In 1951 my father, Truman Gibson was with the International Boxing Club, promoting the world championship fight between sugar Ray Robinson and Randy Turpin. My mother and I traveled with him to Europe, traveling first class on the Cunard line’s The Queen Mary.
I was ten years old. I didn’t really want to go. I would much rather have spent the summer in Idlewild Michigan, riding horses and exploring paths through the woods and being free the way we could in those days.
My mother, the glamorous Isabelle was ecstatic. She packed a trunk with mink jackets and dinner dresses and prepared to shop her way through France.
Isabelle kept a travel diary, which I found. And here is the beginnings of our epic trip to London, Paris, Florence and Cannes.
Itinerary: 6/24/1951: Queen Mary, Cunard Line, New York to London England, landing in Southampton and traveling to London by train, arrive Waterloo Station 11pm 7/5/51
7/13/51 – London to Brussels via Sabena (Belgium) airlines. Brussels to Paris arriving 10:40 PM
7/21/51 – Paris to Milan by plane, Milan to Venice by train
7/23/51 – Venice to Florence by train
7/25/51 – Florence to Rome by train
7/28/51 – Rome to Cannes by plane
8/1/51 – Cannes to Paris by Plane
8/3/51 – Board Île de France for home
Onboard at last! Entering the ship like entering a hotel lobby. The gangplank all enclosed — not at all like the movies. The cabin is large and (lovely). Karen says we have “junior beds.” In the bath there is hot salt water, cold salt water, hot fresh water cold fresh water. I’ll be sure to bathe in the salt.
Flowers from Marge Alexander, Hilda and Jack Spicer and the Arthur Greys! How exciting!!!
More flowers! Corsages for Karen and me from the Allison Davis’s, flowers from the Trents. Many telegrams and a letter from Mary Davis who is in Paris. It’s wonderful to be remembered – also makes one quite homesick. In the tremendous excitement of the Bon Voyages on board, I felt rather lonely for family and friends. I’m sure Truman and Karen did too. We kept looking for Alice who must be in Viv’s cabin. We had missed her at the hotel. As the ship pulled away from the dock I looked over the rail and saw her. She yelled “Isabelle” seeing her face was like seeing an angel!
The boat is like a dream hotel – at dinner I could hardly understand the waiter – he is so British. After my fish course, when the chops arrived Karen said, “Mother you’re eating two dinners!” I chose soufflé Sicilian for dessert. Had no idea what it was but it turned out good. The Steward buzzes in our room when we are out, laying our robes on the beds etc.
Milton Berle, Molly Goldberg (Gertrude Berg) aboard. The ocean seems calm to me. No trace of sea sickness in any of us. Keeping my toes crossed.
It’s really true–the business of dressing for dinner. All manner of evening gowns and jewels. Furs include ermine and white fox stoles. Me, I wore my black crepe and mink jacket. Truman looked very distingué in his dinner jacket, Karen very lovely in her white and red dress with the hand knit sweater.
Karen and Truman went swimming today. At dinner, Karen went up to a darling little English girl at the next table whom she recognized as Kathy Beaumont, the child selected by Walt Disney as a model and voice for Alice in Wonderland.
As a second course at dinner, I selected escargot. The waiter said, “do you like snails Mau’m?”
(There) are two charming English boys who open the restaurant doors. Each always greets one appropriately, “Good evening Mau’m – Good evening Sir – Good night Miss.” They can’t be more than 12 or 13yrs (old).
Saw an hilarious movie at the cinema. Harold Lloyd in Mad Wednesday. Strolled up to the Promenade deck. The sea is black-black — only the wake visible from the ships lights.
Large illuminated map in dining room showing course of the ‘Mary’ and the ‘Lizzie, progress of each. This afternoon we were opposite Halifax. Tomorrow we’ll be opposite nothing but la mer.
Must mention “blabbermouth” who sits at the table next to us. HE is conducting a tour of old ladies whom he refers to as “Girls,” he’s like a character out of a book – loud, ostentatious – wanting everyone to hear and see this knowledgeable traveled man. Must be one on every trip.
7/1/51 Sun evening
Went to see Viv and Joyce today. They look grand, especially Viv who says she’s thoroughly enjoying her voyage. Joyce says she has seen enough water and will be glad for a little land. Tomorrow they will visit us.
Dining Steward says our ship is sailing very fast in order to pass the Île de France which left a day ahead. We should see her tomorrow.
Our watches must advance 60 minutes every 24 hours. This is done 20 minutes at a time at 11:00 am – 2:00pm and 2:00am. Seems every time I look at my watch I’m 20 minutes slow. The ship is rolling a little tonight but not too much. Was cold on deck today and sky overcast. In late afternoon sun shone thru. Deck Steward suggests we wait until tomorrow before moving our chairs to sun deck. Weather may not permit.
Wanted to remember that I asked steward about a “sweet” on the menu. “It’s something like a trifle Mau’m,” so I knew just what he meant!!! Everything is “would Madam like – .“ Madam likes.
Is much doing on boat, but we stick to simple schedule with our little darling and forgo the cocktail lounge, concerts and dancing. Her joy at being with us is worth it. Movies again – Humphrey Bogart – Sirocco. It stunk.
Did I say we look right at the Captain’s table. Have concluded Lord and Lady Laughton are seated with him. The English are truly a cold and austere lot – but not unpleasant — just remote.
Viv says she missed Alice who never got on the boat, was probably too late.
As I sit on the john, this faces me. English very clever in choosing this spot.
“Directions for adjusting Board of Trade Life jacket with diagrams
- place life jacket over head etc.
- tie half know with rope in front
- Draw them well tight tie securely.
Lifeboat station #7 on Prom deck the station allotted to all occupants of this stateroom by following green arrows.
For Boat Stations
A succession of more than 6 short blasts followed by one long blast on ships whistle supplemented by electrically operated gongs_ and the cooperation of passengers requested in the interest of good discipline.”
Life has resolved itself into a program of sleeping 11 or 12 hours – eating 5 and 6 course meals except breakfast which we have in our stateroom unless we sleep until time for lunch. Generally the meals are this:
- hors d’oeuvre or the like
- Meat or fowl
Cocktails and wine of course!
And the Cinema, tonight, “I’d Climb the Highest Mountain” very good
After all this I wash the nylons.
Today we discovered the gym. Karen rode the electrical horse. She and Truman swam as usual. I wrote letters. Want to thank everyone for being so wonderful.
Had a delicious wine with my squab for dinner. Wine Steward gave me the label. It’s a white burgundy: Meursault 1945’ Cft. Dupier & Fils, (France). Very dry and very good.
Today Karen entered the “Swimming gals” and won a prize – an automated pencil. She raced to see who could gather the most corks dropped on the water. Several of the younger children were entered and she collected the 2nd largest number of corks, a big thrill for her. Joyce and Viv visited us today and we took a little tour of the boat. New wine for dinner, a dry red Burgundy Chamblee Musigny. When I asked our dining steward for ham on the menu, he answered as usual “Why don’t you try the filet mignon, Madam, with truffles (goose liver).” He must love beef. I complied.
Tomorrow we see France!!!!
What a delicious slice of history (Words are a time machine!), your mother such a wonderful teller of her sea crossing tale. Wonderfully descriptive and such delight in her telling. If only there were a journal by the ten year old you to read by its side!