It was in the summer of 1974, and Canadian youth were adventurous, and eager to expand their horizons by touring Europe.
It was almost a rite of passage, for those of us in our early 20s. Pamphlets and brochures called out to us. “See Europe on a dollar a day”. “Buckingham Palace awaits you”. “Your guide to hostels in all European countires”. “Discounted rail passes”.
This was a time before internet. This information was revered. The pictures flamed our imaginations, and after-school babysitting, and part-time jobs went into full swing, to fill up the money jar for the adventure that awaited us.
I didn’t give much thought to the worry of my parents except for the continued reinforcement of my message: “Don’t worry I will be fine.”
Generations before us went to Europe for differing reasons. Mine would be one of wonder, not of war, yet the intrinsic link of the two is never forgotten.
My friend, Ellen and I boarded our plane in Montreal, June 3 1974, our very first large plane ride and first voyage so distant. We were excited and scared.
The next two months would take us to England, Wales, Scotland, Holland, Germany, Austria and France.
We had no agenda or schedule. Our next direction would often be charted by speaking with someone we met in the hostels, or people we met on trains, or by hitchhiking. Yes everyone hitchhiked across Europe in those days.
It was during one of those thumbs up, looking for a ride where Grantham resident Mary Walker touched our lives.
It was June 29, 1974 to be precise. My diary notes it was a Saturday, cloudy and sunny. We were just 11 miles outside of Grantham with a plan to see an English castle.
A car pulled over, the woman driver introduced herself as Mary. She was heading into Grantham and as we talked, and she learned about our adventure, she decided not only would she drive us directly to the hostel but insisted she would be back the next day to come to her house for tea, and to meet her husband Cyril. After this she would take us to Belvoir Castle.
True to form, Mary Walker was right on time, picked us up and invited us into her home where we had an enjoyable conversation with Cyril and her. Afterwards, she drove us over to Belvoir, and offered to return to pick us up. We politely declined, as we were unsure of the length of time we would be touring, and we were off very early in the morning to go to York.
We exchanged addresses, thanked her immensely for her hospitality and kindness shown to us when we were so far from home.
She left us with an outstanding invitation to open her home if we ever returned to England.
We have stayed in touch, every Christmas since that time, sending our cards from across the miles with updates about our families.
One exchange mentioned the passing of Cyril. I remembered the gentleman of long ago, who patiently sat with the two Canadian strangers and Mary as we talked and talked.
I have introduced Mary to my husband, my children and my grandchildren now, as she has done with her family, through the old fashioned way of mailing Christmas cards.
Forty years have passed. How this happened and why it seems at lightning speed, I just don’t know.
Yet each Christmas I look forward to my card from Mary, a continuation of that chance meeting, which left a life-lasting impression and friendship.
There are many memories I have of that adventure in 1974. Mary Walker’s kindness is one at the forefront.
Merry Christmas to Mary and her family and to all in Grantham.