Today I got an email from the uncle my cousins and I have called Uncle Doughnut since I was young. I can’t say he’s my favorite uncle mostly because I don’t have favorite uncles or aunts, but he was always the cool uncle. Still is. He is still a bachelor, buys top of the line toys (like cameras, electronics, appliances, etc.), always got us great Christmas gifts whether as individuals or as a group, and on Saturday mornings he brought Krispy Kreme doughnuts. For lunch he brought Desportes’s french bread because when we hung out at Mama and Daddy Byrd’s we usually had some meal that went well with bread. My memory is fuzzy on when, but at some point in the 70s he went to the Canary Islands to live for a while. This was a few years before Aunt Maggie and Uncle Scotty took off sailing on the Robin for 30 years but I fondly recall each week when we found out there was a new post card with a picture of where he or they were or what they had seen. One of those cool Uncle Doughnut gifts was a 12 volume set atlas. Two volumes were the United States, but the other ten were the rest of the world.
I never modeled my life after Uncle Doughnut, but to this very day no matter how full I am there is still room for hot Krispy Kreme doughnuts (and peach cobbler but that’s another story), and I love bread. There is a soft spot between my breastbone and my belt line for them. My affinity for these aren’t all because of him, but no doubt he had an impact.
Back to today’s email. It included a link to a 60 Minutes clip about Rick Steves. I had never heard of Rick or his brand of travel books. Then again, until I got here I’d never heard of Rothenburg and didn’t know why my Introduction to Bavaria instructor mentioned that all Americans want to go there. But Rick’s explanation of why Americans should see Europe resonates with me. It resonates because even before I heard him say it, it is my own.
Early on he says that if when you travel the experience isn’t to your liking, change your liking. At about 3:50 in the video it gets really good, and at 4:30 the hook was set. I stopped watching news on the television back in the 90s but I knew 1) the question she was about to ask, and 2) his answer at 4:30. This is why I wanted to move my family to Europe, to get them out of the country to see what the rest of the world is and how it works.
I saw part of the world from inside a tour bus with tinted windows. The buses were an armoured SUV and an MRAP. The windows were bulletproof. But the view was eye-opening enough that I realized that I wouldn’t be a good father if I didn’t show my daughters that despite the fact I wanted to put them on a pedestal they would never change the lightbulb by standing still and waiting for the world to revolve around them.
Rick’s reasons repeat themselves. Last week I mentioned to some Germans I work with that as Americans we are arrogantly ethnocentric. Just today I told some other Germans I was glad to be in this country because they have common sense. At the Nuremberg Zoo (Tiergarten Nuremberg) Saturday Ginger and I both saw and commented on things we’d never see in the states. Some pansy would sue because they stubbed their toe on an uneven sidewalk or missing bollard. It was excessive that my daughter jumped the fence to join the llamas in their compound but here, unlike America (more specifically Norte Americano for my Bolivian friend), they don’t protect us from ourselves. The insanity that is the norm that causes us to not know which bathroom to pee in just doesn’t manifest itself here. The reasons TO travel continue to reassert themselves as we DO travel. They are underlined, quotated, highlighted, parenthesized, capital lettered, and away from everything else on the other side. Constantly.
Byrd Boys love Biloxi. I am a fifth generation Biloxian, and all my uncles on the Byrd side spent the majority of their life either in Biloxi or right next door (one lived in Ocean Springs, the town where Biloxi was founded in 1699, another story for another time). I never imagined living anywhere else, and once I left I never imagined living there again. Before I left I saw the first two volumes. I’ve seen a lot of the United States and love it almost as much as Biloxi. The more I see of the other ten volumes of this giant world the more I realize how small it is. Taking my family out into the great big world is going to show them how small it is, too. Uncle Laurence didn’t make me want to leave to see the world, but he did remind me why I did. Rick Steves reminded me why. We both are doing our part in our own way to make an impact on American narrow-mindedness.
“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”
-Mark Twain, The Innocents Abroad
Fair warning world, the Byrd’s are loose.
P.S. Neither Dad, Mom, nor my Mother-in-law can blame Uncle Laurence, Aunt Maggie, or Uncle Scotty for causing me to move my wife and their grandchildren 5000 miles away. At least until they’ve come for their first visit and seen the Achtung, the Complicated, the Proper, and the Lovable Chaos for themselves. For my part I can’t wait to meet the later or show the former.