A journal from the past

Email|Print| Text size + By Diane Daniel
Globe Correspondent / October 6, 2002

Nancy Yucius knew her mother had, in her 20s, traveled alone in Europe for six months in 1936, first by bicycle and then by faltboat, a type of kayak. But not until Helen Edwards died in August 2001 at age 88 did Yucius read her mother's travel journal and find photographs and postcards she had saved from her visits to towns along the Rhine, Danube, and Main rivers.

"Then I heard at one of our staff meetings that one of my co-workers had taken this riverboat cruise," said Yucius, 58, who lives in Avon and is a special education teacher in Brockton. "It just seemed I should do this."

So in July, armed with photocopies of pertinent journal entries, postcards, and photos, she followed in her mother's footsteps as closely as she could, but on a tour - the Great Rivers of Europe trip with Grand Circle Travel.

"I went to almost all the same places that she did," Yucius said, though admittedly in more luxury than her mother, who had camped much of the way. Yucius said her mother, who became the first licensed female pilot in Brockton in the '30s, did a lot of traveling; she once took her three daughters on a three-month trip through Europe while Dad stayed home and worked.

Yucius and her husband have three children and four grandchildren. She went on the 16-day tour with a college friend, Betty Murley of Hingham, starting out in Amsterdam and going to Austria and Germany.

She made a notebook, pasting in photos and excerpts from her mother's journal, "so each night I knew for the next day what she'd seen," and later adding her own photos and journal entries. She felt her mother was with her much of the time. "The first time I saw somebody paddling in a faltboat I got all teary," Yucius said. "It felt like I had connected with her."

One of the most interesting aspects of the trip was to compare the times in history between when she and her mother traveled.

For instance, one of her mother's journal entries read: "We stopped at a small town for lunch. There was a great festival going on. . . . We were in time to see a parade passing with swastika banners and girls with garlands of flowers."

Little did her mother know what horrors were to come.

"Doesn't that blow your mind?" Yucius said.

Her mother had gone to Nuremberg, Germany, before it was destroyed in the war. "She saw it as a beautiful, lovely city. I saw a very different Nuremberg," Yucius said.

She could match the sights from many of her mother's photos and postcards. One, for instance, was a postcard from Koblenz, also in Germany, where the Rhine and Mosel rivers meet. "It was taken from the fort above Koblenz. I went up to the fort and the view was almost identical. Koblenz was spared during the war because its population was low enough."

Another thing that echoed the journal entries was passing through the dozens of locks and dams along the rivers.

"She would talk about hooking a ride on barges. They'd throw her ropes and she'd grab a hold of the ropes and get pulled."

Once Yucius got so caught up in re-creating one of her mother's photos that she "almost missed the boat." She was in the walled city of Wertheim. "I wasn't close enough to get what she got," so she had to walk a ways. "By the time I got across and took the picture and crossed the street again, I didn't have a lot of time to spare."

One of her last nights of the tour was spent in Passau. Her mother had mentioned seeing a castle on a hill and wrote, "Passau is very intriguing at night."

Yucius took in a similar sight. "Where the ship docks you look up at a castle on the hill when it's lit up," And I said out loud, "You're right, Ma, it is intriguing and magical."

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