I have written of our practice of always having a “Next Thing” to engage the imagination. I have also written about our preparations for the end of life “Last Thing”. It occurred to me today that I have never mentioned the First “Next Thing”.
Actually, there are two of these. The first one never came to fruition, but it confirms to me that the notion of a “next thing” has been hard-wired within me since I was very young. One Summer, as a child of 9 or 10, I stood at the headwaters of the Mississippi River gazing downstream to a point where the waters disappeared around a bend. It was a river in name only, since at its source it was little more than a large stream. Where I stood was a sign that declared that the river progressed onward south to the Gulf of Mexico, a journey of over 2,500 miles. The notion of traveling its length to the sea in a rowboat captivated me. During the school year that followed, my imagination would not let go. My mind wandered from classwork to the lure of the Mississippi. I wrote estimates of the time it would take to travel, and the supplies that I would need, all in the margins of my school text books. I envisioned using my dad’s 1946 Elgin outboard motor for power. I still have that motor, and I believe that it still works. Without regret, I do not believe that it or I will ever make that Mississippi journey dreamed of by my 9-year-old self. It was my first major foray into planning a “next thing”. It would not be my last.
Fast forward to the Fall of 1971. I was a sophomore at Southern Illinois University. A coed in my African History class told me of a 9 semester-hour study abroad program planned for the following Summer. After class we went to the History Department offices to get more information. 2 months traveling to England, France, Italy, Greece, Crete, the Aegean, Turkey, and Yugoslavia. 22 students and 2 faculty members would study Ancient History where it occurred. Travel would include a week on a cruise ship and travel from Budapest to Paris on the Orient Express. The price was $1,250.00, a huge sum in 1971… more than I had paid the prior year for my new Kawasaki Mach III motorcycle. My imagination went from a smoldering ember to a conflagration in minutes.
It never occurred to me that the trip would be out of my reach. Without knowing it I had already decided that the experience I imagined was more valuable than a motorcycle capable of accelerating 0-60 mph in 3 seconds, topping out at over 130 mph. Within the day I was on the phone to my parents and explained that prudent saving and the sale of my motorcycle would fund the trip. I don’t know if my parents took me seriously. But they didn’t hinder my self-initiated plans and preparation.
Someday I may share the details of that “epic” Journey, however here are some of the thumbnail events:
- The coed and I both went on the trip, starting as a couple but not ending that way.
- I found other love on the island of Crete.
- In Naples I was kidnaped by Indian sailors and held aboard a 600-foot grain freighter until rescued by machine gun wielding military police. (This one really needs some explanation in another post)
- I made the acquaintance of a pretty Polish girl who was traveling as the interpreter for a Japanese film crew. Our fast friendship resulted in the film crew following us for a week making a documentary on American student travels in Europe. The program aired in Japan. Regrettably, I never saw anything more than some still images. One of the professors related that he had seen the film and it largely featured all of us smoking cigarettes, drinking, and carousing… a “reality show” before its time. The conclusion reportedly was me embracing the Polish girl and then leaping on a departing ferry in Naples harbor as we all waved goodbye to her and the film crew.
It was an astounding Summer that fed my soul for years to come. It even contributed to my marriage to Christine who I was not to meet for another 2 years. On the night that we first met we sat beneath the limbs of a large oak tree. I spun my tale of adventure in Europe, sensing that her imagination was just as flammable as mine. Years later she confessed that from that beginning she found me “fascinating and intriguing”. We have since gone on to plan many “Next Things” the greatest of these being… marriage, a family, and life growing old together.
I could have kept that motorcycle and passed on the 1972 journey, but then I wouldn’t have anything to write about, would I?
Peace Everyone! Pete