Memory Lane: Travels With My Aunts

Image result for images of world map 1960

My mother’s unmarried sisters, Gertie, Millie, and Joan, lived in the same house all their lives, with their mother and father, and worked at the same jobs all their lives. You might think that was boring, but you’d be wrong: it freed them up to do what they really, really wanted to do.

What they did was travel. Not like travel is now, with everybody doing it, jet planes, computers, etc. We’re talking the 1950s and 60s, with propeller-driven airliners and luxury ocean liners. It was glamorous, back then. And very few people did it. But my aunts did it practically every year, usually in the summer, and there wasn’t much of the globe they didn’t cover.

They started out seeing America, places like Yellowstone Park and the Grand Canyon, then Canada and Alaska, back when Alaska was an exotic destination. Before it was a state. By the time they were done, they’d been to Central America, Egypt (where Millie had a bout of claustrophobia inside the Great Pyramid–imagine that!), Norway, Iceland, England, Spain, Italy, East Africa (lunch at The Black Cat Cafe in Uganda: not for the faint-hearted), South America, and Australia (where Gertie declined to hold the koala). They always brought back slides, boxes and boxes full of slides, and souvenirs. And they were much in demand as speakers at their churches. I think the only places that they didn’t go to were places that you weren’t allowed to go to, back then, like Russia or China.

I can’t stress this enough: back then, nobody was traveling like that–nobody but professional travel writers. And these three little maiden ladies from a small town in New Jersey. They could’ve easily hosted a TV show. But they liked their lives the way they were–stable, peaceful, and Christian… and seasoned with a hearty tablespoon of worldwide travel. A lot of us would have called that “adventure.” But for my aunts, it was just the way they liked to live.

13 comments on “Memory Lane: Travels With My Aunts

  1. These days, traveling to at least some of those places would probably not be safe, especially for a group of single ladies. In spite of the very legitimate anxieties of the Cold War, the world was much more secure between the World Wars and after WW II, than it is today.

    I’ve never traveled much. I’ve driven across parts of Saskatchewan and Manitoba and ventured into a couple of border towns in Mexico, but that’s it. I haven’t been to Mexico in over 17 years and have no interest in going, considering the instability of our times.

    Canada was lovely and the people were quite nice, but that was the Canada of the early ’70s; I don’t know what it’s like there in these days. I recall driving over a very decorative bridge in Regina, Saskatchewan and thinking that it looked like something I’d expect to see in Switzerland. At least at the time of my visit, they took pride in their community.

  2. What a wonderful peaceful and blessed life! To do such things, especially in some of the places they went, wouldn’t be a possibility today. The state of he world is too unstable. They lived at just the right time 🙂

  3. When I was a young single woman, I wanted to travel like your aunts. I enjoyed reading travel stories I’d come across in magazines like Nat’l Geographic or Reader’s Digest. I loved looking at photos taken by others who’ve traveled to places I’ve never been to – yet! And I cherish the memories of those few opportunities where I eagerly alighted on a foreign shore, open to learning and experience.

  4. Implicit in this lovely article is something I used to tell my students (college level) when they were bemoaning the absence of “fulfilling” jobs once they graduated. I told them that for a long time, most people took it for granted that their jobs were for putting food on the table, not for “fulfilling” themselves, and that they’d do their “fulfilling” things in their spare time, with what they’d earned on their jobs. I also tried to point out that in this way they’d actually have more freedom to decide what kinds of “fulfilling” things they wanted to do, and how many of them.

    I don’t know whether I ever convinced any of them, even after giving examples from my own life (college teaching was my third career) and from those of my relatives, who, like yours, did very exciting things while holding very “boring” jobs.

    1. I was mighty sore when I came out with a Political Science degree and no such thing as a really swell job for people who had Political Science degrees. It wasn’t long before I was flipping hamburgers.

      What I didn’t understand at the time, and I’d be astounded if college students understood it now, was that you don’t start out at the top; you start out at the bottom, and over the years, you rise.
      As for landing a “fulfilling job”–well, you can do it, but that takes more work than any 20-year-old can possibly imagine.

    2. Political Science is the very definition of a B.S. degree. 🙂

      (Sorry, I couldn’t help myself.)

      The sad thing is, these colleges are profiteeering from selling degrees with no future prospects of employment. They’ve done outsmarted themselves.

    3. Then again, I am an official and bona fide expert on international relations during the Viking Age. That’s gotta count for something.

    4. Something, but I’m not certain what.

      I recently was talking with a fellow that has a master’s in a subject that limits his employment opportunities greatly. It may have been worth something in the past, but has become overpopulated with over-educated, under-experienced people.

      Anyhow, he was gassing on about the worthlessness of trade schools, and I reminded him that trade school graduates can earn a handsome income these days. I didn’t bother to remind him that most of the people with his particular degree end up asking: “do you want fries with that?” at some point in their careers.

