Mary and Charles Abroad

album page

October 1, 1968

The helicopter ride from Newark was sort of scary — a combination of a high-place feeling and of a small boat in heavy seas. But interesting, and I’m glad to have had the experience.

In 1968, my grandparents, Mary and Charles, took a helicopter from Newark to Kennedy Airport and then flew across the Atlantic for a few weeks in England and France. Mary kept careful notes, and Charles took photos everywhere they went. When they came home, someone (I’m guessing it was Mary) typed up the notes and put a photo album together, and the album is at my parents’ house in South Carolina, which is the last home that Mary and Charles lived in together.

I’ve known about this album since I can remember, because it’s the same color and size as the ones with all the baby pictures of my siblings and me, and the baby picture ones are the ones we wanted to look at. Growing up, I opened Nana and Papa’s album only for long enough to see that it wasn’t the one I was looking for, and then moved on. Boring photos of old houses.

When I found it again on a visit this summer, it was a revelation. I finally get it.

My grandfather was an architect, and it seems like his passion and professional curiosity drove a lot of their itinerary. His photographs, though fading now, are beautiful. I’d love to use them as a guide to plan a trip of my own someday. And my grandmother’s details and editorial comments are particularly delicious to me: the gardens, the hippies, the traffic, the “terrific pile of a house” that they visited. She reports thoroughly and thoughtfully on the food they ate and the plays they saw and the places they stayed. She had a bit of a sly sense of humor, which is evident in her comments and observations. And it sounds like a fun trip! One entry ends this way: “Another drink across the street from our hotel. The joint was jumping. Home about 1 a.m.”

Between Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and the rest of it, keeping a record of our days isn’t so unusual anymore. It’s an impulse that just about everyone succumbs to whenever there’s anything of the slightest interest to share.  Often when there’s nothing of interest to share.  (Case in point: this blog.) My grandparents album was — I think — meant just for them. It feels much more personal, and more meaningful for that.

Almost a decade after my grandmother’s death, I realize how clearly I can hear her voice in these notes. And my grandfather’s influence and interests (and his spiky handwriting) are here as well. More than just remembering them as my grandparents — elegant white-haired people who made delicious biscuits — this is almost a way to meet them as adults, now that I am one myself. Person to person: I think I would have liked them.

“Tonight we are staying in. We aren’t hungry and we have some chocolate. A fine day.” Nana, I agree. That sounds like a fine day.

3 thoughts on “Mary and Charles Abroad

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