“Yeah, that’s right; I got three of ‘em!” She hollers, trying to shock the on lookers. “Hey, why don’t cha’ take a picture, it’ll last longer!” She hollers again a little louder.
“Geez, Louise, quit your yellin’. I don’t think they understand English anyway.” I respond exasperated.
“H-m-m, foreigners! They shouldn’t be gawking.” Louise said indignantly, as the three rolls in her tummy continued to jiggle.
“Wheezie, we’re the foreigners! But can you really blame ‘em? I mean look at what you’re wearing! Lordie, you make me uncomfortable and… frankly you’re making a spectacle of yourself in that eeny, teeny, pink, polka dot bikini.”
Ignoring my comment, she throws down the standard white hotel towels beside her bright pink paisley beach bag, turning to say,” Well, I don’t care whatcha’ think. You’re just jealous ‘cause you don’t have my balls!” She finishes with a little high pitched hootin’ sound, something between a hyena’s laugh and a child’s yelp.
“Well at least mine aren’t hanging out!” We both laugh out loud. That’s the way it has always been between the two of us, we peck like old hens, then laugh and make up immediately. Funny too, because Wheezie and I are as different as paper and rock. Whereas, I’m shy and quite body conscience, Wheezie is boisterous and was probably a burlesque dancer in a past-life. But as opposites attract; Louise has been my closet friend for years and I love her like a sister.
I remember our first meeting. I had just been hired by Sharing Circles, an adoption agency in Omaha, Nebraska. I was escorted to a comfortable office to wait for my new supervisor, Louise Johnson. Lordie, the next thing I knew, there she stood, this bigger then life, buxomly woman, well over 6 feet tall, filling the door, whipping out her hand in welcome, as the words, “Good morning Sunshine,” bounded from her fire engine red lacquered lips. “I’m Wheezy! You must be Minnie Cooker.”
A little startled, I quickly interrupted, “uh, that’s Hooker.”
“Well, by hook or by crook, I’m glad to meet cha’.” She quietly chuckled at her own joke. “It’ll just be me and you for a while but I’ll be able to help you charge-up for your Social Work licensure later.” She held a big smile that started at one rosy check and ended at the other, as radiant light beamed from every wrinkle in her round pinched face.
Moving forward and reaching up to shake her hand, not thinking about her size or possible strength she literally pulled me from of the chair; caught off-guard, I proceeded to fall face forward into her quite endowed bosom. “Whoa, little lady!” She shouted as she caught me, straightening me back upright; without missing a beat chucked softly, saying “We ain’t bosom buddies yet gal, but follow me.” She then laughed down to her belly, turned into the hall and within a few steps, her long legs had brought her to the end cubicle; with me dazed and lagging behind, still embarrassed. Before I even knew where I was, she boomed, “Here’s where you sit, so have a seat.” She turned to me and smiled, it was a smile that reached into my heart.
I was 26 and Louise was 44; eighteen years my senior, but neither age, nor lack of job experience or…size was a boundary. We looked quite the pair, as she towered above my petite, 5’3’ frame, but we bonded immediately, and found that as opposites we had a lot in common. We developed an incredible partnership and remained a team for the next twenty-one years, until she retired. While we were together, Wheezie and I powered up some of the best Adult Consultation Groups in the history of the agency, trained the trainers for three new Casey Family Foundation programs, and in our down time, wrote some wicked home studies. We were nicknamed the “Dynamic Duo” and had bragging rights about our 93% perfect post-adoption placement rates. Those were the days; staying up all night, smoking stacks of cigs, traveling across the country training and writing social summaries.
I laugh at those days now. At 52, the faintest smell of cigarette smoke gags me and find that I’m thoroughly exhausted by dinner and ready for sleep before they run the weather on the nightly local news. Yes, even while on vacation in Italy. We’re celebrating Wheezie’s seventieth birthday on the Italian coast, but already I’m planning what time I’ll lay my head down on my pillow. But, I know Wheezie has made a full itinerary for us; starting with the beautiful beach of Torre Dell Orso, where “people watching” is first on her itinerary.
"Giovanni! Guiseppi! Over here. Yes, you, over here.” Louise hollers out as she ties the wide pink ribbon bow on her oversized straw hat and repositions herself back into her undersized bikini top.
The waiter approached us; in respect he slowly bowed from the waist, “Si’ Madame. I am Angelo. What I get you this un bello day?” The way he said beautiful day in Italian, rang in my heart; his accent was romance at the purest level as it flowed like wine from his lips, I thought to myself.
Louise abruptly butts in, “Angelo, where’s the nudie beach?”
I grimace and sigh, thinking to myself, not this again.
“Nudie beach?” Angelo asks, furtively eyeing our thin graying hair, sagging breasts, and pale wrinkled skin; not believing what he’s hearing.
“Yeah, I’m here to get an eyeful of Italian baby cake!” She replies with the enthusiasm of a 16 year old with raging hormones.
“No Madame, no nudie, but topless- O.K.”
“Topless? On the hotel’s private beach?” I inquired pensively being very body conscience about myself and …others.
“Si’, Madame,” he nodded his head with his lips slightly grimacing, “but today, too many clouds. In Italia, e’ tutto bello! But today, no beauty.”
Turning to Wheezie, I pleaded, “Wheezie! I don’t want to be on the beach next to some bountiful, bare breasted, cheeky, Italian Riviera beauty!”
“For God’s sake Minnie, you ain’t in Kansas anymore and anyway you heard the man; no one’s goin’ bare their beauty today in this weather.”
