Wednesday, June 26, 2013

A Transcontinental Journey

Hello there, my name is Margaret and I am a rising sophomore at Mount Holyoke College. I’m class of 2016 so go blue lions! I plan to be a history major with an emphasis in public history (the kind of work I am doing now in the Mount Holyoke Archives and Special Collections.) You can find me in Pratt Music Hall rehearsing for Chorale, in Kendall Fitness Center rehearsing for show choir, or having a tea break in the common room!

Monday, August 3, 1959 
Well, we got started at 7:15 this morning in Kim’s family’s 1954 mercury, mileage 13,770 – pretty much on time since 7 was to be the witching hour – to the tune of last minute reminders such as “Don’t forget the credit card” – “how am I going to get you to remember the clock!” etc.  

So begins the travel journal of four Mount Holyoke juniors the summer of 1959. These four girls drove from New Jersey to California and back in six weeks’ time, staying with friends and family along the way, as well as camping in national parks. What remains of this journey is a journal of postcards, pictures, travel brochures, and typewritten journal entries, weaving the story for us.  I discovered this journal while organizing the Archives’ accessions (collections that are in our database, but don’t have a permanent home yet) and it is easily my favorite discovery of the summer.

When asked about who thought of taking a road trip, Kim Holmquist (née Kimball), Class of 1961 said, “I believe the trip was my idea and my parents, who loaned me their green Mercury, were very supportive, if a bit nervous. I asked around my dorm for people who might be interested, and the other three agreed to join me.” The three women who agreed to join her were Char (Charlotte) Wolter (née Potter), Heidi (Harriet) Zipp (née Vermilya), and Connie (Caroline) Loysen (née Williams). Wolter added that their parents “readily consented to the trip since there would be four of us girls, and we had the itinerary all set before we left.” As a current student, I find this astounding. As much as I love my peers, I would never embark on a road trip for six weeks with three other women I did not know well.

The women began their journey in New Jersey and worked their way west. The writing shows a spunk and humor that is still in the air here at Mount Holyoke. On Tuesday, the fourth of August, Kimball wrote:

“Leaving the Indiana Turnpike we turned to Ellen’s directions for getting to and through Chicago. Of course, Kim the great mapreader led the car the wrong way, but we managed to get on the right road – for a while anyway. The trip through Chicago was somewhat complicated by Heidi’s having lived 20 years without learning her left from her right. When we’d say ‘turn right’ she’d automatically turn left and vice versa, so we just began telling her the opposite and she got along fine.”

"Connie, Kim, and Char [Charlotte] play mechanic!"
It’s this kind of banter that attracted me to the journal. Despite the fact that it was written in 1959, it could easily be the kind of things my friends and I would say about one another today.

"Can we fit it all in?"
"Believe it or not, we made it!"

The women weren’t always treated with respect, judging from the comments in the journal. Wolter adds, “The farther west we got, the more surprised people were, especially boys, who thought we were some kind of exotic creatures.  We had many car problems, so we met mostly auto mechanics and the guys who hung around gas stations.  There were a couple of times when we were stranded in western prairie states when we were a little worried that the drunken boys would follow us once we got on the road again, but that never happened."

Despite numerous car malfunctions, nights they stayed up too late, and mornings in which the alarm didn’t go off, the women made it home safe and sound.

Sunday, September 11, 1959 
Kim left Connie and Heidi off at Heidi’s home and quickly left for home as night was fast falling and she knew her parents would be waiting. Of course she got right in the middle of shore traffic - it took three changes of lights to get through - and finally got home at 7:30, 11,000 miles and 1020 hours from the time she had left - was it six weeks ago? - hardly believing that we had actually been all the way to California and back with  not a scratch and the Mercury (dear old thing, even if we did have to replace practically the whole engine!) all in one piece. A wonderful experience for us all. 

After college some of the women stayed in contact. Zipp and Wolter kept in touch through visits and letters, and were at each other’s weddings. Wolter and the other girls sent sporadic letters, while she and Kim only reconnected on the drive up to their 50th class reunion.

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Also, much thanks to Kim Holmquist and Charlotte Wolter for agreeing to be interviewed. Without their information this post would not have been possible!

1 comment:

  1. Great post! Hearing about the lives of past Moho students is so fascinating.