This is a continuation of a six-page letter from Grandpa with quotes from other letters he has received and news from France.
Now we’ll leave the South Pacific to enjoy its heat and rainy season and take a quick trip over to France, drop in for a little visit on Lad, and get him to tell us about a little trip he took last Feb., a story which Marian has released for publication – – a lady censor, as it were.
Alfred Peabody Guion (Lad)
“Art Thompson, a fellow who joined our outfit at Jackson as a mail clerk, and I, left camp and thumbed our way into the town, or rather, city, and went first to the Armed Services Information Center. We found a woman who spoke textbook English, who told us that gifts such as we desired were hard to get without points, since they have a point-rationing system over here too. She gave us a few leads however and we followed them up for nought. And then as we left the last store we saw a rather interesting store window across the street and crossed over to look at the fantastic prices of silk, rayon and cotton articles of women’s wearing apparel. Points were needed for all these items except some rather pretty bright-colored hankies. We entered and after a little confusion and chin wagging, plus a lot of silly motions, the girls, about six by this time, realized what we wanted. We picked the ones we desired, paid for them and went out, intending to go back to camp, even though it was early.
In a couple of minutes we got a ride in a G.I. truck heading for Aix. We changed our minds and direction and decided to see Aix. And anyway, Mike and a couple of other fellows were there and we thought we might be able to run across them. Our ride was short-lived (about 8 kilometers or 5 miles) but our destination persisted and we continued afoot, expectantly eyeing each passing vehicle, truck, car, bus – – G. I. and French, until finally along came a tram. There was no car stop but at that particular place the car goes at an angle across the road, and to observe the traffic, almost stopped. Not having had much luck thumbing, we decided to hitchhike on the trolley. As it started to cross the highway we jumped on the rear and stood on the bumper. Actually it was made up of two cars, the first one being the tractor for the second smaller car. Each car was divided into three sections with a door in the center on each side. The second car, or trailer, had no brakes and in order to keep it from damaging the front car when they stopped, there were bumpers at each end of each car. This is what we stood up. However we were not alone. As company we had an old French man who had gotten on earlier, Not being able to converse with him we did not question him or he us, so we rode in silence for 15 or 20 minutes.
At times, particularly on downgrades we traveled at alarmingly high speeds, up and down and about 25 mph forward. On the level and upgrades we traveled considerably slower in both directions. The wheels, of which there were four on each car, were mounted fairly close to the center and left quite a bit overhanging at each end, which sort of aided the rocking. The first car was about 25 feet long and the second about as long as our Buick. They were both the same width, though just a little narrower than the Buick, and seated two people abreast with an aisle in the center. The windows were either dirty or painted for blackout and it was dark by this time anyway, so there was no way of telling whether there was room inside or not. When it finally stopped we dashed around to get in if there was any room.
In the center compartment there were no seats and it was crowded, but the people squeezed in a little more and we managed to get in, far enough so that the trees and shrubbery missed us anyway. The conductor wouldn’t accept our fares. He got us to understand that the Germans never paid so why should we. We gave him a tip anyhow and he put his whistle up to his lips and blew two LOUD blasts. With a lurch and a couple of lesser bounces we began to crawl forward again toward Aix.
The conductor didn’t seem to know any more about where we were than I did. One passenger asked about his stop. He looked puzzled, shrugged his shoulders, studied the map and the car stops posted on the section wall, shrugged his shoulders again, shook his head and lit a cigarette. The passenger took off his hat and leaned out past us watching the scenery for a couple of minutes and then drew back into the car and glared at the conductor, who shrugged his shoulders again very nonchalantly.
After watching the scenery a little longer the passenger either told the conductor he wanted to get off or told him where to get off, but in any case, he let out with another ear bursting tweet on the whistle. Nothing happened and we continued on. The passenger got excited and another tweet (the conductor himself almost blew up on that one) and amid clanks and squeaks, we came to a grinding stop. Nobody else paid any attention to any of this. I guess it’s a common every day commuter’s trip to them. After a number of similar occurrences we stopped without whistles and everybody got off.
We knew it wasn’t Aix but we followed suit and saw just ahead of the trolley a blown-up bridge. Everyone was walking across an improvised bridge at one side so we followed. We could see the lights of a town or city ahead so we continued on foot, particularly when we saw that most of the people were getting into a bus that I wouldn’t trust behind a team of horses. After we had gone about half a block past the bus, it started, coming along behind us up a slight grade. We made it by almost a block to the top of the grade but on the level it gradually passed us and got into town about five blocks ahead of us. The town was Aix, thank goodness, and we had come from Marseilles to Aix, a distance of 32 km (about 20 miles) in just under 2 ½ hours. We never did find Mike until we started back to camp in a G. I. truck and he was hitchhiking. Lad”
Tomorrow, I’ll finish this letter with a few words to Dan and some final thought from Grandpa.