English: The Eiffel Tower.

The Eiffel Tower. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The summer I turned 19 was the last time I lived at home and the end of my parents’ nearly nine years in Texas. I started my sophomore year at Michigan State that fall. Within four months, I had met the boy I was to marry and my parents had moved to Georgia.

To be sure he was the one, I went to Switzerland the next summer, at the end of my 19th year, to study French. On the way there and back, I spent a total of five days in Paris. It was 1967.

I sent postcards back home. While I do not have copies of them, I can imagine what I might have said.

I deceived my boyfriend with my postcards. Though we had a tacit agreement that I might date while in Europe, I didn’t want him to know if or when, so I wrote him every day.

Dear Sweetheart,

Landed safely in Paris. The hard part was figuring out which train to take to get into the city. In a few days, I’ll be taking the train to Lausanne. Love you. C

My best friend, and roommate my sophomore year, had remarked, the first time I talked to my boyfriend on the phone, for three hours, that we must have had a lot to talk about, between midnight and three AM. I shared with her my excitement about my summer trip.

Dear Roomie,

Three days in Paris before going on to Lausanne! Two of the other Americans here for the summer and I went out to a sidewalk café and met some Parisian guys who wanted to practice their English. We all ended up going out disco dancing until 2 in the morning. The French are about 10 years behind us in rock and roll, but it was fun hanging out with them and practicing French. Roomie.

My grandmother started a bank account for me when I was a teenager that was designed to pay for me to go to Europe. I put most of my baby-sitting money into it in high school and emptied it the summer I went to Switzerland. Except for my father’s Army service in World War II in Brazil and a contest my mother won that took us to Mexico City for a week when I was in Junior High, I never knew my parents to travel outside the U.S. until we were all grown and gone. But, I knew they wanted me to travel.

Dear Mom and Dad,

$2.50 for what should be a 25-cent Coke at a local bar, but Paris is amazing. Went to the Louvre today. I could spend days there. Saw the Eiffel Tower, of course, and the Tuileries gardens – beautiful! Can’t believe I’m walking around in Paris! Love, Carol

Dear Sweetheart,

Even though I had a ticket, I had to stand up all the way from Paris to Lausanne, sitting on my suitcase part of the time. When I got to the apartment house with my room, my landlady wasn’t there, so I just had to sit on my suitcase until she got home, feeling sorry for myself on my birthday. But, here I am, in Switzerland for the summer! Love, Me

I kept a diary only intermittently when I was growing up, thinking my daily life boring. Now, I realize that boring then might be interesting now.

Dear Diary,

Someone in class today asked me where I was from. When I said “Dallas,” he said, “Oh, you killed Kennedy.” I said, “Well, not me personally. But, yes, he was killed in Dallas.” I did not tell them that I had friends who had gone to see his parade and returned to school only about 20 minutes before the announcement of his assassination.

Dear Diary,

Rode up on the elevator to class today, looking at the newspaper over someone’s shoulder. Tanks on the streets of Detroit?! I’ve never seen anything like it in an American city. It’s weird reading about events in America from another country.

Dear Mom and Dad,

I’m so glad you had me start French lessons in fifth grade, followed by a Parisian tutor. I’m still not fluent, of course, but when I speak, people assume my accent is European, not American – very flattering.

My classes have students from all over Europe and the school organizes weekend trips. I’ve been to a glacier in Switzerland and to Vienna, Austria. I met the father of one of my classmates and he asked me, “Which language would you like to use?” How cool is that?!

Dear Diary,

My American roommate in Lausanne was so organized that she had a three-week trip all planned out for us at the end of classes, traveling on a cheap $99 Eurotrail pass all over Europe.

Her family had hosted a German boy in high school and he invited us to come stay with him for five days in Berlin. It feels like spies are everywhere in this city. We went to a disco where we sat with some Americans studying German. One girl told me she learned so much more going to the disco at night that she finally stopped going to classes in the daytime.

