Friday, April 29, 2022



                        Chapter 19

We had been away from home for six months on what had been at best a loosely-organized overseas odyssey. In the beginning Ashley Close had felt like a new and foreign place. By now it was feeling like home. We were starting the new year by putting the first phase of our adventure behind us. It was time to create what came next.

What prompted that change in emphasis and direction was the state of Gil’s writing. For four months he had spent hours....sometimes long hours, sometimes not-so-long....sequestered in our tiny master bedroom creating the story that would become Forever Starts Now

By the time Bob and Janet arrived to spend the holidays with us the story’s handwritten first draft, along with the beginnings of a typed manuscript, resided in a pair of spiral-bound notebooks, a sixty-seven thousand word trek into a slightly dark tale he never quite understood, but was proud to have completed.

And with the long-awaited “The End” came a kind of release. The need, the urge, or perhaps the excuse of having to write had been lifted. There was still the matter of finishing a typed manuscript, but that could be done a few hours at a time over the next month or two. In the meantime there was our constantly evolving day-to-day Winchester life to be lived.

As it turned out, for a time both Roma and Gil were in a typing mode, sharing our portable typewriter. While Gil was completing a finished copy of his story, typing a chapter at a time, Roma had been enlisted to do some typing of her own.

We were getting to know the Berrys, John and Eileen, better. What had begun as a casual acquaintance, the result of our sons becoming pals, had grown into a closer friendship. Since we had never been an overly-social couple their company was a nice change of pace....expanding our opportunities to experience Winchester as locals.

In the process Roma was getting better acquainted with Eileen Berry. The lady was unlike anyone we had ever known. She was largely unschooled, a genuine Cockney, with an “I don’t care what you think about me” bluster that put some people off. More than that, she was perhaps the most artistic and creative person we had ever met. She sculpted and painted, and most surprising of all, the lady wrote poetry....lots of poetry, much of which we never could understand.

In fact, it was Eileen’s poetry that brought her and Roma together, while providing Roma, who had once taught middle-school English, with a challenge unlike any she had ever faced. 

It began the morning when Eileen phoned to ask Roma if she could come visiting. That was a first.... a bit unexpected, but welcome. With Gil locked away in the bedroom typing his story, a quiet conversation over a cup of tea sounded like a pleasant possibility.

Eileen, however, had something particular in mind. That became obvious when she set the folder of loose pages on the dining-room table....each sheet covered with scrawled, handwritten lines. It was a stack of poems, and what she needed was a proof reader and typist to create a finished copy of each one. Roma, ever the helpful and compliant one, listened to Eileen’s request and said “Yes.” She was willing to lend a hand. By then Eileen was grinning with relief.

Having offered her promise of help, Roma’s next step was to read one of the poems and be sure she understood what Eileen wanted. In a matter of seconds she realized that would not be as easy as she expected.

In truth, our Winchester poetess friend was a thinker and creator....but not a student. Her handwriting was largely illegible, which left Roma guessing what the next word might be. That supposedly simple task was further complicated by Eileen’s spelling skills, or lack thereof. 

Sometimes she spelled a word phonetically. Occasionally she settled on what “looked right.” No matter what her approach, she was always creative. Contractions were sometimes missing altogether. Punctuation was simply absent. Whole poems might run from beginning to end without a period, comma, or question mark.

Over the next couple weeks the two of them visited several times to be sure things were going per plan. Finally Roma completed what she understood to be step one of her task....editing, rewriting, and adding punctuation to each poem, then creating a handwritten copy for Eileen's approval.....from which she would produce a typed version.

It seemed that everything was in order....until Eileen noted that she wanted all that confusing punctuation removed. In her eyes those periods and commas were impediments that interrupted the flow of ideas. 

By the time Roma delivered the finished typewritten copies of Eileen's poems the two of them had become great friends. Her efforts would be rewarded a year later when Eileen sent us a copy of her first collection of poems, a small volume of which she was immensely proud. It would be the first of three that now grace our bookshelf.

Additionally, to show their appreciation, Eileen and John invited the two of us to share a special night out with them....a music hall sing-along at the White Horse pub on Romsey Road, which happened to be owned by John Berry’s father, Fred. It was a memorable night of great company and good music....with Eileen belting out old-time favorites in a really good voice.

We would visit our Winchester friends again in 1978, reliving those good times. On that occasion Peter and Allison Edmonds hosted our family, along with Gil’s parents and a pair of Adam and Marc’s friends, for a very enjoyable meal in their smallish home. 

The next night the Berrys treated the two of us and Gil’s folks to an elegant and unforgettable French dinner at a swanky restaurant in the New Forest. To make the occasion even more special John Berry chauffeured us there in his “new” Rolls Royce.  

For John, buying that somewhat-used Rolls Royce was the fulfillment of a life-long dream. Unfortunately, his prize was destined to cause more trouble than he expected. 

By the 1970s English class warfare was normally a subtle, largely-unseen thing, mainly because the classes....upper crust and lower crust....seldom mixed. But when a lower-crust bloke like John, who lived in a lower-crust neighborhood like ours, was thought to be putting on airs by driving a Rolls Royce, some of his neighbors were apparently offended.

By the time we had returned, a few months after he bought the car, he had endured several instances of rocks being thrown at the car as he drove through his own part of town. Yet, no matter how his neighbors reacted, he was proud as punch of his new wheels. When we drove us to the New Forest for dinner he insisted that the six of us go in his Rolls. 

Two of us would have been comfortable in the back seat. Three would have been snug, but doable. With the four of us scrunched together, the twenty mile drive was something of an ordeal. Yet the restaurant, the meal, and the good company made it all worthwhile. 

The way they kept us in stitches, John and Eileen could have been a comedy team. It’s hard to remember another time when we laughed so hard.... loud and long enough to have neighboring diners turning to see what was so funny.

By the time we returned to Winchester in 1998 our back-fence neighbors, the Morgans, had long-since immigrated to Canada. We did, however, have  visits with the Edmonds, Berrys and Browns.

Sadly, in 2005 John Berry passed away, leaving Eileen on her own. By then she had represented the Harestock area on the Winchester City Council for several years, a role that continues to this day. The lady was not upper crust by any means. But she was a fighter, who was willing to stand up for her constituents, so they kept returning her to office. 

And then, forty years after we first met her, came the most remarkable and surprising piece of our Eileen Berry connection. We had known her in her early-thirties. For decades we exchanged Christmas cards, prompting an annual challenge to see if we could decipher her message. We visited her and John on two occasions during that time, and always enjoyed our time with them.

