Moor or Less: The summer I lost it in France

My high school French teacher’s face popped up on my screen the other day as a Facebook friend suggestion.

She probably came to the forefront when I befriended one of my old classmates — although who the heck really knows how Facebook works.

I still recognized her 50-some years later. I’m not sure she could say the same thing about me.

She probably wouldn’t be pleased with my current grasp of the French language. Yeah, I can still say, “Parlez-vous francais?” and other arbitrary lines like, “Ou sont les toilettes?” I wasn’t one of Mrs. Grant’s top students but I got by, even if I spoke French with a Kokomo twang.

Bill Moor

But this story isn’t about my losing battle to become bilingual. It’s about how I probably gave Mrs. Grant a few premature gray hairs when I was one of 16 high schoolers who traveled with her to France the summer between my sophomore and junior years. We spent six weeks abroad with much of the time spent at the University of Dijon, taking classes in between sightseeing excursions.

Mrs. Grant and her husband had to think I was going to be trouble right off the bat even before we took a train to New York City. I almost missed our departure because my parents — not me — misread the trip itinerary. But because the train was late pulling into Kokomo, I made it just in time.

Unfortunately, the Kokomo Morning Times had sent a photographer to take a picture of our group heading out and I missed it. That wasn’t so bad, but the cutline under the picture stated at the end, “Late for the picture and almost late for the train was Bill Moor.”

I didn’t find out about the picture and caption until we returned six weeks later. I was still mortified. Ah, to be 16 again.

Before our overseas flight, we spent a few days in New York City during the 1965 World’s Fair and my mom had actually made me start out in a sports coat. She didn’t know about the hole in its pocket and I had forgotten about it.

Our group was going to stay at a hostel outside the city and, of course, I wasn’t paying attention when we bought our train tickets. I thought I might have heard that the hostel was near the World’s Fair (which it wasn’t).

When we got ready to board the train at Grand Central Station, I couldn’t find my ticket. I panicked and went running back to buy another one. “Where are you going, young man,” the ticket teller asked.  “Aaaaaa …. the World’s Fair,” I said. When I boarded, I didn’t see a soul I knew. Wrong train, wrong destination.

So I was dragging around my suitcase outside the fair’s entrance when I asked a train official what I should do. He took me to the control office and called back to Grand Central. Mr. Grant  had hopped off the right train when the group didn’t see me and was waiting for me after a conductor put me on a return train.

I eventually found my original ticket — the size of one of those you get at a raffle. It had slipped into the hole in my pocket and was lodged inside the coat’s lining.

So much for smooth beginnings. But i was just getting started.

After we arrived in Dijon, I lost my traveler’s checks and my passport on successive weekends. I left my traveler’s checks in our hotel’s restaurant on a trip to the Loire Valley. Mrs. Grant called the hotel. A waitress found them in a booth and mailed them back to me in Dijon. “Merci, merci.”

When I went to the post office to retrieve them, I had my little speech ready. “Avez-vous un paquet pour Guillaume Moor?” I asked the postal worker. He started a machine gun-like reply that I didn’t understand and so I halted him with “Un moment.” Then I ran back to our dorm and got a buddy who had three years of French compared to my one. He went back with me, listened to the guy, nodded a couple times and he came back with the little package with my traveler’s checks.

I never did find my passport and had to go to the U.S. Embassy in Paris during the last week of our trip. As I recall, it wasn’t nearly the big deal that it would be now. I’m not even sure if I got another passport or just some documentation that allowed me to fly back to the good old U.S. of A.

Those were the days when I wrote letters home and bought thoughtful (and inexpensive) gifts for my family. My mom still has the little prints of Paris landmarks hanging by her pantry. I still have the wine bottle (without its contents) that I bought for my parents.

In those letters home, I didn’t mention what I had lost. When I finally did fess up upon my return, my mom moaned, “That’s why I got you a money belt.”

“I think I lost that, too, Mom,” I admitted. “But I’m pretty sure there wasn’t anything in it.”