Rome in all its splendor lay before me. Never did I think I’d ever make a trip to Europe. In the summer of 1975 I accompanied a group of students and faculty from my school on a plane-bus trip with several other schools from Georgia and Mississippi. Rome was one of our main stops. I didn’t realize at first that I’d keep this ancient city in my life forever.
The morning after our arrival and a typical touristy breakfast of coffee and hard roll, a group of ten wanted to see the catacombs our two enthusiastic college teacher/guides suggested. These were underground burial grounds for the poor and many middle class people because of the lack of land surface for burial. Early Christians had no money to bury their dead on the surface, so underground necropolis or catacombs were dug under the property of the few Christians who owned the land.
Like elementary school children afraid of getting lost, we tourists held hands by twos and imitated our guides who hopped onto a metro train from the center of the city. A quick transfer to a local bus took us along the Appian Way, a roadway lined with tombs of ancient notables. I was unaware of the fancy tombstones along the roadway paved with original stones and bricks the Romans used in building. Somehow I missed the landscape as I hung onto the inside pole for stability on the lumbering bus.
We arrived at the office of the Catacombs of San Callisto. We entered a dark hole via steps leading deep into the underground. Our guide led us through narrow aisles of burial sites with a flashlight. When there was something worthwhile to see, he turned on strings of lights along the way to show bodies preserved openly as they lay on shelves against the wall displayed like wares for sale. The cool of the underground aided in preserving the white dresses, over the nuns' frail skeletons. We marveled at the sight of fingernails still seen on their bony fingers. In this particular burial place many Catholic hierarchy were hidden during the time catholicism was frowned upon. So much information to remember. I missed any mention the apostles Peter and Paul were buried in this place or another one down the road. The thirty-minute tour ended not too soon to return to light and fresh air. No time for souvenir shopping as the next bus was due any minute.
As we regrouped outside the visitors site, we heard the grumbling motor of the metro bus. Everyone dashed across the street, because in Rome no bus stops, but rolls along slowly while passengers embark or disembark. As I followed across the Appian Way, I tripped on one of the stones and went down on my knees. Dazed, I saw the corner of a stone dug between my left knee. While I thought hours passed as I shook myself to realization, they were only seconds. I heard voices. And a motor roar.
“Hurry, Vivian, you’ll miss the bus! Come on, hurry!” I picked myself up with extreme pain in my leg, limped across the street —thankful no traffic was in the area. The bus rolled a bit faster. I hobbled alongside wondering why I hadn’t taken up power walking earlier in the year. The back door of the bus was open and three pairs of hands reached for me and as I rushed along trying to match my stride with the bus. I thrust my left hand towards the saving hands inside and gathered enough strength to throw my right hand up to reach another that pulled me inside. I was exhausted from the strain. No one realized I wounded my bloodless knee.
Missing the bus would have put me in the “lost tourist” category. I trusted my guides to get me from one place to another. I didn’t remember the names of the hotel nor its location. I had little money with me so hailing a taxi was out of the question. I learned a lot about what not to do that single afternoon.
Today my left knee is more arthritic than any other part of my body. I call it my “Appian Way knee.” In no way is there beauty untold in the pain this knee experiences.