A serial memoir by Jean Fogelberg



     After loading our suitcases into the car and doing a final walk-through of the villa, we stood on the patio one last time to breathe in the panoramic view of Chianti. Our time there had been magical, and we agreed to return one day; maybe even rent a little place for a year after Dan retired, and really get to know Italy. That plan made it easier to say goodbye. Two of the kitties came for a last head rub and we headed south, to the coastal town of Amalfi. 

    The first five hours were gorgeous, and frustrating. Distant hillside towns beckoned us, their exit signs luring us to unknown pleasures. The going was easy, but after we passed Pompeii and turned off E45 toward Amalfi for the last hour of our trip, it was a two-Dramamine road to Barfville. The car was too big for the narrow road, and the constant back and forth curves and switchbacks meant I was carsick within 20 minutes. 

    I rolled my window down and leaned my seat back as far as it would go, but nothing helped. The hairpin turns were so sharp, and the road so narrow, the tourist buses had to stop, back up, inch forward, back up, and so on, until they could get through them. It must have been exciting for the passengers on the seaward side of the bus, since some of the turns were at the edge of high, sheer cliffs. Traffic on both sides would stop and wait for the buses to clear the sharp corners, which increased our travel time.

    From my reclined position, I missed a lot of the views of the Mediterranean sea on our left, as we passed through seaside towns and ports. I had a great view of the lush and rocky mountains on our right, though. Rising almost straight up from the road, they were dotted with villas and towns that have been there for centuries. I was very taken with the rows of lemon trees that climbed horizontally up the steep rocky cliffs, planted on terraces carved into the rock.     The Amalfi lemons, or Limone Costa d’Amalfi, have been world-renowned since the early 1800s for their fragrance, taste, and high vitamin C content. We were there during peak harvest season too, so the lemons were everywhere, hanging in bunches and placed on tables for decoration, some as big as grapefruit.

    At last we arrived at the hotel. I hadn’t been this sick since we were on the boat during Hurricane Floyd, two years previously. All I wanted was a fizzy soft drink and a cool pillow to lay my head on for a while. We got to our room and, like the rest of the hotel, it was beautifully decorated and well appointed, but it was a far cry from the rooms Dan had hoped for. If we were in a fairy tale, this would have been Cinderella’s room. 

    Wedged into a corner toward the back of the hotel, it faced the sea but only had a small, distant view of it, between the side of the hotel on our right and a thatched fence on our left. We were close to the noisy road we’d just left, and next to a busy maintenance closet. We couldn’t complain, though; we knew we were lucky to have nabbed it. 


      So far, things were not turning out the way Dan had imagined. 

    Paris, Venice, and Tuscany had been better than he’d imagined. As we left each location, en route to the next, he marveled at how wonderful everything had been; how free of drama, mistakes, and mishaps. He kept using the word “perfect” which, from Dan, was high praise indeed. Now we’d arrived at what he’d believed would be our crescendo, and we were hitting one flat note after another.

    After a lie-down and a Coke I felt a little better, so we explored the hotel. It was easy to see why it was so popular. Built against the side of a cliff, the views of the sea and parts of the coastline were incredible. 


    That night we ate at the hotel restaurant, which was very busy. A long narrow balcony was lined with tables overlooking the sea but they were all full, so we sat inside. The food was beautifully prepared, but my stomach hadn’t recovered enough to eat much. Dan was trying to make the best of it, but I could tell he was disappointed.

    I woke the next morning feeling almost as good as new.  It was a gorgeous day, so we walked down the hill on the winding road and explored the town and harbor. When we returned to the hotel, we changed into our bathing suits. A window in the exterior elevator allowed us to watch our 10-floor descent down to sea level.


    We walked past the pool and found a couple of lounge chairs at the far end of the seaside cement deck. It felt wonderful to drowse in the sun and listen to the water lapping the rough rocks at waters edge. The sea was a bit choppy that day, but Dan swam, and we had a lazy lunch from our beach chairs.

    That night we dressed up and went to the restaurant for a late dinner. As we walked in, a small table on the balcony had just been cleared. A pop music channel played on the sound system, merging with the conversation around us. It had been a hot day, but the temperature on the balcony was perfect now: balmy with the occasional ocean breeze. 

