While waiting recently in an airport I fell into casual conversation with a couple waiting for their plane. The wife asked me if I'd ever been to Europe. When I said I had, she began a long, enthusiastic account of their recent nine weeks' tour of Europe in their camper.
Just as if she were reeling off a list of items from a catalogue, she told me the name of every country, city, town and village they'd gone through, every mountain pass they'd crossed and every river or lake they'd seen.
And that was it.
Somehow, her recital made me sad for all they had missed. They had indeed been in foreign countries, but like the hermit crab or turtle who carries his home on his back, so had they. They had been to Europe but they had not experienced the real pleasure and satisfaction of travel; they had not experienced different cultures and met different people to discover in pleasant, easy encounters how they live, what makes their country different from others, and from ours.
It used to be said that travel broadens, and I am sure it does. But it also enriches one's life in a special way as I well know after a lifetime of travel across my own country into all 50 states, visiting all the continents except Antarctica, and living in more countries than I can count.
I've been around the world several times, and I wouldn't take a million dollars for the blessings travel has given me, as it has enriched my life in every way.
I think I must have been born with the urge to travel firmly implanted in me. And I began early when, as a tiny girl, my grandfather would lift me aboard the horse-drawn trolley on a ride from river to river across Manhattan, pointing out the sights and telling me about everything he saw so that I'd be aware of it too.
The Polo Grounds
Later, we used to go together on the open trolley to the Polo Grounds where grandfather rooted for his favorite baseball team, the New York Giants. Sometimes we would vary the route by going on the elevated trains.
I loved the "L" because I could peer into the windows of houses as we sped by and see all kinds of interesting sights--a woman kneading dough, another watering the geraniums in her window boxes, and once in a while a woman holding up a small child to wave to me, or so I thought.
When I was older I often went with my aunts to visit friends of theirs in New Jersey. We'd go on the "L" but only to 125th Street where we would alight, go downstairs and board a ferry to cross the Hudson. On the Jersey side there was a trolley we'd take, and then hold our breath as it began its winding climb up a precipitous cliff. It gave us a magnificent view of the river we had just crossed.
Then, finally, we were at the peak and on our way to Fort Lee. I remember late spring evenings so well when we came home soon after dusk, our arms laden with lilacs from the garden of the generous women we had visited. I often had an extra bonus of some homemade coffeecake and sometimes a little watercolor sketch, for one of them was a talented artist.
As a girl I walked all over Manhattan from the Battery to Central Park, all the while making plans for my travel abroad when I came of age. Often on summer days I would go up to the roof of our family house after school and sit with my back against the chimney watching the big liners pull out of their piers and sail down river to the open sea and across to Europe. I vowed I'd be on one of them one day myself.
But to make that possible I had to have the wherewithal. Grandfather was gone and could not encourage my adventurous spirit nor help me financially, but I wanted to do it myself anyway. It was then that I managed to get myself into the newspaper business.
While I was working on an Upstate New York paper I made my first flight in an open biplane. It was a World War I Curtis Jenny, as they were affectionately called by their pilots who flew the first transcontinental mail in them.
Experience and Money
When I had accumulated the experience and money I needed I realized the first part of my dream, I sailed for Cherbourg aboard the luxurious White Star liner Olympic. It was a memorable journey for me because the time changes enabled me to understand just how far away Europe was.
At Cherbourg I found myself in a completely different kind of railway car, and as I arrived in Paris and settled into the inexpensive hotel I'd arranged to live in, I knew I was in a different world.
Luckily, I found a job as soon as I arrived, in the office of Floyd Gibbons, the editor of the Paris edition of the Chicago Tribune, thanks to a bit of forethought and a letter of introduction from a New York editor.
Gibbons was the war correspondent of World War I who had lost an eye at Chateau Thierry when he went into battle with the Marines. He must have recognized in me a kindred spirit because he hired me at once.