Louisa Adams’ Moving Adventure

Remember the Beverly Hillbillies? The Clampetts strike oil in the Ozarks and move to Beverly Hills in a rags-to-riches sitcom of the 1960s.

Beverly Hillbillies Moving Van, courtesy Google Images
Beverly Hillbillies Moving Van, courtesy Google Images


Of an entirely different era and social class, diarist Louisa Catherine Adams, wife of the 6th American President, John Quincy Adams, writes about multiple moves – both in European nations where John Quincy was diplomat and in the United States serving variously as senator, secretary of state, president, and finally congressman again.


Woman on the Move

After the birth of her third child, “as soon as she could rise from her bed, she lifted the lids of her empty trunks and opened her packing cases to prepare to leave for Washington. She was ‘a wanderer’ again.” (140)

In her boldest move, Louisa traversed the passage from St. Petersburg to Paris while Napoleon rampaged through Europe. She traveled 2000 miles in 40 days, a journey almost unheard of for a woman alone.

Louisa and Son Charles’ Wild Ride

In 1815, while John Quincy was gone to Paris, Louisa in St. Petersburg had to “sell the furniture, dispose of the house, and buy a carriage that could carry her across the continent” to Paris. She needed supplies: food, drink, clothing, maps, tools and enough medicines for a small apothecary. She had read the map herself, not having heard from her husband, and unflinchingly set her course.

Her largest expense was the carriage, “a berline, a large vehicle with four seats and glass windows, all balanced on an elaborate suspension of springs intended to smooth the rough ride.” Leaving St. Petersburg, the carriage was outfitted with sleigh runners. Wheels were packed when she met melting roads traveling west and south. (206)

She sewed gold and silver into her skirts to hide her wealth from robbers and from her male servants. (206)

Touch of Humor:

During the sojourn, though her two male servants were armed, she put on her son’s military cap and held his toy sword so that what she hoped was a menacing silhouette would show through the carriage window. (221)

True to her declaration when she married Adams, “When my husband married me, he made a great mistake if he thought I only intended to play an echo.” (8)

Her Most Moving Adventure

Louisa, often sickly and afflicted with self-doubt, recorded her grief in “Diaries of a Nobody.” After all, she was often geographically separated from her husband during his ascendance to power, she suffered multiple miscarriages, all of her children except Charles preceded her in death, and she struggled with erysipelas, a skin inflammation.

But her vividly told “Narrative of a Journey from Russia to France” enabled her to tunnel “her way out of depression with the sharp spade of her sardonic humor . . . .“ (396)

She wrote about Baptiste, innkeepers, haggard soldiers she has passed on the road, frightened faces of the women she met, cries of Vive Napoleón! She remembers the practical difficulties she had overcome: the moment the carriage wheel had come loose, the problem of procuring servants, the dangerous decision to ford a half-frozen river. She wrote about her growing confidence, which rippled out of her descriptions and into her voice. (411)

“Her story was her own. No other woman in America had experienced anything like it. But she made its lessons universal. It was a story about women and what women could achieve . . . . She wrote: ‘Under all circumstances, we must never desert ourselves.’” (411)

Move for Equality

At 62, in an era when a woman’s life span was about 40, she was blossoming. Like the Grimké sisters of Charleston, with whom she corresponded, she championed women’s rights and the freeing of slaves.

The Lesson of a Cracked Washbasin 

Cracked Washbasin, Google Images
Cracked Washbasin, Google Images

John Quincy and Louisa Adams observed their 50th wedding anniversary, a milestone almost unheard of in the mid-1800s. Before she died, Louisa presented her daughter-in-law Abby Adams with a cracked washbasin, symbolic of the naked faces bent toward it sometimes joyful and other times full of inconsolable pain, mirroring life itself. (444)

Want More Louisa?

Writer and editor Louisa Thomas has written a stunning account of a memorable woman entitled Louisa: The Extraordinary Life of Mrs. Adams, 2016.


Thomas’ biography sings with color as she describes an incandescent sun on their approach to St. Petersburg, which edged “the statues with fire and [made] creamy walls blush.” (90)

You can read my full review here.

Your turn: Can you recall any other historical characters with moving stories?

One of your own to tell here? Go right ahead.