      I value education, but the public schools and colleges have lost my confidence completely, these days. I had several outstanding teachers whom I appreciate greatly, but overall, the public schools let me down, confined me for roughly 6-7 hours per day and taught me very little (considering the number of years I was confined in a school room, bored out of my mind) and was a waste of time. I could have learned almost all of what they taught me in, perhaps, two years.

    5. That being said, I’m glad the college environment was available for C.S. Lewis. It would have been a terrible waste of human resources to have him selling vacuum cleaners door to door.

      For those few individuals who love scholarship and thrive in that environment, college is worth preserving. As an institution, though, it needs to be cut down to about 10 percent of its present size. America needs a lot few universities and a lot more trade schools.

    6. It’s become a sell-job. The colleges have convinced a great number of people that they are essential for any endeavor. I can see it for some things. Aeronautical engineers, for instance, can’t afford to learn by trial and error, so they require some very specific education. The problem divides into two branches, at this point.

      1) Colleges offer degrees in Underwater Basket Weaving and some people are gullible enough to think that such a degree will be of value in the future.

      2) Even serious degrees, now carry requirements for frivolous subjects, thus keeping the Underwater Basket Weaving professors off the bread line. I recently heard of a Computer Science major that switched his major after two years, because in the first two years he had been required to take classes that had no relevance to computers and had, in two years, taken but one computer related class. It was truly laughable, but it suregave job secure to professors of subjects holding marginal value.

      Also, this same person explained to me that he encountered several professors whom spoke English poorly and had nearly indecipherable accents.

      As the storm could of war gathered in Europe in the thirties, De Beers realized that their market would suffer disruption, so they decided to cultivate a market for their diamonds in the U.S. They did this by promoting the notion of diamond engagement rings and provided such to famous movie actors in Hollywood so that their would be plenty of publicity photos with a nice shiny diamond ring visible to movie fans. Up to that time, diamond engagement rings were not common in the U.S. and rarely, if ever, made it into the realm of the middle class.

      But their promotion, which is ongoing, came to equate diamonds with love. Finding the soil of American consumerism fertile, they actually had the temerity to suggest that an engagement ring should cost one month’s salary. When they somehow managed to sell a gullible public on that ridiculous notion, they decided to double down and convinced people that the ring should cost two month’s salary. If I was a young guy in love with a young woman and could spare two month’s salary, I think I would express my love by using that money as a down payment on a house, which would come in very handy as a financial anchor, whereas a ring will quickly reduce to the wholesale value of the diamond (usually a fraction of the sale price) and the value of the gold in the ring.

      The parallel with the business of college education strikes me as obvious. It’s the same slight of hand; if you want a real career you need our product, a degree. Much like equating a diamond to love, the degree is equated to employability without question. Much like the diamond, the true value of a college education may well prove to be a fraction of the sales price.

      If I could find a college that operated as colleges operated in my father’s day (B 1916), I would see the value. My father’s higher education was interrupted by WW II and he never finished thereafter, but the foundation laid was was solid. Even without finishing school, his grasp of electrical engineering was impressive. But that was the state of education in the forties, and things have deteriorated significantly since then.

    7. My Uncle Ferdie, my father’s kid brother, worked for RCA and had a slew of patents to his name. He could practically build a TV set from scratch. And all without a single day in college.

    8. Precisely. Leo Fender created guitar amplifier designs that are standard bearers 50-70 years later, and did so without a college education. He also created the first viable, marketable electric bass guitar and his basic concept has been the standard for about 65 years now. You’ve probably heard a Fender P-Bass (Precision Bass) more than any other bass instrument, if you listen to anything except classical music.

      BTW, Leo Fender also created the first viable, marketable solid body electric guitar in the late forties, in what came to be called the Telecaster, and once again, you’ve heard one thousands of times, especially if you listen to any Country music.

      All that he knew about music was the fact that he liked the Country music which followed the depression era settlers from Oklahoma and Texas into Southern California, and he made instruments and amplifiers for that purpose. He started from a radio repair shop in Fullerton, CA and built a huge business which flourishes even today.

      It almost went under when the CBS network bought it in 1965 and applied all of their college educated managers to the task of improving the business. By 1979, CBS owned Fender was a laughing stock and their overpriced guitars were too heavy and of poor quality. They were saved by a buyout in 1982, which left the owners with intellectual property, but little in the way of physical assets. The business flourished once again, when they went back to Leo Fender’s original concepts and they literally bought old instruments to reverse engineer into new production versions.

      Leo Fender may have had some training in radio repair, but most of his genius was the result of hard work and not fearing a bit of dirt under his fingernails. They should be teaching him in college.

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