When our bus was getting ready to go into East Berlin for a day trip, the driver made us give him all the magazines and newspapers from Europe or West Berlin so the East Berliners wouldn’t know what it was like in the West.

One of our fellow passengers asked our East Berlin guide, “Why did you build the Wall?” Her answer, “You can’t have a country without people.” We were shocked at her candor. So, you turn your whole country into a prison?!!! They ran mirrors under the bus just before we crossed back into West Berlin.

On the train coming back from Berlin, we met a couple of East German musicians. At first, they asked if they could sit with us because some other Americans were bothering them, asking what it was like to live in a Communist country. Acutely aware that such conversations might be reported, they declined to talk to them and moved to our car. Within minutes, they told us that the only reason they were allowed to travel in West Germany was because their families were back in East Germany, so they wouldn’t be likely to defect. Wow.

Dear Mom and Dad,

Coming home through Belgium, then Paris before flying home to NYC and back to Georgia for a few weeks before school starts. Met up with your old college roommate, Dad, who now works for NATO in Brussels. He gave us a lovely tour and lunch at NATO headquarters. See you soon. Love, Carol

Dear Roomie,

I feel like I just passed my final exam in French. When I got back to Paris, ready to get on a plane tomorrow for home, I was standing in a taxi line to get into the city. Someone tried to get into a cab that was already occupied and got out of the line. I tried to get the next cab, but then they got back in line in front of me and bumped me. At this point, a Parisian cop started noticing a commotion in the line, saw me, and told me to go to the back of the line. I explained what had happened and he let me have my place back in line. Talking down a Parisian cop – in French! See you soon. Roomie

Dear Sweetheart,

The summer’s almost over. Spent five days in Berlin, including a day trip through Checkpoint Charlie into East Berlin. I heard later that East Berliners try to buy jeans from Americans. Can’t wait to see you in New York City and share my adventures. Love, Me

The riots in Detroit in that summer of 1967 were a pre-cursor to the riots in Chicago around the Democratic National Convention the next summer in 1968, followed by the anti-Vietnam riots that culminated in the March on Washington, in 1969, and then the deaths at Kent State, in 1970. 18-year-olds were given the right to vote in national elections in 1972, so they could help elect or defeat a President who might send them to war. In 1973, the draft ended. In 1974, Nixon resigned, under threat of impeachment for his crimes covering up the break-ins at the Democratic National Committee headquarters in the Watergate hotel and Dr. Daniel Ellsberg’s psychiatrist’s office. Ellsberg had released the Pentagon Papers, detailing the rationale for and conduct of the war in Vietnam. The war in Vietnam ended in 1975. The Berlin Wall came down in 1989.

In 1972, Roomie surprised me by driving to Washington, DC and walking into a bar where I was celebrating my graduation from college, out of phase in August, and delayed by three years while I had followed my husband to his Army posts. Some years later, she participated in an aggressive clinical trial, but died of breast cancer in 1986, just shy of 40, leaving three young children. I drove to Michigan to wish her good-bye the night before she died.

My mother and father were preparing to celebrate 50 years of marriage when my father woke up one morning, mute from a hemorrhagic stroke in 1991. He was gone in four days, at 72. As several generations of men in his family had lived into their 90s, including one ancestor who died two months shy of his 100th birthday when he was run down by a bull, coming home across his neighbor’s farm, I was mad at my father for years for cheating us out of at least 20 years. My mother lived independently for 10 more years, until a stroke, when she was 83. She never lived alone again. She lived with me for two years, and then my brother for nearly six months before inoperable brain cancer took her, at 86.

My Sweetheart and I married the January after my summer in Switzerland, two days before he had to report to Basic Training to satisfy the draft. We’ve been married 48 years, have two sons, both married, and two grandchildren – a boy and a girl, cousins, now each nearly 10. I’ve never been back to Paris.