Saturday, April 16, 2011

The Travelin' Man

My father was a world traveler. In his seventies, he began to document his trips and his appreciation of his vast travel experiences. He called one of his documents "The Travelin' Man." He was born with a love of adventure, a fearless sense of the world, and a belief that he could accomplish anything he set out to do. As my brother noted at my dad's funeral, "Here lies an optimist." Below are some passages from my dad's journals reflecting on his early years in Syracuse and Detroit.


Travel has been an important part of my life. Looking back, I guess the interest I have had for travel stems from the desire to see and learn new things. My first travel recollection is when I was in kindergarten, in Syracuse, N.Y. Kids under six could ride free on city buses, so one day a pal and I boarded a bus in front of the Eastwood School and rode it all the way to downtown, maybe two miles. Once there we played hide-and-seek among the tall buildings, and, for some unknown reason, we got separated. Luckily I knew where I was (I have always had good geographic orientation), and the way home, and walked it all the way.

Below is an article I found in a scrapbook, kept by my grandmother. Is this another wanderlust moment or the same?

When I was 12 we moved from Syracuse to northwest Detroit. We lived for one year in an apartment in southeastern Detroit, where I went to grade school. One day the teacher lined our class around the room and began a spell-down. I didn’t know what was going on, but when I was asked to spell a word, I did. I first won the grade championship, then the school, which included seventh-graders. I failed in the district spelling bee, misspelling the word aggression. After one speller left out one g and another included two g’s but left out one s. I was so confident of the correct spelling that I rattled off the word at a fast clip. Including both g’s and both s’s , and forgot the r. For winning the grade, I won a Webster dictionary, with my name on it, and for the school, a bronze medal, which was made in Holland. Since Holland had just been invaded, and conquered, by Nazi Germany, I did not receive the medal until six months later. After one year we moved to a rented house on the west side of Detroit, and to a new school. Among seventh graders, I lost early in the Spelling Bee. After one year in this house, we bought a house in northwest Detroit in the summer of 1942. Before we occupied the house I traveled to Syracuse to see my aunts and uncles there.

So, at 13, I began the trip alone from Detroit to Syracuse by riding my trusty Roadmaster bicycle down Wyoming Ave. to Grand River Ave. and then down to a street that was a short distance to where the D & C Steamship was docked, getting ready to sail to Buffalo. I found the dock, and the ship, checked my bike and went to my small cabin. The overnight ferry trip was uneventful, since I remember nothing of it, and we arrived safely in Buffalo the next morning. I retrieved my bike and rode it to the new train station (New York Central) on the east side of town, about three of four miles from the steamship dock. I got there, checked my bike, and rode the train to Syracuse, where I got off with my bike. My great Aunt Nan and great Uncle Carl Stangland lived on the south side of town, near the city limit. I remembered where they lived, and how to go, and rode my bike directly there. Aunt Nan never had a son, so she spoiled me by feeding me everything, all the time. I don’t know, but I must have gained weight. Next door to them lived a boy my age, and we palled around every day. One day the Ringling Brothers – Barnum & Bailey Circus came to town, setting up two blocks from where we lived. My friend and I rode our bikes over and signed up as roustabouts. For a full day’s work, hauling and carrying things, we were given free tickets to the performance the following day.

My Uncle Al Erickson, a Swede, married Marie Stangeland, and owned an auto body repair shop. When I visited them, staying a few nights in their house, Uncle Al asked if I wanted my bike re-painted. Since my fenders showed signs of wear and tear, I accepted. We found a beautiful dark blue-gray color to replace the original maroon color, and before I knew it the bike had been stripped, sanded, painted, and reassembled. I watched every operation and got to know many of the workmen. I was most happy to ride off with my new bike! The Ericksons, like the Stangelands, never had a son, only one daughter. One noon Al poured apple wine into two glasses, and "skoaled" [drink to one's health – a toast]. Another one or two glasses, and I got dizzy – the first time! Uncle Carl and his son-in-law Howard Smith, were steamfitters, and had contracted to work on the construction of a new Air Force base in Rome, NY, about forty miles away. They would leave Monday morning and come back Friday Night. I decided to visit them, riding my trusty, new, bike. I rode first to Wampsville, where another relative, Aunt Lil Palmer lived by a stone quarry that her husband mined. I found their house, about halfway to Rome, and spent the night with them. They, too, had no son, only one daughter.

The following day I rode to Rome, found the rooming house where Carl and Howard were staying, and was sitting in a rocking chair on the front porch when they came home from work. Were they surprised to see me! The next day was Friday, and when the men came home, we tied the bike on the back of their car and returned to Syracuse. I have no recollection of the return trip: train to Buffalo, steamship to Detroit, and bike to our house. A wonderful summer! Two years later, the summer I turned 16, a neighbor friend and I took the D&C steamer to Buffalo, then rode our bikes to Niagara Falls and Niagara-on-the-Lake (Ontario). This was July 1944. En route to Niagara we passed by a U.S. detention camp, right off the highway. Behind a barbed-wire fence were German soldiers captured after D-Day. Many were wounded, and very young, the same age as we. For some moments we looked at them, and they looked at us.

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