How I learned the joys, wonder and misadventures of traveling from my parents
Leslee W. Kahler
© Copyright 2022 by Leslee W. Kahler
Leslee's backyard in Norway. Photo by the author.
When I was a little my father, who was an engineer took a job in Mobile, Alabama building oil rigs a few months before hurricane Camille hit on August 17, 1969. My parents decided to listen to the weather man about the severity of the storm and to evacuate inland. We packed up both family cars with our pets, clothes, photo albums, bedding and a few select toys for my brother and I and we headed inland at a crawl. By the time we had packed up and hit the road it was dark and it was pouring rain as the first bands of rain hit the Gulf Coast.
There were no big shelters to go to, no sate provided evacuation or rescue points you were on your own and all we had was the radio and the news men who kept us informed of the stormís progress as it came in behind us. We and thousands of others were helped by the kindness of strangers who opened their homes inland to evacuees; the radio announcer was saying over and over that anyone who could take people in would put on their porch lights. Sometime near midnight in the driving rain we spotted a porch light on in a tiny town and pulled into a strangers drive way. My father ran to the strangerís door and knocked and a nice man came out to our car and began helping us all inside.
We ended up staying two nights in the loft and den of the town mayor of a town in upstate Alabama. When the wild weather died down and the news said the roads were opening we took our leave with many thanks and began the long and difficult journey home. On the journey home we passed unimaginable devastation as my parents driving at a snailís pace wound their way home past down trees and telephone poles and around flipped cars and trucks.
The main road to our home was blocked and impassable so we had to take a long circus way that had us drive through Biloxi and past where my dad had worked and our church. Biloxi was gone, just gone whipped off the face of the Earth as was my fatherís job, our church and my elementary school. We managed to make it home and discovered with relief that we were some of the lucky ones our house inland still stood with only a little damage, while oddly other homes in our neighborhood were gone.
We then began the fun of living in our home with no power for three months and no running water for over a month. My parents decided to make it all an adventure, my father had been in World War II and shot down several times, and my mother had been stewardess for Pan Am, so both knew how to handle disasters with calmness.
My father, who in addition to being an engineer had a law degree, would take our folding table and two chairs and several legal pads and drive to what use to be our shopping center, now a pile of rubble. He would meet a friend who was also a lawyer and they would set up the card table and chairs and help people write up loss declarations for their insurance carriers for whatever they could afford, whether it was fifty cents or a dollar. Whatever money they made they split up and my father would use his share to buy us food.
While he was gone my mother who get my brother and I to help her take our red wagon and pots to the local pool club and bail water out of the closed pool with the other wives and mothers to use for washing and flushing the toilets. Once we had water we would go help our neighbors pick up debris and if it was wood and burnable put it into pile to make into campfires to cook over. I was never scarred during all of this because my parents kept me busy, talked to me like I was an adult and made everything fun.
My father just about the time the power came back on took a job in Scotland at Marathon Ship Building and we packed up our belongings and made the huge move to Dunbartonshire, Scotland. Again my parents put a positive spin on everything, saying it was all a big family adventure.
Part of my fatherís job required him to meet prospective clients and get them to award business to his employer, this was usually done over business dinners were the client would bring their family and my dad us. At a very young age I was taught to sit quietly and not to speak while the adults talked, and to say please and thank you as well as how to count to twenty in the language of whatever country we were visiting. All useful thinks to know if you need to ask someone to press an elevator button or where the bathroom was.
Again my parents made this into a learning experience and an adventure and we were always rewarded for sitting quietly and listening while the adults talked. While many people today would say this was horrible to be seen and not heard I would disagree, by sitting quietly and actually listening to what was being said I learned a lot. I learned how to be a good and polite traveler and not the dreaded ďUgly AmericanĒ, how to order food in a five star restaurant, to say please and thank you in many languages and how to select the correct wine to go with your meal.
Traveling back in the 1970ís was also not as secure or as regulated as it is now and many European airports we traveled through had little in the way of security check points or passenger screenings. This lack of security became a problem three times when my family and I were high jacked, twice by bomb threat and once by armed men. While these seems a bit unbelievable it was the 1970ís when apparently high jacking was all the rage and we traveled a lot.
The first time we were flying from Paris to Copenhagen and for some strange reason the plane was diverted to Germany and we landed at an unknown airport and the plane was taxed to a closed terminal. All the passengers were made to deplane on the tarmac and we were marched into the closed terminal under the watchful eyes of men in black uniforms carrying machine guns and escorted by German Shepherds. The adults were escorted away in small bunches and all our luggage was taken off the plane and whisked away by more men in uniforms. Our carry-on luggage was thoroughly searched and sniffed by the dogs before we were allowed to have it.
After being patted down, our papers thoroughly examined and our carry-on luggage gone through we were allowed to continue into a huge waiting area filled with black leather and chrome chairs. My father claimed a section for us to seat in a few minutes before armed men came and asked our parents to accompany them for questioning. My brother and I were now left to our own devices so we decided to explore our area of confinement.
