This edition of ‘A world of inspiration‘ is a contribution by Christina Callahan Whitaker who lives in the Boston area. Christina’s story is poignant and inspiring; a fitting ode to the spirit of adventure, and to a brave woman who thrived on exploring and experiencing the multitude of cultures of our world.
Memories That Last Forever
Can you imagine the days of travel when cameras were not the norm on every corner? There is a woman I know who has traveled to parts of the globe near and far and has lived amongst the locals in numerous locales. She speaks at least five languages conversationally and has a house full of books and furniture from travels abroad.
As a kid, I remember driving with her in her no frills Fiat that she brought home from Italy. Her official residence is near a beach in Massachusetts. My family would visit her there almost every day in the summertime. Whenever we’d leave her at the end of the day, this tiny, blond Swedish woman would call out “Allahaısmarladık” and we were taught to yell back, ” güle güle.” Sometimes we said “ni hao” or “guten tag.” I mainly saw her in the summertime as she was living abroad during the rest of the year.
She was a reading teacher who taught at U.S. Army bases around the world. She always chose to live off base, however, so she could experience the local culture and language. She is almost 95 years old now and I have not seen a single photo from her travels.
She always shared stories from her travels with anyone who would listen. I always wanted to listen for some reason. Depending on my age at the time, I remember bits and pieces of her tales. One thing I remember her telling me is that she didn’t really take many photos (if any at all). All her memories were “up here,” she said as she pointed to her head. I heard stories of bull fights in Spain, of a stolen car in Germany, of aborigines in Taiwan, of coffee in Turkey.
One of my favorite stories is of a trip she took overland from Ankara, Turkey to Cairo, Egypt. She went by herself by bus. As a solo woman in the days of her travel, this was not the norm. She was certainly brave to go it alone. She had such an interest in history and art that the dangers didn’t seem to deter her. She always made it back safely.
There was another story of her traveling from Germany to Lebanon. She was granted a visa, but her American travel companion was not. She went alone and found she was nearly alone in the hotel she stayed at in downtown Beirut. The streets were empty. It was the early 80s and there were no tourists. Only snipers in windows; waiting. She did not go at a safe time, but she made it out alive with her own story to tell her family and friends. Her stories were always interesting, and even in her old age, just about never repetitive. I believe her intrepid tales inspired in me a curiosity about the world.
Now she is 95 and living on a ranch with her son in California. She cannot tell her stories. She may not have stories even to tell anymore in that mind she pointed to so long ago. She has Alzheimer.
One could look at her and get teary eyed thinking of all she accomplished in her life that she has no memory of. She would not want it this way though. Instead, her deep blue eyes and lines on her face each tell a story of a memory that she so vibrantly lived. I will share her chronicles with my children and tell them of what a strong and interesting woman she was. When I began venturing off on my own, she eagerly awaited to hear of my travels upon my return. I can only hope that she saw a little piece of herself living on in me, her granddaughter.
About this week’s guest writer
Christina has traveled the globe extensively and has lived, studied and worked abroad in such locations as London, Sydney and Skiathos, Greece. In the past, Chris has worked as a travel advisor for a student travel company and as an international programs coordinator at Pepperdine University.