One November day, my best friend in the world, Celia, and I sat down in a snow bank in front of her house. We were in Grade 6, I lived one block away and we were in chilly Steinbach, Manitoba.
We made a decision; we created a pact: we would travel together to some far-off place after Grade 12. We thought: Hawaii!
This was the ’70s, though, so naturally six years later we decided to backpack around Europe. It was what the cool kids did. We bought Let’s Go Europe: Europe on 5 Dollars a Day and dreamed. However, as we got closer to graduation day, the annually released book changed its subtitle: it was now Europe on 10 Dollars a Day. Our overseas budget had doubled!
I worked as a retail clerk at Reimer Pharmacy and wore a uniform like I was a pharmacist, a white cotton short-sleeved jacket with pockets over slacks. Celia worked as a waitress at Pete’s Inn with a nicely trimmed beige dress with pockets. These were minimum wage jobs, but minimum wage was larger then, in comparison to costs.
We graduated from Steinbach Regional Secondary School in late June 1977, then went to work as full-time low-paid girly-goos and managed to save up the $700 round-trip airfare by the end of August.
We went to see our travel agent, Sue, as often as possible. The day I demanded $700 cash from the Steinbach Credit Union to walk the half-block to Sue’s office for my Air Canada booking, I expected a manager to come to the counter. Hmm, no such fanfare. That’s odd, I thought: that’s a lot of money.
September and October allowed us to save for the rest of the trip: Eurail train passes, food and accommodation. It helped that we both lived at home and had yet to see a hydro bill with our names on it.
Then came the magic day in November when we drove to the Winnipeg International Airport to board the jet for Heathrow. I suppose our parents drove us there, but I do not recall. What we remember is the glamorous stewardesses and the many different ways they tied their très-chic Air Canada scarfs. It was like a fashion show!
We landed in London and took the Tube from the airport to the nearest stop from a YWCA. I tell you, it was like I grew two new eyes next to my ears—I never realized the world was so wide.
We went to Rome. We got to the Sistine Chapel in Italy, where we were going to see the most famous ceiling in the world. We did not realize at that time that we were there for the 465th anniversary of the first-ever showing of Michelangelo’s paintings on the ceiling of the Vatican. Anyway, Celia has the bladder the size of a wizened walnut, so we said, “Oh, well, we’ll see it next time,” like our lives would always be filled with November dreams.