What we could not have known then was that in 2014 Eileen’s long tenure as a member of the Winchester City Council would earn her the honor of serving a year-long term as Lord Mayor of Winchester, an ancient and honorable office with a history extending back to the 1200s. Clearly our Cockney friend had won the respect and affection of her constituents. During her term our son Adam, and his family, visited Eileen in her ceremonial chambers. Their photograph with Her Honor seemed to complete a most unlikely circle.


Meanwhile, back at Ashley Close, it was February, 1973 and the Stewart clan was reaching for new heights of sociability. Amy and Rachel Edmonds were exchanging luncheon visits nearly every week, trading off between the Edmonds home and ours. At some point Rachel's mother, Allison, had come up with the idea of scheduling the two best friends for a professional photography session to create portraits of them, along with Terry. 

The session took place in our living room and before it was done we were not at all sure the poor guy was going to pull it off. He was a dour fellow, short on personality, who was having a hard time coaxing the “looks” he wanted from the youngsters. Only when Gil starting throwing Terry into the air did the girls loosen up enough to produce the desired result.

On the sporting front Gil, Adam, and Marc took in a football (“soccer” to us Yanks) match between the Winchester town team and another local side. The crowd was small and the level of play not too impressive, but they could say we had been there. A few weeks later the three of them spent a Saturday night watching amateur boxing matches at the Winchester Guild Hall. Again, the participants were not top notch, but seriously enthusiastic. Many of the young men had local followings, making for a loud raucous crowd.

And of course there was Gil’s great winemaking experiment. The kit we had bought at Boot’s Pharmacy the previous autumn had promised to create a gallon of “fine wine.” Somewhere in the fine print must have been the usual disclaimer.... "Just follow the simple instructions.” 

Though Gil could not imagine where he had gone so wrong, the proof was in the jug....a gallon of bitter, foul-tasting vinegar. So much for the little old winemaker.

Then, on a bright February Sunday, the whole family piled into the Ford and set out for what felt to us like a journey into the rarified air of high least relative to Ashley Close. 

Alcoa Aluminum Company was a major supplier to the family business in Salem. Our Alcoa Sales Rep, Ralph West, who Gil knew well, had arranged for us to meet a friend of his, Ed Arnes, who had been assigned to Alcoa’s British subsidiary.

When we first heard about a possible meeting with Ed we were not sure what that meant. We soon found that it involved an invitation to Sunday dinner at the Aren’s home at Great Missenden, which we learned was an upscale London suburb, where nothing looked like Ashley Close. We arrived that afternoon to find a classy home, set in the midst of classy, park-like grounds, in a very classy neighborhood. Fact was, we were totally outclassed.

Our hosts were pleasant as could be. The dinner was delicious and their company cordial. Still, though Ed and Gil had a few things they could talk about, none of us could get beyond an awkward uneasiness. 

We shared experiences about the life of a Yank family in England. But truth be told, the family of a highly-paid Alcoa executive was living a very different life than the Stewarts of Ashley Close. We drove home that afternoon knowing we had seen how the other half lived.

Wednesday, April 27, 2022



                                  Chapter 18

By most any measure our continental trek had been a success. We had experienced Europe up-close and seen sights we had only read and heard about. True, it was sometimes cold and chaotic, and occasionally hurried. But we had seen what we set out to see. Though it was nice to be home, we were feeling good about what we had accomplished.

Then, a day or two after our return, Bob and Janet stepped forward with their own thoughts on travel in England and Europe. They assured us that they had enjoyed their time with us....but the pace of it, the having to put up with unfamiliar and inferior ways of doing things, had worn them out. They were weary and homesick. Rather than spend another week with us in Winchester, as they had planned, they wanted to leave sooner.

Though we were not sure what we could have done differently, we were scolding ourselves for not having noticed their apparent distress. Still, we had done most of what we had hoped to do with them, so we agreed to move things ahead a few days and prepare for their departure. 

A couple phone calls secured the change in airline tickets they wanted. With that our last fling together, a day-long tour of London, was rescheduled, as well as a one-night hotel stay in one of Arthur Frommer’s London economy hotels.

With those arrangements made there was a last minute rush of packing....including choices to be made, like which ashtrays to leave behind. A couple of our Winchester friends stopped in to say their goodbyes, and with that we made our early-morning drive to London.

Like Paris, England’s capital was a very large, very fragmented city....filled with sights we wanted to see. We had been promising the children and ourselves the opportunity to “do-the-town,” and now was our chance. 

But like Paris, London was not a place that Gil was willing to drive the eight of us around, from sight to sight. The subway system, the Tube, was efficient and fast. But it also required a lot of walking, hurrying from one platform to the next. Janet in particular, was not up to any more of that. We had to find a better way to see the city.

And we did. Hiring a taxi for five or six hours was not cheap. Yet by leaving the car and our luggage at the hotel we were able to wedge everyone into a single cab. (They had a row of fold-down, back-facing seats for such occasions.) Best of all, we had an experienced chauffeur, who knew his way around town....what sights to see and when to see them. And all the while, as we drove from one place to another he provided a running commentary on the neighborhoods we were passing through. It was an ideal way to see London for the first time.

The plan was to show Bob and Janet the highlights of London before they left. But in fact it was also our first serious attempt to see it for ourselves. We began with the one event dictated by the clock. Everyone knew about the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace. We had to be there in time to see that....and we were.

Unfortunately, what we saw was something less than we expected. On that morning the Queen’s Guard, in all their red and black, fur-hat finery, were not on duty. Rather, a troop of Indian Gerka soldiers were changing places with another Gerka group. 

Instead of the tall, stiff-stepping guards we were expecting to see, the Gerkas, who averaged perhaps five-foot six in their khaki uniforms and flat hats, performed the precise and intricate Guard Changing maneuvers. It was an impressive demonstration of close-order drill, yet there was no denying our disappointment. It felt as though we were watching the second string do its thing.

From the Palace we walked a couple blocks down Whitehall Street to check out the famous Horse Guards. There, mounted on his horse in front of a gate, the Guard in his red and black uniform and his mount remained stoic and unflinching in the presence of milling tourists intent on disturbing their concentration.

We walked back to Downing Street, the block-long side street where Number Ten is home to the Prime Minister. Though we were not among his regular callers, with a nodding smile the Guard on duty motioned for Amy and Terry to come stand beside him for a picture in front of that famous doorway.

It was a short taxi ride from Downing Street to Westminster Abby. As one of the city’s premier sights we had been warned about its long lines and mobs of tourists. Luckily the mid-winter crowd was small and did not hold us up at all. 

