I was born in Saint Johns on May 8th, 1942.
However, I was nurtured in several places: Saint Johns until I was five; Crystal Lake during summer and Saint Johns for school until I was tenish; and Saint Johns and Pentwater even after I married.
When I was more than five but just less than seven, Daddy had an inheritance and thought the family would benefit from broadening our horizons. He booked a private First Class compartment on the Grand Trunk Rail Road’s Maple Leaf, a Grand Trunk Western Express passenger service drawn by a U-4-b class 4-8-4s locomotive. The steamer, built by Lima had a streamlined shroud and 77-inch (1.956 m) driving wheels was used only in passenger service.
Saint Johns to Durand and hook up with the Maple Leaf from Chicago then a slight north across the mid eastern part of Michigan through the tunnel under the Saint Clair River to Sarnia. From Sarnia the Express took the better part of daylight hours and made the 841 mile trip to Montreal in under 12 hours. From there we embarked on the newly recommissioned SS Empress of Canada bound for Liverpool.
The Empress had been the SS Duchess of Richmond built in 1928 for the Canadian Pacific in Scotland. Recently released from Duty in the British Navy, after she was refit.
I suppose it was fun but I spent most of my voyage under the watchful eye of a Purser’s mate as I had a tendency for mischief.
The Empress was lively in any sort of inclement weather and mother is one of those robust souls who enjoys a bit of a blow. Charles, my brother, has been known to projectile vomit sitting in a swing with his feet off the ground...
Oh ... I am remiss.
Father is Charles William, attorney. Mother is Vera Elizabeth, school teacher. Charles Beckwith is my elder, by some 13 months, brother. We have the same last name but that is the only thing we share. Daddy is black Irish, Scots and English. Mother is pure Finn, and Charles B and I are American ... that is to say ... mutts.
As the Ronco commercials used to say; Wait ... there’s more yet to come. Grace ... who is the present gleam in daddy’s eye ... and Maryanne who is a much later surprise.
There ... the introductions are performed.
Grandmother Austin is Adele Crane of the Laingsburg Cranes. She stayed home to tend a corner store ... in the middle of the block. She lives with us. Grandfather Austin is no longer with us, having shed this mortal coil well before I was born.
Maternal Grandparents are Harry and Myrtle Bleeker originally from Hibbing, Minnesota but presently abiding in Hart Michigan where he is Superintendent of Schools for Oceana County. I have a plethora of cousins because Myrtle is fertile ... or, as they say in polite company ... she was regularly in interesting situations. Mother has one brother and seven sisters ... all are married and prolific.
Five days ... it took five days after we picked up passengers at Quebec and St. John’s, Newfoundland to make landfall in Liverpool. The Empress cabined 700... 400 first and 300 tourist.
Daddy was first class all the way.
Daddy spent like a sailor in the London bespoke mens apparel shops and mother enjoyed Paris. Paris was by channel ferry, rail and car. Mother spoke ... a polyglot French ... enough to get by. Shoes were Italian ... then it was through the Med to Suez and the canal on some Italian cruise ship to Bombay and Singapore. Early September we were in Hong Kong.
Americans were warned about Korea and Daddy decided we should go back the way we had come ... mostly ... We stopped in Spain and bought more shoes and Portugal for some wine and docked in New York City and took the train back to Saint Johns and home.
The What I did for my Summer Vacation page I had to write for second grade was pretty boring. All my friends learned to ride bicycles and the city built a swimming pool ... and a new Jail which I missed out on...
I took the train to Montreal, a boring ship to London and the train to Paris and Rome. Another boring boat ride to Egypt, India, Singapore and Hong Kong. Daddy got scared and we came home. The only good part was I got to miss three weeks of school.
That’s what I wrote ... I didn’t mention the shots or passport photo or the whales or seeing George VI or De Gaulle or the Vatican or the Suez canal or the Pyramids or cobra charmers or the guy who threw the rope in the air and then climbed it or the guy who slept on a bed of nails ... kids weren’t interested in that ... not when they got to watch the pool being built and swimming lessons and tearing down the jail or playing in the haymow at the stockyards. Pretty boring stuff I did compared to that.