EUROPEAN PATHS, FALL 1960
My family took me to a
passenger gate at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport on Sunday, Sept. 18,
1960. In the late afternoon my dad shook my hand and wished me a good trip.
Jerry, my brother, followed suit. Surprisingly, Mom shed tears as she watched
me leave the passenger lounge, cross the tarmac, and climb up the stairway from
the runway to the airliner’s door. Once on board, Bill and I assumed our assigned
seats, side by side, in the blue-themed interior of the Pan American airliner. Attendants
welcomed us aboard, demonstrated how to buckle up, the airplane lifted off and
we were bound for Heathrow airport.
Bill and the Jetliner at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport
This was my first experience in an airplane of any sort. The
first Pan Am commercial flight using a Boeing 707 jet was logged in October
1958, so the nonstop flight to London from Seattle would have been a novelty for
almost everyone. On take-off, I marveled at the powerful lift of the jet
engines. Out of the window, I saw Puget Sound and the Olympic mountains. They
soon receded and I was looking down upon the familiar green forests of the Cascade
mountain range. The mountain greenery quickly gave way to some familiar sights in
Central Washington such as the Columbia River, far below. I even picked out the
Grand Coulee Dam, the final landmark I recognized. Flying was exciting! I could
understand why many young people were entering airline jobs as flight
attendants, engineers and pilots.
Breakfast Break in Paris
After takeoff, groups formed. Passengers unbuckled their
seat belts, moved around the cabin and formed conversation groups in the aisles
or over seat-backs. Multilingual ability was the ticket to admission to any huddle.
Monolinguals were barred admission, informally, to a group other than one’s own.
I was determined to overcome destiny tried a few German phrases on a group of
German-speakers. I learned quite quickly that the Germans wanted to engage in
conversation with each other and not to give language coaching to a novice
German speaker. I slunk back to my seat.
Gradually the hubbub died down and I slept for a few hours.
There were no incidents—none, that is, until we approached Heathrow
Airport in the morning light. Then, during the rough descent through clouds,
the pilot announced that thick fog covering the airport would prevent him from landing
in London. We’d be forced to detour to Paris. The powerful engines accelerated
once again. We were soon above the clouds and bound for France.
“Forced!” Bill echoed. “Unfortunate us!”
“Yes, this will be tough,” I agreed, pretending great
disappointment. For us, it was actually a bonus of more miles of travel than we’d
paid for. We had no fixed schedules to meet. Why not spend the morning in
We watched as the plane approach Charles DeGaulle airport.
Villages and farms slipped past and then we landed smoothly on French tarmac.
When the pilot had us parked at a terminal, the airline crew brought a French
breakfast on board: steaming hot chocolate, buttery croissants, fruits and some
sliced meats. The classic French petit déjeuner prompted me to ask, “What
delicacies will we have for breakfast in London tomorrow?”
I was on this trip for experience and an accident of weather
delivered a French breakfast to my seat well ahead of schedule. The flight
delay was probably the cause of agony for some with a business schedule to meet
but a blessing for others. I felt blessed.
Two Frontier Hicks in the Big City
Once off the plane in London we collected our luggage. Then,
taking deep breaths, we plunged into the crowds. Immediately we were blown away
by the cosmopolitan mix: turbans, Chinese women in decorative dress, and mixed
race couples everywhere. Personally I was amazed to glimpse a white-gowned Arab
whiz past in a chauffeured limousine.
To Bill I confessed, “Suddenly I feel like a hick from the
Bill, never one for self-deprecation, corrected me: “You may
be from the frontier, but you’re not a hick.”
I agreed. I was from a frontier. But I continued to suppose
that my intrigue with the ethnic variety of London confirmed that I was, in
fact, a hick also. And I hoped that Londoners could and would understand this
hick’s excitement at having been whisked overnight from the frontier to the very
center of civilization. The magic carpet effect was real.
Though beholding the sights was our great desire, our first practical
imperative in the British capital city was to find a night’s lodging. We found
that our first choice, the YMCA, had no room for us. But we had a backup to
which we turned: Peace Haven, a hostel-like establishment with a lovely name.
