When I think of her, I picture her sitting at the kitchen table next to the window, working on the crossword puzzle in the Denver Post. A deck of cards sits in front of her next to a stack of papers to be graded. Depending on what day it is, she’s either watching the weekend golf tournament or looking forward to The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. Depending on what time it is, she might be drinking a scotch and water. A shallow glass dish on the coffee table holds a handful of lemon drops, and the living room decor centers on turquoise. She steps outside to enjoy the shade of the back patio. The grass has been cut, leaving the distinct scent of summer lingering in the air. Mint grows thick along the north side of her single-story brick house and her pinkish ’65 Ford Mustang is parked in the driveway.

My grandmother and my mother, 1945

My grandmother and my mother, 1945

My grandmother’s name was Margaret but everyone called her Peg. She earned a living as a middle school English teacher in an inner city school district of Denver, where her love of the English language met the challenge of teaching teenagers. She had the demeanor to handle it — serious and scholarly but happy to see any child learning and growing, including me. I don’t remember her being a disciplinarian but her desire for me and her other grandchildren to be good students, good people and succeed in life was always deeply implied in the focus and intensity of her pure blue eyes.

In 1972, my grandmother was divorced, in her late fifties and planning what would be her first (and only) trip to Europe. She would land in Frankfurt, see a bit of Germany, travel to Paris and on to London. From there, she would fly to Greece, travel to Rome, Florence and Venice, and end her trip in Switzerland. She would go alone except for a few acquaintances she knew who were also traveling to Europe for the summer break. I admire my grandmother’s courage to take on such a grand itinerary by herself, as a single woman, with very little travel experience. In one trip, she defined Go Big or Go Home before it was ever a trendy cliché.

When my grandmother passed away 15 years ago, I inherited a few of her possessions including her travel journal and postcards from this once-in-a-lifetime trip to Europe. I was just beginning my deep dive into traveling the world so I wasn’t yet aware of the significance these items would eventually have for me. Today, I cherish her journal and postcards not only as a record of traveling in a different era but also as a portrait of her character and personality. She was sometimes pessimistic and frustrated but a nice sunset or a good meal or even a bathtub in a hotel room could persuade her back to happiness.

She departed for Europe forty-five years ago this month. She shared her thoughts and experiences using the social media of her day — postcards from abroad sent by mail to my family. They offer a unique look at the challenges of travel so long ago — no internet, no Google maps, no booking ahead, no way of knowing where you’re going to stay upon arrival. No, no, no, no. But my grandmother said YES to all of it and documented much of it. I’ll be sharing her journey with you in a series of four posts over the next few weeks. I hope you enjoy her thoughts, her experiences and the trail she blazed for many of us travelers who have followed in her footsteps.

*Click on any image to make it larger, or read the typed text below it.

Wiesbaden, June 18th

Wiesbaden, Germany

Postcards From My Grandmother, 1972

Hi! The logistics of all this is really a hassle! But here I am in Wiesbaden on a beautiful Sun. afternoon. Frankfurt is noisy and confusing. I came here by train, got a hotel room, and feel as though I’m learning the ropes fast! I’m in a sidewalk café having a drink and enjoying all the local color. Everyone is so nice! I just smile & nod my head! Love, Mom

Paris, June 20th

Postcards From My Grandmother, 1972

Hi! Greetings from la belle France! Am having the most unbelievable experiences! Ran into Dave Mendes from Morey (junior high school) while buying apricots for the train trip to Paris. This was in Cablentz at the end of the Rhine boat trip. Can you believe it? We had lunch together! Slept on the train & got a hotel 1 block off Champs Elysee for $5 a night. All is well! Love, Mom

Postcards From My Grandmother, 1972

Paris
Cool, Need a coat
June 20
Paris — We arrived at 6:40 and the Jensens & I had coffee & then parted company. I then met a nice New Jersey gal who told me where to find out about rooms. French Tourism — 125 Champs Elysée. Took a taxi & came down the C.E. with the sun hitting the Arc de Triomphe & it was so beautiful. They got me a cheap room & I took it sight unseen. I learned something. It’s a hole in a garret. I feel like a starving literary genius. No window — just a skylight. If the weather were hot, it would be insufferable. The water won’t stay in the sink so I can’t wash clothes successfully. I was dismayed when I saw it, but it’s less than $5 a day, so I’m going to rough it — 22 Francs to be exact. Always ask if the room has a window! It still is not as bad as Frankfurt!

