The Grande Tour of 1964
February 13, 2022
When I was 16, my father came home in the middle of his workday carrying a small hardcover blue book that had arrived from the post office. It was a du Pont-Carpenter family book of genealogy by George Valentine Massey. I had heard family lore that a cousin twice removed from a previous generation had been a governess for Irénée du Pont and had married a visitor to the estate. That visitor was Walter S. Carpenter Jr., the chairman of the DuPont Company.
His wife, Mary Wootten Carpenter, paid for my father to attend Duke University, but he only stayed one year. My father was smart, but I suppose he was not one who loved studying. Plus, unlike me, he probably suffered from homesickness. The Mary Carpenter Library in Laurel is named after her.
I am also the great-granddaughter of Dr. Edward Fowler, a lawyer and old-fashioned country doctor. His granddaughter was Mary Louise Wootten Carpenter, my cousin. His name appears on the cornerstone of Peninsula General Hospital in Salisbury, Md. He read Latin and Greek. The Latin figures later in my story.
Anyway, for some reason, this book of genealogy came with some stock for Christiana Securities, which was a holding company controlled by the du Pont family. To my surprise, my parents wanted me to "enjoy" some of the windfall immediately! It was not like my father to dip into this so quickly, but more like my mother who seemed to want me to spend some of this money right away.
I was given three choices. Buy a car, attend a snobby girls’ boarding school, or go on a Grande Tour of Europe. Now, I know most teenagers would choose the car, but I was not one to hang around the Tastee Freez (yes, there was one in Milton in the 1960s). I was more given to watching the short stories of Guy de Maupassant on PBS on Friday nights. Plus, I was terrified of learning to drive back then, as I am now afraid of digital devices. When I finally passed my driving test at age 23 for my first job, it was as big a deal as graduating from college.
The second choice was definitely to be avoided. We traveled to St. Catherine's Episcopal Girls School in Richmond, Va. The snobby headmistress said, "You will attend chapel every evening, wear a plaid uniform, and if you get A's now, you will get C's here." I replied, "What if I get C's now?" It was definitely my mother's idea. No way was I going there!
The third choice was, to my thinking, the most appealing, the Grande Tour of Europe. Not as many people went to Europe back then (1964). It was an amazing six weeks for $995, everything included! Nine countries in six weeks. My mother had found out about this bargain from a fellow teacher friend who taught French and was from Germany.
Teenage girls from all over Sussex County were going! A trip for teenage girls only, I thought! An adventure beyond Milton at last! However, a couple of afternoons later, my mother, not to be outdone, announced that she had connived to come along. I should have known! I was really mad; it was like ballet class all over again.
Besides, she bragged about it all over school. I had planned to keep quiet, knowing nothing good could come from that. One of the more eccentric teachers at Milton Consolidated School was Miss Esther Weakley, teacher of Latin. She already had it out for me, and this really did it.
I would probably be the one most likely to appreciate Latin, even though I hated the conjugations. In fact, I won the writing prize for "How I plan to use Latin in my later life." It was judged by the principal, not Miss Weakley, fortunately for me. Still angry from the contest, when she heard I was going to Europe for the summer Miss Weakley had a fit! "There's a girl in this class whose father is working himself to death to send her to Europe," she said.
The peculiar thing about her was when she got mad, she ate chalk! It was a legend. That day, she ate a whole stick in front of the entire class. To this I replied, "I'm using my own inheritance to pay for this trip." That afternoon, she appeared at our front door, rushed in like a wet hen, and proclaimed to my mother, "This child is too young to appreciate Europe!" I replied, "Why don't you room with my mother?" But unfortunately for me, this never happened. So we went.
The first night, a nice girl asked me to be her roommate, but I had to tell her no. I was, of course, rooming with my mother for the whole trip. She packed the suitcases with a plan, drycleaner's cellophane separating each layer of outfits. A map of the suitcases ruled. Whatever outfit was next in the layering was the one to be worn. Smoothed each night in a tactile ritual.
She thought of all kinds of pills that might be needed. She took naps in the afternoon while I read "Lady Chatterly's Lover," the only book I could find in English. This, while the other girls rode on motorcycles with handsome Italians and chatted with sailors in St. Mark’s Square.
There was an event of local note, however. We visited the Town of Hoorne, Holland, which is the sister city of Lewes. A dinner in the town hall, of which the Zwaanendael Museum is a replica, was hosted for us by Dutch teenagers. But as Miss Weakley said, I was perhaps too young to appreciate Europe then. I wish I had been mature enough to savor the painting "Primavera" by Botticelli, one of my favorite works, but I have gone back a few times since and think back to that first journey of long ago.
A mother-and-daughter trip, six weeks, the longest I was ever alone with her.