Coming next: Mother’s Sky View: The Beautiful City


Signs & a Wonder in St. Marys, Georgia

It’s true! St. Marys, Georgia is idyllic. Only a 40-minute drive north of Jacksonville, Florida . . .



. . . historic St. Marys has a storybook setting on the St. Marys River – white picket fences, charming Victorian inns, and majestic magnolia trees and live oaks welcome you to an atmosphere perfumed by fragrant salt air. Here you’ll discover legends of forgotten battles and daring pirates as you kayak by moonlight with sea turtles for company.


The History

Treasures in the historic district include the Georgia Radio Museum and Hall of Fame, and the Cumberland Island Seashore Museum the gateway to ferry departure point for the Cumberland Island adventure, the southern-most barrier island in Georgia. St. Marys Submarine Museum, showcases the Kings Bay Naval Submarine Base located about three miles north of St. Marys, a town of just over 17,000 people.

Near where we had lunch at Cedar Oak Cafe was an old Victorian house nestled among trees draped with Spanish moss, typical of the historic residences.


Lunch at Cedar Oak Cafe on Osbourne Street where even the bacon attempts to hold a  shape . . .


The Cumberland Island Seashore Museum leads down to the St. Marys River harbor where travelers can board the Cumberland Queen for a unique day-trip adventure to the Island.


We are bound for Jekyll Island farther up the coast near Brunswick . . . JekyllIslandClubHotel

. . .  but first, time out for cherry licorice, a dab of chocolate candy and a look at some show-stopping sayings at Market on the Square Shop at the end of Osbourne Street.

Some Signs We Found

Some wisdom
Words of wisdom

An admission


An anatomical figure of speech, to be sure . . .


And finally some refinement . . .



This sign and others spotted at Market on the Square on Osbourne Street, St. Mary's, Georgia
This sign and others spotted at Market on the Square on Osbourne Street, St. Marys, Georgia

Elsie de Wolfe’s signature is displayed on other quotable lines too: “Be pretty if you can, be witty if you must, but be gracious if it kills you.”  Elsie De Wolfe

Ms. de Wolfe is said to have invented the art of interior design with the publication of The House in Good Taste (1913) along with standards for manners, yet Ruth Franklin in a New Yorker magazine article suggests that she had a wild side. At “the age of fifty-six, she was plucky enough to perform headstands in public.” She furnished homes from Manhattan to Paris, Saint-Tropez to Beverly Hills and liked “to wear short white gloves and to carry at least one little dog.” In her old age, she tinted “her hair blue or lavender to match her outfit–one of many trends that she initiated.”

As an activist, she fought “for woman’s suffrage, and during the First World War . . . offered the Villa Trianon to the Red Cross for use as a hospital and volunteered as a nurse in a burn unit (for which she received the Légion de’Honneur).”

Along the street  . . .


Aha, he (or she) took the hint . . .


These photos including the one below were snapped on November 7, with Christmas about seven weeks away and temperatures in the mid-80s!

A Wonder


Is it just my imagination or do holiday decorations surface earlier and earlier every year?

Another saying or quote to add to the signs above?

Coming next: A Random Act of Kindness, Pudgy Hands and an Invitation

Two Mennonite Girls: a Cross Country Road Trip, continued


1964_Monkey postcard_Orderville UT

The postcard says Metzie and Molly if you look closely, but Joann and I were unofficially known as Mighty Metz and Sister Styx, the dashing duo that rode in the back seat of a Chevy Impala on a road trip with Joann’s parents, John and Mary Metzler.

Feeding a hooded squirrel at a stop off in Glacier National Park

Web_1964_Marian feeding squirrel_Close up

Our Southern route included the cotton fields of Alabama . . .

Web B_Joann-and-cotton

. . . and Rock City, Georgia with a view of seven states


 . . . and a tapering Falls

Web B_Marian-at-Falls


How I Paid for This Trip: I wrote an adult study series for Herald Press during May and June of 1964 for which I was paid $500.00. I brought cash and Traveler’s Cheques. Credit cards like the Diner’s Club Card were in circulation back then, but we didn’t have any. Actually, like many Mennonites, we thought credit cards were a little shady because of the possibility of misuse.


