Lions On The Bridge
By Jeff Schwartz
Christmas Eve – December 24, 2011 @ Chow Haven Farm, Maui, HI with you and Molly
For your Christmas gift this year, you asked for something simple – to “write me something beautiful” – as Jimmy Gauntt asked. So here is my gift to you.
One day many years ago, I was riding in a cab in Washington, DC. I don’t know what possessed me. Almost out of nowhere, I asked the cab driver something like what you asked us for this Christmas. “Tell me something ‘wonderful’,” I asked him, “something that filled you with a sense of wonder.”
He didn’t hesitate. “Well, not long ago I picked up two old Italian ladies. They got into the cab and I asked, ‘Where to?’ One of them in broken English said, ‘Take us to the bridge with the lions.’”
The cab driver stopped his story for a moment. Then he said to me, “I didn’t know what they were talking about so I asked the old lady to repeat what she had said. Again she said, ‘Take us to the bridge with the lions.’ I still didn’t know where the two old Italian ladies – they were probably in their late 70s and kind of old and frail looking – I still didn’t know where they wanted to go. So I asked them to explain,” he said.
“One of them said, ‘Our father was a sculptor – a stone cutter in Italy. And one day many years ago when we were just little girls, our father got a commission for a piece of work that was his favorite ever. Someone from Washington, DC had come to Italy and seen his work and asked him to make four stone lions. They said there was a bridge in Washington where this person wanted to put the stone lions – two at either end. And we remember as little girls seeing our father working on making those lions.
“It was one of our happiest memories – to see our father so happy, creating these beautiful stone lions that he would ship off to America to stand guard over a bridge in the capital city of the United States of America. And when the lions were done, we thought they were wonderful. But we saw our father with tears in his eyes. And we asked him, ‘Father, why are you sad?’ He said, ‘Because now it’s time to send these lions off to America, where I will never get to see them again.”
“And that’s what he did. For many years until he died, he talked about how he wished he could go to America – to Washington to see his beloved stone lions, but he never could. And he never did. So it was always our fondest dream one day to come to America to see our father’s stone lions. He is gone now for many years and always we talked about our dream, but we too have grown old now and we have come to America at long last to see our father’s stone lions and remember his joy in creating them. Do you know the bridge with the lions?”
The cab driver said, “’Yes, now I think I know the one you mean. It’s on Connecticut Avenue and it runs above Rock Creek Park.’’ So he drove them to the bridge and as they got closer and closer the two old Italian ladies grew silent in anticipation.
“Finally, we got there,” he said, “and they started to talk rapidly to one another in Italian. I asked them, ‘Are those the lions that your father made?’
They just stared and stared and tears came pouring down their faces. ‘Yes, these are the stone lions we haven’t seen for almost 70 years when we were little girls and they were in our father’s workshop getting ready to come to America. And this is finally the day our dream has come true – to come to America, to see our father’s beautiful stone lions again one more time before we die, and to remember his happiness as he worked to make them .’”
The cab driver went on: “The two old ladies thanked me and asked how much they owed for the cab ride. I told them, ‘No charge. It is my privilege to bring you to the place where the stone lions live in Washington, DC.’
“I left them at the bridge, clutching each other, in tears and joy. It was a great day to be a cab driver in Washington, DC.”
I thanked him for the amazing story, gave him an extra big tip, and told him I’d like to pay what the two old Italian ladies owed him. He took the tip and smiled, and drove off.”
Now when I think about that story, I wonder, “What stone lions have I given the world that my children would want to come thousands of miles to stare at in wonder and delight at my joy?”
Merry Christmas, darling,
Note to the Reader: I can’t figure it out. The story is true, but I can’t verify that it was an Italian who sculpted these lions. Internet research suggests otherwise. I can’t explain it, but this is what the cab driver told me, and I’m just telling it like he told me. Sometimes, even fiction can be truer than the truth.