Hortense Davison - fondly called "Petie" - and her son, Jimmy, were packing to go to England for her Fulbright Scholarship to teach French when she said, "Sue, if you and the kids could come to England before this Fulbright is completed, you could bicycle and stay in youth hostels in England till our school is out, and then we could go across and tour on the continent."
We couldn’t afford it, but a chance like that might never come again in our lifetimes! Chub and I saw it as part of Nancy’s and Walt’s educational experience! We told our friend, Jean Cronan, that we were considering this plan and asked Petie and Jimmy about our including three more and renting a Volkswagen bus to do parts of France, Germany and Italy. All were agreeable to the plan. Our four boys and Nancy would be between the of ages 13 and 17 years; time has marched on!
Those youngsters are now: James Davison, gynecologist in Rolla; attorney Patrick Cronan of Columbia; attorney Michael Cronan of Kansas City; Nancy Gerard Russell, antiques dealer, teacher and grandmother of Columbia; Walt Gerard, working with people with special needs in Columbia.
Petie Davison passed away several years after that wonderful summer and, last Wednesday, in a minor blizzard, Nancy and I made our way to Vandalia to hug the Cronan boys and praise their dear mother, who died at age 83.
Happy memories flowed as we followed the hearse back to Columbia’s Memorial Cemetery for Jean Cronan’s burial beside her husband, Pat.
Nancy and I recalled that we sailed on Holland-American’s Ryndam, took only necessary luggage, rented bikes in England and that Chub flew over to meet us and drive the VW bus.
We recalled our new sports hats; when Jean finally threw hers - with golf tees - in the trash in England, a stranger grabbed it up for herself. Mine had fish flies. We recalled:
● Hiring a taxi to take us to a good place to get an English meal - and everyone ordered Chinese!
● On a bike ride, Patrick and Mike Cronan fell asleep on Brighton’s sunny beach; the police promptly located two American boys because one wore a bright red hat.
● Our rental bikes arrived after "lights out" at the youth hostel, but the warden unlocked the door for us after hours.
● Another warden had to teach Jean Cronan and me how to flush the old-fashioned pull-chain toilets. Youth hostels were clean, had reasonable rules, assigned each person housekeeping chores and charged reasonable overnight rates.
● In Germany a hotel keeper begged, "Please speak English!"
● A Paris policeman stopped us because I was driving the bus the wrong way on a one-way street. He thought Petie was a local pretending to be American - she spoke such good French.
A few years before our trip, Jean Cronan had organized a chapter of American Field Service in Vandalia and Al Blume, from Germany, entertained us in their home for a meal and a tour of his interesting ancient village. Al translated for us when we went through the 100 mile "closed Berlin corridor" and back! That gave us some scary moments.
So did our crossing from friendly Berlin through "Checkpoint Charlie" into West Germany, where cameras had to go down on command. Almost no explanation was given for what we were seeing. Chub was singled out, trembling, as he handed over all of his money - to an armed, less-than-pleasant German officer. The money was finally returned.
Was this tour an educational experience for those five youngsters? Yes! The greatest!