Missed Connections

By Kim Medders

Right around 1969 mom felt my sister Els and I should have the experience traveling in Europe so she signed us up for a bunch American Express tours. We both enjoyed them immensely and fast became experts at this type of adventure. We traveled many places and learned many things over the course of several years, an experience I treasure to this day.

We quickly learned how to make friends with fellow travelers as we discovered that European tour guides thought nothing of rooming brothers and sisters together. The thought of this was completely repugnant to both of us so she found a single female and I usually found a G.I. that didn’t mind sharing a room with a teenager. On one lucky tour of Italy, we found another brother and sister team about our same ages. This was a lot of fun–to be with some people our own ages. The girl was about my age and was very pretty, and we all got to pal around and get toasted on Italian wine together.

The skills we learned military brats became very important on these trips. Things, like being able to count to 10 in six different languages, and perfect pronunciation of phrases like, “how much”, and “where was the bathroom” in several different languages always impressed the other travelers and the tour guides. Most tours were to a specific location, like Paris, others like the aforementioned trip to Italy, were whirlwind tours of several cities. The question of what day it was became, “Well, if it is Tuesday, it must be Naples”, taken from the popular movie of that time, “If it’s Tuesday, it must be Belgium.” One notable tour which illustrates the resourcefulness of the “brat”, occurred on a tour of Oberammergau, Germany.

Oberammergau is a town famous for its production of a theatrical play of the passion of Christ it puts on every 10 years. In the summer of 1970 mom had purchased a non refundable tour for us. The problem was my dad was told he was being transferred almost immediately from Karlsruhe to the Stuttgart area. We had to be out of our quarters and move the week of our tour! Mom, not wanting to lose the money she plugged into this and wanting us to see the play, went down to American Express and talked to the manager. The solution was she arranged for the tour bus to stop at Stuttgart Bahnhof (train station) and drop us off on the way back from Oberammergau where my parents would be there to pick us up.

The day of the trip, my folks drove us to the Karlsruhe Bahnhof, put us on the bus, and returned to finish packing for Stuttgart. The tour itself was unremarkable to me, although my sister was excited about it. Later in life she became quite religious. We stayed for a week and saw sights around beautiful Bavaria and as usual, had a wonderful time buying trinkets and going out to eat with our fellow travelers. The play was very well done as I recall, but I particularly liked the bucolic and atmosphere of the area. Soon it was time the tour to return home to Karlsruhe and for us to see our new home in Stuttgart.

As we approached Stuttgart, the tour guide gave us no sign as to the “deal” mom had struck with American Express to drop us off. We passed several of the “ausfahrt” signs for Stuttgart and I began to get nervous. I went up to the tour guide, who was kind of a ditsy, but busty woman dressed in a dirndl, and asked her to take us to the train station in Stuttgart. She stopped smiling for a moment and explained that she could not do that. I had told her that my mother had made this arrangement with the tour before we left, but she was not having any of it. I think she thought we were planning on running away! After about 10 minutes of pleading with her, I finally gave up and returned to my seat. My sister Els, who was 13 at the time, was beginning to panic, so I did my best to calm her down…hard to do, since I was beginning to panic myself as we did not have any address or phone number to contact my parents with!

When we got to the Karlsruhe train station, we ticked off the list of people we thought we could contact for help. Unfortunately, many were gone for the summer and those people we tried to call were not at home. Options being few, Els and I pooled our remaining spending money and found we had just enough to buy two train tickets to Stuttgart. Our plans, if we couldn’t find our parents when we arrived in Stuttgart, catch a ride (that part was unclear) to the nearest Army base and turn ourselves into the M.P. station. We jumped on the next train and headed out for the unknown.

The trip took about an hour and a half, which put us about four hours overdue. On our arrival, we didn’t see mom or dad. We took several turns around the inside of the station looking for the family. Failing to do so, I told Els to sit on a bench in the station (to keep an eye out for mom) while I took a look outside. I was hoping to see our Volkswagen or some military person who could help. I wandered around for about 15 minutes and failed to see anyone. I was just about ready to re-enter the station, when I ran into my mom! Both of us were overjoyed as we went in and retrieved my sister. Soon, we were on our way to the safety of the Pattonville housing area and our new apartment home on Verdun Street.

In retrospect, the whole thing seemed like a bad Rodney Dangerfield joke. For many years afterward, my sister and I would laugh and tease mom mercilessly about trying to get rid of us by moving and not leaving us a forwarding address!

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