Elaine Bassler Mardus
Holly Lebowitz Rossi
My maternal grandmother, Elaine Bassler Mardus (1914-2009), adored travel and was taught to marvel at the wide world by her mother, my great-grandmother, Ethelle Bassler. Between the two world wars, mother and daughter made several trips from their home in Cincinnati—where my great-grandparents owned an upscale fur coat shop—to Europe and the Middle East.
In 1930, they traveled by ship—the White Star Line ship S. S. Laurentic—through the Straits of Gibraltar to Monaco, Naples, Athens, “Constantinople,” and Jerusalem. In beautiful penmanship for a 16-year-old, my grandmother, who I called Gaga, recorded pages of notes in the diary section of a book called “All About Going Abroad.” She noted details like her teenaged ship acquaintances (“Sally Thompson, Royden Whitehead, Arthur Davidson, Merril Walls, Alice Boughton, and an unknown fellow”), and descriptive gems that foreshadowed her career as a teacher and author of two non-fiction young adult books: “The rock seemed to have imprisoned numerous bits of colors, for the field glasses reveal the most beautiful coloring in the rock.”
Several years earlier, in 1922 when Gaga was 8 years old, they had toured cities across Europe. This photograph was taken in Venice’s famously pigeon-filled St. Mark’s Square. Nanny (what Ethelle’s grandchildren called her) scrawled on the back, “Elaine moved her hands and made many of them fly away.”
When I was 10 years old, in 1984, Gaga took me on a summer trip to London, Paris, Amsterdam, and Brussels. She presented me with her annotated “All About Going Abroad” and taught me to keep a detailed travel diary. I don’t have to consult it to recall a favorite moment from the trip—waiting in line to get into the Louvre, a pigeon flew past and left its droppings right on my head. We laughed so hard.