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Art and Sally planned a very special celebration for their 25th wedding anniversary. It turned out even better.
The couple was to meet in Frankfurt, and wander through Europe for 10 days on a second honeymoon. No agenda, no deadlines, no reservations . . . just spontaneous wandering . . . and all quite romantic.
Sally would arrive from Norway, where she’d been a delegate to the World YWCA Congress, and Art would fly in from their home in Canada. His flight landed at mid-day. Sally’s was due just before suppertime.
‘Perfect timing!’ Art thought. ‘We’ll have a nice dinner and get to bed early.’
They’d been apart for 10 days . . . the couple had some loving to catch up on.
Art phoned to reserve a quiet table in the hotel’s classy Bavarian-style restaurant. Then, he finished writing the special anniversary card for Sally he’d brought from home. He propped it up on the antique wood table in their hotel room.
Art was watching the news on TV when Sally phoned from the lobby.
“We’ll be right up,” she said.
He was excited, and then realized Sally had said . . . ‘We’.
“We?’ he thought. ‘Must be someone traveling with her on their way home from the conference.’
After 25 years, Art had learned not to be surprised. Sally would often ‘pick up strays’. Helping others was imbedded deeply within her nature. Art assumed Sally must have flown to Frankfurt with someone from the conference. He was right, almost. He resigned himself to enduring an exchange of polite greetings before getting on with their own intimate reunion and private anniversary celebrations. This time, he was wrong, big time.
When the knock came, Art leaped up eagerly to answer the door. Sally was not alone. Standing in the hallway beside her was a large mature woman Art recognized. She was ignored momentarily while Sally and Art exchanged hugs and passionate kisses.
Finally, Art said, “Hi Jenny.” They shared friendly hugs. “Good to see you again.”
“Nice room,” Sally said, stepping through the doorway. Her comment was typically generous. Floor space not occupied by the queen-sized bed, table and two chairs was about the size of an old-fashioned phone booth. It was luxurious, but tiny.
“Jenny’s booked into a room down the hall,” Sally said. “She’s going to join us for supper. I knew you wouldn’t mind.”
‘Oh shit!’ Art thought. ‘So much for a romantic dinner.’
His dismay would get worse.
Jenny departed for her room, leaving Art and Sally to enjoy their reunion in the few minutes before dinner.
The anniversary couple discussed their travel plans. They were to head south on Germany’s famous Autobahn the next morning and start their second honeymoon with a circle tour of Switzerland. Art said he’d been unable to upgrade their tiny rented car as hoped. They would be stuck with the Kadet they’d booked months earlier. The two-door vehicle had the appearance of a runt cousin to a Volkswagen beetle, but smaller inside.
“It could get a bit tight,” Sally ventured.
“Yes,” Art said with resignation. He was relieved Sally’s traveling wardrobe was like her: small, compact and thoroughly unpretentious. A few pairs of shorts and jeans, an assortment of t-shirts and sweatshirts, a nightie or two, some flip-flops and lots of clean underwear were all neatly enclosed in a small suitcase.
“I guess we’ll have to squeeze our suitcases into the back seat beside Jenny,” Sally said as if thinking out loud.
“WHAT?” Art replied, struck by a flash of disbelief. He was at once thunderstruck, not surprised and secretly proud of his tiny caring wife of a quarter century . . . but mostly he was dismayed.
After years of many such experiences, he was overtaken by a vivid premonition of what he would hear next. It came, all right, and he resigned himself to it.
“I invited Jenny to come along,” Sally confessed, a twinkle in her green hazel eyes. “I knew you wouldn’t mind.”
‘The hell I wouldn’t,’ Art was thinking. He knew better than to say it. Instead, he replied:
“But, Honey, this is our second honeymoon! We planned it. Just for the two of us.”
“I know, Honey,” Sally replied. (They both called each other ‘Honey’. It confused the hell out of strangers.)
“But I was telling Jenny about our plans, and she said to me, ‘I sure would like to visit Europe some day, too, but I don’t have anyone to share it with . . . I won’t go alone.’
“Well, you know, I just couldn’t go without her. I was sure you’d understand.”
‘Awe, shit!’ Art thought. The only saving grace was that their traveling companion was the living legend known as Jenny MacLeod. Sally had spoken often about this woman’s amazing personality and remarkable accomplishments. Art had met her briefly a few times. He admired her achievements and had wanted to get to know her a little better. This wasn’t what he had in mind.
Jenny MacLeod was a single mother who’d performed miracles as head of a YWCA women’s residence in a remote mining town. The residence had been borderline bankrupt and derelict. After becoming executive director, Jenny moved with her two daughters into a tiny one-bedroom apartment in the residence. Within five years, the residence was in good repair, freshly painted inside and out, debt free and making a profit. And in the decades since, Jenny had generated a modest profit every year. The achievement had made her a ‘poster girl’ in the YWCA movement.
Art spent a restless night worrying about how to accommodate three adults and their luggage in that second cousin to a wheeled sardine can they’d reserved.
The trio arrived at the airport car rental office at mid-morning. That was shamefully late by the demanding standards most Germans lived by. In tow, they had two luggage trolleys loaned reluctantly by the hotel across the street.
Art felt a sense of foreboding as he handed the car rental agent their confirmation. The agent took his time reading the document, phoning twice in the process. Art’s anxiety soared.
