In the way some teenagers are obsessed with music and others with sports or a particular hobby, I was fascinated by the world. During World War II, American armies in Europe or Asia headlined the news every day, and I think it was the limits of my own world that made these distant places so intriguing. Gas rationing and only one family car limited my travels to the three miles between our farm and school.
A Bing Crosby song of 1948 captured my dreams:
Far away places with strange sounding names, Far away over the sea
Those far away places with the strange sounding names are, Calling, Calling me
Goin’ to China or maybe Siam, I wanna see for myself,
Those far away places I’ve been reading about in a book that I took from a shelf
Finally, during Christmas holiday in my freshman college year, Dad planned a long-anticipated family trip. Seven of us packed into our Chevrolet sedan for the trip, first to visit family in Houston and then on into Mexico.
The camera I received for Christmas would capture the exotic sights, and in my diary, I recorded events day by day. “January 6: South of Laredo we went through an area of cactus, sagebrush and mesquite. The grass between these plants was so bare you could hardly see it. In the very scattered villages, we found many adobe huts made from mud blocks, often with thatched roofs, of leaves taken from one kind of cactus. …Several miles out of Laredo, we saw a faint blue outline of a mountain range to the left. This was our first mountain and I was very thrilled at the sight of it.”
Despite more than a few hardships, each day was exciting. We only had time to go as far as the Tropic of Cancer to get me back to my college in Missouri for the start of second semester classes, but it was still almost too much to absorb.
The concluding sentence of my diary said it all: I love Mexico.
In fact, I would have loved any destination outside the rural Midwest, but Mexico was a great beginning in my exploration of faraway places.