Awakening for the first time in Europe, there is an overwhelming effect in seeing the snow-buried Alps after leaving the brown, scorched hills in the San Joaquin Valley. The campsite was green and covered with Airstreams.
I suppose it shouldn't be a surprise in June to cross from Switzerland to Austria over the Arlberg Pass and encounter a blinding snowstorm. We did. Wally stood out in the cold with his beret on, in a heavy jacket, and conferred with the Austrian motorized police. The delay was short, but our advancement slow.
Over the next two days, my mother, Helen Byam Schwamborn, brought me up to date on a few of the highlights over the last two months.
The Caravanners enjoyed their voyage from New York to Rotterdam, Netherlands on the Holland-American flagship, the Nieuw Amsterdam.
When the Caravan arrived in Wiedenbrück, the group parked at Westfalia-Werke. Stella Byam and my mother were invited to be guests at the estate of the Hans Knöbel family. They were treated like royalty.
It was still chilly at night in April. One of my mother's favorite stories was told each night at bedtime. The maid turned her bed down for the night, and as she opened the windows wide, a cold breeze rolled in. The first time she opened the windows, my mother looked at her inquisitively, but because they spoke different languages, their conversation was a pantomime. The maid said only one word: fresh.
At night, they believed, you must sleep with healthy night air. Forever after, when visiting my mother, any time a window was opened during the evening, my mother would say, without hesitation, fresh. She smiled and laughed with enthusiasm, remembering her memory from Wiedenbrück.
A few days later, my mother went to dinner with our German cousins. Years ago, I reached out to those cousins to organize a family reunion - fifteen members of my family flew in to Las Vegas from Germany to attend the event.
Wally greatly enjoyed Europe, and his favorite city in the world was Paris, in France. He knew the street plan for the city, the best places to eat, and had his favorite spots for an entertaining evening.
He and my mother shared the similar habit of "catnapping," so it should come as no surprise that one early morning he knocked on her door to ask if she was awake. She dressed and together they left camp for Montmartre, Wally pedaling his small Solex bike, Helen on the small platform on the back of the bike.
Wally had found years prior a small eatery that prepared French Onion soup in the morning for early rising workers. Over rattling cobblestones, narrow streets, and hilly roads went the two of them, arriving as the morning meal had finished cooking. Helen described the soup as a gourmet delight that she would not soon forget, nor the ardous Solex journey.
Dale “Pee Wee” Schwamborn has silver in his blood. Each week, Pee Wee shares one of his many stories, including his experiences on the iconic Airstream Caravans, his time spent working in the Airstream factory, and the many Airstreamers he’s befriended, far and wide.