I did not suffer this cancer by myself nor get to where I am alone. I have been married for over forty years, to the same person even! That is almost a record in our throw-away society, isn't it? It is not a perfect relationship, perfection would be South Sea Island beaches, gentle breezes, moonlit nights and soft lapping of the waves, footprints dancing in the sand. That idea is always there but somehow down in the stack of things necessary to do. First there were utility bills and rent payments, this and that, the necessary things. I promised you the story about how we met and it might be a long story, there is a lot to remember but I will begin it at the very beginning and tell you everything.
The Hat Story
Most Americans who go to Europe usually return with one special story. It is usually a funny one, somewhat anecdotal, or an account of losing one's passport, a language barrier with the natives or some story about the food. My story sounds rather simple and is called, "The Hat Story".
To make a real story out of it I have to account for more than just acquiring a hat and handing over six hundred and sixty two Pesetas. That happened in Barcelona, Spain. The story really begins Genoa, Italy, but I will begin it just outside Pavia, Italy where I was hitch-hiking East.
I say East because I seldom hitch with a definite goal, a place to be each night on a tour-bussed itinerary. I was going East, meaning in the general direction of Genoa, East Italy, Southern France, Spain, Morocco, North or West Africa. That direction. I didn't have a very clear picture in my mind. If I found a nice stream, a pub or an interesting person I would stop.
Sometimes I would stop for an hour or two to play soccer along some side street in no particular town with a name I remember. Once I stopped at a little Danish cove, a tiny little blue stretch of sea with fishermen's nets stretched along the sand to be repaired. It was quiet and isolated and I spent three weeks there doing nothing. It was wonderful.
It was only ten o'clock in the morning some day in May and the early Spring had been quite hot. I had been hitching for about an hour which normally isn't unbearably long but the trucks were whizzing past me and I was getting dusty without getting any place. This shouldn't bother a hiker but I had just had a shower and I didn't know when I was going to get another one. I started walking towards the train station. I would take the train to Genoa where I would grab a boat to Spain.
The train was almost empty. I got on it and the first compartment had only one person in it, a girl by chance, but I didn't want to talk to anyone and found the second compartment empty.
I just sat there and smoked cigarettes waiting to get into Genoa. The train stopped with a lurch that would have stopped an airplane. I put my pack on and walked into the hallway. Ahead of me was the girl and she had a pack on too. She got to the door and I expected to open it for her when she kicked it open with her foot and jumped to the station floor. I climbed down and starred at her. She walked off and I couldn't find her in the crowd. I walked around the station aimlessly
hoping to see her and to my surprise she came walking directly towards me!
"Do you speak English?" she asked.
"Yes, a little" I responded thinking now where in the hell will I take this? What a stupid answer, but I had heard it a million times. Street sweepers in Europe speak "a little English".
"You are American. Where are you hitching to? Do you want to take the train to Marseilles with me and hitch to Spain?" This was the '60's, we were open and honest and a bit naive.
I am really thinking OMG how do I respond to this?
"No. I'm going to take the boat to Spain. Why don't you go on the boat?" What a brilliant answer, an opportunity, an invitation, an adventure and I just rejected it!
We had two hours for my boat and her train to leave. It was two o'clock and my boat and her train left at four. I told her I would buy her a glass of wine and we could talk a couple of hours, but I didn't want to go to France.
"Why don't you like the French?" she asked me over wine.
We sat and talked until ten minutes past four. We missed the train and the boat. The next boat wasn't until three days later and the next train was at four o'clock the next day. We decided to hitch.
We bought some wine in a two litter bottle, some cheese, cold meats and a loaf of bread.
I wanted to cash a traveller's check as I had only about a dollar on me but we couldn't find a place open. She said she had some money and would support us through France if I would support us through Spain. Spain is much cheaper than France and I thought I had a good deal.
That is how we met.
There is a lot more to this story. It takes place over forty years and two continents, two children, various careers, dreams lost and found, death and rebirth. I will see what I can remember of it.