It was Thanksgiving break during my sophomore year at Tufts University. Most of my friends lived nearby and were going home to their families, but my friend Peggy and I -- both Midwesterners -- saw this as our first chance to be free spirits. We would travel the roads of New England, certain that at age 19 we were more than mature enough to make the trip by ourselves.

Funny thing, the car rental companies were not so certain. One by one, they pointed out that we were under 21 and they would not rent to us. Finally, a company on the other side of Boston deigned to do business with us, turning over a beat-up, dirty Corvair that surely wouldn't make it another 100 miles. "This has to be hot," Peggy said after taking one look at it. Oh well, this was our chance to be free -- our initiation into adulthood.

Looking back now, it wasn't the car that so demoralized us on this turkey of a trip. It wasn't the scraggly parade of New England townsfolk in mismatched costumes. It wasn't even the lukewarm, tasteless and overbaked Thanksgiving dinner we choked down in a Plymouth church, along with a raggedy group of disenfranchised misfits. It was what happened at the ticket booth at the House of the Seven Gables in Salem.

Peggy and I had planned this trip carefully, and we'd decided we must hit Salem first. Not only were we both Nathaniel Hawthorne fans, but we also were fascinated with the whole witchcraft period. What better place than Salem to start our hands-on tour of colonial America?

So after our last class, we picked up our clunker of a car and scurried off to Salem, ready to begin our adult adventure. There, the two of us -- both five feet tall and full of freckles -- proudly marched up to the admissions gate at the House of Seven Gables for our first historical tour. The stern New England lady at the gate surveyed us closely and pointed to the sign that noted kids under 13 were half-priced. "Children's tickets?" she asked.