On May 15, 2024

Europe or bust but it didn’t seem just

Building a Killington dream lodge: Part 13

Dad was focused and totally devoted to building his Killington dream lodge each weekend. It became his life purpose and passion to build his heart-felt legacy for our family. His dedication was inspiring to behold.

Mom was committed (they were still married) but she had other interests, as well. She saved up money from teaching piano and planned a grand European adventure. Dad didn’t want to go along. He had lived abroad as a child and traveled in Europe with the Naval Academy. He preferred to save his two week vacation from Foster Wheeler Corporation to work on his beloved ski lodge.

My brother Billie attended Bates College in Lewiston, Maine but was in France for his junior year. 

“My major was skiing,” Billie liked to joke from Grenoble in the heart of the French Alps. 

His written and spoken French greatly improved, too. He was a ham when he spoke Français. He even had that French “Je ne sais quoi” and was asked directions by the French in the street.

Since Billie was already in Europe, Mom decided “it’s now or never” so moved ahead with our travel plans. She researched, orchestrated and crammed 12 nations and three principalities into six weeks.

She purchased a Volkswagen Rabbit from the factory in Germany for our neighbor in Montclair. Billie picked it up when he finished his studies then crossed the English Channel and drove to Southampton to pick us up.

We crossed the Atlantic on the Aurelia, the smallest ocean-going passenger vessel which Billie had also taken. He called the Italian student ship “a 10 day floating house party.”

Mom was the senior belle of the ball. Everyone knew her and wanted to speak with her. She was the only mother aboard. I was 14, a rising high school sophomore, but the college students thought I was their age. A friendly boy invited me on a date for dinner and a movie shipboard. I was elated, dressed up, and wore makeup. I felt like a grownup and had a ball.

We Dyes never made long distance calls except in an emergency. We sent postcards describing our adventures and how we wished Dad and Jack were there. We could imagine Dad in Vermont weekends working on projects with a friend he invited to accompany him so he’d be safer with the construction.

Our European trip went by so fast you’d miss a country if you blinked your eyes. It was a whirlwind tour like Doris Day’s “If It’s Tuesday, It Must Be Belgium.” I reveled in our thrilling voyage but also felt it wasn’t fair. It didn’t seem right we were traveling in Europe while Dad was still working and my older brother Jack was in Vietnam.

Mom needed our European sojourn then—as a distraction from the constant worry. She was stoic and didn’t show fear. She carried on as if things were normal. 

She later admitted, “Every time the phone rang or someone knocked on the door, my heart stopped. My nerves were shot for the two years Jack served in Vietnam.”

While studying forestry at the University of New Hampshire, Jack was in the ROTC (Reserve Officer Training Corps). Upon graduation, he entered the Army as a lieutenant (and later became a captain). He trained in parachute jump school and jungle warfare in the swamps of Georgia before he was sent to Vietnam.

Jack wasn’t fighting. He built bridges and roads in the Army Engineer Corps. But he wasn’t spared the violence and terror of serving there during the war.

“We couldn’t distinguish Vietnamese people from the Viet Cong in our compound, so we never knew who was friend or foe. We were stationed across the street from Vietnam’s largest ammo dump. Explosions were frequent. When they occurred, I dove under my thatched-roof hut onto the ground. I’ll never forget the day I found an anaconda staring back at me.”

Jack was blessed. He came back alive but was forever changed. When he heard a car backfire on the street, he dove under his bed, ridden with anxiety. Like other soldiers throughout the ages, my brother was traumatized and never quite the same.

Jack joined us in Vermont before beginning his new life. He was impressed with Dad’s progress and helped a lot. Vermont became his special retreat for peace and solace surrounded by nature. Jack taught me the names of trees on our land and returned most years to help Mom and Dad.

Marguerite Jill Dye is an artist and writer who divides her time between Vermont and Florida. She can be reached at: Jilldyestudio@aol.com.

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