Once inside, however, we faced a different sort of problem. There was so much history....too much history, more history than we wanted to know about. We viewed the famous Coronation Chair, a centuries old relic of the royal tradition, then wandered through the Poet’s Corner, recognizing a few of the many names. After half an hour we had seen enough.

Fortunately, the Tower of London would prove a more attractive attraction for everyone. The mere sight of the huge stone fortress declared it to be medieval. We joined a small group of visitors following a costumed Beefeater guide, who explained the colorful history that surrounded us as we strolled the grounds. How could we top a place that featured its own “beheading block” in the front yard....where a real queen and several others had met their fate? Now that was real history.

The Tower was exceptional in other ways. For months Adam, Marc, Amy, and Terry had been marched around a great deal of European history, some of it important, some incidental....but little of it the sort of thing that would excite a youngster. Not so the Tower’s extensive display of medieval armor. 

There they were, deep in the heart of a stone fortress, in a long hallway lined with standing figures clad in metal armor and chain mail. Long before, real men had put on that same shiny protection and ridden from that same place to perform their knightly duties. How could you get more real than that?

There were also large, double-edged swords, as long as the children were tall. And finally, life-like displays of metal and chain armor for the knight’s horse....curved and shaped to cover the animal’s face, sides, and flanks. We could only wonder at what sort of heroic mount it would take to carry the weight of a rider and all that accumulated metallic protection into battle. 

Yet by the time we left the Tower Adam and Marc had latched onto a more obscure bit of history that our Beefeater guide had passed on to them. The Tower itself sits on the banks of the River Thames, surrounded on the other three sides by a broad, now-dry moat. In its heyday (think 1200 to 1400) the moat had a defensive role to play, as well as serving as the royal cesspool, receiving sewage from the Tower and the surrounding neighborhood.

In a clever bit of engineering, the moat had been constructed to allow high tides on the river to flood the wide ditch. Then, when the tide retreated the escaping water washed the foul-smelling waste into the river, flushing it downstream to the English Channel. 

By all accounts the systems worked well, at least until, over time, the river levels slowly dropped and tidal inflows into the moat became less frequent. Apparently no one had to be told what was happening. The stench of the unflushed moat was apt to spread over half the town.

By the time our guide had explained the Tower’s ancient dilemma, complete with nose-holding gestures, the boys were thoroughly impressed with that piece of historical sight and smell.

From the Tower we drove to the London Guildhall, a gilded, ornate reminder of a much earlier time. We walked through the cavernous meeting hall as it was being prepared for some exclusive civic event. 

Then, having paid our respects to that piece of history, we moved on to a bit of Charles Dickens fluff....the absolute height of London tourism....The Old Curiosity Shoppe. Though the crooked old building dates from the sixteenth century, the name dates from the late 1800s....after the publication of Charles Dickens highly-successful novel of the same name. We did our duty in a modest way, buying a few “curious” souvenirs to remember our visit.

The next morning, after a last English breakfast with Bob and Janet, we were on the road again, now in our trusty Ford wagon. Once out of London proper a short side trip took us to Windsor, a majestic old town with an even more majestic castle. There was no time for a castle tour, so we settled for a slow drive through the sprawling castle grounds, enough to give us a feel of a real-life, modern-day royal home.

Shortly before noon we pulled into the parking area at Heathrow Airport, taking special care to determine exactly where we left the Ford. The parking grounds seemed to go on forever, and we had read about unfortunate drivers who had spent hours trying to locate their misplaced vehicle. Having made the appropriate notes we started off toward the terminal, carrying their luggage, including Janet’s suitcase....doing our best to ignore the occasional clanging of glass ashtrays banging against each other.

It had begun as something of an experiment, having Roma’s parents join us for our European adventure, seeing the sights from the cramped confines of our station wagon. It was a lot to ask of folks nudging seventy, but they had accepted the challenge and been productive members of our slightly-scruffy troupe. Still, by the time we walked them through the airport to board their flight to the States, they were ready for a return to their own form of normal.

Monday, April 25, 2022




                           Chapter 17

The next morning, after a hard-roll and coffee breakfast, we were on the road....ready to trade the crowded streets of Paris for a long drive through the French countryside. It was Saturday morning, two days before Christmas. Parisian shoppers were out in force and the always-crazy traffic was even more insane than usual.

We dealt with that congestion by driving west, out of the city-center towards the suburbs, until we came to the first of the multi-lane “Ring Roads” that circled the city. Once on that thoroughfare, away from the gridlock of city traffic, it was simply a matter of driving clockwise through the sprawling suburbs until we came to the route that turned toward the north of the country, and beyond to Belgium.

The clear, still-cold day was just right for some slow-paced long as we were in the car. Before long we ventured off the main road to explore secondary routes and smaller villages. All the while our younger passengers were growing more anxious for our Christmas Eve in Lille. But first there would be a night at Saint Quentin....a forgettable, but inexpensive hotel, coupled with a forgettable dinner.

By the time we pulled up in front of our Lille hotel the next afternoon, everyone’s spirits were high and growing higher. After five nights of “economy” accommodations we were checking into a Holiday Inn, that iconic American name that promised the feel of home. There would be comfortable beds, hot showers, television, a first-class US style restaurant, and a swimming pool. It had the feel of a Christmas dream come true. 

Our Christmas Eve accommodations would have everything a hotel should have....except people. For reasons we never did understand the place was nearly empty. In our wing of the building our two rooms were the only ones occupied. It was a bit eerie, but surrounded by all that comfortable luxury we did not complain.

Moving into our spacious rooms that afternoon involved more than our normal “grab your suitcases and go inside.” From the car-top storage rack we unloaded sacks of Christmas presents, everything that had been sent to us from home, as well as what we had added. Because of our travel plans we had requested small, compact gifts, which worked out just fine.

Roma had bought a tiny, thirty-inch tall collapsible Christmas tree for the occasion. When we cleared off the night stand between our two beds there was just enough room for the tree. Once we decorated it with a few baubles and stacked the presents around the table we had a very festive holiday centerpiece.

While Roma, Gil, and the children headed for the pool Bob and Janet were settling in just across the hall from our room. In the process they found that their bed was broken. So they stayed in their room while a hotel maintenance man repaired the damage. Though the work was done quickly and the result was acceptable, Janet’s reaction was predictable. Since everything European was naturally inferior, what else should they have expected? 

After a very nice Holiday Inn dinner, selected from menus that everyone could read, we returned to our rooms. There, in the empty hallways, we left the doors to both our rooms wide open so we could go back and forth as we wished. 

