BOB'S SEA TALES
Melissa asked for a story from Grampa on New Year's 1995. That prompted memories of Christmas 1958.
I was assigned as the French Horn member of Navy Unit Band 193, aboard the USS Forrestal-CVA 59, attached to Carrier Division Four. We spent 60 days in port during that six month Mediterranean cruise, of which 45 days were in calm water anchorage within the breakwater in Naples, Italy (Napoli).
My mother had told of an orphanage (supported by the Methodist Church), in Portici, which was south of Naples along the Bay of Naples towards Mt. Vesuvius. The neatest way to get there was by railway. Casa Materna was founded in 1905 by Pasteur Riccardo Santi et Madame. The site was originally a vacation villa for the Prince of Monaco from years past and included a grand main building, spacious grounds, and a number of out buildings. One of the new additions included the school facilities built in 1953. The Methodist Church out near the street was greeted with the construction of a Catholic Church right across the street. Sunday worship services were punctuated when the Catholic's began ringing their bells in the middle of the Methodist sermon.
Casa Materna was a favorite spot for some of the Forrestal crew. We ate with the kids and enjoyed their company as much as they enjoyed ours. On Christmas the old sow was roasted and served to kids, staff and guests alike. All of the pig was used except the squeal, and I enjoyed the chocolate flavored blood pudding and graciously accepted seconds.
After the meal a few of us motored half-way up the side of the volcano. When the road ended, we hiked the remaining distance up the slope. At the summit we found the only snow in Southern Italy. That prompted a fantastic snowball fight. Who was winning? Don't remember, but it was an incredible sight to throw snowballs into the vast crater. I could see the steam rising in response to our attack.
New Year's Eve found us back at the orphanage again. We spent the day in activities with the staff and kids. At 11 pm we were on the street waiting for the bus to take us back to Fleet Landing (to catch the utility boat back to the ship.) We needed to be back by midnight. When the bus failed to arrive as expected, some checking found that the bus had been canceled due to what was to happen next. The hour of midnight arrived and the balconies were filled with people, who in the local tradition began throwing out the old: furniture, dishes, garbage and whatever came to mind. Then they set the junk on fire in the middle of the street and began tossing firecrackers into the air. Five little pops and one great BANG. The locals spotted the five of us on the street and began lobbing the missiles our way. We pulled back into a doorway as well as we could and tried to survive. After a while we flagged down a little Fiat auto and offered the driver 1000 lire apiece (total $6.50) to get us back to fleet landing. He drove down that street, swerving time and time again to avoid the piles of rubble and fires that all but blocked the way. No wonder the bus was not running its schedule.
At fleet landing we found about 5,000 sailors, from the various ships in the harbor, wandering around waiting for the boats to return them to their ships. No boats had made the trip up to this time. One tipsy sailor dragged a Christmas tree into the middle of this surging mass. He sang a song and lit the tree. Then another sailor dropped an entire bag of fireworks into the fire. The scramble for safety was quite a sight. The boats came and began returning us to our respective ships. As the last of us made our way up the gangway, we knew we would remember this night forever.
Casa Materna is still there. Not all the kids are orphans. It serves as a finishing school for some. It was reported in 2003 to be poorly managed and floundering.
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