Frugality, Joann’s and Mine: 

  • Joann says to her mother in Canyonville, Oregon: “Mom, give me the map, let’s stop at some little hick place for dinner. Then I’ll have money to buy some more myrtle wood!”


  • In Oregon, I remark to Joan: “Boy, oh, boy, my future husband will have a wife who can keep on a budget, thank goodness!” Little did I know my future husband Cliff was living not so far away in California at the time.        

 1964_Marians Out West_Meals+Motels

Joan and I alternated weeks in paying room costs. I paid tolls and park entrance fees  instead of gas, which was probably less than 30 cents per gallon then.

I remember paying 50 cents to drive through a redwood tree!


We both kept diaries and photo logs. Mine looks battered and torn. Still, there’s a record.

1964_Marians Out West_Photo notebook

Church: We attended a service at the Mormon Tabernacle but the choir was missing, gone to the World’s Fair. Ugh . . . so disappointing!


  • I was accosted by a Mormon guy in the tabernacle gift shop: He thought I was Israeli and mistook my black bonnet for a feminine yarmulke and tried to convert me to Mormonism.
  • We also visited Sweet Home Mennonite Church in Oregon with Rev. Orie Roth, pastor.


Sin: We drove by garish casinos and hotels down Main Street, Las Vegas. Among the glitter and glitz of sky-high, flashy neon lights, we noticed advertisements for $ 10.00 weddings. Do you think people got married drunk? we wondered.


Western Hospitality: On our way to Sequoia National Park we pulled off the road and discovered a friendly guy mowing his lawn. Thus we met the Shaefers. Mr. Schaefer showed Uncle John his orange grove, and Mrs. Schaefer loaded us up with a 12’ x 15’ box of peaches, oranges, two bags of grapes, 2 bags of oranges, and a quart of raisins she had picked/dried herself.


Thanks to the miracle of “General Delivery,” I got mail from home at planned intervals. Here’s a note from Aunt Ruthie with a cascading series of cartoons

PNG1966_0722_Birthday card and letter to Marian_from Ruthie_Cooke City_MT_3x3

And a birthday card from my sister Jean with a letter . . .


. . .  and a note from Mother chiding Jean for not leaving any space to write: “I don’t know who she thinks she is . . . didn’t leave any space for Mother!”

Two letters sent to me addressed simply as Los Angeles – General Delivery came back with a note “Unclaimed – Return to Sender.”  Imagine that!


I brought back gifts for all the family. Janice received a myrtle-wood vase from Oregon, brother Mark a table lamp with a cactus base, and Daddy, a polished piece of petrified wood. My ledger shows I bought Jean a pretty blouse for $ 4.10, but alas no picture here!

Web_1964_Janice receiving gift


Web_1964_Postcard_Petrified-Forest+Ray-receives gift_AZ


Aunt Ruthie, brother Mark, and Mother Ruth
Aunt Ruthie with Christofferson paintings from Albuquerque, brother Mark with lamp, and Mother Ruth with a myrtle-wood pedestal dish

And something for myself too

I'll still using the bookends I bought in Tijuana, Mexico
I’m still using the alabaster bookends I bought in Tijuana, Mexico


The strangest thing I brought back: Water in a Gerber’s baby food jar (Aunt Ruthie’s suggestion) from The Great Salt Lake, where we floated with no danger of sinking.


Photos   I took almost two hundred photos on Kodak Ektachrome color slide film and sent home film rolls in heat-resistant pouches to be developed. Joann took photos and movies.

We don’t make a photograph just with a camera, we bring to the act of photography all the books we have read, the movies we have seen, the music we have heard, the people we have loved.

– Ansel Adams

Two Mennonite Girls Survive a Cross Country Road Trip

Yes, imagine two Mennonite girls tripping across the country . . .

  • In a blue-gray 1958 Chevy Impala sedan
  • With a chauffeur and navigator
  • Through 47 states + Mexico
  • Five weeks in 1964: July 18 – August 24


My Travel Partners: The Metzlers, whom I call Aunt and Uncle, and their daughter Joann

Unlike John Steinbeck who wrote Travels with Charley about his one-man, one-dog travelogue in the 1960s, we were a four-some, Joann Herr, my new best friend, her parents, John and Mary Metzler, and me. But like Mark Twain, we were “innocents abroad,” leaving our cozy Mennonite countryside and venturing through the wild and wooly West to the Pacific coast, eyes agape with wonder.