Before long, having brought a pair of chairs from Bob and Janet’s room, we were gathered around our Christmas tree, ready to open presents. The adults were seated along the wall and the children sat on the edge of the beds. Though it was a bit crowded and cramped, what followed was undoubtedly one of the most memorable motel-room Christmas any of us had ever experienced.

The next morning, as we were packing to leave, trying to bring order to a roomful of chaos, we were a bit surprised to learn that Grandma Janet was something of a collector. 

In that era every hotel room was equipped with several ash trays, many of them bearing distinctively ornate advertisements for products we had never heard of. Apparently they had caught her eye. For the rest of the trip she seldom left a hotel without at least one souvenir of her stay. Before long the bag she had bought to carry her treasures was about all Bob could manage.


It would be a hard thing....accomplishing a continental tour in a matter of two weeks, in the dead of the coldest winter in years. Fortunately our tourist group consisted of “sightseers,” not “history buffs.” Museums and galleries were not on our itinerary. We were taking photos, looking for scenic landscapes and picturesque buildings and villages. We could do most of that from the warmth of the car. Actually, the need for an extended walk was enough to disqualify most attractions.

One exception to that rule was Bruges, in western Belgium. We spent a couple hours there on the way to our Antwerp hotel. Though it was an incredibly historic old town, we focused instead on the twisting streets and canals, lined with beautiful old buildings. 

After a while, having had our fill of the cold, we ducked into an arcade for a cup of hot chocolate and a chance to warm up. About then Roma spotted a men’s hat shop across the way. That was just what Gil needed, she decided. A few minutes later, having learned that the stylish hat store did not carry hats that large, she gave up and we started back to the car park.

That afternoon it was Roma’s turn to be surprised. For years she had collected fans....dozens of fans. And ever since she was a little girl she had wanted a Belgium lace fan, like the one her Aunt Winnie had. Before we left Bruges Janet bought Roma a beautiful Burges-lace fan as a surprise. It was the perfect gift, and Roma was thrilled. Sadly, by the time we returned to Winchester it had been lost....nowhere to be found. Apparently it had been thrown out with the trash at some point.

From Bruges we skirted the south edge of Brussels to visit the Waterloo Battlefield and Memorial, where  forces led by the English Duke of Wellington defeated Napoleon’s once-invincible army. We strolled along the base of the impressive Lion’s Mound, the mountain-like monument to Wellington’s great victory. After a visit to the always-present souvenir shops we continued on to Antwerp.


A European tour planned by someone who has never been there, (except for three nights in Holland), which relied so heavily on our old friend, Arthur Frommer, was bound to miss some the most important and impressive sights and attractions. That was certainly true for us. With our compact station wagon jammed full of travelers from one to sixty-nine, and the winter cold limiting our interest in extended walks, we were usually willing to settle for what we could see from the car.

With that in mind we left Antwerp heading east toward the Rhine River valley......a scenic wonderland of quaint riverside wine villages, spectacular hilltop castles, and the historic waterway itself. After a night in Aachen we started for Koblenz and our first day on the Rhine River. It was as cold as ever, but sunny and bright, without a cloud in the sky.

From Koblenz we spent the brilliant afternoon following the river upstream, with stops at tourist destinations like Bacharach, Goarshausen, and Boppard. Actually, at that off-season time we were sometimes the only tourist to be seen. 

We drove up steep hillside roads to a couple of castles, and stood in the fenced overlooks where medieval robber barons once extorted their “safe passage” fees from passing ships. In riverside villages we posed beside oversized wine barrels and watched the locals skating on frozen ponds. Beyond a doubt Frommer’s recommendations were spot on, even in the dead of winter.

That night and the next we stayed in an old and spacious hotel in Bingen, nestled beside the river. It would be our most memorable stay in Germany.... large rooms, beds piled high with down comforters, and a very classy dining room.

Our second day in the Rhine Valley, would be Gil’s one and only attempt at an historical tour. As a leisurely drive through the pleasant landscape of the west side foothills and parts of an old-world city, it was more or less successful. As a history lesson it was a complete bust.

Religious history buffs will recognize the Diet of Worms as a watershed event. Since Gil was clearly not one of those history students it was the title, not the happening, that first caught his eye. 

A “diet of worms”? Losing weight by eating worms? At first glance you might think that would work. Not many of us would be overeating, would we? But of course a town, especially a town named Worms, does not become famous by touting a regimen of night crawlers.

It was 1521 when the Catholic “Diet,” a gathering of theologians, met in the Rhine Valley city of Worms to declare an upstart priest by the name of Martin Luther a heretic, for his radical views on the legitimacy of the Church’s authority. The Pope’s forces had fired their first shot in what what would become the Protestant Reformation.... and it had happened at Worms.

Gil had learned those basic facts years before in Dr. Frazee’s Religion class at Linfield College. Why that bit of long-forgotten information had him thinking we ought to see Worms and remember its history was hard to understand. It was, however, the reason we set off that morning bound for Worms, and the foothill countryside beyond.

Alas, though the Old Town district may have reeked of an earlier time, the modern, rebuilt post-war Worms we saw was hardly worth the effort. What history there was lay beyond the sights we saw. 

Our sunny, but cold travel day would include another helping of hilltop castles, which were rapidly losing their appeal, and mile after mile of rural backroads. In our Bingen hotel that night we were back in a planning mode, looking forward to our next German treat....the Black Forest.

In the cold of the next morning we continued up the Rhine, through scenic villages, steep hillside vineyards, and stark, silhouetted castles....all of it framed by sweeping river views and matching landscapes on the opposite bank. We stopped in Heidelberg to stroll among ancient castle ruins and inviting tourist shops. The weather had moderated a bit, making a morning walk more comfortable than before.

We had booked rooms for that night at the Holiday Inn in Stuttgart. It seemed that soft beds, hot showers, and an American menu had become addictive. So much for our “hearty-traveler” credentials. 

We were especially thankful late that night when the hotel front desk was able to lend a helpful hand. Marc had been fighting a chest cold for several days. He was coughing, hacking, and feverish. It seemed to be time for medical intervention.

The night clerk looked up from his work to answer our question about a hospital or emergency room. In a matter of minutes, with a single phone call, he had arranged an appointment with a local doctor. Armed with a street map noting the doctor’s address, Gil and Marc set off into the night. 

No more than fifteen minutes later the physician, an older woman whose English skills more or less matched Gil’s German, rendered her verdict. The exact problem was lost in translation, but the answer....”anti-biotic”....turned out to be the same in both languages. With a single injection, a small vial of pills, and a very modest payment for services rendered, Marc and Gil returned to the hotel.

