"Move, move, quickly!" she yelled at those of us who straggled behind. Her trademark black wig, her large, dark sunglasses, and the crimson red lipstick slathered on her lips gave her a cartoonish appearance.
"Sieg Heil," my friend, Kurt, muttered.
Her head snapped around to where we dragged our feet at the end of the line. "What was that?!" she demanded.
Kurt quickly answered, "Nothing, nothing at all, ma'am."
My head throbbed, my mouth felt like a dozen stuffed animals hibernated in it, and my stomach was already signaling revolt. Mrs. Wilty, our high school choir teacher and head chaperon of this senior year trip to Europe was known for her strict ways at school, but here on the streets of Rome she grew even more strident in her control and her admonitions.
Kurt moaned quietly. "Ohhh, my head." I nodded, but barely. It hurt too much. Truth be told, a small group of us had just made it back into the hotel two hours prior to our 7 AM wake up calls. The night life of Rome held too much fun for us not to unwrap that forbidden package. Although we were wily enough to outwit our sponsors, we were no match for the consequences of our revelry.
Mrs. Wilty and the other adult sponsors led the 40 seventeen and eighteen year olds past a cluster of older women sitting against the edge of a building where we were to eat breakfast. They were dressed simply, with sensible dark shoes and scarves covering their hair. They chatted animatedly among themselves, their deeply lined faces stretching into smiles as their hands helped to tell their stories with large gestures.
One who used a cane to prop herself into her chair chortled as the last of us sat at the outdoor tables near where they were, revealing a mouth about half full of teeth.
Mrs. Wilty made her way through the tables. "Each of you will get two fried eggs, bacon, and orange juice. Eat quickly, and clean your plates. We have to show our appreciation! Do NOT appear rude to the Eyetalians! We want the Eyetalians to like us!"
Although I couldn't see my face, I felt it turn green at the thought of the breakfast. Kurt's head drooped even lower as he braced his elbows on the table. "Do we have a problem here!" Mrs. Wilty barked as she stopped at our table. A feeble head shake No was all I could muster.
The breakfast plates were placed before us, a light brown moat of grease coagulating around each egg. I knew I could not eat it, although Mrs. Wilty was going from table to table to be sure everyone was finishing their breakfast. "Eat! Eat!" she admonished.
"Eat! Ea....ow!" she squealed and jumped before she stopped dead in her tracks and drew her hands over her rear end. Her mouth, outlined in that bright red lip color, made a perfect O.
The elderly lady with the cane slowly retracted it from whacking Mrs. Wilty's behind. Now she used that same cane to point to Mrs. Wilty. "You-eh," she said as she narrowed her eyes at the teacher. "Be-eh nice. Just-eh be-eh NICE." Her friends nodded in agreement and punctuated her words with rapid Italian assents. She held her stare and jabbed the cane once more at Mrs. Wilty. "Be-eh nice."
I am far removed from my 17 year old self in age and behavior, and I'm sure the elderly woman has long departed, but her voice still rings true. Be-eh nice. Just-eh be-eh NICE.