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’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.
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
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
Cool, Need a coat
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!
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!
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
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!