The Black Forest, for all its fable and folklore, was something of a disappointment. The weather was bright and sunny, though brisk. The rolling woodlands, sprinkled with valley farmlands, were pleasant enough. And, of course, the regions’s historical significance was undeniable. Still, those of us born and raised in the Pacific Northwest could name more than a few equally attractive destinations.

On the other hand, what the Cascade Mountains did not have were cuckoo clocks. The Black Forest had those in abundance....with clock shops in every village we passed through and along roadways deep in the forest. Of course, no one packs a bulky clock home in their suitcase. Like us, they pick out the one they want from the dozens hanging on the wall, and have it shipped to their US address. Once back home, ours has served us well for many years.

After a Black Forest lunch we crossed the Rhine one last time. We were back in France, heading for Strasbourg. The drive was pleasant. The surrounding history was worth seeing. But in fact, after ten days of continental breakfasts and hotel beds, and hundreds of miles spent with eight of us in a four passenger car, we were rapidly growing tired of life on the road.

That night in Strasbourg was memorable mainly for the great ashtray heist. It would be Janet’s finest hour. The prize itself sat on a low table just beyond the front desk. It was octagonal, bearing the colorful logo of what must have been a local beer. We noticed it when we first signed in, and checked on it each time we went through the lobby....until, early the next morning, it went missing. 

It would reappear, as if by magic, back home at Ashley Close. Though Janet would eventually pack several of her smaller trophies to take back to the States, her Strasbourg coup was too large and heavy for that. It remained on the living-room coffee table when we left Winchester.

The next step on our European finale was New Year’s Eve at yet another Holiday Inn, this time in Luxembourg City. Downstairs, in the main dining room, the hotel was hosting its own gala event, which had attracted US servicemen and women from the several military bases in the area. 

We chose instead to stay in our adjoining rooms, watching televised celebrations from all over Europe and toasting the occasion with the small bottles of champagne the hotel had hung on each room door. Then, after the witching hour, things really warmed up. Loud and rowdy American soldiers roamed the halls, knocking on doors, inviting everyone to “Come on out and party.” We passed on those invitations too.

From Luxembourg City we drove to what we considered the country’s main attraction. For those of us from the WWII generation, Bastogne was a familiar name....the place where allied forces under Brigadier General Anthony McAuliffe had held out against an overwhelming German force, allowing other US units to escape a fierce Nazi counter attack. When General McAuliffe was offered the opportunity to surrender, he famously replied, “Nuts.” 

Our room in Bastogne that night overlooked the city square, where a decommissioned US tank fronted the main road and a brightly decorated Christmas tree declared the festive season. Across the square the tourist-oriented 'Nuts' Museum, with its exhibits of the famous standoff, was closed for the holidays.

In the morning, before we started off toward home, we drove out to the American Military Cemetery at Hamm. Like every other US Cemetery we saw, it was well maintained and inviting....with a centerpiece that included the grave of General George Patton.

It would take two more days of hard driving to return to Cherbourg and the welcome ferry trip across the English Channel to Winchester. By then we were beyond the need to be sightseeing. We were simply tired and ready to be home.

Saturday, April 23, 2022



                             Chapter 16

The Europe of 1972, at least the parts we visited, was not yet the continent of freeways, autobahns, and high-speed toll roads we would travel twenty-five years later. 

Our four-hour drive from Omaha Beach to the outskirts of Paris was over two-lane country roads. Though there was usually a painted center line separating the two lanes, there were no outside lines marking the edge of the road....something that would have been very helpful to the driver of an English vehicle. With Bob as our always nervous, sometimes skiddish co-pilot we took things slow, knowing that we could reach the capital city well before dark.

By the time we reached the Paris suburbs we were driving on four-lane roads....two lanes going each way....and dealing with another startling failure, at least in our eyes, of the French highway system. The road into the city center was two lanes wide, but there were no painted stripes denoting the separate lanes. As a result the increasing heavy traffic was made up of cars driving in one lane or the other, or in the middle....with one wheel in each lane.

In that era, before most cars had flashing turn indicators, the average French driver did not bother with hands signals. Instead he relied on two or three honks of his horn to let other drivers know that he was going to change lanes....with no hint of whether he was going right or left. With that he would zip into another lane, assuming that other drivers would make way for him. It took only a few minutes of that chaos to give Gil a nasty headache.

Fortunately we did have one thing working in our favor. Our first few hours on the road in France had confirmed that they, like the English, relied on traffic circles, or round-abouts, rather that traffic lights. If we had been coming directly from the states that might have set us back a bit. But after months of driving in the UK we were old hands. We knew all about round-abouts.

Until that is, we ran into our first Parisian round-about. At that point all bets were off. You see, for French drivers a traffic circle was more than simply a means of getting from point A to point B. It was more like a competitive event, one they hated to lose, where beginners were at a definite disadvantage.

The first round-abouts we encountered were three or four lanes deep, like the ones we were used to in England. But in the heart of Paris there might be twice as many lanes. Actually, it was hard to know for sure, since there were no painted lane markings. It was every man for himself. 

The trick was to enter the circle and move a few yards toward the center as quickly as possible, to avoid being forced out at the next exit. But of course if you found yourself too deep in the circle there was no way to get back to the outside in time for your own exit point. And all the while horns were honking and fists were shaking, as each driver struggled to claim his piece of the road. 

It was that “exit point” which caused most of the problems. Getting off the round-about on the proper street depended on knowing which exit was coming up next. When street signs were absent, or well hidden, that was hard to do. The first few circles we encountered required several trips around the chaotic, horn-honking circle before we made our way to the right exit.

Finally, as we traveled down a wide avenue toward our hotel, a car came screaming out of a side street, heading directly towards us. Our brakes and our passengers squealed in unison as we waited for the crash that was sure to come. Gil jerked the car to the left, into the oncoming traffic. An instant later the offending driver turned in front of us and roared off down the street, shaking his fist out the if to blame us for the wreck he had nearly caused. Gil was still shaking when we pulled up in front of the hotel. 


To be sure, Bob and Janet were not world travelers. Except for his South Seas military experiences in WWII, neither of them had been beyond North America. Still, like everyone, they must have had mental-pictures of Paris. After all, everyone has heard of it....its history, its sights, its intrigues. 

But what about that moment when imagination meets reality? In the face of that reality, their first impressions of the City of Lights must have been a bit disappointing.

The Parisian hotel that Gil and Arthur Frommer had selected was a slight step up from the “no star” establishments we usually frequented. The building was old and nondescript. The rooms were more of the same. Our family’s three-bed room actually had room for only two beds. It was cramped....but clean and warm. That was especially important in the dead of winter. 

