My cross-country trip in 1976 started one month after my 21st birthday. This adventure celebrated our great country's bi-centennial while acknowledging the end of my childhood...on my own terms.
A MILE FROM BEALE STREET, "THE HOME OF THE BLUES...BIRTHPLACE OF ROCK N' ROLL," THE MISSISSIPPI RIVER BRIDGE LINKS MEMPHIS TENNESSEE TO ARKANSAS. ALONG THESE BANKS, I WAS AMONG A MILLION PEOPLE ON THE 4th OF JULY TO SEE THE GRAND BI-CENTENNIAL FIREWORKS DISPLAY.
From June to September, I was on the road for 68 eight days. My sweep of the U.S. of A. also included time in Mexico and Canada. To minimize the cost, I used a tent and sleeping bag. I was also able to visit a few people I knew and was taken-in several times by strangers. On rare occasions, I got a motel room and many other times...especially in Canada, I stayed in youth hostels.
Designed for travelers, youth hostels are temporary, budget-oriented, sociable accommodations. Currently, there are over 20,000 of them worldwide.
In 1976 there were few youth hostels in here in the states. On my trip, I was fortunate to stumble into two: Georgetown Colorado and Flagstaff Arizona. When I crossed into Canada, every town seemed to have at least one. I used them in Vancouver, Moose Jaw, Toronto, Montreal and Quebec City.
Hostels are all unique. Most are co-ed but not all. The sleeping arrangements vary, the ones I stayed in provided; a gymnasium floor, dormitory setting, barracks and private room. These lodgings were in schools, churches, houses and even the basement of a cafe. I recall them all being 2 or 3 dollars. To reduce overhead, most places encouraged its visitors to do menial chores.
Hostel doors typically opened at dusk. They were small in size, so availability was on a first come, first serve basis. In the morning, you were kicked out after having coffee and a sweetie (10AM)...the one in Vancouver sent everyone merrily along with a brown bag lunch.
The idea for Youth Hostels came from German, Richard Schirrmann in 1912. His original concept for a jugendherberge was for inner city kids to have a place to stay while appreciating the countryside. Two years later, Schirrmann's vision went into a new direction while serving in WWI.
In my pre-pubescent years, going to war was considered noble. In the years before Vietnam, playing army, having toy guns and setting up elaborate battles with plastic soldiers was my favorite past-time. I even loved watching war movies. I was moved by combat, bravery, camaraderie and the spirit of survival. Despite being tinged with propaganda, World War II pictures embodied all these positives. However, even at an early age, I couldn't understand the waste and dehumanization of the "war to end all wars."
I came to associate World War I with trench warfare. Nothing could be more stupid than laying in a filthy rat infested rut in the mud until your platoon was sent, "over the top." These futile blind stabs in the dark (in daylight too) were mass charges, into the teeth of enemy machine gun fire. Both sides should be ashamed of themselves. These suicidal salvos wasted ten of thousands of lives in the name of gaining scant yards of barely strategic real estate.
THE "GREAT WAR" WAS THE FIRST FULLY MECHANIZED MILITARY ENGAGEMENT. THE DESTRUCTIVE TECHNOLOGY WAS WAY AHEAD OF ITS TIME. IT CAUSED HIGH AMOUNTS OF DEVASTATING INJURIES FOR WHICH THERE WAS NO DEFENSE. BEING THE PRIMA DONNA THAT I AM, I WOULDN'T HAVE LASTED 10 MINUTES IN ONE OF THOSE HOLES.
Near Ypres, Belgium, around this time of year in 1914, the English and Germans were faced-off in one of these theaters of battle. To worsen the daily grind of trench warfare and the constant threat of heavy artillery or a stray sniper's bullet, a bitter cold gripped the area.
Under these harsh conditions, the fighting fell into an unscheduled lull. During this period of calm, some Germans began stringing lights along their trenches. When the Germans began singing familiar Christmas carols in their language, the Brits responded by singing the English version. Soon the enemies were singing together.
YOUTUBE VIDEO OF THE CHRISTMAS TRUCE OF 1914, (5 minutes).
The combatants began noticing that there hadn't been gunfire in a while. Then those with the greatest faith in their fellow man, began coming out of their trenches. Members of both sides wandered into the abyss. Surrounded by the pock-marked earth, the stench of burnt gunpowder, uprooted trees and the remains of fallen comrades, the two sides met. The conversations took many forms. Some included: holiday well wishes and shared photos of loved ones while others bartered for rations and souvenirs.
Dead bodies were recovered, prayers were said and both sides helped each other dig graves. Later, a soccer game was played during this most spontaneous, unique and beautiful moments in the history of armed conflict. During the entire time of this armistice there were no random hostilities. Eventually, both armies returned to their lines. After a while, the bombing and mayhem was restored.
THE IMPROMPTU 1914 TRUCE AND SOCCER GAME WAS ATTEMPTED THE NEXT CHRISTMAS AND EASTER. THE MIRACULOUS RESULTS WERE NEVER MATCHED.
One of the German participants during this cease-fire was Richard Schirrmann, the originator of the Youth Hostile. From this golden moment, he got an epiphany to expand his idea...to develop a social setting for gentle, foreign travelers.
I treasure the time I spent in youth hostels in the summer of 1976...even if the peach they gave me in Vancouver had a zillion ants in its core. More importantly, I hung-out and shared sightseeing and general information with loads of people my age from all over the world. I even had three Norwegians from the Quebec City hostel stay over my parents house.
It doesn't matter how you celebrate the holiday season...what matters is...the goodness of the human spirit. Share it with friends, family and strangers too. If warring parties could do it under the threat of sudden and unnecessary death during the Great War...while freezing their butts off...anyone can do it.
LOVE ~ PEACE ~ HAPPINESS ...TO ALL !