When I was growing up, our family travels were usually limited to Beaumont (to see my maternal grandmother) and San Augustine (to Dad’s family farm, where his parents lived). Beyond that, we’d go to Fort Worth, where his sister lived and to Longview (where his brother moved in1970). Occasionally we visited friends near Houston in Humble, where we lived for almost 4 years. We just didn’t have the money for a real vacation.
I was 15 before we went on a real vacation — and that was the summer of what I came to call the Texas History Tour. A couple of days at Galveston (beach for us, hotel with pool for Mother), a couple of days for San Antonio (the Alamo, the Riverwalk area — which was being developed then — and other sites, including Breckenridge Park and Zoo) some time in Austin (where Dad attended the University of Texas) and Fort Worth. I learned lots of history during that trip, including details of Dad’s few semesters as a student. He showed us where his boarding house was, where he worked. Of course, we had to visit the capitol itself.
Only after I grew up did Dad and Mother have the money and time to expand their vacations. For a while they had a pop-up travel trailer, and then an RV, and enjoyed camping with friends (again, with electricity and air-conditioning for Mother).
For a few years, Dad and Phil took time travel to West Texas for deer hunting with cousins.
After Mother died, and then Phil, Dad and I had new opportunities to travel together. The first time was rather sad — after Phil died, Dad and I flew to Florida and drove his Jimmy back, with a travel trailer of his belongings. That was the first time Dad had been in a plane, other than not-so-happy experience years before. It was fun to be with him despite the sad occasion, in part because he was so curious about everything. New places and people meant that he had lots to observe and absorb. Driving back from Florida together gave us more time, driving through places we’d never been before, tracing the Gulf Coast from Florida before ending up back in Egan.
Not long after Phi’s fiancee moved to Phoenix, we flew out there to visit her for a few days. Once more, I was amused to watch Dad watch everything. His curiosity meant he was always interested in new areas, new places. And after Phil’s fiancee moved to Germany for a few years for a job, Dad surprised me by announcing that we were going to visit her and see where he’d been stationed at the end of World War II and at the beginning of the Occupation. It was my responsibility to make the arrangements. He got a passport, and we were off as soon as I’d turned my grades in that fall term.
I’d grown up hearing some stories about his time in the service. Now I got to see places as he talked yet more about his service time during and following the Battle of the Bulge and into the Occupation. Often it occurred to me that this was a trip that he and Phil would have truly enjoyed together, so in part I felt that I was there for Phil as well.
While Darcy worked, Dad and I sat in the house, talking a lot. He’s go out on the balcony, which had a wonderful view of not only houses, but farming and mountains. He spent lots of time out there, despite the cold, noting the planting patterns, where people walked, and anything else he could notice. I’d walk to a bakery or a store. Sometimes we took the bus around, and once more his attention to the smallest details fascinated me. That someone could drive such big buses in such small streets (obviously built before cars and buses) amazed him — he even noticed that the driver occasionally moved the side mirrors in so that he could maneuver more easily. One day we went to a Christmas fair in Bonn, walking and shopping, stopping for coffee and chocolate. He loved that people were allowed to bring their dogs in with them (on leashes).
One day, the three of us took the train down to Weinheim, the small town where he’d been stationed. With Darcy’s little bit of German and my ability with a map, we located the street where he’d been billeted. The town was never bombed and after the war lots of people found their way there. When he’d been there, the town had a population of maybe 4500 or 5000, and when we were there, there were probably 48,000 people. He was successful in locating where certain things had been. On our train ride back north, he pointed out places that had been important for one reason or another. Many times, he just spent time enjoying the landscape, the river, and the houses. The trip was only for a couple of weeks, but he talked about it for the rest of his life, remembering details and talking about all sorts of things. What a treasure to have experienced that with him.
For Christmas weekend, he and I flew to Athens. We walked up to the Acropolis, and I cherish the photo someone took of us standing in front of the Parthenon. I took him to eat in a taverna in Plaka, and he loved all the vegetables. Friends of mine met us for coffee at our hotel near Syntagma Square. And Dad was with me when a realtor picked us up to take me to see the apartment I was thinking of buying. After I purchased it months later, he enjoyed seeing photographs of the work I did in the apartment, proud that I took the time to paint it myself, that I managed to find furniture and get it delivered (negotiating in my limited Greek).
He’d come to the beach with me, and with Kay and me. It surprised him that he enjoyed it so much — but he found it very relaxing. He spent lots of time sitting on the deck, watching the surf a little bit away, drinking coffee — or lying down and reading.
Periodically we’d talk about road trips we’d like to take. We never did, though. Our trips were confined to the farm. The last couple of years he was alive, I did the driving, and he got a kick out of that. Frequently he’d compliment me on my driving skills, grinning that someone had taught me well (yes, he taught me – when I was 9). For the first time, he had the opportunity to enjoy the scenery while someone else drove. It was nice, he’d say, to have a chauffeur.
One spring, we flew to Reno. I rented a car and drove us to Lake Tahoe to a time share I’d bought. There was a late snow, and we spent much time in our room. Just watching the snow entertained him for hours, along with the snowplows clearing roads. Getting him to dialysis was another adventure — one day it was impossible because of the snow, but I managed to get him to a second dialysis day. His home clinic assured me that that would be fine.
As Dad became less able to travel, we simply sat at home in Egan, with short trips to Crowley for dialysis or shopping, occasionally spending time in hospitals. Even so, we traveled far and wide in memories, in conversations, and in imagination.
Dad was interested in so much. He loved to read. He watched television shows from PBS and History Channel. I don’t think he was ever bored. I know I’m not. Indeed, we’d often wonder how people could be bored when there was so much to know, to study, to see. Always curious and ready to learn, he probably would have enjoyed more traveling than he got to do. But he was happy with what he had seen.
Frequently I am reminded of Dad and his curiosity about new places, his wide-ranging interests. It’s not difficult to trace the genesis of my own itchy feet and love of learning.
H.T. was one of the most curious men I have met. I enjoyed reliving a few minutes with him this morning as I read your blog. My favorite uncle!