Sunday, November 3, 2002
When Gary Dehnel's parents moved into an assisted-living facility in Florida last September, his sister discovered an intriguing item while cleaning out their house. It was an album from the elderly couple's 1934 honeymoon -- a 10-day trip they'd taken through New England, documented in photographs, a diary and financial logs. Dehnel flipped through it: There was Dad at Saratoga battlefield in New York. There was Mom sitting on a lookout over Lake George, N.Y. Here were business cards from the inns where they'd stayed.
Dehnel's frugal parents spent a total of $65.39 for the whole thing.
The Manassas area resident had a flash of inspiration: He wanted to repeat the trip with his wife, Connie, to celebrate their 32nd anniversary, taking the same two-lane roads his parents took, tracking down the inns where they stayed, finding every bridge, every historical marker, every awe-inspiring mountain view his parents photographed.
Connie, 50, was game. She and Gary, 54, decided to make an album of their own, just like the original. They would start their trip June 6, just three days -- and 68 years -- after Gary's parents started theirs. It would satisfy their historical curiosity, and more important, would be "a gift we could give to his parents," Connie says. The gift would be one of remembrance.
Dehnel went to the library and printed out the front page of the 1934 New York Times for every day of their trip, so "their morning paper was our morning paper," he says. Then the couple set off on a vacation that was more a hard-working journey -- two amateur detectives, sleuthing out pieces of the past.
Alexander Dehnel knew Margaret Stellhorn's brother through business. He and Marge met at a dance when they were young adults, just before the Depression hit.
"I looked at him and he looked at me and that was romance," says Marge, 92.
Al and Marge set a timeline: They would marry when Al, now 94, started making a certain salary at his job selling fire extinguishing systems -- somewhere around $11 a week, as best as they can remember. But the economy slowed his pay raises. When Marge, a secretary, began making more than Al, they decided it was time to tie the knot. Their wedding took place in Lincoln Park, N.J., and that night they set off on their honeymoon, the biggest trip either of them had ever made. It took them 1,500 miles through New York's Adirondacks; across Vermont; through New Hampshire's White Mountains; east to Portland, Maine; down the coast to Gloucester and Cape Cod, Mass.; west to Providence, R.I.; and back home through Connecticut.
On some sections of the trip, Marge and Al traveled on dirt roads. There were no modern motel chains, no Holiday Inns. The days they traveled, the newspaper carried headlines like "Roosevelt Denies Danger of Famine in Crop Disaster" and "Hitler Meets Mussolini Thursday; Italy to Avoid Anti-French Accord." Marge wore long skirts and blouses. Al wore a dress shirt and tie, sometimes with a sweater and a beret. ("I didn't know Dad had a beret," Gary says in surprise, flipping through the album.) They took careful notes of everything, like these from their wedding night:
"Stopped at Hotel plaza where the new husband asked for a single room and the clerk looked at the new wife and politely said, 'You mean a double room.' "
"Slept well but man in some other room had a choking fit and woke us at 3 a.m."
Most days, Marge and Al had a hearty breakfast and then a light lunch: apples and crackers and ice cream, fruit and buns and ice cream, crackers and raisins and ice cream. ("Dad has always liked his ice cream," remarks Gary.) They kept track of every expense: 20 cents for tipping a bellhop, $1.10 for a turkey dinner and tip, $1.81 for 10 gallons of gasoline.