I accepted the challenge of making the telephone call to
Peace Haven. I found a phone booth easily enough. Painted bright red, it was
difficult not to see. But organizing the English coinage required to make a pay
phone call, coupled with the catching of my coat in the red-painted wooden door
of the wooden telephone booth, created some complications and really flustered
I was wearing a wool overcoat; so was Bill. Over the next
few weeks, each week colder than the previous one in the series, the warmth of
these coats made us grateful to have them. The coats were true friends, even
though they made us look old-fashioned.
Once I’d freed the coat from the door, I picked up the
receiver and an operator answered. That required no change. But then she said,
“Please enter 4 pence.”
“I can’t. I have no pence!” I whined. She took the whine as a
plea for help. She was right.
After a pause, she said, “Then I can wait while you get four
pence.” Clearly my whimper worked.
I left the received dangling and went across the way to a
nearby bank to get pence. When I returned minutes later with the correct change
in hand, the patient operator was still on the line. I entered the four pence
and she connected me with the receptionist at Peace Haven.
I should’ve been prepared to press “button A” the moment I
heard the receptionist. A voice prompted me, “Press button A please,” but there
were several buttons and I didn’t know which one was “A.” So when the receptionist
answered, I could hear her but she couldn’t hear me.
Panicked by something as
innocuous as a British telephone booth, I relied solely on instinct and rapidly
pressed a series of unlabeled buttons. Lucky again! I feared that I’d press a
disconnect button and be cut off, but that didn’t happen. Soon I could hear the
receptionist and she committed to hold a room for Bill and me. Success! Now the
next challenge: getting to the Haven, located about eight
miles away in Acton.
We traveled in a westerly direction on public transit: first
by bus, then the Tube, and finally we switched to a second bus. This was my
first experience at riding the Tube, and I adapted quickly. By mistake, we dropped
from the second bus a few stops early and had to walk several blocks, toting
our heavy travel bags. Fatigued from lack of sleep and by the weight of our bags,
we took a break, sitting on a curb. Passersby smiled upon us angelically but
didn’t offer to carry our luggage.
Bill asked me, “Where is this place, again?”
“Very good question! I wish I knew,” was all I could offer. “I
just hope we’re going in the right direction.” We picked up our loads and started
So far, our experience in London showed that we were raw,
uninitiated, and largely unprepared, despite all of the handholding at the AAA
office back in Portland. But it also showed that we were determined. We did not
An Affordable Peace
Finally, really exhausted now, we arrived at Peace Haven, an
older three-storied brick building on a street paved with similar bricks. We
soon were stunned that our Haven was starkly furnished, with no carpeting,
naked light bulbs, waxed toilet paper, one single bathroom for men one floor up
from our room, and surplus army bunk beds with sags. But, we admitted, it was
cheap! Four English pounds for four days, including both bed and breakfast for
two persons. I should add to the list of features the smell of coal smoke throughout
the building. It was late afternoon by the time we arrived. We hit the hay for
the remainder of the day.
Some Serious Sights
Next morning: bacon, eggs, tomatoes, and tea for breakfast. Remembering
the elegant petit déjeuner in Paris the previous
morning I began thinking that we should move on to Paris early. As soon as we
were finished with the meal we traveled into central London by bus and Tube,
emerging from under-ground at Piccadilly Circus. We marched past Lord Nelson’s
column on Trafalgar Square, watched the impressive but archaic changing of the
guard at Admiralty Arch, then walked on to Big Ben, Westminster Cathedral, and
past the houses of Parliament. Finally, at 2 p.m. we stopped for lunch in a sandwich
shop. (Sandwiches and coffee only 12 pence! No problem!)
“What monuments!” I exclaimed to Bill over lunch. My
exhaustion was gone, and now my mood had flipped to euphoric. In addition, in
consideration of the great sights of London yet to behold, I withdrew my earlier
thought of rushing off to Paris. Fed and watered, we had energy to go on to
several other renowned sights.
Photo: Saint Paul’s Cathedral amid World War II Ruins
My expansive mood passed all bounds when I walked up to St.
