Forty-five years ago, I wrote this letter to Mom & Dad. I was in Paris near the end of my first of five months in Europe. My sister Danica (then known as Dana) was studying at the Sorbonne for a year so my parents decided to visit her during an extended vacation.
I quit my job at Seattle Trust & Savings Bank and decided to start fresh and discover my future. I’d explore Europe – alone, for months, with little direction and no particular plan or focus, and somehow at the end of it all at age 24, find myself.
I came to Paris a few days before my parents arrived. On Feb. 6, 1978, we began a 25-day auto tour of Lyon, Nice, Monte Carlo, Pula, Zagreb, and Vienna, highlighted by visits with several sets of Croatian relatives.
Mom and Dad left for home on March 3rd and several days later I penned this Aerogramme letter.
March 6, 1978
Dear Mom & Dad –
I don’t quite know what to say. I hope you weren’t disappointed that I didn’t express my gratitude as much as I could, but you’ll understand that the ‘thank-yous’ would have been so numerous as to make one thank-you seem inconsequential. So, I guess what I want to say is thank you a thousand times for everything. I hope I was acceptable as a traveling companion as I sure enjoyed your company and now miss it.
You’ll never guess what we did Saturday. Oh, this was ten times better than the sewer system. Dana and I visited the Catacombs of Paris. I wish I could send you a postcard (I sent one to Clinton) so you could get the visual impact of seeing these millions of human bones stacked like kindling in tunnels several hundred feet below the streets of Paris. They were placed there when several Paris cemeteries were torn up to make room for the city’s expansion in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. It’s a bit morbid at first but fascinating nonetheless. Got some good pictures (ha ha).
Yesterday, Sunday, Dana and I visited the Rodin museum. Rodin was the famous sculptor who did the “Thinker” – the piece with the man sitting, chin on his head and elbow on his knee in a very thoughtful moment. The gardens were beautiful as was the weather yesterday and today. The skies are now a bright blue and the sun shines hard. The temperature though has dipped and it’s rather cold outside.
Today, I visited the Paris stock exchange which was extremely interesting, particularly after having seen the commodity exchange in Chicago. I almost wish I’d seen the Paris exchange first, as it is so calm compared to the unruly Chicago market. There’s still lots of shouting and such but nothing compared to the screaming in the commodity pits. Here in Paris, I was able to actually walk on the floor of the exchange, though I did get a couple of stares (no doubt due to my casual attire in the midst of a sea of suits). But the amazing thing was that I was walking on the floor of France’s equivalent of the N.Y.S.E.
Their exchange system is quite different from the American counterparts, as prices seemed to be established more by consensus than by the bid-ask system in the U.S. This probably explains the calmer stance as that all-important need to scream your order and acceptance of the other bidder’s order doesn’t really need to exist here. An interesting sidelight was at one point during the bond market when all the men broke into a song they sang humorously for half a minute.
I moved into this hostel for Protestant students. It’s a dormitory situation, but I get a bed, breakfast, and hot showers all included for 20 francs a night (about $4). Almost half the people here are French, a quarter English, and the rest Americans. In fact, before I finished the previous sentence I was engaged in an extended conversation with John Leeson, an Irishman who now lives in Oxford and is teaching French here in Paris. And, this letter might begin to sound a bit disjointed as I’m sharing my bottle of Yugoslavian wine with John and Jeff Alford, an American from Newport Beach, California. We’re listening to Radio Luxembourg (Europe’s Top 40 station).
I met Dana’s good (best) friend Carrie, the one whose parents were here over Christmas. She’s red-headed and quite nice, the exact opposite of Jana. Dana even admits that Jana is a bit too much. Much of the time her stories are B.S. and it can even get to Dana at times.
I ate dinner at Dana’s one night and can understand the source of many of her culinary complaints. The food is horrible. I had spinach – not the fresh green vegetable I’m used to, but a dull, sickly green blob of something that if you didn’t know it was food, you wouldn’t touch it with a ten-foot pole. The best I can say was that it was barely edible.
Well, say hello to Barry and Cathy for me (and tell Cathy thank you for the Valentine’s card). Also, tell her I’m sorry I didn’t send her one but I actually forgot when I was making a list of everyone I sent one to. Also, if you happen to see Wheels, tell him that his cassette deck is in my room.
Thank you for everything.
Post Script: I wrote several more letters to Mom and Dad on that trip. Mom kept a keepsake box for each of her four children where after her death I found that letter and many other treasures.
During those four weeks we spent together, I grew closer to my Dad than perhaps I ever been. He worked hard all his life and in later years found numerous ways to give back to the community. He helped the old oddballs to whom he rented tiny apartments on the second-floor above Steve’s Shoe Store at the corner of Griffin and Cole in downtown Enumclaw. He was elected to the school board and as such handed me my diploma when I graduated from high school.
Jack Kombol passed away April 11, 1979, just over a year after coming home from our trip to Europe. He died on a Wednesday, I wrote a poem on Thursday, and read it at his funeral on Saturday. I was 25-years-old, channeling feelings from the 14th year of my life when two grandparents, Dad’s father and Mom’s mother died on the same day:
The last day we expected was the morning that we feared
the nights we cried so long ago have come to rest right here.
We gazed in one another’s eyes
We prayed that we might cope
We stared through nature’s loneliness
and filled our days with hope.
Every day brings forth each night from which dawns each new day
longings fill the times between with thoughts from yesterday.
We’ll never let our smiles down
We’ll never lose our faith
We’ll never touch the world beyond
or see tomorrow’s face.
The news it comes so suddenly, the sadness travels far
raindrops fall from blossomed eyes as we touched who we are.
We realized the sorrow
We understood the pain
We felt the empty feelings
yet prayed no prayers in vain.
And so we’ll cry these tears of pain from sorrow we must store
the tears we have are tears we’ve cried a thousand times before.