My first ‘official’ voyage abroad occurred a mere 2 1/2 years after being smuggled into this country. I am now legally allowed to come and go. My son was issued his first passport in second grade, it was his own passport, not some weird group passport my family had in the 60’s. What the heck…a group passport? My mother was not issued her own passport as a married woman but placed simply as a first name in the space provided for ‘wife’ above the area designated for ‘minors’. The older I get the more I recognize her slow simmering feminism. With each episode of Mad Men I watch I wonder if it was really that bad; was her life prior to ‘wife’ as a bank teller spent being chased around a bosses desk with random unprovoked slaps to her rear end?
This 1960’s passport disallows visits to China, Korea,Viet-Nam, Albania with the hand written addition of Cuba made by some US government worker. All are communist countries but why not Russia, the USSR? This was the cold-war era, fear ran ramped and US citizens were allowed free access to the Soviet Union? Mom’s 1959 passport was ok with Cuba but not so cool with Hungary. Reading through the gibberish, travel tips, etc, now included in current passports I cannot find one restriction relating to any specific country. It may not be particularly wise to travel to certain places these days but feel free to go! I leave shortly for one of the previously banned countries, Viet-nam, and my first visit to a communist country, previous or current.
Our voyage abroad in ’63 was truly a voyage. The 4 of us embarked from NYC on the Cunard R.M.S. Queen Mary in the dead of winter. From nestled somewhere deep in the bowels of steerage I am told tales of my father sneaking the two of us through first class lounges upward until we braved the deserted decks of this grand boat. Just my dad and a 2 1/2 year old in tow while mom stayed below with my infant brother. What was my mother thinking allowing such reckless, I could have been swept overboard in the rough January sea! I have no real recollection of this trip but rely on second-hand tales; the ones told again and again until they feel as if they must be your own, the fabric of our personal history woven into memories.
For as long as I can remember it has been the story of our arrival that stands tall. Dad bouncing me around in his unbridled excitement until I coated him in vomit. I recently quizzed Dad about this trip and his enthusiasm 50 years later still shined bright. He explained “If we hadn’t been so excited to be going back to Europe we would have waited for warmer weather.” Being use to the comforts of American life they hadn’t given much thought to the lack of central heat in Paris winters. Germany was evidently a bit better but they quickly decided they needed to skedaddle to the warmer climate of Italy, just in time for my brother to take his first steps in Naples.
We were not off on a two week vacation to Europe, nope this was a 6 month jaunt. Mom had told me one of her greatest concerns was making sure I was solidly potty trained. There were Pampers back in the day but she didn’t want to deal with two sets of diapers and potty training while traveling. The thought of 6 months on the road on another continent with 2 kids under 3 would send chills down the spine of most women. It doesn’t sound like they had much of an agenda as well, just freewheeling from country to country. Dad spent his days sketching street scens like those of Saint-Germain-des-Pres (recently framed and given to me as Christmas gift) while mom was probably trying to figure out how attach leashes to two rug-rats as she wandered museums.
I believe this was the trip that firmly cemented moms commitment to not raising her children on wonder bread, margarine (oleo as grandma called it) and tuna casserole. At the ripe age of 51 I can happily say this last American concoction has never crossed my lips! We were instead raised on steady diet of Coq au Vin, Boeuf Bourguignon, and salad Nicoise. Recipes painstakingly followed from her well worn and much loved copy of The French Chef Cookbook by Julia Childs. This now sits on my bookshelf. Some families pass down bibles, this book, broken spine, dog eared and splattered with food will be passed though generations along with her love of good food. The aroma of wonderful food and good memories practically ooze from the page.
St Augustine said “The world is a book and those that do not travel read only one page.” I will forever be thankful my parents opened this book for me, letting me know the world was bigger than my back yard. Although I may not remember this trip I believe a foundation was laid. This was to be the beginning of many more adventures to come….