Chapter 1 - A Yankee in Roma
Sgt. & Mrs. Robert W. Herbert, wedding day, October 11, 1945, Roma.
My parents were introduced through my Zia (aunt) Wanda (pronounced Vonda). Zia Wanda was dating an American G.I. whose friend, Sergeant Robert Herbert, wanted to meet an Italian girl, so Wanda asked her slightly older sister, Gina, to join them. If I write that Gina and Robert met, instantly fell in love and were married to live happily ever after, it would be a shortcut but, at least from Dad’s point of view, pretty close to accurate. Because these were war times, the normal rules of meeting were not in play. Although Dad did meet his prospective in-laws in Rome, his parents back in New Hampshire heard that Bob was in love from a letter that would arrive shortly after the young couple wed.
Dad had to get permission from his commanding officer to marry a foreign civilian, but this permission was granted. Dad then met with a priest to see what steps Mother’s church would require for him to marry a Catholic girl. When he was told that he was required to sign a document stipulating that any children must be raised Catholic, he balked. He would not allow his children to follow their mother’s religion, so she stepped out of grace with the Church and married him on October 11, 1945 in the only Protestant church in Rome. This proved to be the end of Catholicism for my mother, who never complained that she gave up her religion. But there was a cultural loss and sacrifice beyond that, necessitated by her move to America.
All this meeting, falling in love and negotiating with the Church, parents and military happened in a period of three weeks. With neither speaking the other’s language, I can only imagine that they relied on braille (their sense of touch) and that those must have been a very passionate 21 days. Their wedding photograph shows them standing on a sidewalk in Rome- Dad in his uniform and Mother in a trim suit, which she made for the occasion. She appears sweet and shy with her long, wavy dark hair. Dad looks timid as well and they are both nearly gaunt. Army food did not keep weight on Dad the way his mother’s home cooking had and, because of wartime shortages, Gina had been sharing rationed food with her parents and siblings for several years.