Even though my Mom, June Steves, passed away in 2011, she remains a huge presence. When I think of how my Mom catapulted me into the wonderful life I’ve enjoyed, it was she who first took me to Europe. While my Dad was busy doing business with European piano-builders (he imported pianos), Mom was my first travel partner. (Dad was the big personality — the lead character in most stories in our family lore. But it was Mom who made sure we caught the plane, had our documents, stayed safe, and were well-fed.)
Back when I was a 14-year-old who had hardly set foot on an airplane, together we were immersed in the wonders of Europe. On that first dip into Europe, Mom and I stood in front of our first hotel in the Netherlands watching bicyclists gather at a stoplight on the way to the fields — wooden shoes filling their little handlebar baskets. Mom helped me collect a cigar box full of artfully designed beerhall coasters, tiny coins with donut holes, and sugar cubes wrapped with advertising from the restaurants we visited all over Europe. Together we collected souvenir pins to ornament my Bavarian felt hat.
In Paris, pondering the grand monuments, Mom and I puzzled at buildings that looked both new and ancient — built in the Neoclassical style…the style of ancient Rome, but dating only from the age of Napoleon. Venturing into our first subway ride ever, we found our way to a stop called Trocadéro, emerged, turned the corner, and simultaneously set eyes for the first time on the jaw-dropping Eiffel Tower. Like playmates in a wonderous park, we spontaneously held hands and ran toward that towering icon…as if entering a dream come true.
When friends in Germany gave us a tin of white asparagus, we poked at it and marveled together at what looked like a rare albino vegetable. And, with Norwegian relatives, we traveled to the fjord where we found the actual house from where my mother’s mother left for the “New Land” — in her case, Canada.
On that first trip, I was attached to my Mom — literally — as back then a mother and her child could share the same passport. And flying home from that first foreign adventure, I have a hunch my Mom had a hunch she had helped plant in me a seed that would sprout into a lifelong passion for travel.
One of my favorite photos is of me and my Mom with our hosts in Austria in a dusty village on the border of communist Hungary. It was 1969, and Mom had just introduced me a man (far left) who claimed to have witnessed the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in 1914, which kicked off World War I. Whether he actually saw it or not, the story he told had me wide-eyed — and when I look back on it, I think it was a pivotal moment in my life that directed me toward my history degree and a passion for learning and teaching through thoughtful travel.
My Mom — who, on her first trip ever to Europe, took better care of me than herself — gave me the gift of making the world, past and present, my friend through travel. Thanks, Mom. While I’d love more than ever to share a trip with you right now, I’ll always pack you along in spirit. I love you.