Paul’s Cathedral and entered through a great door to explore the interior. I’d
studied John Donne (“Ask not for whom the bell tolls”) with great admiration
back at Seattle Pacific. Now I was standing in person before John Donne’s
monument in the very building of the congregation which he’d served as Dean of
the Cathedral. I encountered a second surprise as I walked around a big pillar
and unexpectedly came face to face with Holman Hunt’s “Christ Knocking at the
Door,” an art piece that was familiar to me from Sunday school literature. Lifted
by such treasures I totally put aside all disappointments about Peace Haven.
Photo: In St. Paul's, suddenly face to face with "Christ Knocking"
A Diplomatic Boost
Later that afternoon we made our way to the office of the
High Commissioner of Sierra Leone to seek passports for possible travel to
Sierra Leone, West Africa, at the onset of winter.
We stepped from a sidewalk into a stone-walled building. The
office was located conveniently at street-level. As we entered, we introduced
ourselves to the receptionist of course. “We’re American students, headed to
Sierra Leone to get acquainted with the country,” we said.
The High Commissioner overheard the conversation and emerged
from his inner office when he heard “American students.”
The receptionist introduced the High Commissioner to us very
simply, with the words: “This is Dr. Richard Kelfa-Caulker.”
Dr. Kelfa-Caulker surprised us. He stepped around the desk
and welcomed us with warm words, a handshake, and a broad smile. His black hair
was mixed with grey and his gray suit coat covered a matching vest. Motioning us
into his private office, he asked us to be seated. I was amazed at the courtesy
offered to us by Sierra Leone’s highest representative in London, who was dressed
as if to meet the Queen.
Photo:Sierra Leone’s High Commissioner
to the U.K., Ambassador Dr. Richard E. Kelfa-Caulker
Relaxed but animated conversation ensued. He seemed
fascinated that we college graduates might be heading to his native land. He
also discovered that he had a church connection with us. Bill and I were
members of the Evangelical United Brethren (EUB) Church and so was Dr.
Kelfa-Caulker. That came to light when he told us that he’d previously served
as the Principal of Albert Academy. Albert Academy had a reputation as the prominent
EUB secondary school for boys in Freetown. We recognized that connection and it
gave us a common bond. And, he continued, he was the first African principal of
Albert Academy. The long line of his predecessors as principal were American
Seated in a deeply cushioned leather arm chair and surveying
the office walls and furniture I thought, “What a contrast to Peace Haven!” A dark-stained
wooden desk, wooden wall paneling, beautiful artifacts and paintings of Sierra
Leone adorned the room. Maybe this space was our “peace haven” in fact.
And what a friendly man Kelfa-Caulker turned out to be. He assured
us that we’d be welcome in his country, gave us a brief history of the drive
toward independence, and shared a few laughs with us. He also shared a few family
matters: that he’d left his wife and two children in Freetown, where he would
rejoin them when his appointment to London ended. He also remarked on a recent,
sad family tragedy: the death of his brother-in-law in Dakar in the crash
of a French Constellation airplane.
After about an hour of friendly and educational conversation,
he stated that we were in the wrong office to obtain visas. He’d have to send
us to the British Passport Office. Reason: Sierra Leone was not yet independent
from England and wouldn’t be handling its own visa affairs until April, 1961.
“We’ve made a mistake, but a fortunate one for us. We got to
meet you,” I said. “Sorry to take your time, Sir. You’ve given us a lot of time
“No problem,” Kelfa-Caulker said. “But let me help you get
to the Passport Office.”
To make sure we’d cross the city without getting lost and
before the Passport Office closing time, he buzzed his chauffeur and gave him
instructions to drive us in the Hummer limousine. The chauffeur was very adept
at outpacing other traffic and dodging pedestrians, providing thrills well beyond
the roller coaster ride at the Western Washington State fair. I could imagine
onlookers saying something like, “Look! Two American chaps chauffeured in a
limo, just like sheiks. This is really a cosmopolitan city!”
