The Backstory

Childhood and the long road to getting my first passport.


1/22/20234 min read

It all really started, I suppose, in the wee hours of an April morning in 1934. A baby girl was born to my mammaw, in a tent on the side of a narrow winding coal mining country road. My grandparents were moving to the Derby, VA coal camp. My grandpa's brother married my grandma's sister. They had come along on the move. My mom's 2 older brothers were there as well, a 2 year old and a 4 year old. Mom apparently wasn't keen on waiting for the family to arrive at the coal camp house. She came into the world, in a tent on the side of the road. They woke up to several inches of snow on the tent.

Mom was always on the go. You didn't even have to say where you were going, all you had to do was say "do you want to go" and she'd be like... let me get ready. LOL. Dad was keen to go too. My parents didn't take big trips because they had a mess of kids at home, but we were always going someplace - fishing hole, CB jamboree, country music jamboree, just to see where that road goes... so, I come by it honestly.

I grew up in a farm house that had been built sometime before 1858. I was surrounded by corn and soybean fields that we did not farm. Dad was a factory worker, my parents were part of the Appalachian migration. My bedroom window faced toward "the city." Under some circumstances I could make out a few of the buildings there and could see some of the lights. As a kid I dreamed of that city and all the wonders it held. Now this was not some big city, it had a population of probably 230,000 people. Not tiny, but not a big city. To me it was wonderous. I would look out that window and dream of one day going there and really checking it out. That far away city. It was about 10 miles away as the crow flies. Might as well been 300 miles.

My first real exposure to the world at large was courtesy of Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom and an occasional glance at a National Geographic magazine - that is before a nearby adult saw it in my hands or in my eyesight and whisked it away. They had photos of bare breasted women in them. Scandalous. While we didn't see much of where people lived on the Wild Kingdom, it was very clear those places were very different. Visiting some exotic locale like California, Alaska or Hawaii was something that seemed the stuff of unicorns and fairy dust. At 24, when I crossed the California State line, possession in tow, my 10 year old self was giddy with excitement. Hell, my 24 year old self was pumped too.

I worked 3 years before heading to college, then spent 3 years at the state university in the capital. It was there I was exposed to a diversity of people. My little town was WHITE. I remember when the first black family moved in. I was angered and embarrassed by my town's reaction. None of the kids were even close to my age and did not ride my bus, so I had no contact with them.

In college I drank in the amazing diversity of people. In the first couple of weeks there was an official street party welcome event on campus. I was there alone and had the good fortune to end up standing by a handsome 19 year old Tunisian guy. He was a freshman and newly in the USA for school. We developed a friendship. He lived off campus with something like 5 or 6 other male Tunisian students. They would invite me over and cook couscous and chicken for me. Our friendship dwindled off when my friend learned and comprehended that I was a lesbian. Still, it put Tunisia at the top of my travel must list. Such fond memories of hanging out with those guys.

I dropped out of college in the 3rd quarter of my third year. My buddy had snagged a free trip to San Francisco. Roundtrip airfare (back when all you needed was the paper ticket to fly, no matter whose name was on the ticket) - and hotel - all paid for. He came back regaling us with of tales from the city, it sealed my fate. During freshman year, my friend Betsy and I had talked about moving to California. We were rather obsessed with the idea. My buddy had already dropped out of his graduate school program when he landed the free trip. I had no trouble ditching the rest of my formal education for the promised land. Didn't have to think twice.

San Francisco was exponentially more diverse than college was. My small farm town self was willingly stretched with the amazing tapestry of humanity and lifestyles I encountered. It was not uncommon to meet people who traveled widely, citizens of other countries who had immigrated or who were in town to work for a few years. It was heaven.

Several years into my SF life, I ended up as a full time recruiter at a kick ass company located downtown. Reading through the resumes, I chanced upon one that really caught my attention. This person had a series of jobs that lasted less than a year, BUT, they were in far flung places around the world. I was MERMERIZED. She was getting interviewed. Period. I sat in awe as she talked about her past. It was that day that I vowed to get out there and join the world travelers. It took about 5 more years, but finally, I was making plans to travel internationally.