Paris, June 21st

Postcards From My Grandmother, 1972

Paris
June 21
Toured the city on a tour bus & thoroughly enjoyed it. Am learning the city layout. Have not had the nerve to ride the Metro. I can walk the full length of the Champs Elysee without too much trouble. It ends at the Place de la Concorde where Tuileries Gardens & the Louvre begin. It is probably a mile & a half — but so exciting. I can’t believe the traffic! C’est dangereux!

Paris, June 23rd

Notre-Dame de Paris

Postcards From My Grandmother, 1972

Cool, & cloudy. Please save the cards I send
Bonjour! Toured the Louvre and learned what you told me — all the early sculptures were painted. Guide pointed out traces of red paint on men’s hair & lips. Wish you had been with me, Jo, to enjoy the masterpieces. Only 12 Raphaels DaVincis in the world & 6 are in the Louvre. All have the Mona Lisa expression as the guide pointed out. I’m exhausted but loving it! Love, Mom

Paris, June 26th

Place du Tertre, Paris

Postcards From My Grandmother, 1972

Hi! Have walked about 20 miles today. Saw Notre Dame & went in. The stained glass windows are truly majestic — just magnificent. Saw the stalls along the Seine. Walked back again to the Louvre & did the Rubens gallery. Just huge pictures & at least 20 of them. They must be each 20 ft. by 20 ft. Voluptuous women. Hope you’re all well. Kiss Kelly & Tommy for me. Next from jolly old London. Love, Mom

You can find part two of four posted here. Thank you for reading!

67 comments

    1. Thank you so much, Tanja! Love your suggestion — I hadn’t thought about re-tracing her steps. I’d particularly love to see Wiesbaden and do the Rhine cruise she mentions. I haven’t been to that area before. Thank you for your comment!

      Liked by 1 person

  1. ¡Impresionante! These are truly amazing – such a treasure of memory and the physical nature of these “shares” jumps off the screen even reading them in digital format. I loved reading them in your Grandmother’s handwriting, doing the work of *reading* through someone’s hand, and having that inform the words with their feeling, their personality. A beautiful tribute and wonderfully written by you as always! xo

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hello, beauty! Your comment makes me smile. I love that you appreciate doing the work to read her handwriting. That’s one of the aspects of these memoirs that I love the most, in addition to hearing her voice in my head as I read the words. The whole project has really brought her memory to life for me in a way it wasn’t before. Thank you for your lovely thoughts. See you soon, mi amiga! 🙂

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  2. This is a priceless gift to be given by one’s daughter, Kelly. A profound surprise I had never expected, not just for me of course but the entire family and the WordPress audience around the world. It is bringing a lovely rush of memories – images, words and impressions coming back to me in my Mother’s distinctive voice. I am a saver of cards and letters and such, because they are all a history of our family – and to have this collection of my Mother’s postcards from Europe saved by me and kept by you, then memorialized in a blog written by you (her first granddaughter) is beyond anything she could ever have imagined in her lifetime…..I can hear her saying, “Blog? What in the world is a Blog? You did what? Well Kelly that is just amazing! You are a fine writer!”
    And of course I firmly believe that indeed she knows….

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I’m laughing at the thought of her saying, “What in the world is a blog?” She would definitely say that! As I read the postcards, I hear her voice in my head, too. I really give her credit for writing down everything she experienced. She knew it was a once-in-a-lifetime trip and worth the effort. On some level, she seemed to hope her memories would be preserved. I’m happy to be making that happen. Thanks for all your lovely thoughts!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Great comment, agshap! We have so much to learn from our elders if only we would take the time, ask questions, engage with them while they’re still alive. And honor them through the memories and keepsakes we have from their lives. Thanks for reading and your sharing your thoughts.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for your comment! You’ve shed some light on her very practiced style of handwriting. I wasn’t aware of the name or the method but it certainly makes sense now that I’ve looked into it. Thanks again!

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  3. I am so enjoying this. I knew your grandmother well and your mother is a dear friend. High school friends and neighbor in Dayton. We are still often in touch.
    Looking forward to The next post 😊
    Sharon KRAUSS

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    1. Hi Sharon! I love that you enjoyed the first post! That means so much to me coming from someone who knew my grandmother, and knows my mom as well. Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts. More postcards and journal entries coming up soon!