The facilities were down the hall, which the Stewarts were used to by then. That was, however, a bit off-putting for Bob and Janet. All in all, our accommodations were minimal. But hey, we were in Paris....beautiful, romantic, and frigid Paris.

We must have been quite a sight the next morning, the eight of us filing down the steps of the Paris Metro subway station....buying our tickets, trying to make sense of the multicolored system map, and generally playing the role of befuddled tourists. (We were not pretending.) 

We were off to see the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre, the two biggest attractions in town....if only we could find the Metro lines that would take us there.

And find them we did. The process itself was easy enough, slowed only by helping Janet, who was not too quick on her feet, get into the subway car before the automatic doors closed and the train zipped off down the track.

Yet, when we finally stood on the broad sidewalk, craning our necks to peer up at the Eiffel Tower, we were not thinking about our Metro ride, or the impressive structure that rose from its square base of four reinforced steel pillars, spread a city block from each other. Instead, we were most aware of the bitter, foggy cold that had us heading for the nearest inside souvenir shop.

A few minutes later we had warmed up a bit and were back outside, braving the cold to purchase tickets for the elevator ride to the first and lowest observation deck, the only one that was not fogged in. The elevator, which was encased in a Tower pillar, took us to a broad platform. Once there, wide aisles led to the fenced observation area that circled the Tower. From that height visibility was perhaps half a mile. Beyond that everything was swallowed by a white cloud. What we saw was a frosty and disappointingly-narrow view of the fog-shrouded city. 

Our stay on the observation deck was brief.... long enough for a few photos to document our presence there, then a brisk circular stroll around the Tower, taking in the limited sights without knowing what we were looking at. Finally, having spent enough time to say we have been there, we retreated to the elevator and down to the warmth of a Tower-side coffee shop. 

Fortunately the Louvre provided a welcome relief from the cold. Armed with a map of the sprawling palace, we strolled from one corridor to the next....never sure what we were seeing and not particularly caring. (Except, of course, for the Mona Lisa.) After an hour or so of walking, with frequent rests on the many benches, we had seen about all we wanted to see. The kids were tired. Janet’s feet were sore. And everyone’s “art appreciation”  had been maxed out.

We were back in our rooms by mid-afternoon, thankful for the comfortable warmth. A stop at the shop around the corner had provided the ingredients for an in-room dinner. There was no television to entertain us, so we read, played card games, and planned the next day’s Parisian excursion.

We were learning that the French notion of a continental breakfast, at least in our classy half-star hotel, was a hard roll and coffee, with hot chocolate available for the children. The morning before Janet had found the rolls too hard for her false teeth to dent. So the second morning she resorted to “dunking,” ordering hot chocolate to ease the process. The rest of us did the best we could with the rock-hard rolls, and waited for a more tasty lunch.

For our second day in the big city the bitter cold would continue to be a constant. We were, on the other hand, better acquainted with the Metro. In fact, we were getting around like locals....or so we thought. In the end we would make good use of our two-day passes, since the sights we wanted to see were spread around town.

We began with a short Metro ride to the very heart of the city. The Arc de Triumphe, set in the middle of a huge traffic circle, was an impressive sight even in the freezing fog of a winter morning. For the hearty tourist a pedestrian tunnel under the roadway led to the elevator that would take them to the top of the arch. From there they could view the impressive length of the Champs Elysees, toward the Tuileries, and beyond to the Louvre.

On that December morning we did not qualify as “hearty tourists.” Instead, we settled for a couple photo ops, then turned to stroll (One does not “walk” the Champs Elysees. One “strolls.”) a few blocks along the famous street. 

It was an eclectic assortment of shops, stores, and offices in what might have been the world’s highest-rent district. There were high-end fashion boutiques nestled beside a Hertz Auto Rental office, and perhaps the most expensive McDonald’s ever. It was all too chic and before long, too cold for words. Having “done” the Champ Elysees, we headed for the nearest Metro station to escape the cold.

Our next scheduled stop was Notre Dame Cathedral. We had scarcely emerged from the nearby Metro station when our plans were suddenly changed. One of the boys spotted a tiny cafe across the street. Would they have something warm, they wondered. Perhaps some hot chocolate. By then the rest of us were nodding our agreement. Hot chocolate sounded very good about then.

And it was very good....tasty and warm. But first Gil had to use his feeble French language skills and a flurry of pointing and hand signs to convince the fellow that all eight of us wanted hot chocolate.... not four coffees and four hot chocolates. When they finally arrived, we clutched the warm cups while we let the hot chocolate cool. Those few minutes were indeed a highlight of our second day in Paris.

Once warmed up a bit our little troupe marched on. We gave Notre Dame Cathedral a cursory once over....trying to compare it to “our own” Winchester Cathedral. It seemed that Notre Dame came out ahead, given its impressive setting on an island in the middle of the River Seine.

Then, because it must be done when in Paris, we strolled along the banks of the Seine for a couple blocks. Though there were no young lovers lounging in the winter cold, the river and its bridges were an impressive sight. 

Back on the riverside street we passed block after block of art work hung along the sidewalk even in that cold. There were realistic landscapes and professional looking portraits we liked, along with puzzling modern-art pieces that earned our rude remarks. Though it was all for sale, we managed to resist the temptation.

By mid-afternoon, after a warming street lunch, we had returned to our rooms to thaw out. Though we had certainly not experienced a storybook “Springtime in Paris” tour of the city and its sights, it seemed we had done as much as we could. We would be leaving in the morning, and we agreed there was just one last item on our Paris “to-do” list. We could not leave without having a real Parisian dinner.

The young man at the hotel front desk offered his personal recommendation without hesitation. The restaurant was a short walk up the street. Prices were reasonable, he said, and the meals were very good. Best of all for a true Parisian, it was authentically French. Turned out he was right on every count....especially the authentically French part.

How authentic? Well, we stepped inside the restaurant, which had all the ambiance of a narrow quonset hut filled with long tables and bench seats ....the kind of place where diners were expected to share their table with others. The signage and menus were in French, with no hint of an English translation. Once the waiter who greeted us realized we could not understand him, he simply smiled and motioned us to a table.

The eight of us were seated on both sides at the end of a long table. Though we were a bit put off by the presence of the other people seated beside us, we tried for a smile in their direction, then turned to the menus the waiter set in front of us.

There we were, in the middle of a strange city, sitting among strangers, trying to read a menu full of strange words we could not comprehend. Roma was straining to recall her long ago French class, searching for familiar words and coming up short. There was only one thing to do. We must make our best guess, check the price to be sure in was not too exorbitant, and point it out to the waiting waiter.

