Back in the day, a mother’s passport would also serve as the passport for her young children. This was our passport photograph. My mom, Jackie, is seen with my brother, Chris, the towhead, and me, the good-looking one. Our youngest brother, Frank, must have been Photo-shopped out of the picture.
The year was 1959, or there about, I was about six, Chris about four and Frank was not yet about. We needed this passport photo, because we were going on a south Asian family vacation. Not quite National Lampoon material, but maybe with a bit of a rewrite? My dad was in the navy and we had been stationed on Guam, in the south pacific. This explains my mom’s tanned complexion and subsequent skin cancer treatments years later. If you look closely, I’ve got a pair of raccoon eyes on and even Chris has a bit of a tan going.
Our itinerary included, at least as far as I can remember it, the Philippines, Thailand and India. We flew, on propeller driven aircraft; the Boeing 707 wasn’t available yet. The limited range of the aircraft required refueling stops, one of these was in Saigon. Because we were traveling to countries that were rife with rather nasty tropical diseases, a whole bunch of immunizations were required. Back then, each disease had its own shot and there were over twenty of them, now they can combine them into one. Facing twenty plus needles was a daunting prospect for a six-year-old. I’m glad that today’s children are more fortunate.
I have two memories from the Philippines, one was of Baguio, a high altitude resort area and the second was of being busted for shoplifting. Busted by my parents that is, because I had gotten clean away with it. It was a little metal airplane that was already busted itself, but my folks made be go back to the store and apologize for my theft. We subsequently had to leave the country.
Next up was Thailand, or more particularly Bangkok. I remember two things about this stop too. Maybe two things were all that I was capable at that time? I remember playing hide and seek with Chris in a Buddhist monastery or temple. The rows of ancient pillars made for easy hiding and the monks didn’t seem to mind. Far more impressive were the klongs. These are the canals that lace Bangkok. We toured the klongs in an open motorboat that to this day seem reminiscent of the Disney Jungle Boat ride. I still remember the abject poverty of the people who lived on these klongs, and the lack of sanitation. You would expect a six-year-old to pick up on that aspect. Chris has unearthed a home movie that covers the Philippines and Bangkok. I’ll have to YouTube it for you.
Our third and certainly most memorable stop was India, New Delhi, I believe. It is certainly the biggest city near the Taj Mahal. Three memories remain with me from this part of our trip, but then I was older by this stop. They all revolve around our visit to the Taj Mahal. I am told that we rented a car and driver along with another couple — seven people in a car — that must have been interesting. To set the scene the countryside was arid, dry and dusty. The first image that remains with me is a pair of tree full of vultures. There were no leaves on these trees, but in their place were enough birds to make the trees look leafed out.
We stopped in a village on the way out and two things from that stop remain in my mind. First, a villager offered to buy Chris, but our dad refused. At the time, I wanted a dog instead of a brother, so I was all in favor of the deal. Intros aside, they put on a show for us. A man had two burlap bags. He reached into the first and pulled out a cobra. Then he reached into the second and pulled out a mongoose. Let the games begin! It was fun. It was exciting and over all too quickly, for the cobra. Money for man and mongoose and we were on our way.
The Taj Mahal is surrounded by a dry and dusty red brick wall. This dirty dilapidated barrier only serves to accentuate the feelings of joy when a person passes through the wall and views the Taj Mahal and its gardens. Even to a six-year-old, it is awe-inspiring. After this I have no memory of the rest of the trip. Future parents, on long car/airplane trips, remember this, vultures, cobras, mongooses and a Seventh Wonders of the World, this will entertain them.