I said goodbye to my parents in the driveway. The summer of 1974, I graduated from high school, turned eighteen and, with money earned at the mall, bought a round-trip ticket to what seemed like a shimmering fairytale across the Atlantic: Europe.
I grew up in a comfortable, blue collar, suburban neighborhood of Minneapolis. The dads on our block worked as roofers, brick layers, and gas meter readers. The mothers were homemakers. The only people I knew who’d been overseas were in the military. Some of them didn’t come back.
Two girls I knew in high school got pregnant and married before graduation. A third sat across the aisle from me in a psychology class crocheting loopy, pink-and-blue, baby booties for her “hope chest.”
After-graduation plans, or lack of plans, were shaping our futures. Three friends of mine enlisted in the armed forces. Some looked for full-time jobs. A few applied for college. Others figured they could live at home, get part time jobs, and take classes at the community college. All I wanted was out.
Europe seemed like a shimmering fairytale and I asked a few friends if they wanted to go. None even briefly considered it. I talked with one girl about moving west. I talked with another about moving east. I imagined living in a big house with poets and writers and artists and dancers but I didn’t know where or how or even, precisely, why.
When a girl in my English lit class, who I was just getting to know, asked if I was interested in going to Europe, I jumped at the chance to be travel buddies. But there was a catch. Margaret had pre-paid for a full-time, six-month, residential meditation course in Switzerland. She’d be staying in a dorm. And she’d be busy. Switzerland wasn't on my radar. But I figured if I could land a waitressing job in the same town, rent a cheap apartment, maybe on my days off, I could visit nearby tourist sites. I’d pick up a copy of Europe On Ten Dollars A Day and when Margaret finished her course, the two of us could explore the entire continent on the cheap! That was as detailed as my plan got.
I applied for a passport. In the travel section of the public library, I copied down the addresses of several Swiss hotels and wrote letters asking for work. Weeks later, two hoteliers responded with a polite but definitive “no.” One kindly explained that a foreigners needed work permits. And, he explained, an 18-year-old unskilled manual laborer was unlikely to be granted one.
My heart sank. Even if I were extremely frugal, without a job or housing, I knew my money would run out long before my friend finished her course. I hadn't bought my flight yet. I suggested meeting Margaret in Switzerland at the end of her six month course, but she didn’t want to start off alone and I think both of us suspected that if I didn’t go with her immediately, I probably would never go at all. Her departure was just a few weeks away. My vagabond dreams were slipping through my grasp like water. My mom said she never believed I was going anywhere anyway.
I felt foolish. Like that kid in my typing class who bragged about writing a letter to millionaire Howard Hughs asking for money and was embarrassed when he received a standard rejection. Now I was the buffoon. Who was I to think I could leap frog from my life into a new and exciting one?
I felt mortified that I'd ever dared to dream big and considered ditching the whole idea. It felt like extinguishing hope. The idea sunk into me like a dark death. Finally, I decided even a brief vacation to Europe while Margaret studied was more than anyone ever expected of me. I didn’t love the idea that I’d return flat broke. I imagined I'd have to live in my parents’ basement, get another minimum wage job, take community college classes and maybe transfer to the university of Minnesota. I’d be a semester or two behind kids my age, but at least I would have seen a bit of the world. I resigned myself to a modified version of my big adventure and bought a flight.
The night before, I was too excited to sleep. I said a groggy goodbye to my parents in the driveway. I hoped to see them in six months. My mother said I'd be lucky to last six weeks.
More than three years would pass before I'd see them again.
NOTE: Image above is of me, right, with Margaret and her parents who drove us up to Canada for a cheaper flight. We're standing in my parents' driveway with my beloved dog, Max. While traveling, I had several dreams about petting that dog.