Dad was working on Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid in the summer of ‘68. He was on location in St. George, Utah and Durango, Colorado and would send me beautiful postcards from the area.
It was a pretty uneventful summer for me...no Hollywood movies or commercials, just weekend play dates with friends, especially with my bestie, Annie. I was looking forward to my upcoming trip to Italy with my grandmother during the first week of August. We had a lot of family in Milan and Bari. Nonna wanted me to meet them and to have my Holy Confirmation at the 'Duomo di Milano', a huge Gothic Cathedral in the heart of Milan, Italy. This of course would be followed by a huge family celebration. I was excited.
Dad returned in July. He was working long hours at Twentieth Century Fox shooting the interior scenes of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid on a sound stage. We would spend Sundays together. Sometimes we went to the movies, or out to dinner, or to P.O.P (Pacific Ocean Park) in Santa Monica. P.O.P was so much fun. I wish it was still there. We had our quiet times too when dad wanted to stay home and watch football while I cooked him dinner. He loved to play the ponies. He'd ask me to pick a winner. One day he said, "Puddin' we have to win this one. Pick me a good one!" I looked at the names and chose a horse -- Pop Artist. He was a long shot 40-1. Dad looked at me, asking me if I was sure. I said yes. Now remember, I was just a kid. I picked horses by what name I liked best and by my gut feeling. There was absolutely no basis for my choice other than these two things. Dad trusted me and bet $100 to win on Pop Artist. We watched the race from his old RCA Victor TV. Pop Artist started out slow but gained speed quickly and crossed the finish line in first place. Dad jumped up from the couch yelling, "That's my girl!" He won a ton of money that day. I felt very important. He always made me feel important and very, very loved.
One afternoon dad suggested I visit him on the set of Butch Cassidy at Fox. I always loved spending time at the studios, my home away from home.
Mom drove me to the studio at noon so I could meet dad for lunch and then visit the set. We had lunch at the commissary on the lot then went back to his office. About an hour later we headed over to the sound stage. I was welcomed so warmly by crew members I’d met before. It never felt awkward or strange. I was so proud of my dad.
I watched as they shot a couple scenes with some actors that were unknown to me. I kept hoping and praying that I'd see Paul Newman. But alas, he'd already done his scenes for the day. Sigh. They "wrapped" early that day. Dad and I jumped into his Lincoln and headed out through the main gate of Fox. Dad was very talkative on the way out, more so than usual, as if he were trying to distract me. We reached the gate and there was a bit of a line to exit.
That’s when a man suddenly came up my side of the car and said, "Well hello there. You must be Mara." I whipped my head around and caught the gaze of the most beautiful blue eyes I had ever seen in my life! It was him--Paul Newman, leaning on the window frame of the car. That gorgeous face less than a foot away from mine. I thought I was going to faint. My heart was beating out of my chest. "Yes. Hi” were the only two words that came out of my mouth. Paul was so very nice and friendly. He and Dad exchanged winks and laughs. I knew then that dad had carefully planned this so called "chance" meeting when he saw how disappointed I was that Mr. Newman was not on the stage that day. After a few minutes, that gorgeous specimen of a man said, "Great meeting you Mara. See ya later Norm. " and sauntered away. Dad jokingly yelled out to him, "See ya later you ugly SOB." That was their way of joking around with each other.
It was August 1st and grandma and I were packing for Italy. Our first stop would be London where a friend would meet us and serve as our tour guide. London was so much fun - Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, Piccadilly Circus, Carnaby Street, etc. It was the 60's remember. Great clothes, great music and fun in the streets. Grandma watched me like a hawk as I admired the scene from her side. Groovy baby!
We later flew to Milan where we were greeted by family at Malpensa Airport.
A welcome party with aunts, uncles, cousins lots of great Italian food awaited us. This trip would have been a lot less fun had I not been fluent in Italian.
We ate and talked, and ate and talked for hours. My cousins were so sweet as was my Aunt Silvia. I had three male cousins all in their 20's — Fulvio, Silvio and Nazzario — one more handsome than the next. Nazzario was the most handsome and therefore my favorite. He must have known that I was smitten with him as he was extra nice to me. (He was no Paul Newman, but pretty darn cute)
Grandma and I stayed in Milan a few days then hit the road by train to see more of Italy. We toured Florence, Rome, Bari and a lovely beach resort named Grottamare. We stayed at a lady's farm not far from the beach. She had acres of farmland filled with animals, wonderful vegetables and fruit trees. I made it my business to climb the fig trees every day, collecting (and eating) as many fresh figs as I could carry. Life was simple and fun. I was blessed.
We returned to Milano for my Holy Confirmation after two weeks of traveling.
Once again, we were greeted warmly by my cousin Francesca and family. In three days I would be confirmed by the Arch Bishop at one of the biggest Gothic cathedrals in the world.
I remember walking passed the massive doors of the Duomo (cathedral). I gulped. It was only me (and three other girls that I had never met) getting confirmed. Staring down the long aisle to the altar was frightening. This was the second time I'd feel like a bride walking down what appeared to be a mile-long aisle. The Bishop waited at the end in his holy garments and tall hat. Once there, I received the sacrament of Holy Confirmation. Ok. Got that out of the way. Exciting, yes. Scary, very.
At least 30 people waited for us back at the house, mostly family along with dozen people I didn't know. The congratulations were plentiful as well as the food and gifts. Italians really know how to celebrate and enjoy life and family.
The party was still going strong around 8 pm when I had some abdominal discomfort and headed off to the restroom. I looked down and realized "I started". Of all times for me to start my monthly cycle..ugh! Couldn't this have happened after I got back to the states?!? I pulled myself together and asked Nonna for some help. You would've thought I told her I'd won the lottery! She started crying tears of joy and yelling in Italian, “Adesso è una donna! Mara è donna!” (She's a woman now, Mara's a woman now!)
Oh my GOD! EVERYONE could hear her. I wanted to die as the entire family made a huge deal of it - celebrating my new found womanhood!
Oh yes. Even the handsome cousins were apprised of the information. I must have turned every shade of red and purple possible. I was mortified. I kept telling grandma to shush! No such luck. Fortunately, about an hour later the guests started to leave. I was exhausted and embarrassed. Yet deep down inside I was happy, truly happy that I had such a wonderful trip in Italy.
We wrapped up our visits with family the next day and packed for home. I'd be starting school in 10 days and I definitely wanted to meet a boy that would be my forever-love.
Until next time...