    Our waiter, a tall Italian in his late thirties, brought us menus and introduced himself as Raphael. Dan said, “Ah! Like the painter!” to which Raphael replied, “Si…and the Ninja Turtle.” We laughed, charmed, and he was pleased. We ordered dinner and a bottle of wine as stars began to emerge in the cloudless sky. The food was divine. While we ate, four tables paid and left, and the restaurant grew quiet. 

    A blood-orange, full moon began to emerge from the black sea. We watched it rise, mesmerized, and agreed that it was the biggest moon either of us had ever seen. “It’s Cosmo’s moon!” I said, quoting a line from my favorite film, Moonstruck. It perched on the horizon and unfurled a shimmering red carpet toward us on the surface of the water. Just as it broke free and rose into the sky, The Beatles’ “Penny Lane” began to play and we both said, “Oh!” and laughed with delight. 

    We were smiling into each other’s eyes when Dan’s expression suddenly changed. He looked like he just remembered he’d left a pan on the stove back home. Scooting his chair back, he said, “I’ll be right back,” and jumped up. I thought he’d had a sudden intestinal emergency.

    Twenty minutes later, he returned and sat back down. I asked, “Are you okay?” He smiled and said, “Yes, I’m fine.” He took a drink of water and we both looked out at the moon, well into the sky now. A faint, salty breeze blew in off the water and I pulled my peach pashmina over my shoulders. Dan sipped his wine and looked into the restaurant. I thought maybe he was going to signal our waiter for the check, and I was about to mention dessert when he reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out a small, burgundy ring box. Opening it, he set the box in front of me on the white tablecloth and leaned toward me. “Jean Marie, will you do me the great honor of becoming my wife?” A delicate platinum ring with three round diamonds sparkled on the velvet pad.

    I stared at the ring like I’d never seen one before. When I looked up at Dan, his smile was equal parts triumph, anticipation, and contrition. I looked at the ring again, feeling like I was moving in slow motion. My mouth opened but nothing came out. I had completely abandoned the proposal idea, and now I was having a hard time grasping this sudden shift in the cosmos. I felt tears coming and struggled to close the floodgates. When at last I found my voice, I said, “Yes, Daniel Grayling, I will be your wife.”

    Taking the ring out of the box, he paused and looked at me earnestly. “Do you want me to kneel?” “Oh my god, no!” I whispered, not wanting to attract attention when I was feeling so out of my body. I put my hand out and he slipped the ring on my finger. We kissed and then, right on cue, Raphael and the sommelier brought a bottle of champagne in an ice bucket and congratulated us heartily. 

    When we were in Paris, Dan had said, “The French love romance.” It was clear the Italians loved it just as much.


    Dan had vigilantly shielded the proposal plan from me for six months. He was relieved and happy to be able to talk about it now, which he did in dribs and drabs over the coming days.

    The previous winter, while he was doing his vacation research, the Santa Caterina hotel had jumped off the pages at him. He decided to save it for the end of our vacation and propose there. When Janet, his travel agent, told him it was booked up, he went ahead with his plans anyway, knowing how common it is for hotels to get cancellations. 

    If things went well in Paris and Venice, he would buy a ring on the Ponte Vecchio in Florence. If we were still simpatico after Tuscany, he’d propose in Amalfi. He’d had more than one vacation end badly, though, so he had a backup plan. If Amalfi didn’t happen, or if we got there and it didn’t feel right, he would abandon the proposal. 

   Well, Paris and Venice had exceeded our wildest romantic expectations, and we had a wonderful time in Florence. So, on our last full day there, Dan said he wanted to wander alone with his camcorder, and I went to have my hair done. If he’d any doubts at all about buying a ring, they were quashed by a handsome young Australian and my polite but firm response to his advances.

    Next, Tuscany had been like a beautiful, vivid dream. I was so happy that, one night over dinner, I told Dan I didn’t care if we never got married, I just wanted to be with him. “You were killing me!” he told me now. The ring was hidden in his suitcase at the villa, concealed from me like a secret antidote. For a brief moment he’d considered proposing there at Le Tre Porte, or under the stars at the villa. He was still hoping for Amalfi, though, so he ignored the guilt he was feeling during my declaration of love, and stuck to his original plan. 