Best Bud: Joann Metzler (Herr) whom I met while she was student teaching at Rheems Elementary School, where my Aunt Ruth Longenecker was principal. “She’s such a nice girl. You ought to meet her,” Ruthie said about Joann. She was right! I even thought so at the end of the trip.

Chauffeur Extraordinaire, Uncle John: One day he drove 748 miles! John Metzler, who raised crops and cattle, is related on my mother’s side of the family through a common ancestor, Valentine Metzler, whose immigration to Pennsylvania was celebrated in the reunion in 2013. During this thousands-of-miles-odyssey behind the wheel, he sometimes came up with quotable expressions:

“Oh, schmatza (PA Dutch for pain),” he frets when there are too many switchbacks on mountain roads.

“Now we’re caught with our pants down!” when he makes a wrong turn.

“I thought I’d be hen-pecked with three women around and by golly I am already!” he exclaims 11 days into the trip.

Navigator with a Built-in Compass, Aunt Mary: With only a road map and keen sense of direction, Joann’s mother “Aunt Mary” was quite a trooper. She made sure we were ready to roll between 6:30 and 7:00 am every day. When I felt road sick, she doled out Chiclets. She was eager to see her spry, 81-year-old Aunt Susan in Los Angeles.

In Cheyenne Uncle John was taken for a German because of his PA Dutch accent, and Mary tells him “ta be more English!” Here are the two smiling at Crater Lake, Oregon.


The Big Loop – Like Steinbeck, we did follow a northern route across the Mid-west, angling down through California and sweeping across the Southwest into Texas and further east to Florida and then north back home to Pennsylvania. Along the way, we sometimes fancied ourselves in foreign lands: Parts of Utah looked like Greece to us, the Rockies like the Swiss Alps, and some of Oregon, the Holy land because of myrtle trees.


In the Rockies, I make a snowball on my birthday!


We were entranced by presidents, puffy clouds, national parks  . . .


Yellowstone, 12 million acres of gorgeous scenery - even bears want a part of the action
Yellowstone, 12 million acres of gorgeous scenery – even bears want a part of the action

And the Magnificent Grand Canyon



Oregon and California: Myrtle trees, Joshua trees, Dates and Olives!


Joann and almond tree
Joann and almond tree
Navajo Indian Reservation: Family was pleased to pose in exchange for some pesos
Navajo Indian Reservation: Family was pleased to pose in exchange for some pesos

Tijuana, Mexico: sombreros, a heady substitute for our prayer caps. Joann had no idea she was inviting kisses!


What We Wore

The photos prove our plainness. We always had something on our heads: prayer coverings, black bonnets on top of our caps for Sunday in Salt Lake City, Utah. Accordion pleated plastic wind-breakers for stiff breezes or rain. Dresses or skirts – absolutely no slacks or shorts.

Grandma Longenecker gave me a travel iron – no permanent press fabrics yet in our wardrobes in the Sixties.

Closeup of prayer covering and bonnet like Joann and I wore on the trip with Kodak Ektachrome slides, letter home and post card from the Petrified Forest, Arizona
Closeup of prayer covering and bonnet like Joann and I wore on the trip with Kodak Ektachrome slides, letter home and post card from the Petrified Forest, Arizona

Days were HOT!

One day it was 110 degrees in a car with no AC. Our Boontonware cups melted in the rear view window. Our backs made puddles on the seats, so we tried the feet-in-air position, backseat monkeys! Here below are the Boontonware cups before they melted! And, yes, photos at state lines were staged – part of our ritual.


Uncle John couldn’t wait to get to Cheyenne, Wyoming to see the Rodeo, The Daddy of ’em All during Frontier-land week.

*1964_Wyoming Rodeo_newspaper_300pix

What We Did at Night

Sometimes Joan and I disturbed the peace of the Metzler pair next door in the motel. Once I kicked down a picture on a motel wall in Wisconsin and nearly fell on my head to try to retrieve it. Daily we wrote in our diaries and totted up our expenses down to the last penny.

Usually we snacked and read books. One night I lowered the hem on a skirt with my sewing kit to comply with standards of Lancaster Mennonite School, where I would return to teaching in the fall. Here I’m making a feast of boysenberry bread near Kanab, Utah.


