Grace Notes

a blog about life’s everyday magic

July 21, 2017

A Magical Mystery Tour

Words: Lee Gaitan
Photo credit: Life-Of-Pix

Do you believe in magic? For as long as I can remember, my answer has been a resounding, “Yes!”


From the first time my older sister made a penny magically disappear before my 5-year-old eyes, I have been a believer in all things unbelievable. My need to experience life as mysterious and magical, full of meaningful coincidences, is compulsive. No matter how many times reality falls below those expectations, I never lose hope. I believe my hope was rewarded tenfold last summer on what I now refer to as my and my husband’s “magical mystery tour.”


This story goes back several generations to the small village of Mercenasco in northern Italy, a short distance from Turin. When I was 14, long after my grandparents had passed away, my parents took me with them on their first trip to Italy. Looking back, I nearly tremble when imagining how my parents must have felt as they walked the streets of Mercenasco, the very streets their own parents had walked years before. It was as close as they would ever come on this earth to touching their parents again.


When we arrived in Turin, our jaws dropped at what seemed a great coincidence — the first hotel we encountered was called Grande Albergo Fiorina (the Grand Hotel Fiorina), and “Fiorina” was my mother’s maiden name. The hand of destiny was obviously guiding us to stay at the hotel, which was located on one of Turin’s gracious piazzas.


That trip was the first of several I would make over the years to the land of my heritage and my heart. Yet, for one reason or another, I never made it back to Mercenasco. Last summer my husband planned a surprise trip to Europe to celebrate our 10th wedding anniversary, and he included a visit to my family in Mercenasco for the first time in nearly 45 years. I couldn’t have imagined a gift I needed more at the time. In the preceding 18 months I’d lost not only my mother but my sister as well. Losing them, in addition to my father some years earlier, had left me feeling rootless. My way of coping was to immerse myself in nostalgia, spending hours poring over old photo albums, reliving old times again and again. I was thrown just the lifeline I needed.


I felt my spirit beginning to revive the minute our plane touched down in Turin. As our car made the last turn into Mercenasco, memories began flooding my senses. The smell of the fruit market where I went shopping with my aunt. The cool air in the church where we lit candles. My heart beat faster with each corner we rounded until we arrived at my cousin’s house. I got out of the car and, with shaking hands and my pulse thundering in my ears, I reached out to ring her bell.


Her front door swung open wide and my nervousness instantly evaporated as more than four decades collided at once. As if by magic, I was suddenly staring into faces I’d not seen in so long but had remained a part of my heart. What a wondrous gift to spend the entire day in the company of my delightful cousins and my beautiful 96-year-old great-aunt — my Famiglia Italiana, my roots. The afternoon passed quickly, as two and three conversations at a time, punctuated by laughter and tears, filled the air. I began to understand how my parents must have felt on their first visit.


We spent the rest of the week enjoying Turin, completely entranced by its charm and grace. My only disappointment was that we couldn’t revisit the Grande Albergo Fiorina, as it had closed some time ago. I had been feeling that seeing it again would be a way to reconnect with my mom, to feel as if she were with me on this trip. Maybe it was time to make new memories.


And that’s just what we did. We explored almost every inch of Turin, each day falling more in love with it. We were struck by an especially elegant restaurant just around the corner from our hotel, so on our last evening we had dinner there — a sumptuous feast — and it was a perfect ending to a perfect week.


When we returned home from our trip, I dragged out the old photo albums to copy a few pictures from the 1971 trip to send to my cousins. When I opened one of the albums, a small brown paper bag I’d never seen before fell out. Looking inside, I found two postcards. The first one was covered in my mother’s handwriting. It was a postcard she had sent me from Italy on another trip she and my dad had taken. The message said, “Everyone in Mercenasco wants to know when you are coming back to visit. I told them I knew you would make it back here someday. Love, Mommy.”


I looked at the other postcard and thought my heart would stop — it was an old full-color postcard of the Grande Albergo Fiorina. Too stunned to move, I suddenly had a flash of recognition. I grabbed the postcard, ran downstairs for the camera, and quickly scrolled through all the photos we’d taken until I found it. I was holding identical images in my hands — the postcard of the Grande Albergo Fiorina and a digital photo of that elegant restaurant where we dined the last night in Turin. The restaurant occupied the first floor of the building that used to be the hotel!