    When Janet called about the cancellation at the Santa Caterina, it seemed like everything was falling into place. Instead, everything started falling apart. After our first day there, he had decided that, beautiful as it was, Amalfi was not destined to be the magical place where he would propose to me.


    By the time we were seated on the balcony that night, both of us had reconciled ourselves to the idea that this would be a wonderful vacation we would never forget. Period. After all of Dan’s painstaking and meticulous arrangements, his grand finale would have to become a quiet segue.


    Then, the magic moment began to assemble itself right under Dan’s nose, with absolutely no input from him. Just as it had in Santa Fe, fate stepped in and said, “Okay, you got yourself here, now leave the rest to me.” 

    When it suddenly hit him that this was it; the perfect moment was happening RIGHT NOW, he jumped up from his chair and ran to retrieve the ring. On his way out of the restaurant, he enlisted the aid of Raphael. 

    His mouth was dry and his heart was pounding when he returned to our table. He drank some water, then some wine, and when he saw that Raphael and the sommelier were ready, Dan pulled the box from his pocket and proposed. It was June 6th, 2001.


    That night, he toasted me; us; and amore. He raised his glass and said, “Thank God for ravioli!” He drank to fate, and the moon, and when The Beatles’ song, “Real Love” began to play, he drank a toast to the lads from Liverpool. It was the first time I’d ever seen him truly drunk. He was sweet and giddy and immensely relieved. He had ignored some gorgeous, romantic opportunities in Paris, Venice, and Chianti, because he was gambling on a Hail Mary hotel reservation in Amalfi. It had been a big risk, but it had paid off. And when the proposal finally happened, he was almost as surprised as I was.

    The next day I called my parents, and Dan called his mother, and we shared our good news. We bought matching Santa Caterina terry cloth robes in the hotel gift shop but didn’t have room for them in our luggage so we walked to town in search of a lightweight suitcase, which we found at a small store lined floor to ceiling with colorful bags of all shapes and sizes. We ate sorbettos at a table across from the beautiful Amalfi Cathedral as the setting sun lingered on an ancient castle on the mountain behind it.


During our last two days at the Santa Caterina Hotel, we ate and lounged by the sea. My back got sunburned because I spent so much time lying on my stomach, looking at my ring. Dan knew I liked old jewelry, so it was from the 40s, with European-cut diamonds. He knew I needed a low-profile setting that wouldn’t get paint stuck in the prongs, so all three diamonds were flush and close together. It was five sizes too big for me, so I cut the flat end off of a foam earplug and squeezed it between the back of the band and my finger. When the foam expanded, it held the ring firmly in place.


It was a gorgeous piece of jewelry that spoke to me of Dan’s love and commitment. But even more importantly, it said that after all the betrayals, his beautiful, battered heart was ready to believe in love once more. His proposal meant he no longer viewed me through the dark lens of the past; the light he’d seen around me the first time we met was visible again, and it was shining into the future.

This Heart
00:00 / 05:19

This Heart



This heart - this heart

Has been beaten down and battered

This heart - this heart

Has been torn apart and scattered

But what's left of this heart of mine

I will lay down in your hands

'Cause in the light of your love this heart still stands


I'd been walking down a one way street

Filled with sorrow and confusion

Searching every single face I'd meet

For some heaven I could hold

And when I felt like I was running dry

And love was always gonna pass me by

You brought me out of the rain

And in from the cold


Repeat Chorus


I believe for every wayward soul

Crying out for its completion

There's another that will make it whole

That's just waiting to be found

And I confess that I was losing faith

And I'd all but given up the chase

When you took hold of my heart

And turned it around


Repeat Chorus

What's left of this heart of mine

I will lay down in your hands

'Cause in the light of your love this heart still stands

Repeat Chorus

From the 2003 CD  "Full Circle"

All instruments and lead vocals - Dan Fogelberg

Background vocals - Dan Fogelberg, Jean Fogelberg, and Kenny Passarelli


Posted October 31st. 2020 Copyright ©Jean Fogelberg 2020