We arrived on time and received our visas for travel in
Our second day on English soil was great. The highlight was
that Dr. Kelfa-Caulker gave me confidence that I’d have one very great
experience in Sierra Leone, if we actually got there. In this one hour he defined
the African independence movement for me and whetted my interest in visiting
his small nation.
As a churchman he also eased my feelings about the EUBs east
of the Rockies. In fact, he’d been educated at Otterbein College in Ohio, one
of the centers of the “liberal” Eastern EUB influence according to many back in
Oregon and Washington State. Here in London I met an “Eastern” EUB with whom I
instantly bonded, spiritually as well as educationally.
Stones of the Ages
During a week of many high points in London, we visited a particular
pilgrimage site: Wesley’s Chapel. It was built in 1778 under the leadership of
the primary founder of Methodism, John Wesley.
Photo Wesley’s Chapel, “The Cathedral
of Methodism,” London
Since the EUB Church dated back to the Wesleyan revival and
descended from Methodist-style preaching among German immigrants in America, a
stop at Wesley’s Chapel was an important priority for Bill and me. Although it
was known informally as the “Cathedral of Methodism,” the Chapel’s proportions
were modest compared to those of the other cathedral, St. Paul’s. Nevertheless,
Mr. Wesley’s Chapel, with its formal décor and dark woodwork, was exactly what
I needed to see in order to cement my religious heritage into my heart and mind...
Across City Road, the street on which the chapel fronted, lay
a cemetery that Bill and I also visited. Known as the dissenter’s cemetery, it
sheltered the remains of a glittering array of English literary and historical
personalities: John Bunyan, William Blake, George Fox, William Wilberforce and
many others. John Wesley himself, though, was buried back across City Road,
behind the Chapel.
The Chapel and its furnishings were of interest, but more striking
to me was the Museum of Methodism, housed in an attached building. There, an
informational piece on Wesley’s life stated that he made a fortune during his
lifetime but vowed to die penniless. He accomplished his vow by giving his very
last financial assets to a children’s hospital while on his deathbed. Talk
about careful lifetime financial planning! Wesley followed his own teaching: “Do
all the good you can, as long as you can.” And one could add, “Do good while
On this visit Bill and I were reminded of another of Wesley’s
famous teachings, “The world is my parish.” Suddenly a light went on in each of
our brains. We were Wesleyan. And here we were, half a world away from our
birthplaces, exploring the meaning of ministry for our own lives. Our motives
for travel to this spot and beyond were rooted in our Wesleyan religious
tradition that knew no official limits or bounds. Perhaps the world would
become Bill’s parish or mine too.
Still Older Stones
Still later that day, I stood outside the Tower of London, the
old royal prison, and viewed stones set in a grassy embankment. An
informational sign stated that the stones were remnants from the Roman
occupational of England ages ago.
I thought of some “old” structures in my experience back
home in Tacoma. The oldest remaining building in the city was Job Carr’s cabin,
built in 1865, rotting away but still on display at the beginning of Five Mile
Drive in Point Defiance Park. The Hudson’s Bay log fort of 1844 had been reconstructed
in the same park. Until just now, I’d thought the cabin and the fort were very
Historic American Buildings
Survey via Wikimedia. In the public domain.
I felt struck by the
depth of time, like I’d been struck by the depth of the universe earlier in
life when I looked at the Milky Way through a telescope for the first time. This
time I looked into the depths of English and Roman history with the help of old
Photo:The Tower: History
Once again, I felt like a hick from the frontier suddenly
admitted to the center of civilization. But that’s why I was standing within
St. Paul’s Cathedral, in Wesley’s Chapel, and in front of the Tower: to
explore, to get out of my narrow niche, better to understand myself. Thanks to
my supportive parents, my draft board and pickle dollars earned at Nalley’s
during the summer, that very day I was experiencing, with greater intensity, almost
more than I could take in. The effect on me was that my perception changed.
Photo: Big Ben; enjoying a late
Family Friends in Oxford
On Wednesday, September 28, while Bill remained in London, I
traveled by train to Cambridge to meet the Emsden family—Mr., Mrs., and three
kids. I’d arranged a contact with the family through Bob, an older friend at my
church in Tacoma, who suggested—virtually insisted, in fact—that I meet the friends
he’d made during his World War II military service in the U.S. Army. The Emsdens
were his foster family while he was stationed in England, and fifteen years
later they were still in close contact.