“I’m very sorry, sir,” the agent said in lightly accented English. “We are all out of Kadets. The last one was rented less than an hour ago. According to your confirmation, you were supposed to pick your car up at 9 a.m. Can we arrange a substitute for you?”
‘Oh, sure,’ Art thought. ‘That damned Kadet was a comeon. I should have guessed it was a scam. Shit! Those damned assholes!’
“Yeah, sure,” Art replied. “What have you got left and how much is it? We need a car for 10 days. What kind of a deal can you give us?”
“Well sir,” the agent replied with a knowing grin. “We have available for you and your ladies a full size Audi sedan. A very nice car, sir . . . top of the Audi line. It’s really a luxury car, sir.”
‘Just as I thought,’ Art told himself. ‘Here comes the ol’ bait-and-switch.’
“So,” Art inquired. “How much is this one? And what else do you have available?”
“Well, sir,” the agent replied. “This is the very best we can do for you, I’m afraid. Like I said, sir, it’s a very nice car.”
“Alright,” said Art impatiently. “How much?”
“Well, sir,” the agent replied firmly. “Since we didn’t have the car you ordered available, the rate will be the same as for the Kadet.”
Through his astonishment, Art was barely aware of the agent showing him where to sign and asking for his credit card.
Every piece of their luggage fit nicely into the trunk of the large Audi V-8 Quattro sedan. Jenny would have the back seat all to herself.
As they set off south on the Autobahn, Art’s thoughts bounced between their great good vehicular fortune, and getting used to the fact his wife of 25 years had invited someone to ride shotgun on their second honeymoon. ‘Better get over it,’ he instructed himself firmly.
Jenny turned out to be a surprising asset during their tour and, in time, Art came to admit, a welcome traveling companion. She was nimbly astute, knowing just when to disappear during intimate moments.
With one exception.
They had ventured into France near Strasbourg, planning to stay the night in some small historic rural town. During their tour, they had made it a practice to not decide beforehand where they’d go the next day, so reservations were never made. They’d been doing so successfully for days. France turned out to be quite different. First, the trio didn’t know that a huge region-wide medieval festival was underway in that part of the country. That day, they’d traveled long and it was late afternoon as they went town-to-town-to-town looking for a place to stay. Everything was booked. As the hours passed and the ‘no vacancies’ continued their standards for accommodation slipped lower and lower.
By then, despite Sally’s characteristic Pollyanna façade, Jenny’s reserve was eroding. She had begun responding to Art’s mounting irritation by suggesting to Sally the two women needed ‘to feed the monkey’ . . . meaning Art. That humor served to break the tension.
It was getting dark as they pulled up before a nondescript ‘pension’ (a.k.a., bed and breakfast). There was enough light to see the ‘no vacancy’ sign and a tiny elderly lady standing guard on the front steps beside the sign.
Irrepressible Sally somehow managed to summon the energy to turn on the charm . . . in English.
The old woman was unimpressed . . . and kept shaking her head vigorously, ‘no’.
No vacancy and no interest in the trio’s plight.
Sally reverted to her sketchy recollections of high school French and put an after-burner under her charm.
The ancient lady stood.
‘That’s a good sign,’ Art thought. Jenny verbalized the sentiment.
The old woman shrugged her shoulders and turned.
Sally’s face lit up as she motioned to the others.
They followed the old woman around to the back of the unkept building and through a door. Up they went, two flights of stairs. A door took them unexpectedly outside and up a rickety flight of stairs to a third floor. Another door. It opened into a long storage area, under unfinished rafters. It was maybe 40 or 50 feet long. At both ends, the gables were filled with stacks of wood trunks and ancient furniture.
Bed sheets hung from horizontal braces between the rough-hewn 4×6 inch rafters. They formed a crude hallway. The old woman lifted one sheet. There squatted a lumpy double bed. At one end of the enclosure, near the middle of the attic, was another pile of wood boxes, stacked to the rafters. On the other side was another double bed, lumpy and sagging like the other. It would be an exaggeration to describe either as a bedroom.
Pensions provide only breakfast. The hungry trio ventured forth from their garret, as they affectionately called it, and found their supper nearby at a dark and noisy establishment in the form of beer and bar food.
The next morning, Jenny departed again from her characteristic reserve, describing some nocturnal squeaking and squawking that woke her . . . and that she insisted came from Art and Sally’s enclosure. The couple declined ownership.
Jenny had other surprises. Early in their tour, she’d offered to handle the couple’s newly purchased video camera. Although tech-challenged, Jenny soon mastered the red on-off switch and marveled at the magic of the zoom lens. But she never quite understood the camera was recording voice along with the video – much to her later embarrassment. As she commented later, “never say in private what you don’t want heard in public”.
Shortly after the trio arrived home, Jenny asked to borrow the videocassettes of their tour. Art and Sally obliged – they hadn’t found time to edit the 20+ hours of video, mostly recorded by Jenny. They assumed Jenny wanted to get the cassettes copied. Two months later, their cassettes arrived back, along with a professionally edited 60-minute video of the key highlights of their trip as well as a brilliantly written script/photo album. It was a welcome and gracious ‘thank you’ that made sharing the trip with Jenny more than worthwhile.