Category Archives: In Peterson’s Words

Video of My Appearance on C-SPAN’s Book TV


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The Traveling Itch

I’ve been away from home for a few weeks, traveling first to Europe and then, more recently, to Michigan. The blog was one of the things that fell by the wayside during that time.

But now I’m back, and it occured to me that this would be an appropriate place to comment on Elly Peterson’s love of travel.

One day in the 1950s, Peterson was reading the paper and said to her husband, Pete, “I can’t understand a word of this. How can you possibly understand Thailand and Hong Kong and Egypt when they are just faraway names on a map. A person ought to go there and see them.”

“Let’s go,” Pete replied.

“Let’s go?” she screamed. “How can you take a trip like that with a job and a house and a truckload of animals and. . . .”

“You’re always talking about going, let’s go,” Pete responded. The rest will take care of itself.”

And so it did. The Petersons set off on a trip that took them 40,000 miles, to 20 countries by air, boat, traing, automobile, rickshaw and pedicab. They chronicled the trip in a little booklet they sent to their friends that Christmas. It concluded: “We took this trip because we wanted to know better the peoples of the world–and we came home, with a bundle of wonderful memories and the firm belief that People Really ARE Nicer Than Anybody Else!”

Elly Peterson regularly traveled overseas after that, often with her older sister, and often in November, right after the end of an election cycle when she undoubtedly was in need of a vacation. In the late 1960s and mid-1970s, she was part of delegations of women who traveled to the Mideast, the Soviet Union and China. These trips helped her forge relationships with prominent women in foreign countries, and closer friendships with the women with whom she traveled.

Late in life, she recalled that she had always dreamed of owning a home in England or France, places where she had served in the American Red Cross during World War II. But when retirement time came, she discovered that her husband didn’t want any part of it. Now he wanted her to make some concessions to the lifestyle he wanted to live, and so they divided their time between homes in Hawaii and Charlotte, Michigan, where he could continue to enjoy games of golf and hunting trips.

When she could no longer travel herself, Peterson remained an armchair traveler, and loved to hear the details of trips that her younger friends and relatives had made. She retained that zest for adventure, and curiosity about the rest of the world for all of her life.

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Thoughts on Memorial Day

Elly Peterson served in Europe during World War II, as part of a three-woman American Red Cross complement assigned to the U.S. Army’s 280th Field Station Hospital. She was stationed first in England, and then followed the D-Day invasion to France. She was busily organizing a Christmas Eve party for the troops in December 1944, when the Germans bombed the S.S. Leopoldville outside Cherbourg Harbor, throwing the night into chaos. Some 800 American lives were lost when the ship was sunk.

The one character trait that Peterson attributed to her wartime service was her sense of patriotism. Late in her life, she recalled how her commanding officer would ask the Red Cross staff members to join him on the reviewing stand.  The patients, she wrote home at the time, “were wheeled out to the flag pole and the entire complement stood to attention. How beautiful and how thrilling to see the American flag lowered against the English sky with everyone at attention and every eye on the flag.”

“It was a great thing to be an American in those days,” she remembered years later. “You were proud of it then and proud of the way men were doing. . . .Some of [the men] seemed so young and of course there were lots of tragedies. But there were a lot of wonderful moments, too. When you saw people rise above. And when you were over there that long you weren’t homesick anymore.”


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