As it turned out, however, that was not the “only” thing we could do. Pointing to a line of foreign words on a menu, without knowing what she was ordering, was not something Grandma Janet was willing to settle for. 

Ordering a foreign meal in a foreign country was far beyond her comfort zone. She wanted to know exactly what those strange words meant, and she was not about to order until she knew.

Everyone else had ordered, and still Janet was repeating her questions. “What is this? What does this mean?” She must have known how bad it looked, but she would not settle for anything less than a full translation.

Our waiter was getting stressed. He shook his head and rolled his eyes....clearly out of his comfort zone, with no idea of what to do next. In words he did not comprehend, the American lady kept saying the same thing over and over, each time a little louder than before. 

While he looked around the room, wondering what to do, the seven of us were wishing we could crawl under the table. The whole affair had turned into a disaster, and none of us knew what to do about it.

In the end what we did was absolutely nothing. Clearly, Janet’s efforts to get an answer by talking louder and slower were not working. By then her emphatic questions could be heard throughout the restaurant. 

Then, at the far end of the room, a man stood and started toward us. A moment later he and Janet were talking softly in English as they studied the menu together. 

Finally, with no ceremony at all, the fellow told the waiter what she had settled on, nodded to her, and returned to his table. Meanwhile, Janet was grinning sheepishly....sorry for the fuss she had created, but glad to know what she was having for dinner.

By the time we traipsed back to our room that night what we had for dinner was probably forgotten....some of us never knew in the first place. But for every one of us, the lasting memory of our Parisian night on the town was the awkward standoff that had been defused by a kind and understanding Frenchman.

Thursday, April 21, 2022



                         Chapter 15

We were up early that Friday morning. 4:00 AM qualifies as early, doesn’t it? By 6:00 AM we had made our way through the London commuter traffic to the craziness that was Heathrow Airport. We were on our way to meet Roma’s folks, Bob and Janet Longfield, who were coming to spend the Christmas holidays with us, and be our first Ashley Close guests. 

With a definite sense of relief we managed to find them in the crowded chaos of the world’s busiest airport. They stepped from the Custom’s review station, and a moment later we were headed toward the baggage-claim racks. Then, luggage in hand, we marched past the dozens of curbside black cabs toward the far corner of the huge parking area and our trusty Estate Wagon.

It took some doing, finding room in our English-sized wagon for the eight of us, along with Bob and Janet’s luggage. More to the point, it was a hint of what was to come....touring the continent with enough baggage for all of us. But for now it was time to hurry home. The boys had to be in class for the last day of school before the holiday break.

Their attendance was especially important. That evening would be the second of two nights of the Harestock Elementary School’s Christmas pageant. Because the school’s gym was too small to accommodate all the parents at once, each family received two tickets to one of the performances. Our tickets were for the second night, and by the time we arrived home it had been decided that Janet and Gil would represent our family. 

After playing a Viking war god in an earlier play, Marc was hoping for a good role in the Christmas event. He was a bit disappointed to be assigned the part of a tree, one of several. Still, he assured us that we would know which tree he was. He would be the only one with three limbs. All the others had just two. 

Unfortunately, by the time the trees came on stage that second night, one of Marc’s limbs had been knocked off. Try as they might, Janet and Gil never did figure out which tree he was.

Later in the program Adam, dressed as a South Sea Islander, read a short poem....recited with the evening’s only noticeable Yankee accent. Not surprisingly, his was the only speaking part of the entire night that Janet understood. Her ear was not yet attuned to the accents we had learned to interpret. More than once she nudged Gil to ask, “What did she say?”

We probably should not have been surprised to find that the Christmas pageant part of the program ....the children’s reenactment of the Christmas story....was very religious by our “separation of church and schools” standards. Though that did not bother Janet or Gil, there were surely parts of the U.S. where it would not have played well at all.

After the Christmas skits the school orchestra and choir performed a few Christmas numbers. They closed their part of the program by leading the audience in singing several old favorites. Finally Janet, a longtime church pianist and choir member, was in her element. From her perspective they had saved the best for last.


The next morning our jet-lagged guests, sleeping in our cramped master bedroom, slept in. By the time she was up for coffee and toast, Janet was coughing and congested. After just one day in England the lady had caught a cold. Bob would soon have one of his own. Perhaps that was to be expected....crowded airplanes were a hotbed for germs of all kinds. Yet we were sure we had a more logical reason for their distress.

Our Ashley Close home was small, part of what we would call a duplex....except our duplex was six houses long. The English called it “attached housing,” meaning we shared common walls with the neighbors on each side of us. We had already heard that December was the driest and coldest winter they had seen in years. Morning frost was a normal sight. Yet the only heat in our modest home was a natural-gas fireplace in the living room.

That single heat source might have been enough to heat a well-insulated home. But our place did not qualify as that. The windows were poorly weatherstripped, if they were weatherstripped at all. Ceiling insulation was poor enough to melt snow off our roof in a matter of hours. 

To make matters worse, on at least two occasions the fireplace, which was vented to the outside, was knocked out of service when a gust of wind blew out the pilot light. That meant waiting in the cold for a day or two, until the repair man arrived to relight the pilot.

So it was small wonder that Bob and Janet had colds. Fortunately, several of us had already fought that battle. Roma’s medicine cabinet was stocked with a codeine-laced cold medicine we had found particularly effective.

By Saturday afternoon our visitors were up to a sightseeing excursion. From Winchester we had several options. Just about anywhere we turned there were places to see. We settled on the New Forest, a short hour’s drive from home. From our first days in England it had been one of our favorite places, with its parklike forests, quiet streams, and quaint villages. Populated by wild New Forest ponies, free-ranging cattle, and even acorn-rooting hogs, it always made for a pleasant drive.

To make things even better we drove to the southern edge of the forest and the National Motor Museum. Bob, a mechanic at heart, especially enjoyed our stroll through the old and rare English and European automobiles. Janet, on the other hand, was more taken by our tour of the Beaulieu Palace House, dating from 1538. All in all, it was a very pleasant way to spend a stress-free afternoon.

The next morning the traveling Longfields assured us they were up to another drive. Actually, it sounded like they might be on the mend. Or perhaps what we saw was a codeine-induced calm. Whatever the reason, they were ready to see more of beautiful England. 

Our Sunday drive took us a few miles to the northwest, to a trio of favorites we would visit with all our guests. We began with the Wallops....Nether Wallop, Middle Wallop, and Over Wallop....three old-world villages strung along the banks of Wallop Brook. They were picture-postcard pretty, with thatched roofs and manicured gardens....reminders of an older, more genteel time. 