The dull red passenger cars of the train presented a low
profile, with a rounded top. I had to duck to keep avoid colliding with the top
of the doorframe as I entered my assigned car. The train left London on time
and arrived in Cambridge on schedule. Getting out of London and riding through sixty
miles of green countryside vividly displayed the beauty of rural England.
Walking from the train to the Emsdens’ house gave me a
chance to poke around the university town. I found the family’s home easily.
They lived right in town in a two-storied brick house accessible through a gate
in a wooden fence. Their green yard space was entirely surrounded in a small compound.
Mrs. Emsden demonstrated something important about food in England.
On my own in London, I’d found it difficult to obtain enough food at mealtimes to
feel satisfied, and that held true at breakfast, lunch and dinner. But the she provided
three extraordinarily large and tasty meals: a huge lunch (steak and kidney
pie,) tea, and high tea.
I’d heard of high tea. I’d seen it on a menu in the Princess
Hotel in Victoria, B.C. But I’d never had it presented to me until this day.
For high tea, Mrs. Emsden offered a salad plus an eel dish. The North Sea eel
looked a little weird to me but I enjoyed the chicken-like flavor. Overall, the
three meals proved beyond doubt that it was possible to eat very well in
England, at the hands of the right cook. At each of them I felt full and
A blind university student from Zurich, Switzerland, Rosemarie
by name, was boarding with the family. She invited me to visit her in Zurich. I
told her that Bill and I would try to do just that when we got there later in
the fall. I was surprised to have made contact with a continental European
student in an English home and recognized how fortunate she was to study for a
time in Cambridge University.
It struck me that the host family’s patterns of relating to
each other were far more structured than those of my family. The Emsden
children weren’t allowed to “fool around.” They were to respect the authority
of Mother and Father and clearly did so. In return, the parents showed great consideration
for the kids and helped them in many ways. When the boys complained that they
weren’t being successful in sports, for example, their father consoled them.
When the young daughter, Ingrid, set out for school, her mom walked there with
One of their family routines seemed very special. Each family
member kissed all others whenever one of them went out of the house, even if
only for an errand. Routinely kissing one another was never practiced in my childhood
home. But here, I felt left out. None of the Emsdens approached me to kiss. I
rubbed my chin. No, I’d definitely shaved before leaving London and stubble was
not the reason I was excluded. But if I had been kissed, I’d have been
embarrassed. Probably they knew that.
The Emsdens gave me some directions and encouraged me to
walk about the town a bit. I was able to put all my wilderness mapping skills
to good use in the winding old streets. (Even in much larger and more complex London,
once I got my directions and a map I was able find my way through its oft-winding,
convoluted streets with confidence.) I reacted to my walkabout with thanks. Cambridge
and the campus exuded charm and character.
EUROPEAN PATHS, FALL 1960
Dr. Kelfa-Caulker surprised us. He stepped around the desk and welcomed us with warm words, a handshake, and a broad smile. His black hair was mixed with grey and his gray suit coat covered a matching vest. Motioning us into his private office, he asked us to be seated. I was amazed at the courtesy offered to us by Sierra Leone’s highest representative in London, who was dressed as if to meet the Queen.
Still Older Stones
Photos: In Cambridge, the Emsden family and the university
dge, I benefitted from an older American’s wartime sacrifice and ties. As my visit ended, I felt sadness at having to leave such friendly warmth and comfort to go back to London and then on to continental Europe.
On the route to Interlaken I passed close to the town of Brienz, located on the north shore of Lake Brienz. I knew that my great grandmother, Anna Michel, and her 10 children---including Elisabeth, my grandmother—had all emigrated from Switzerland to Wisconsin in the late 1870s and early 1880s. Unfortunately, I learned of their exact home town only after arriving back in the United States. Then I felt I’d cheated myself unwittingly by driving past my grandmother’s village. But I felt good that Bill had seen his grandfather’s village, Wald. Vicarious joy is still joy.