Laughing fondly at the memory, my grandmother Patty told me about a time when she and a fellow travel agent friend had struggled across the German countryside to find the castle they’d reserved to stay in for the week. “They spoke no english. We were at the train station and there was like nobody there. And we goin’ ‘we need a taxi!’ and nobody understood!” she said. “Took us a few hours, but we finally made it [to the castle]”. It’s fair to say that’s probably why she thinks the most important thing to do before a trip is to learn the basics of the local language for your destination.
Patty grew up a military brat, moving around every few months with her mother and her stepfather who was in the army, and younger half brothers. Most of her years were spent around the United States – Monterey CA, Oklahoma, Massachusetts, etc – plus a year and a half in Bamberg, Germany. Her mother suffered from schizophrenia and she proclaims that she basically raised herself and her brothers. When they returned from Germany in her 9th grade year, they settled briefly in Fort Riley, Kansas before her stepfather was stationed at yet another new location. Patty, then 15, refused to move again. “When they got transferred again, to Fort Ord, I didn’t go. I said ‘I have a job’, and I got a room, and I wanted to finish school, and I had a boyfriend – your grandpa- and I stayed there by myself until i graduated high school. I worked 5pm-9pm every day. After school I went to work to pay for my room and my board. Nobody sent me money.”
After having two daughters, my grandma and grandpa’s marriage fell apart. She moved to Houston for a second marriage which also eventually failed. “No man could ever tell me what to do. You gotta be careful who you trust. I don’t trust anyone, I’m a meant-to-be cat lady!”, she choked out laughing. Ever the independent woman, Patty went to San Francisco to Travel Agency school for 6 months paid for by the generous divorce settlement from her big shot Houston Veterinarian ex-husband. Fueled by her nomad-esque childhood, and her new career, Patty made her way around the world. Scuba diving became her muse and once almost her end in Australia, “I was with two men, the trip leader and the captain of the boat. They were going spearfishing for tuna to make sushi for the boat guests and I said, ‘Oh, I wan’na go!’, so we’re swimming along. Of course they were stronger and faster than me so they go ahead and went round a bend. And you’re supposed to stay with your diving buddies, but they left me! So I’m swimming along and then these two sharks came zooooming up! So they stopped right in front of me, wiggling up to me and back, checkin’ me out. And they were big sharks, great big grey reef sharks. I was frozen scred, but I remembered some advice to flash’ light at ‘em, ot punch ‘em in the nose, so I flashed them with my camera to scare ‘em off and they left. They probably smelled the blood from the tuna [the captain] was spearing and thought it might be me. Guess they realized it wasn’t me that was the blood so they shot off like two streaks of lightning together.”, she shook her head smiling. Then she cringed “Ahhhh! Makes me scared just talking about it!”
Spooky as it were, her diving days were far from over, and she had greater adventures still. She returned to dive with the same crew in Australia and eventually the
group was joined by world renowned marine biologist Sylvia Earle for a time. “I would swim with her and she had these things she loved to see, they’re called spanish dancers, they’re like little red slugs that just dance around the sea! She taught me a lot about the fish. And she’s still at it! She’s getting pretty old and up there, but she’s still at it…”
Patty’s love for spanish dancers didn’t end at the sea, however, as her favorite travel destination to date remains Seville, Spain. “You have to go late, like 11 at night, and you just dance all through the night. And the [flamenco dancers] are so beautiful. It’s just romantic, I love Seville. Can’t go just anywhere in Spain. I’ve been three times.” With age, and dwindling bank accounts, my grandmother’s travels grew more sparse. Though her travelling days have faltered, she still can’t stay still and seems to move around and back and forth like clockwork. A few years consisted of rotations between Alaska and Southwest Colorado. She notes the importance of her childhood in this, “Military brats, I’m telling you, it’s in our blood. We don’t stay in one place. I hate to be tied down to anything.” She’ll tell you to go with the flow, make fewer plans ahead of time and then you can just go where you want to go. Life for Patty is all about finding your way along the way. After all of the places she’s been, she always seems to find herself returning to the Southwest. “I’ve seen lots of beautiful places, and that’s where I go. And here I am at the mountains and the desert. I have my car now and I can just go.”