In that moment I realized my mother had been with me the whole time. I could do little more than cry — tears of being lost and the joyous tears of being found, tears of gratitude for ties that transcend time and space, and, finally, tears of wonder at the magical mystery tour that is life.


About the author: Lee Gaitan is the author of My Pineapples Went to Houston, a very funny but inspiring romp through her life. The subhead says it all: Finding the Humor in My Dashed Hopes, Broken Dreams and Plans Gone Outrageously Awry. Connect with her at and on Facebook

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Comments ( 40 )

  1. Jennifer

    April 19, 2023 at 4:25 pm

    What a beautiful and magical story. It’s those moments that bring chills and tears.

  2. Terry Gassett

    April 19, 2023 at 4:25 pm

    What a lovely story of coming full circle between the past and the present, between old memories and new and navigating through grief. I so enjoyed your tour here and it make
    makes me want to make a trip back
    To New Orleans. to my own roots. to visit people and places that are near and dear me.
    Thank you!

  3. Rachel S Folden

    April 19, 2023 at 4:25 pm

    Your story, memories, touched my heart. Thank you for sharing your lovely story.

  4. Elle Harris

    April 19, 2023 at 4:25 pm

    This was so lovely. Thank you for blessing us with your memories.

  5. Caroline Graham

    April 19, 2023 at 4:25 pm

    An exquisite piece of magic. It’s as though I am walking those streets in Italy, having a wonderful family ‘catch up’ day and enjoying the ambience of that romantic restaurant. Magical is what it is because I live in Sydney Australia having come from New Zealand and I have only dreamed of visiting Italy. Thank you Lee for sharing this magical memory. Arohanui xx

  6. Erin

    April 19, 2023 at 4:25 pm

    What a wonderful story, Lee! Yes, life is mysterious and magical indeed. The ability to see it as such is a gift.

  7. Elaine Ambrose

    April 19, 2023 at 4:25 pm

    What a lovely and wonderful story. Your mom enjoyed the trip with you. The first time I visited Florence, Italy, I had the feeling I had been there before. I never found a connection, but I believe there is one. Thanks for the excellent writing.

  8. PamC

    April 19, 2023 at 4:25 pm

    What a wonderful story! Thank you for sharing

  9. Michelle Caruso-Deciuflé

    April 19, 2023 at 4:25 pm

    Oh what a wonderful piece !
    I sobwnjoyed reading this masterful story !
    I am Italian and totally understand and connect !
    Fabulous !
    To the writer….”Bravo!”

  10. Michelle Caruso-Deciuflé

    April 19, 2023 at 4:25 pm

    I so enjoyed reading this masterful story.

  11. Jeanie Brosius King

    April 19, 2023 at 4:25 pm

    Truly magical… inexplicable.. joyous and tender. Thank you Lee!!

  12. Lee Gaitan

    April 19, 2023 at 4:25 pm

    Thank you so much, Jennifer! It was an amazing trip, but I never imagined that “magical” ending! I had looked through that photo album a million times and I never saw that paper bag with the post cards. Goose bumps!

  13. Lee Gaitan

    April 19, 2023 at 4:25 pm

    What kind comments! Yes, the older we get, I think the more important our root become, oddly enough. Or maybe we develop an appreciation for the things we took for granted when we were younger.

  14. Lee Gaitan

    April 19, 2023 at 4:25 pm

    Thank you so much. I am so glad you enjoyed it!

  15. Lee Gaitan

    April 19, 2023 at 4:25 pm

    I am so happy it touched you. Thank you so much for your sweet comment.

  16. Lee Gaitan

    April 19, 2023 at 4:25 pm

    Yes, it really is, Erin. We just need to keep our hearts tuned in and our eyes open. Sometimes it is hard to do! 😉 Thank you so much for stopping by.

  17. Lee Gaitan

    April 19, 2023 at 4:25 pm

    Thank you so much, Elaine. it really was a good bump ending for me. We say we know they are still with us, but instances like this still amaze, don’t they? Love you, my friend.

  18. Lee Gaitan

    April 19, 2023 at 4:25 pm

    I’m so glad you liked it. It was quite an experience to find those cards–I’d never noticed before–after the trip. Thank you for commenting!

  19. Lee Gaitan

    April 19, 2023 at 4:25 pm

    Thank you so much, cara! Those roots run deep, don’t they? Mine in that little village go back four generations that I know of on three sides!