Angelo drew in his breath, seeming somewhat annoyed, then in attempt to regain composure, forged ahead, probably hoping he’d wake from this bad dream; he solemnly continued, “Something to drink, Madame?”
I thought to myself, hoping that Wheezie was right. I’d be so embarrassed with one of those perk beauties next to me. Today was a cloudy, cool overcast day so I just kept my fingers crossed.
Wheezie muttered to herself, “What the hell good is a topless beach anyway? Yeah, oh well O.K., make mine a double!” She hollers out to Angelo in good cheer.
“Louise? A double what? You can’t just order a double. Do you want a Bellini or a…?”
“Yeah that’ll do, make mine a Bellini, a double Bellini!” She snorts and laughs at her own little joke.
“Angelo, please bring us two Bellinis, but make mine a virgin please. That’ll be all and thank you so much.” I didn’t want to sound dismissive, but tried to give the poor fellow a quick escape. Turning to Wheezie, I asked, “What took you so long gettin’ down here?”
“Oh, just enjoyin’ the scenery you might say. Getting’ itinerary ideas and enjoyin’ the scenery! In Italia, e’ tutto bello, ya' know. Then repeated it loudly, In Italy, it’s all beautiful!”
I adjusted the oversized bright blue umbrella as the clouds were already plying a shadow against us. The beach was quiet and the skies were solemn pewter grey with a slight penciled outline. It was good reading and napping weather I whispered to myself before drifting off...
“Giovanni! Oh, Giovanni!” I abruptly waken from my light dreaminess. The waiter turns looking Wheezie’s direction. “Yes, you! Yoo-hoo, Giovanni!” She affably waves him toward her, pointing to her empty glass.
Apprehensively he approaches us, gently bows from the waist, politely reminding her, “My name is Angelo, Madame.” He pauses then asks, “What might I get you?”
“Oh yes.” She giggles, “I desperately want an uh… a lo-o-o-ng fellow please,” dragging out the words long fellow, attempting to expose the hidden message in her request.
Interrupting as quickly as possible, “She means a Long Island! Uh, I mean a Long Island Ice Tea please.”
“Oh yes, one of those too please,” she relents with a pouty frown of disappointment.
Turning sharply to Louise, in my gravest exasperated tone, “Gheez Louise!” Angelo turns away and let it be noted, without the respectful nod.
The following day was a beautiful day, just as the brochures had promised. The sun had chased the previous day’s clouds away, leaving only a beautiful brightness. Today, the sky enveloped us in a cloudless bounty of a rich clear blue as it made rendezvous with the blue-green horizon of the sea, standing out from the beach like a collection of sparkling pearls, silky and smooth under foot the white sands went on as far as one could see. I wanted to choose our umbrella spot carefully this morning, remembering Angelo’s daunting words about the topless beauties on a beautiful sunny day.
“Here Wheezie, let’s take this spot!” I rushed across the cool, bright beach to a striped umbrella with a two lounges and a table between them. “It’s perfect!” I hollered back to Wheezie. Wheezie was still slowly drudging through the sand, loaded down with her oversized pink paisley beach bag, tripping slightly over her flip flops at every step, as sand sprayed against her legs, she bounded toward me.
“What makes this spot so perfect? It’s too close; I can’t see everyone as they pass by. I want to see everyone!” she whined, confrontationally.
I had already laid down the towels and set my book and sun glasses out on the table, looking for a lively music station on my new battery operated radio. “No, this is perfect. It’s all set,” my voice was firm. Next to us was an elderly woman, tanned but wiry and thin, and heavily wrinkled; maybe Wheezie’s age or older. She looked pleasant and donned a simple patterned one piece bathing suit, with a modest skirt across the front; nothing too revealing I thought to myself.
Wheezie threw down her bag and kicked off her flip flops, adjusted her undersized bikini top, squared away her oversized straw hat and thudded into the lounge chair, cussing under her breath, “Damn, these low chairs!”
I suddenly became conscious that maybe it was Wheezie’s bathing suit that would embarrass our elderly neighbor, but tried to put it out of my mind.
The morning was perfect. The Italian coast was just as we had both hoped after our first day of cloudy coolness. We ordered drinks, laughed and read our books while listening to the radio. Children splashed in the emerald blue as mothers watched on. I relaxed; Wheezie sucked down her Long Island Ice Teas and was pacified with the view, as many young, tanned firm bodies emerged from a swim in the sea, passed directly in front of us.
We chatted to our single neighbor relaxing next to us under her own umbrella. I use the word chatted loosely as her English was quite limited, as was our Italian. Throughout the morning we deciphered that she was from Cortina, a town in Northern Italy in the midst of the southern Dolomitic Alps, where possibly she was a circuit downhill skier in her youth. It was difficult understanding her, but we also discerned that she loved the seaside more then the mountains and has vacationed at this resort for many years. What an interesting holiday, with interesting people, I mused.
I adjusted the beach umbrella as the sun touched the highest point in the sky and its strong naked rays bore down on us all. However, with a sideways glance, I noticed our demur elderly neighbor raising up the back of her lounge chair and moving it directly into the sun. Then, very discreetly she gently slid her bathing suit straps off, gently wrangling her elbows and arms from between the fabric, exposing her tanned shoulders skyward, settling back to enjoy the sun. Only a moment later, as if it was a second thought, she leaned toward us and hollered, In Italia, e’ tutto bello!” Stunned for just a moment, I turned; she was ever so carefully rolling down her one-piece bathing suit, below her waistline, exposing every wrinkle, every mole and …every sag. I sat back, closed my eyes and reluctantly thought, yes they are all correct; in Italy, it’s all beautiful.