I do believe I'd have died a thousand deaths (or at least a hundred) if any of my children had done what I did: took off for Europe at 21 years old without a plan or any contact information except for the temporary address of a friend in Paris.
Though I didn't exactly not have a plan when I stepped on that plane headed for Paris in June of 1973.
I'd graduated from college without a plan, that much was true, but I did have a degree in French. I took a job in telephone sales (at which I was thoroughly mediocre, maybe even less than mediocre) while I cogitated upon my sort-of plan.
I'd spent my junior year of college studying French language and culture at the Institut Catholique in Paris and now what I really yearned to do was work in Europe.
I'd written to a French newspaper or magazine or two - I can't remember exactly which ones - and received some polite encouragement regarding my command of French, but no job offers.
When a college friend of mine who was traveling around Europe with another friend sent me a letter insisting that I should come to Germany, that there were American Army posts all over the country, plenty of jobs to be had at the posts, and that we could live and work there together, I saw my plan fall into place.
My friend suggested that we meet at Tom Liszkay's army post in Babenhausen, Germany and start our job- hunting there where we'd at least know someone. Sounded great to me.
We both had Tom's address so I wrote to my friend in care of Tom, telling her I'd arrive in a month and I wrote to Tom, asking him how to get to his army post from Paris.
A month later I took off for Paris with a suitcase, an over-night bag, $200 and instructions that Tom had sent on how to get to Babenhausen Kaserne, which was the name of the post where he was stationed. ("Kaserne" is German for army post).
...and leave my suitcase with her in Paris while I headed to Babenhausen, Germany with my over-night bag to scope out the situation.
And so after a few days' visit with Marie-Paule I hopped a train from Paris to Frankfurt, Germany and from Frankfurt to Babenhausen, a beautiful little town that had architecture dating back to medieval times.
It was late Saturday afternoon, June 30, 1973 when I arrived in Babenhausen.
When I stepped out of the train station I consulted Tom's directions, which instructed me to turn left in front of the station and head for the highway, then walk about half a mile until I came to the Babenhausen Kaserne on the right.
While I was walking along the highway a car pulled up next to me. A friendly-looking young African American man leaned out the window.
"Hi there," he called, his smile beaming.
"Hello," I called back.
"Where you going," he called, sounding even friendlier.
I started explaining to him where I was going and who I was looking for when his face fell and he cut me off.
"Wait a minute," he said, "you're American?"
"Yes," I replied. "And you are, too, right?"
"Yeah," the young soldier sighed. "Hop in, I know Lieutenant Liszkay. I'll get you through the gate."
And so the soldier got me past the gate guard, drove me onto the post, asked around and found Tom for me. I thought of how lucky I was that a very nice soldier happened by and picked me up.
It was only later I learned that the highway in front of the American Army post was where the soldiers picked up prostitutes.
To be continued...