness lava rock from the actual volcano. I can honestly say that Mount Vesuvius and the story of Pompeii are what turned me on to historic events and mass tragedies.
Since that rock came into my life, I have been fascinated with, yet terrified of, history repeating itself on a mass scale. Disasters of such magnitude can make the whole world stop, collectively.
Our rock moved with us to each city after Aviano: two houses in Gwinn, Michigan, two houses in Maryland, and three houses in Florida. It was a go-to Show & Tell item for school when nothing else in the house or in our lives was cool enough to talk about in front of our classmates. Sadly, nobody knows where it is now. That’s a tragedy, too.