Europe on a Shoestring

Early in my teens, my mother and her sister got the idea that they should take ship to England and pick up my aunt’s daughter who was serving a mission in Scotland. I got drafted as guardian, being a robust youth. Not really. I think Mom worried about my fate in the hands of my brothers and father in her absence. Wise woman. There are many tales of this trip and I won’t bore you with most of them, but I will offer you a few.

We were not a well-off bunch (my aunt was in a somewhat higher tax bracket) and we took the economy route. No jet planes for us – they were all afraid to fly. Trains to New York via Chicago, then 7 days at sea (that *was a blast*). I spent time following the officers around, sitting in the engine room, or on the bridge. The food was amazing, I didn’t know a steak could be heaven. My mother, child of the depression that she was, felt steak deserved severe punishment and decreed death by fire to our 1/4 inch cuts.

Landing in Southampton, we headed north by train to Scotland where we met my cousin. Wonderful members, no doubt much poorer than we were put us up in Aberdeen and Edinburgh. I was introduced to some hearty Scottish women who kept the home fires burning for men who made a living at sea. Those cold smoggy days come to mind, the Olympic training pool where I foolishly jumped off the top platform, risking future children, and the singing of familiar hymns in rented rooms. Then off to the continent by ferry where everyone was seasick but me[1] and then on tour — one of those rapid things that blasted through everything west of the then “iron curtain.”

On the return leg, my mother discovered that we were broke and my aunt wasn’t kicking in any cash. So she contacted the Church’s European mission headquarters. The Church owned a wonderful residence (if memory serves, not too far from the London temple) and they put us up there for a week until my dad finally got our letter and wired some funds.

I’ve never forgotten the generosity of the General Authority who took care of us off the books. And it was there that I developed a life-long love of the English countryside. Every morning I’d open the window of my room, climb down into the backyard garden and wend my way into the fields beyond. It was something like walking into an Impressionist painting that occasionally transitioned to fine realism. The smells, sounds, colors, light and clouds still stay with me. I have some suspicion that the spirit world will be like this. If it’s not, I’d like a refund.

Now I do have a question and request that goes with it. Have you ever been involved in one of these “missionary retrieval” operations? Perhaps you were left behind while parents ventured to some exotic place, or maybe you were the subject being retrieved. Care to share?

[1] On our return sea journey, our transport was an about-to-be-retired liner that lacked the stabilizers of modern ships – and we had stormy seas. Everyone was puking their guts out but me again. I sat alone at breakfast, lunch, evening meal. It was great wandering the ship and the foredeck getting pounded with spray. I bunked with three American guys in their 20s. They were men of the world, but they were kind enough to me. “Their” Europe made my hair curl however.


  1. I’m looking forward to some stories – dish, people!

    My closest (but extremely distant) involvement in missionary retrievals is as a missionary who traveled home the usual way without being retrieved by family. This was in the days when European temples could be counted on one hand, and one of those temples happened to be at the edge of my mission. We were not allowed to attend during our missions (they stressed that our mission at that time was to the living, not the dead), and so nearly everyone hoped for a chance to attend the temple there before going home.

    You could do that if your family were wealthy enough to come pick you up and do some traveling before you went home, but you were not allowed to go to that temple otherwise, even with a group of returning missionaries, even though it was in our own mission, even though for many of us that would be our only opportunity to visit Europe.

    I thought that wasn’t quite fair. *sigh*

  2. My brother was part of the group that opened Czecholsovakia (As it was called at the time). My parents took me along to pick him up and we went through the former eastern block. It was a fairly transformative thing for me, in many respects.

    My parents picked me up when I finished my mission in France. My dad had the authority to release me. That is the way to do it, people!

  3. This is a not missionary retrieval story, but my mom served a mission to England after WWII. When her mission was over, see and at least one companion toured Europe before returning home to Utah. Mom tells when they were in Rome and saw the Pope come out of bless the crowd. She is in the very front, pushed up against a white picket restraining fence. The crowd was pressing forward so hard, that the paint from the pickets ruined her skirt.

  4. My parents went to Scotland in the mid-60s to pick up my older brother, but alas, I was left behind. However, just a few years later my mother and I did a Europe-on-a-shoestring trip and stayed with that same brother, who was then living in France with his wife and two daughters. They were renting a country home just outside of Paris, and I have similar memories to yours, WVS, of opening the windows each morning (it was April) and walking down to the market to buy bread and cheese.
    Not a missionary story, but my youngest daughter did her last semester of BYU in Alexandria, Egypt, and I went to pick her up from that (six years ago). We bought a rail pass and backpacked through Europe (in January), staying in hostels and eating mostly cheese and crackers. We had only a rough itinerary, getting on and off trains through Greece, Italy, the Czech Republic, Germany (where my husband joined us), France, The Netherlands, and Spain. A trip of a lifetime that transformed a mother-daughter relationship into an incredible friendship, much as the previous trip with my own mother had done.

  5. Ardis, I agree, that wasn’t quite fair that you didn’t get to go to that temple, at the very least. I hope you get to go back some day, if you haven’t already.

  6. Mission retrieval has been one of the best parts of missions. My rich great aunt funded a 2 month European tour with my mother, my sister and later, my father. We bought a car! from Audi which I picked up in Ingolstadt, first time alone in 30 months, (never EVER buy model 1) and drove with my mother and sister through Yugoslavia to Greece, from Patrai across to Brindisi, through Rome, back through Austria, France, (car departed in Antwerp to USA) and England. The memories of that trip lasted my mother for a lifetime.