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  4. The postcards are gorgeous! One forgets how much detail and artwork went into them in their heyday. I love your idea of traveling back through time to try and experience what your grandmother went through on her solo journey. Though some of the logistics have changed that feeling when seeing something different and beautiful for the first time still resonates.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hey! Thanks so much! I agree — the postcards are really cool in their vintage style. There’s one from London in the next post that I especially love. You make a great point — sharing the sight of something for the first time never gets old. It just inspires other people to see it too, creating that infectious love to travel we know so well. Thanks for your comment!

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  5. Oh I just love this Kelly. I can see where your adventuring genes come from. It took me right back. My first travels were the same era although I was twenty something not fifty something. My first time in Paris was in the summer of 1974 and I still remember the hostel in the suburbs where I stayed, and many other things. Looking forward to the next installment!
    Alison

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Alison! It’s amazing how a couple of old postcards have such a time-traveling effect on people! Love that this post took you back to Paris in 1974! Awesome! There’s such great content in the dusty corners of our minds and our basements. More postcards coming soon!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Thanks for sharing these priceless treasures with us Kelly. The blogosphere truly at its best. Looking forward to what’s to come. Warm wishes on this sunny evening…Andrew

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  7. I’m so happy to have found this post. I too went to Europe when I divorced. 20 years ago now. I sure wish I had kept a journal but I do have photos – somehwere. I look forward to the next installment.
    Marla

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hey Marla! Great comment. Putting this post together has reminded me of the value of writing a travel journal. It preserves memories and experiences in a unique way — especially for other people to read. Next installment coming up next week. Thank you for reading and sharing your thoughts!

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  8. This was so neat! I loved seeing the old postcards. I really enjoyed how you started out with a description of your grandmother sitting at her kitchen table. It really brought me in and I felt like I was there with her.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thank you so much! I really appreciate your comment about that introductory paragraph. I was really struggling with how to share those specific memories I have of her in her home, and I decided to just a write down my vision even though it wasn’t really related to the postcards. I wanted to give people a small glimpse of her world at home before she departed on the trip. Thanks again for sharing your thoughts!

      Liked by 2 people

  9. What a fun project! She really was a bold first-time traveler; even with all our resources today, it can be hard to find a good place for the night when we first arrive in a city. It’s hard to imagine a middle-aged, newbie, female traveler handling all this, and with apparent aplomb!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks, Lex! Yes, she was bold. And quite exasperated in some of her upcoming journal entries about finding a room. Ha ha! I’d forgotten the legwork required to do that when there’s no internet! Thanks for your comment. Next post coming up this week.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. What a treasure! It must be so wonderful to have these postcards in your hands and what better than to externalise them in a digital format. Thank you so much for the share and really ‘chapeau bas’ to your grandmother to have taken the incredible step that she took to travel as she did and the decade in which she did it!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oooh, chapeau bas! I love that and I’m sure my grandmother would, too! Thank you! Yes, it is wonderful to have these treasures in my hands and give them extended life by sharing them online. I think my grandmother would be in awe that the world is reading her thoughts on travel so many decades later. Thanks so much for reading and getting in touch. Next post coming up later this week. Merci beaucoup!

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Oh K, this post is do heart warming, describing such an authentic woman; she is quite beautiful, but I keep looking back at your mom! Sooo cute, and she looks the same :)the icing on the cake for me is the postcard Collection Aqua Pintura…I was in Paris in 1967, and I bought that postcard home and framed it (i can’t remember what became of it over all my moves).
    Wonderful post.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Angel! Wow! The same postcard?!?! What are the chances?! I guess pretty good since you were both in Paris within about five years of each other. What a story! Yes, my mom is so small and cute. Great to have a shot of her and grandma to remember them as they were so long ago. Thanks for reading!

      Liked by 1 person

  12. This is so lovely, Kelly. I applaud your grandmother’s courage to step out of her comfort zone and go big! I will remember this story so next time I meet someone who’s too afraid to see the world, I will tell that person about your grandmother. Speaking of the journal she wrote and the postcards she sent, they remind me of how much we have changed. Until a few years ago I always carried a notebook to write all my travel accounts — sometimes I drew too to help me remember certain things from my travels. But now I 100% rely on my laptop. Can’t wait for the next post!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thank you, Bama! Yes, sadly it seems the art of the travel journal has been lost to the digital world. Putting this post together has been a good reminder to create some keepsakes and mementos by hand. The value of them is great and intangible, as is evident by all of these comments. Our humanity can be shared through some very simple actions like recording our thoughts. Thanks for reading!

