Memoir Byte: The old fur coat in Rome
27 December 1985, Rome, Vienna
Four members of the Abu Nidal Organisation attacked an El Al counter at Rome Airport, killing sixteen and injuring sixty-seven people. A similar simultaneous attack at Vienna Airport resulted in two deaths and forty-seven injuries.
On the day of the full moon on December 27th, 1985, I was on an Alitalia flight from my hometown in Toronto headed for Rome. I was going to meet up with my then boyfriend who was already there and was to meet me at the airport with his brother who would then drive us to Pescara on the Adriatic coast where the family lived, approximately a 2 1/2 hour drive away from Rome. I’ve always been a stickler for following rules and being on time. And I promised my dad I’d call him as soon as I landed.
Being the end of December, it was winter in Rome just as it was was back home, only not nearly as wintry. I wore my long silver fox fur coat, my pride and joy coat I’d treated myself to with a small inheritance I received from my grandmother a few years prior. I was excited to be spending New Years in beautiful Roma where all the beautiful people dressed immaculately when strolling the streets and cafes. I’d already been to Rome once before and fell in love with the ambiance of the country, the people and the shopping!
Nine hours later we landed. I was excited to get off the plane and see my boyfriend and begin our adventure. But many minutes had passed after we landed in the middle of the tarmac at Fiumicino International Airport, ‘Leonardo da Vinci’ Airport. Not a peep from the airline staff or pilot. Nobody yet suspected there was anything wrong until a good 20 mins had passed then the natives began getting restless, including myself. Everyone peered out the windows to see what the hold up was, yet there was nothing unusual to see. It wasn’t until passengers, including myself, began bombarding the stewards with questions when the plane was getting stuffy and we just wanted to get off.
A good hour had passed until we learned there was a bombing inside the airport. We were kept on the tarmac for approximately 3 hours before we were released. I was feeling quite anxious as I was walked from the plane, worrying that my father – the worry wart, had possibly seen the news, or maybe he hadn’t, but nonetheless I was concerned because I should have called him 3 hours prior to inform him I’ve landed safely. I could sense my father’s worry deep within my intuitive gut. I visualized him listening to the news – he was a news junky, and hearing about a bombing at Rome airport where his daughter was headed, while not hearing a word from that daughter for hours after he’d expected her to land.
I was happy to be comforted in my boyfriend’s arms after the ordeal and just wanted to get out of the crazy airport. We still had a 2 hour plus drive to Pescara before I knew I’d get to a phone. Too nervous to enjoy the beautiful country sights on the drive, or to stretch my ‘try to understand Italian’ thinking muscles, and not to mention it was now early afternoon after landing in the morning which was still the middle of the night on my body Toronto time and hadn’t slept on the plane. I remained tired and anxious and filled with a stomach full of angst, quiet.
At long last we arrived at the flat and with feigned interest at all the familial introductions and greetings, I just wanted to scream just take me to your telephone. Finally, my nervous fingers were dialing my dad. And then the floodgates opened up. The sound of my father’s voice had unleashed all the emotions and pent up anxiety in a stream of sobs I’d contained for hours. My father did the same. It took us both a few moments before we could actually converse with words between sobs. And as I had gone through my own journey of worry and a nagging sensation of urgency to call my father all the while stranded until I could get to a phone, I learned about the panic my father lived through.
My Aunty Sherry had seen the breaking news when the terrorists bombed El Al at Rome airport. According to my father, she’d seen many bodies sprawled out on the ground in the airport – some dead, some taking cover, and then she noticed a young blond woman wearing a long silver fox coat lying on the ground as the camera quickly panned over.
My aunt had called my father in hysterics alerting him to what she had just seen and was eager to find out if he’d heard from me yet. But he hadn’t. And two of the most important people in my family life panicked and prayed together that the blond woman in the fur coat wasn’t me lying dead in a Rome airport. All their anxiety had come through to me as the hours passed while I waited to be able to make that call. And God was good to me that day.
Some things we just never forget.