    Driving south to Athens we noted a little road off the main highway and drove 50 miles on dirt through little villages. Entered Athens and without knowing anything, drove directly to the Hotel we had picked out. Parents went to Follies Berger in Paris but I thought it was against the spirit of the mission rules. I should have gone.

    Later we picked up our daughter in Panama, our son in Georgia (USA), and our son in Brazil. (I had always seen the destination of Recife, Brazil listed on departure boards. I found myself in the airport at Recife at 2am awaiting connecting flights. Not really wonderful, but a dream come true never-the-less.) All memorable trips. I wish we could have had more of these wonderful opportunities.

    My son in Georgia had determined not to break any mission rules, which included watching TV. The election was coming and primary results were being reported, which I could not watch. There were hard words said.

    In Panama City I bought my daughter a copy of “Love in the Time of Cholera” by Marquez. I knew that she had only learned a specialized form of conversational Spanish while serving a mission. She could not read it and did not ever. I was a little disappointed. (She is now loosing Spanish.) Friends got us a trip to the nature preserve in the large lake in the Canal.

    My Brazilian missionary was completely burned out by his mission. He spent the trip being mad. It might have helped him to have spent this short time decompressing. We went to a little village in the boondocks and walked an hour in mud trying to meet a contact. Saw the Fos de Iguassu and the Amazon. Fell in the mud in Rio. Walked the full length of Ipanema and and part of Copacabana, got lost in a mall in Sao Paulo between flights. (My son still can not speak Portuguese because of the scarring of his mission. He has become fluent in French, instead.)

    Sorry about the length of this comment, but these are some of the things I like about the Church.

  7. RW, when you speak of scarring, well, can you elaborate?

  8. My parents and three siblings came to pick me up. We saw a bit of my mission (Germany) and then drove down to Switzerland, where we had lived 15 years before. I was the only one of the siblings that had lived in Switzerland and remembered it. I was able to visit my last ward in Germany with my family, and visit with old family friends in Switzerland. We also saw beautiful quaint German towns, slept in German castles, and spent time in the Alps. We ate Doner Kebabs and cheese fondue. I don’t think my parents have ever splurged that much in their lives, and I doubt they’ll ever splurge that much again.

    Four years later I returned and spent 10 weeks backpacking through Europe on my own. I experienced the very friendly nature of Europeans–there’s a huge difference between how they treat two missionaries and how they treat a solo traveler–they were incredibly friendly to me, especially in non-tourist areas. Wonderful people. I still can’t get enough of the place.

  9. Peter LLC says:

    there’s a huge difference between how they treat two missionaries and how they treat a solo traveler

    Then again, there’s also a huge difference between how the missionaries treat the natives and how solo travelers do.

    No mission retrieval here, though I’ve since made up for it by ending up as a permanent resident in my old stomping grounds.

  10. John Mansfield says:

    My father-in-law drove home from New York to Idaho about fifty years ago. He did this through a company that arranged car transporting. He had enough miles for some side trips on the way west. I have the idea the car was something larger, like a Lincoln perhaps.

    In Argentina, where I served, Ford continued making 1970 Falcons until 1991. I thought many times of buying one and driving 7,000 miles north when the mission ended, but it was only a pipedream.

  11. If I ever mount a relative missionary retrieval mission, it’s going to be along the lines of H. Ross Perot On Wings of Eagles.

  12. Fairchild says:

    My ex-mo dad and non-mo stepmom actually flew to Brazil to pick up my brother from his mission.

    My mom could not afford the trip but rented a van so that she’d have enough room in one vehicle for the ride home from the airport with herself, my brother, sister, me, my husband and our infant son so we could visit right away and no one would be left out of the experience. My family and my sister had flown from UT to TX for my brother’s homecoming.

    The funny and awkward part was that my dad and stepmom had arranged no transportation home from the airport and we had to tell them the van had no more room (not that my mom would offer them a ride anyway!). We just left them there and told them to call a friend or catch a taxi! We thought it was weird that they made no arrangements and happily took off with my brother.

  13. That is kind of weird.

  14. Naismith says:

    I feel really stupid about having missed this opportunity. When we got the letter from the mission president saying NOT to come to Brasil to pick up our daughter, we believed it. So we didn’t go.

    Stupid convert, I didn’t understand that everyone gets that letter, and you’re supposed to ignore it and go anyway. And actually, in our case since we had previously lived in Brasil and know the ropes, it would have been pretty easy for us to do.

    We did travel around with her a few years later, but not really the same.

  15. Yeah, that’s too bad. You should have gone, especially being an experienced Brazilian.

  16. ” I didn’t know a steak could be heaven. My mother, child of the depression that she was, felt steak deserved severe punishment and decreed death by fire to our 1/4 inch cuts.”

    Best two lines I’ve read on the internet in a long time. So sorry you had to endure to such badly prepared steak.

  17. There were several threads from the past that went into my mom’s cut selection, but I think all of them are traceable to her childhood poverty, maybe.

  18. gpouliot says:

    My mom, dad (my stake president then) and older sister came over to pick me up in Birmingham, England. We spent a week in England and Wales. My parents were not especially fond of the pace. Recapping 2 years in a week is a little taxing.

    I know the policy now discourages parents from picking their RMs up.

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