Saturday, 14 August 2010

Autobiographical Travel - Part II

If you wish, you can read Part I here. 

I married at 21, to an older man who was the 2nd of four sons.  One of the brothers was, in the late 70's, farming in Pond Creek, OK. His father-in-law owned most of northern Oklahoma, apparently. I can’t for the life of me remember the name though I heard it dropped often enough. Maybe it got broke.    

The eldest brother lived in Las Cruces, NM, a professor of mathematics at the university there. He’d worked at White Sands in the past and had once been the youngest professor at MIT at 26.  He was a nice man who was game to try and explain to me how he invested in the stock market; he clearly loved teaching.   The other brother wrote and produced advertising jingles and lived in Nashville (I don't have to tell you Tennessee, but I will just in case). We visited all those places at one time or another. However this last, the youngest, brother was the favourite and so most of our vacations were taken driving to and from Nashville with forays into the Deep South and parts of the Eastern seaboard.

I loved visiting ante bellum homes, though seeing the slave walls all around Nashville was very sad.  The other main thing I remember about Nashville is that the city is laid out with streets like spokes on a wagonwheel.   I have lost most of the souvenirs I collected but occasionally run across a postcard bought at Aunt Pitty Pat’s restaurant and the like. I remember the first time I was served iced tea in a Mason jar – what a novelty that was! Back then I thought any restaurant that had glass and brass finishings and lots of hanging green plants was the absolute height. 

We took a ride on a steamboat in Natchez, Mississippi, and visited the French Quarter of New Orleans (love the beignets, can’t stand the chickory coffee). The sea going ships in the port of New Orleans were so huge they made me dizzy and so rusty I couldn’t imagine trusting them, but they were painted with names of exotic foreign countries and I was dazzled.  This trip to New Orleans began on H-1's birthday, which was also the day I stopped smoking.  I ate a lot that week, and never more than at some of the posh restaurants we visited.

I remember the Charleston woman who showed us around a historic house on The Battery (an area between the Ashley and the Cooper Rivers) had an accent that sounded almost English to me at the time, though I doubt I would think that now. 

I went to the horse races for the first time at Louisiana Downs, near Shreveport.   Oklahoma City has had a racetrack at Remington Park for quite a while now, but sadly I've never been.  Nor have I ever visited Gosforth Park, though I keep meaning to.  I confess to not being big on gambling.

I was excited to see the beach on the Gulf of Mexico for the first time, at Biloxi, Mississippi, and Mom was excited for me.   Apparently Biloxi was the Padre Island of her high school days in Shreveport. In the event, it was not a pretty sight the morning after the 4th of July. Being determined, I kicked off my shoes, rolled up my jeans, stepped over the line of dead fish and waded ankle deep into the water, hoping not to step on anything sharp or squidgy. I called it my Gulf ‘swim’. 

Fortunately, I later experienced the Gulf at Galveston and absolutely fell in love with the pale green waves, sitting in the surf for hours, which resulted in a small black oil stain on the seat of my red bikini. I didn’t swim, being scared of sea critters, but I loved the waves and felt more relaxed there than I could ever remember since childhood. I was heart broken when step-son wanted to move on to Corpus Christi and we went.

I experienced deep sea fishing off Corpus, which was memorable, if not very productive on my part. Still being scared of critters and a bit frightened of the vastness of the water, I spent my time making sure I didn’t fall overboard.

Another thing I loved about the Deep South was the Spanish Moss on the trees.  It's really hard to decide what was the most wonderful about those travels:  the Gulf, the old houses, the fried food, or the Southern accents.  Folks here in England comment often on my accent, most recognising that it is vaguely southern.  Some have also accused me of being Canadian or Australian but, hey, I still have to think hard about whether I'm talking to a Scot or an Irishman, so I've no room to talk, so to speak (Ouch - is it harder to avoid puns or cliches here?).

We made it up to Montreal once. I remember waitresses who refused to speak English, which was fine by me; made it seem more foreign than ‘just’ Canada. Also a clothes shopping trip that was the best in my entire life to date. The sales girl – with French accent – pulled together outfits complete with belts and necklaces and fussed over me when I came out of the changing room, saying ‘blouson’. I spent $200, the most I’d ever dropped at one time in my life and wore those clothes till they practically fell apart. 

When we left Montreal we drove south, reaching New York City at about 2 am. He wanted to stay the night at the Algonquin and I’m sorry now that I didn’t take the opportunity. However, I’d seen all the graffiti, the gangs of kids, the nearly naked prostitutes and the man who tapped his dogs claws on my window to beg for money (I was so grateful the door was locked and told H-1 to run the red light!). 

I thought New York City was like the wild animal park near Ardmore, OK, where the tape recording said “Do not feed the animals. Do not get out of the car. A ranger will be along…” Convinced that if the car were left in the parking garage across the road it would be stripped by morning morning, and fearing we’d be murdered as we crossed to go into the hotel, I couldn’t get out of NYC quick enough. H-1 had been an actor in his younger days and had lived in the Stuyvesant area, which I gather was dreadful at the time, and so he was unfazed by all this, but he humoured me and we drove on to some suburb or other. That was in 1980, I think.

It’s also the year we visited a step-cousin or something in McLean, Virginia. I was rather awed at the beautiful and immaculate peach and cream furnishings in their townhouse and think I worried about getting anything dirty, or the like. Not that I didn’t shower daily or wear clean clothes, I just felt really out of my league. I obviously didn’t marry at all 'well', but it was an interesting family with a history of entrepreneurial wealth that had channeled elsewhere. It led to attitudes that included disappointment and pretension, but never mind. 

That will have been the same vacation where we visited Washington, D.C. Of course the Lincoln memorial is incredibly moving and I won’t ever forget that visit. I also remember spending a few days shuffling through several buildings in the Smithsonian, looking at First Ladies’ Inaugural ball gowns, the Hope diamond, green sapphires, purple emeralds (or something like that). Shuffling along for hours (even at 20-something) is harder work than running a marathon at 40-something, I can tell you.   Did you know that the Smithsonian Institute was started with a bequest from a British man who had never been to the US? 

Of course, we included Nashville in that 3,000 mile, 3-week vacation, the only 3 week holiday I ever had in the US. I’ve had another since living in the UK, but even over here where I had 6 weeks a year annual leave, 3 weeks off at a time is rare.  

And another 'of course' is that this travel was all by car.   He drove and I read or did cross-stitch.  It even got to where we selected our next car based on whether the overhead light would allow me to do needlework at night without impeding his vision.  Is that daft or what?

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