Many thanks to photo-enhancer Cliff for bringing faded memories back to life!

How did I pay for this trip on my slim school teacher’s salary? What secrets did my diary and expense book reveal? Did anyone from home remember my birthday? Find out in my next post!

Grandmother Kayaks from Maine to Guatemala for the Children at the Dump

Grandmother Kayaks from Maine to Guatemala for the Children at the Dump

These were the words in my invitation to a reception promoting Project Safe Passage honoring Dr. Deb Walters’ efforts to raise funds via her Kayak trips.


A stellar professional career behind her, this woman is paddling with passion in her mission to rescue children and families who live in the garbage dump of Guatemala City in Guatemala, providing them with literacy programs and medical help.


Who is Deb Walters?

Dr. Deb has always been adventuresome, having made solo trips to the Arctic, kayaking around the Northwest Passage, and leading kayaking expeditions, which she began in 1981. Several years ago, she was among a group of Rotarians who went to Guatemala City, saw the need and decided to do something positive about it. She reports, laughingly of course, that when she embarked on her first journey one person came up to her and asked this question:


The Need & How The Safe Passage School Helps

Over 9 million people live in Guatemala City, Guatemala, and 10,000 of those people scavenge for food in the city garbage heap and for any items they can find to sell to survive. Safe Passage was organized in 1999 to rescue these people from their dire situation through literacy and medical help. Kayaking is Deb’s way of fund-raising for this organization. She has reached 92% of her goal to raise $ 150,000.00 to fund expanding the school to include grades 3 and 4.

  • Safe Passage Educational Center houses classrooms, a cafeteria, library and a medical clinic, serving nearly 2000 family in 2014.
  • Provides literacy: English speakers are 3 times more likely to get a job. Incomes of Safe Passage graduates are 5 times higher than that of the average resident of Guatemala City.
  • Provides teacher training for local public schools.

Deb’s Day in her Kayak, a Chesapeake 18 model

She says every day “feels like I’m jumping off a cliff!” Typically she paddles 2-8 hours daily, monitored by her husband Chris back home via a tracking device that reports her whereabouts every 10 minutes. He helped her assemble tents, suits, cooking ware, and other travel equipment.

The children of Safe Passage have donated yellow, rubber ducks “El Patito Amistoso” for her kayak, so she has companionship while she travels.


Dr. Deb and Guatemalan boy: Safepassage.org/kayak video
Dr. Deb and Guatemalan boy: Safepassage.org/kayak video


  • Drug cartels control some sections of the waterway. “If they see you, they shoot you.”
  • Deb has encountered sharks, alligators, and whales. When she encounters a marine animal, she “looks them in the eyes while she sings.” Once however, at night she and her kayak were flipped over by a manatee on the Inter-coastal Waterway in Florida.
  • Once she kayaked out of the U. S. security zone, and the Coast Guard came after her with guns a-blazing. She could have been fined $ 500.00 and served 3 years in prison. The officers relented, however, when they discovered her cause and escorted her to safety.


After completing 1057 miles from Maine to South Carolina, her most recent trip was temporarily stalled by intense shoulder pain alternating with numbness, and Deb had to stop four times in the early part of the trip for medical attention. Doctors discovered a herniated disk in her neck which was surgically repaired with a titanium piece which in an X-ray looks to her like the image of a “thumbs up”! She says, jokingly, “I’ve been screwed!”

She is hoping to resume this latest trip in October and complete the remaining miles to Guatemala City.

Success Stories

  • One 73-year-old woman in the garbage dump enrolled in Safe Passage so she could help her grandchildren do homework. She herself learned to read and now she is writing her Memoir!
  • Another woman named Miranda rescued from the dump exclaimed after her success: “If you believe you can do it, you can do it!”

Final Words from Deb:

“Like many people who embrace an adventure, I learned more from the people I met than they learned from me.”

After her presentation, Deb admitted: “Even though I’ve seen this video many times, I never see it without tears in my eyes.”


Her blog: KayakForSafePassageKids.blogspot.com

The organization: SafePassage.org

Maybe your story is not as dramatic as Deb’s, but it has involved getting out of your comfort zone. We’d like to hear about it – or your response to Deb’s adventure.