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  13. This is so touching. A lot of love is filled in these postcards and what a powerful journey to share with generations ahead. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. It was a pleasure coming upon this.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Love this! As someone who feels half-American and half-European (part French) this has a special place in my heart. So interesting seeing how Europe was perceived then. And the prices. And I especially love seeing your grandmother’s penmanship. Which sounds really weird. But as a child I always wanted to be able to do American cursive. My style is neither American nor European. Sort of a hybrid.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hey, HelsinkiBudapest! Thanks so much for your comment. Love your thoughts about my grandmother’s penmanship and your effort to write American cursive. I, too, remember practicing for hours to make my writing more elegant and flowery! As another person commented, my grandmother’s writing is of a very particular style and method. For me, it just brings back vivid memories of her — I can hear her voice in my head as I read her words. Thank you for reading! Next post coming this week!

      Liked by 1 person

  15. Wow, what a great idea for your blog. I really enjoyed the walk down memory lane with your grandmother. It’s funny how reading her descriptions of Paris brought me back there, especially the stalls around the Seine. Some things never change even after a quarter of a century has gone by. I can’t wait for the next installment. And I wholeheartedly agree with the other comments about how brave your grandmother to make this trip.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! I love your point about some things not changing after years and years have gone by. It’s easy to see why Paris continues to hold so much charm for millions of people who go there every year. Passing on these experiences and memories inspires the next generation to go, while also preserving the stalls, sights, cafe culture Paris is known for. It wouldn’t be the same without it. Thanks for reading!

      Liked by 1 person

  16. You provided such a beautiful story. I love to hear of past generations lives and then to see their handwriting and the postcards is so special. I went to Europe in 1996 and it really does take bravery to travel outside of your own known cultures. Thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I loved it. I went to Romania, Hungry, and England. Such beauty in nature and the people. You learn a lot about culture and yourself when you put yourself out there in a vulnerable environment. Can’t wait to read next weeks post.

        Liked by 1 person

  17. I wonder what made you share this with the world but I’m so glad you did! The cards and the letters are truly amazing

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    1. Hi Myra! Thanks so much! That’s a good question. There was just something special about the way my grandmother traveled and how she saw the world, and I thought other travelers might enjoy reading her thoughts and memories — especially with them being presented in such an old but cool postcard format. I love that so many people have enjoyed these posts! Thank you for reading!

      Like

  18. Your grandmother’s house sounds like my grandparents on my Dad’s side, only dusty pink not turquoise. I have my grandmother’s Bible and I ponder over the passages she had repeatedly read and marked, some with exclamation points. There were things stirring in her heart that I don’t think my father knew.
    When my mother passed, I found similar things that made me realize my mom had things unsaid yet deeply felt also. Now my kids will find the same, only they will probably just dump in the dumpster as they excavate and liquidate.
    I love trying to figure out what was going on in their lives. It was not a generation that broadcast their information.

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    1. Love your comment. Dusty pink?! Must have been trendy at the time. 🙂 Wouldn’t you love to know more about the significance of those passages in the Bible? I agree with you — it’s fun to wonder what was happening in their lives, but also sad because we can no longer ask the questions. Little mysteries everywhere! I just uploaded the final post of the series, by the way. Thanks for reading and getting in touch!

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      1. I can only guess at some of the significance possibly referenced, but I know generationally, it was a badge of courage to be stoic.
        On another note, I have a high school scrapbook of my mother’s; black paper, little stick on corner holders for black and white photos, and best of all, perfect cursive with white ink descriptions! What do you think about posting it? Should it be a series, like yours?

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  19. What a treasure to inherit Kelly! Your grandmother sounds truly special. The postcards are beautiful and I love how you have crafted this post. Off to read the rest of this wonderful series.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Madhu! She was a special character and by doing this series of posts, I feel like I’ve gotten to know a different part of her that I didn’t know when I was a kid. Thanks for your comment!

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  20. How amazing that forty five years later, your grandmother has been such an inspiration for courage and for independence. Wonderful that someone kept these momentos of her travels and saved them and that they landed up with you. It was meant to be! I love reading your posts as you write in a way that is totally captivating and eloquent.

    Peta

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    1. Thank you, Peta! Yes, the postcards have sort of been on a journey of their own all these years! Eventually into my hands and onto the blog! Very happy to hear you enjoyed the series. Thanks for your comment!

      Like

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