  20. Lee Gaitan

    April 19, 2023 at 4:25 pm

    Thank you so much for your lovely comments, Jeanie! Even now, I can’t quite believe the way it all unfolded. We walked past that restaurant every single day, coming and going, and I had no idea what it was–until my mom “told” me!

  21. Lee Gaitan

    April 19, 2023 at 4:25 pm

    My daughter just read this story for the first time–and tried to vote it five stars, but hit four instead! Geez, your kids take you down every time. 🙂 She’s the missing .25!

  22. Karen Austin

    April 19, 2023 at 4:25 pm

    That’s a powerful story of how you and your mother had a magic connection. Thank you for being vulnerable and articulate enough to share it.

  23. Haralee

    April 19, 2023 at 4:25 pm

    Yes this sounds magical! How lovely. I had a similar experience but just in Miami where my grandparents wintered. As a small child we would go visit. Several years ago with my sister we found the hotel that was base camp for the family and it too was only just a restaurant!

  24. Marilee

    April 19, 2023 at 4:25 pm

    WONDERFUL story. I visualized it all.

  25. Lee Gaitan

    April 19, 2023 at 4:25 pm

    Oh, Caroline, thank you so much for your thoughtful reflection. And who knows, Italy may yet be in your future. Maybe we will meet up there again after all these years–could the world handle us being on the same continent?!

  26. Lee Gaitan

    April 19, 2023 at 4:25 pm

    Thank you so much for reading it. I should never have doubted my mom’s ability to transcend space, time and spiritual planes because she was not one to be told “no”! 😉

  27. Lee Gaitan

    April 19, 2023 at 4:25 pm

    Thank you so much for coming along on the magical mystery tour! It was really a “woo-woo” moment when I found that post card of the hotel!

  28. Lee Gaitan

    April 19, 2023 at 4:25 pm

    Thank you so much, Haralee. Even for me–who is not above “inventing” magic if needed!–the whole post card ending was pretty overwhelming. I love the Miami story–it’s such a feeling of connection, finding these places from our past.

  29. Lynne

    April 19, 2023 at 4:25 pm

    Wow, what a story!! We visited Naples and Amalfi in March. Italy is magical…andbwe had a few “coincidences,” too. How awesome to have such a connection to your mom!! Ciao!

  30. Lori

    April 19, 2023 at 4:25 pm

    That is a magical story! Our loved ones are never far away. We only need to be open to the magic around us to see they are there on our heart’s journey.

  31. Lee Gaitan

    April 19, 2023 at 4:25 pm

    I’m glad you had a magical time, too, Lynn! There’s a saying that when you die, if you’ve been good, you go to heaven; if you’ve been very good, you go to Italy. 🙂 I have to go read your posts about your trip.

  32. Lee Gaitan

    April 19, 2023 at 4:25 pm

    It’s so true, Lori. We just need to open our hearts and eyes to look for the magic every day. (Looking in the mirror some mornings, it seems more like black magic, but whatever!) 😉

  33. Lynne

    April 19, 2023 at 4:25 pm

    I hadn’t heard that saying, Lee! Will definitely share that!

  34. Ann Marquette

    April 19, 2023 at 4:25 pm

    Wow! What a great real life story. Gives me goosebumps!
    I have been to parts of Italy, but not Turin.
    I am very interested in seeing Tuscany some day. In the meantime I keep looking at beautiful pictures of Tuscany on Pinterest.
    I should probably learn Italian so when I do make it there I can communicate.
    Anyway, thanks for sharing your Magical Mystery Tour.

  35. Lee Gaitan

    April 19, 2023 at 4:25 pm

    Thank you so much for your kind words! I am so glad it touched you. The trip was really healing for me the completely unexpected post card ending was AMAZING!

  36. Claudia Blanchard

    April 19, 2023 at 4:25 pm

    Beautiful Story!!!

  37. jodie filogomo

    April 19, 2023 at 4:25 pm

    What a fabulous story, Lee!!

  38. Jennifer

    April 19, 2023 at 4:25 pm

    This made me cry all over again when I reread it today. You’ve truly touched my heart. And that is magic.

  39. Lee Gaitan

    April 19, 2023 at 4:25 pm

    Thank you, Claudia! I wish It was so healing.

  40. Laurie Stone

    April 19, 2023 at 4:25 pm

    Goose bumps. How incredible to think your Mom was with you all the time. There’s so much we don’t understand, but sometimes we get little clues. Beautiful.

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