I got to thinking what my earliest memories were when I visited America for the first time in 1969. The world was preparing to welcome a new decade and the Cold War was still happening. We flew on Pan AM on a Friends & Family Association ticket. I recall the flight bags that we brought back with us. I used it for school for years.
I remember a few things from that trip that have stayed with me and maybe, just maybe this sparked my continued love for going to America. Yes I would love to visit for more than 1-2 weeks at a time and if things had turned out differently and I had more belief in myself I could of done things differently. For example, having witnessed my youngest daughter going to Summer Camp in Pennsylvania for the first time for three months and it forming her character ever since, I regret not doing Summer Camp years ago. I just didn’t have the confidence and talked myself out of the chance.
So in 1969 these were a few of the memories that made America special. We stayed in New Jersey with friends of my parents. On the first morning we were put in front of the colour television to watch CARTOONS. At the time we had black & white television and there was no day time transmission. You can imagine the awe in which we stared at the screen. We met Wile E Coyote and the Road Runner for the first time. To this day I still have a plastic, squeaky Road Runner and my sister has a poseable Wile E Coyote. They used to be displayed together but life took in different directions so we couldn’t agree on a divorce settlement and they reside in different parts of the UK now.
My Mum pointing up to the sky and telling us to look up at the tallest building in the world. My neck was bent back as far as I could make it go and I couldn’t see the top at all. I don’t remember going up in the lift but I do recall Looking down on the grid of streets from the Empire State Building and the dozens of yellow cabs looking like rats in a labyrinth.. Of course there was no World Trade Centre towers they were still being constructed.
Climbing the wide but dark staircase inside the plinth of the Statue of Liberty to emerge into the daylight to stare up at her sandled feet and looking at the Manhattan skyline. We seemed to climb for what seemed a long time and I didn’t understand what it was we were doing and it seemed very dark and musty. I might be mixing memories here.
Embarking QE2 in New York and completely not understanding that the ornate staircases and ruffled gold curtains in the theatre were on a ship and a British ship at that.
Being given badges by airlines between New York and Chicago and Toronto. I think it was TWA and UNITED. The crew made such a fuss about us and we got colouring books and pencils. It was very exciting.
Visiting China Town in New York and seeing all these items that were completely unique to us. I remember the store like some kind of Aladdin’s cave. There was not a free inch of space anywhere and the colours were hypnotising. The shop owner definitely trying to get my Dad to part with his dollars was memorable because that was like trying to get blood out of a stone. Something I kept for a long time was a small bag of animal shaped erasers that had wobbly eyes and was the only thing that my Dad was prepared to buy.
I remember that to drive into New York we had to go through a tunnel and the traffic never moved very quickly so the greyness of the tunnel and hooting of car horns stuck with me although I don’t know which tunnel it was. Though just looking it could of been Holland or Lincoln.
Another sensory memory is Red Grape Juice. I had never had that in my life and even now I think it has a very special taste. Then there was all the different candies that were Grape flavoured as well as jam and sodas.
Tootsie Rolls were an instant hit and I still get excited when I see them on sale especially the long roll. For years an aunt of our would send Tootsie Pops and midges to us. That was always a thrill.
In Chicago we were taken to a restaurant and the grown ups sat at one table and the children at another. I was presented with this round rather pungent and stodgy culinary local speciality. It made me feel sick, you know that you hope that if you chew it long enough it might change taste. Welcome Max to the Chicago Pizza Pie! I actually didn’t know until years later that it was pizza. It was years later that pizza became a staple fast food in the UK.
The more I write about this the more memories spring into my mind. We visited the Museum of Natural History in Chicago and there was an exhibit about dairy farming with mechanical cows being milked. Suspended from the ceiling was a Blue Whale it was the biggest thing I had ever seen and probably even larger when you are only 7.
When I went back to school after this holiday I didn’t know it at the time but very few people had visited America and Disneyworld was still being imagined that it was very cool to say that you had been.
It was 11 years later that I was to go again and learn my experiences for myself but I doubt that my interest would be as great as it is now if it weren’t for that Pan AM flight in 1969.