Another few miles brought us to Stonehenge, perhaps the premier “historical” site in the country. There we joined the weekend crowd to ask our questions and take our pictures, before retreating to the warmth of the car.

Our drive back to Winchester was also a familiar route....south toward the ancient fortress of Old Sarum, high on a hill overlooking the River Avon. From there we descended into the broad valley to Salisbury, with its tall, majestic cathedral. The day was perfect for our scenic drive....brilliant sun light and crispy cold.

Monday morning brought with it a new sense of urgency. It was time to get ready. We were scheduled to take the cross-channel ferry from Dover to Cherbourg, France the next afternoon. There were a multitude of tasks that must be completed before then.

High on our list of priorities was the car-top luggage box we were renting from a downtown dealership. We had mentally packed and repacked the Ford a dozen times, and the answer was always the same. Four adults, four children, luggage for our two week trip, Christmas presents for eight, and a collapsable Christmas tree were more than the Estate Wagon would handle. With the roof-top box we could manage....just barely.

While in town we managed to include a whirlwind tour of Winchester Cathedral for Bob and Janet....too little time to do it justice, but long enough to say they had seen it. 

After that was a stop a Boot’s for some drug items, and a couple other stops for this and that. For a change we were able to skip Gil’s favorite tobacconist, since Bob and Janet had arrived with a couple cartons of his Kools, along with a stack of Kool-aid for the kids.

Our last stop downtown was one that Roma had planned to help her mother confirm what she herself had found so hard to believe. On one of our tapes to them Roma had warned Janet that English cream puffs were not what we were used to. They might look the same, but were bland and tasteless, without a hint of the sugar sweetness we associated with cream puffs.

So that morning the two of them visited a downtown bakery and went straight to the display case. Janet, as was her way, cut right to the chase. “Are those sweet?” she asked the clerk, pointing to the tasty-looking confections.

“Of course not.”

“Is there sugar in the filling?”

“Certainly not. Why would there be?”

“Because cream puffs are meant to be sweet.”

“They are not.”

“They are where I come from.” With that Janet turned and led Roma outside, still wondering why the English were so slow to learn. 


Tuesday morning. It was E-day. The eight of us and all our luggage were loaded in, and on top of, our trusty Ford. We were on the road early. After all, everything depended on being in Dover by noon, to board the car ferry to Cherbourg, on the coast of France. Being late for the ferry’s departure was not an option.

The morning’s drive was about 180 miles, tracing the eastern half of Britain’s south coast.... Southampton, Portsmouth, Arundel, Brighton, Lewes, Hastings, and Dover. We made it by noon, with time to spare. By habit we are most always early.

It was late afternoon when we drove from the ferry landing at the Cherbourg docks to our hotel, which we had selected with an eye to keeping our first drive in France as short as possible. Our rooms were old, high-ceilinged, and uninspiring, but we didn’t care. It was night one of our great adventure.

We walked to a nearby tourist restaurant for dinner, then stopped at a bakery to pick up some pastries snacks for later. Next door, Bob spied a liquor store. Minutes later he emerged with a bottle of cognac, which he claimed he would share with the rest of us. As it turned out, none of us could stand the taste of it, so he had it all to himself....which was probably what he had in mind all along.

The next morning we started off with a singular goal in reach our Paris hotel before dark. The tales we had heard about Parisian traffic were intimidating enough. The prospect of trying to find our rooms at night was more than we were willing to risk.

After only a few minutes on the road we were reminded of yet another obstacle to be overcome. As in Holland a month before, we would be navigating the French highway system from the wrong side of the car. 

Imagine yourself driving on an American road with the steering wheel on what we call the passenger side of the front seat. The driver’s perspective would be very different. Maintaining the proper distance from the center line could be tricky.

The eight of us soon settled on a functional seating arrangement, one we would use for the whole of the trip. Gil was driving. Bob was on his left, nearest the center of the road and oncoming traffic....a position he never learned to enjoy. In the back seat Roma and Janet were wedged against the doors, with Amy between them. Terry was sitting or laying on Roma’s lap. In the back of the station wagon Adam and Marc stretched out on top of suitcases and boxes....seeing Europe through the side and rear windows.

The morning was cold, frosty, and foggy. Not surprisingly, the cold, dry winter we were having in England was having its way just across the English Channel in France. The fog was so dense that once we left town Gil was relying on Bob’s help to keep the center line of the highway in sight. Fortunately our first stop was just fifty miles from Cherbourg.

According to the map it was an easy one hour’s drive. That morning it was more like two hours. By the time we pulled into the Omaha Beach American Cemetery Memorial the fog was thicker than ever and we were ready for a break.

As we approached the Memorial....trusting the signs were correct, since we could not see fifty yards ahead of us....Bob was telling us about his one-time painting buddy, Gordon White, who had worked with Bob in Portland and was supposedly buried in the Omaha Beach Cemetery. 

Gordon had been a paratrooper during the Normandy Invasion, and had been shot out of the air during an early attempt to drop American troops behind German lines. Bob’s story was enough to put a personal touch on the already impressive, though largely unseen, Memorial.

The cemetery sat on a high bluff overlooking the infamous beach. We could hear the crashing surf below us, but saw nothing....the fog bank was as impenetrable as a brick wall. 

We could, however, walk up to the Memorial itself, a series of marble walls engraved with diagrams depicting the several invasion routes. Beyond the Memorial displays white crosses, thousands and thousands of them, stretched out into the fog....each cross bearing a name, rank, branch of service, and home state.

Given the chance to stretch their legs Adam and Marc set off into the forest of crosses, running from one to another, looking for an “Oregon” cross. The adults, chilled from their time checking out the Memorial, had started back to the car when the children were suddenly yelling. “We found an Oregon cross. Come see it.”

If you are a believer in the paranormal, whatever that means to you, you might have accepted the next few minutes as normal. For our little party it registered, and does to this day, as something more than that. It was, without a doubt, one of the most startling moments of our entire lives.

We were cold, ready for the warmth of the car. But we had to humor the kids, who were not far from the Memorial. The four of us....Bob, Janet, Roma, and Gil....started off through the damp grass toward their “Oregon cross.” Approaching from the back side it looked as white and bare as all the others. Only when we stepped around to the front of it could we read the bold, black inscription.

Gordon White -- US Air Force -- Oregon, along with his rank.

It was him. In a forest of thousands of white crosses they had found him. We stood looking at each other, not knowing what to say. Whether or not it was meant to happen, we had found Bob’s friend. We were a very somber, introspective bunch as we got in the wagon and started off into the fog to find Paris.