Tuesday, December 14, 2010

From Atlantic to Pacific, Gee, the Traffic is Terrific

(I’m concentrating this post, which deals with Holiday Travel, the writing prompt for December 13, on one particular Christmas. I can’t warrant that everything took place in the order stated or even that it took place on that particular Christmas, but it’s all true one way or another.)

Holiday travel for my family in 1957 covered a lot of ground, sea and air and started early. By Thanksgiving, our apartment on Mississippistrasse in the Hainerberg housing area of Wiesbaden, Germany was denuded of all but the most necessary items and the furniture provided by the Army. We even ate Thanksgiving dinner in the mess hall of my father’s unit. (This was the infamous raw-shrimp-cocktail Thanksgiving, about which I think I’ve written previously.) We had all had our shots updated and been tested to make sure we hadn’t contracted tuberculosis from injudiciously eating ice cream on the street. For a few days, after moving out of our quarters, we stayed in a once-magnificent spa hotel downtown, where I think there was a fountain of dreadful-smelling mineral water in the lobby. At last our port call came, and we made our way to nearby Frankfurt and Rhein-Main Airport. We were fortunate to be flying, as my mother and brother were prone to seasickness.

The flight home was not without incident. I’m not sure why, but we had a layover in Montreal that I’m pretty sure was unscheduled. We were put up in a motel, and when we tried to get something to eat in the restaurant, we were met with “So sorry m’sieu, the kitchen, she is in the fire!” I think that night ended with our first experience of take-out fried chicken.

We did eventually reach McGuire AFB and neighboring Fort Dix, and after the usual Army “processing,” we were ready for the next leg of our journey. We children were excited to learn that this would be in a new (to us) car. And not just any car – it was a two-tone, blue and cream, 1956 Ford Fairlane Victoria in the hardtop convertible style. It wasn’t really convertible, but it looked as cool as one. V-8 engine, just enough chrome, and take a look at those cool headlights! I couldn’t limit myself to just one picture. enhanced 56 fordor Victoria Here’s an old advertisement I got from Uncle Phil; ours, however, was a two-door model, we think. I seem to remember the car as having a lighter blue in the blue parts, like one of the photos below; but I may be confusing it with the Edsel that replaced it.


This one could use a little restoration. You may think this a small car for a family of seven, but none of us were very big at that time, ranging in age from 7 to 3 1/2.


Take a look at those cool headlights! Thanks to Uncles Phil and Carl for helping me figure out the make and model of this car.

Since I don’t remember the exact dates of any of this, I’m not sure exactly what happened next. I think we drove to Bridgeport or New Haven where my father would be working as a National Guard Advisor, and he reported in. Then we looked for a house to rent. They found a dark green duplex, two-story, with one very large bedroom in the front that could be divided into a boys’ side and a girls’ side, a couple of blocks from the beach and our school could be seen from the back door. I think they probably went to a used furniture store for beds and such. AND, because Brother #1 was sick (not seriously, but he was pretty miserable, poor little fella) Daddy brought home a color television! Since we had basically had no television for two years (very little was broadcast in Germany then and of course, it was all in German) this was a very exciting development for all of us. I think we stayed in Milford, our new home, long enough to get a bit settled and for my parents to enroll four of us in school (the twins had turned 5 in October so they hadn’t started kindergarten in Germany, but the principal of Point Beach School decided they could begin in January). Then we headed for Maine and Christmas.

There was no I-95 then as far as I know; we started out on the Wilbur Cross Parkway 220px-CrossParkwayExit59NB and continued on various turnpikes, parkways, and US and state routes. Some of the more outstanding advertising structures (a giant Indian, a giant steer, and so on) would become familiar landmarks over the next seven years, but they were all new to us then and to be pointed out and exclaimed over. At last, we paid our dime and crossed over the Piscataqua River, and we were in Maine.

There’s one family story I must tell that we think took place on this trip. We were only about 30 miles from Bowdoinham, near Exit 9 on the Maine Turnpike at Falmouth, when we saw a lone airman in uniform hitchhiking north. My parents briefly considered picking him up, but decided our car was really too crowded with kids, luggage, and Christmas presents. Not long after we arrived at my grandparents’ house, there was another homecoming – my uncle Carl, who was then an airman stationed at Pease AFB in Portsmouth, NH. Ayuh. He was the hitchhiker we had passed by. My mother always said, “If we had known it was you, we would have made room!” But he hasn’t held it against us.

Ah, Christmas in Maine at Grammie and Grampie’s house! My memory is that we actually stayed there, though we had our own little house up the road. In addition to Carl, my aunt Kate was still at home since she was still in high school, and my bachelor (at the time) Uncle Dick lived there as well. There were still two large bedrooms free upstairs, and since the house boasted no central heating, crowding in together could help keep you warm. The kitchen stove, living room stove, and a small one in my grandparents’ room were the only woodstoves in the house as far as I know. Bricks and old flatirons were heated on the stove in the evening, wrapped in newspaper, and used to warm the beds and our chilly feet; we huddled under mounds of Grammie’s homemade quilts until we got warm enough to sleep. Aunt Kate had a pair of ski pajamas, or that’s how I remembered them; she assures me that they were really red flannel with white snowflakes, made by my grandmother, in place of the kind you could buy in stores which cost $3.77 in the Sears catalog.

But what of cold? It was Christmas! I don’t remember any of the presents I got that year, though I’m sure I enjoyed them at the time. I recall a few we gave – the cuckoo clock brought from Germany that played “The Last Rose of Summer” on the hour in Grammie’s living room for many years; and the smoked dried German sausage my parents had smuggled in. I think perhaps we had Christmas dinner at my aunt Celia’s farmhouse on the Ridge. I know it was great to be there, to hear the grownups talking and telling stories, to see the cousins (all older or younger than I was), and most of all for me, to have such a wide choice of reading material! I had been sadly deprived during those weeks of moving and travel, and now it was all here – the children’s books from my mother’s childhood, (this may have been when I first read Little Women), the green-bound set of Dickens in the hall bookcase (I never got beyond the first few scary pages of Great Expectations until I was in my 20s!), Grampie’s Life magazine and Westerns, Uncle Dick’s Argosy, True, and Field and Stream. I dipped into them all.


We didn’t talk a lot about homesickness in my family. Our parents took the line that wherever we were together was home, and avoided complaining about any place we lived, at least where we could hear them. But I know it was a special Christmas for all of us, to be at home in Maine again with all our loved ones nearby.

1 comment:

Crimson Rambler said...

omigosh. I used to read Argosy, etc., over my grandfather's shoulder; he would sit on the couch to read, and I could stand behind him and comb his hair...meantime learning to read! It was a kind of refuge because in order to get at me, my mother and grandmother had to confront him...which at times they were unwilling to do. Long time ago.