The huge seating area was connected to a long wide corridor blocked off by closed doors and armed men making a giant T shape. In the top of the T were bathrooms and a closed cafeteria which my brother and I under the watchful eye of an armed man explored. The only interesting thing we discovered were large metal carts similar to the ones used at home stores to carry wood to customerís cars. Being bored after a long plane trip and then being confined to the waiting area we decided to borrow one of the carts and took turns pushing each other up and down the top of the T section of corridor under the gaze of the ever present guards. We were kept there for almost two days before being allowed to replane and continue on with our journey. Rather than being scared I thought of what happened as an adventure because my parents put a positive spin on everything and treated it as a learning experience.
My parents who had both lived through World War II, my father having been a service man and seen combat, instilled in me the following always be prepared for the worst to happen and keep a cool head. My fatherís motto was if it doesnít kill you it makes you stronger so suck it up and do what you have to do.
Because of my parents attitude I was never scared and saw everything as an adventure and an opportunity to learn. In Scotland I ran up and down heather covered hills, chased sheep and crawled over ruined castles all the while being awed by the beauty of what I saw. I still regard Scotland as one of the most beautiful places I have ever lived or visited with the people some of the warmest. The deep dark lochs filled my imagination while the rugged hills that seemed to claw the ever cloudy sky instilled in me the desire to scale every one. The deep purple hues of the weather covered hills in summer filled me with wander at both the beauty and at hardiness of the heather.
After Scotland we moved to Norway, and again everything was an exciting adventure filled with wonder. The house we rented was in the middle of a pine forest on a fjord that froze both winters we lived there. In the summer when the sun never set I walked along the rocky beach at midnight and picked wild blueberries or swam and fished with my father till late at night. In the winter which was cold and dark I went sledding almost every day or skating on the fjord Iíd fished and swam in. The dark pine forest around me was full of magic as I imagined ancient Vikingís and trolls as I explored rock piles and small caves.
My father continued to have business meetings in various European cities and would bring along his family for the required business dinners, but I never minded because I got to travel and see the world. We explored Paris several times in the summer, and we crawled through the Louvre once during a heat wave while its air conditioner was broken, something I would never do again. I saw Napoleonís tomb at night from the top of the Eiffel tower, lite by search lights it gleamed in the night like a jewel and watched canal points filled with diners sail up and down the Seine.
In Vienna we walked through the Composerís Park after a snow storm that made it look like everything had been coated with sugar as it glistened in the darkness. I watched skaters waltz to the Blue Danube played by intrepid live musicians who risked the fridged temperatures to play in the parkís gazebo. It was a magical night that still lives in my memory after all this time. After our fridged walk we warmed up with frothy hot chocolate and some of the best pastries Iíve ever eaten in the Hotel Intercontinental restaurant.
After Norway we moved to Tehran, Iran and had to move into an apartment, my brother and I were sad at our new living arrangement, we went from the freedom of running through the wilderness to being confined indoors all the time. But once again my parents found a way to put a positive spin on things, and on the weekends we would go for drives into the countryside for picnics or long walks and my mother signed my brother and I up for horseback riding lessons to help burn off our excess energy.
Many years later after college I took a dream summer job as a Federal Park Ranger in Arizona , part of my job required me to give interpretive hiking tours five days a week to see the ruins of Betaken. The tour lasted an average of five hours and required me to guide up to twenty people along a ten mile long hike, down a steep switch back path, across a sand dune at the bottom of a canyon and into the ruins. The area was beautiful with deep red sandstone cliffs, off white sand dunes, dark green pinion pine forests and clear blue sky.
Thanks to my parents training and my years of traveling I was always prepared for the worst which thankfully helped me take care of my groups through three sand storms with winds over a hundred miles an hour and four flash floods. Having lived through a hurricane, being high jacked, several blizzards and north sea ferry crossings in winter these incidents didnít faze me and I was able to keep my charges safe and entertained till the worst was over and then lead them back to the park station.
I tell everyone to travel to go see and experience the world and to get out of their comfort zones. I also warn them to be prepared for the worst to happen, such as flight delays lost luggage and missed connections. But I also tell them to travel with open hearts and open minds to take everything in stride and instead of getting upset when things donít go their way make it an adventure and put a positive spin on it. Beauty, excitement and adventure can be found in anything itís just how you look at it.
I was born in Florida to a NASA and nautical engineer and an ex flight attendant who taught me among other things to always be prepared for whatever life throws your way. As a requirement for his one job we were required to travel extensively and live overseas which exposed me to a variety of adventures at a young age.
Because of my travels I developed a love of nature and history and went on to obtain a B.S. in Biology, a B.A in history and a masterís in World history.
My other passion is reading and writing and I have been trying unsuccessfully for years to become a published author, with the exception of three stories accepted over three years by Chicken Soup books I have not had anything published for pay though I keep trying.
COVID I worked as the ESL assistant at the local high school, and I
currently live on a small hobby farm with my family and far too many