The time my parents moved to Europe, with their cats Guy Cat and Girl Cat. A guest post from my Mom, Pat Ketchum.

Bill and Pat Ketchum in Spain 1964On February 9, 1964 Bill Ketchum and I left a pier in Brooklyn on board the Yugoslavian freighter Srbiga around 9:30 am.

It was cold and cloudy.  The departure date had been delayed four days.

That evidently happened with freighters back then.  Our friends Nellie and Christopher (from the lower East Side), Susan and Don (Bill’s sister and brother-in-law), Danna and Frank Kozelak (Frank was a very long time friend of Bill’s) and Diane and Noelle (my close friends from work) all came to the ship to say “Bon Voyage”.  Noelle and Diane brought flowers and another work friend actually sent a telegram.

That evening the Beatles appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show. 

“It is estimated that 73 million Americans were watching that night as the Beatles made their live U.S. television debut.  “

We had a big, comfortable cabin and after an initial crisis about whether our cats, Guy Cat and Girl Cat, could stay in the cabin with us or be put in the dreaded hold, we were settled in and excited and anxious to sail.

Some of the crew members came to look at the cats. 

I think they were expecting some type of exotic creatures.  Just old Guy and Girl Cat.  Bill was working on our income tax return.

On February 10th, a cold and rainy morning, we arrived in Philadelphia.!!!!

I was doing some light reading – “The Brothers Karamazov” by Dostoevsky.  (Can you even imagine?)  I was 22 years old and Bill was 32.

Manolo and Luis on freighter to Spain by Bill and Pat Ketchum 1964On February 11th we met the passengers in the cabin next to ours. 

Manolo and Luis.  They were going to Spain to become flamenco dancers and played, what we thought at the time, horrible Spanish music.  They were gay.  At first they were not too friendly but we did become good friends and stayed in touch with Manolo for about a year.  Also met some other passengers (a couple, Sandy and Dave) and made arrangements to study Spanish.

February 12th – still in Philadelphia.

visited some of the famous landmarks in Philadelphia.  Started playing cards at night and visiting with other passengers from a different part of the boat.

February 14th – arrived in Sparrows Point, Baltimore.

An ugly and dirty looking shipyard.  Went in to Sparrows Point, a horrible town owned by Bethlehem Steel.  A layer or red dust over everything.  The ugliest town in el mundo.

February 16 – arrived Norfolk. 

Becoming friends with Sandy and Dave.  Visited town.  Bought some paperback books to replenish my reading supply.

February 18th, Tuesday.  Arrived Newport News.

February 21st arrived Wilmington, North Carolina.  Ocean a little rough.  Some of our friends sea sick.  Playing cards at night and having Spanish lessons.

BIll and Pat Ketchum and friends on freighter to Spain 1964February 23rd arrived Savannah.  My journal says “beautiful town but people full of hate.  Be glad to get out of this god dammed country” 

(We were a group composed of a mixed racial couple, a couple of gays and some scruffy bearded types).

Departures were always delayed due to loading issues or weather issues or we arrived on a Friday and no one worked on the weekend.  It seemed like we were in some places for ever.

Manolo started an exercise class for anyone interested.  On sunny days we gathered together on the deck. 

travel notes: Left Brooklyn, New York February 9, 1964.  Stopped at numerous ports to load/unload cargo:  Philadelphia (PA), Sparrows Point (MD), Norfolk (VA), Newport News (VA), Wilmington (NC), Savannah (GA).  Arrived Tangiers, Morocco March 14th, 1964.

Finally left Savannah on March 1st for the open ocean and Spain!!! 

Had a party in our cabin to celebrate the final departure.  Started reading another fun book Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy.  How heavy was I?  My journal says “finished Anna K today, sorry I ever started it.  The ship’s doctor started playing cards with us.  Gin Rummy.”

Beautiful out at sea, at night more stars than I have ever seen.  Some sunny days.  Sunbathing, visiting other passengers, reading, studying Spanish, trying to exercise.  Sleeping, reading.

Had a few cocktail hours in our cabin and everyone got smashed.

March 7th – sixth day at sea. 

Almost halfway there.  March 9, 10 and 11th experienced some VERY rough weather.  Everyone having trouble sleeping as a result.  Bill was brushing his teeth at the sink which was in the middle of the cabin.  Guy Cat was sleeping on the bunk against the wall and when the ship rolled Guy Cat was thrown off the bunk.  As he went flying across the cabin he used Bill’s foot to stop himself.  I think Bill still has the scar.

March 14th, a Saturday, arrived in Tangiers.

After five weeks of being fed, sheltered and living with new friends in a contained environment, we were very unceremoniously “dumped”.  The ship anchored out in the harbor and loaded us, cats, baggage and all, into small row boat type boats (I’m sure they had motors but use the word “row boat” to convey the size) and put us ashore.  There were lots of “guides” vying to provide us with their services.  I have no idea how we managed to get a room but it was not in the tourist area.  It was right in the middle of the Arab section.  The room was clean but there were bed bugs and the bathroom was literally a hole in the floor!  It was a totally fascinating place.

The sights from rooftops, sounds, food, the call to prayer, the market place and the “pot”, everywhere was mind blowing. 

Sandy’s ability to speak Spanish saved the day.  Evidently no one in the pensions in Tangier’s cared about the fact that we had cats with us.  Just going out into the streets was an adventure.  One of the young guys from the boat lost all his travelers checks.  His plan was to go across the dessert and now he had no money.  He said he did have a rope though cause he had heard stories about people arriving at wells in the dessert with no rope to lower anything to get water up.  We gave him some money when we left but I have no idea what ever happened to him.

We left Tangiers on March 19th

We took the ferry to Spain.  While we were waiting to board the ferry, it rolled and the gangplank rolled over my foot.  I was standing there screaming and no one knew what was wrong or what to do.  Fortunately, it rolled the other way and I got my foot back with no broken bones.  I do remember that though.

March 19th.   We took the ferry (the one that rolled on my foot) from Tangiers to Algeciras. 

We did visit Gibraltar but I’m pretty sure the ferry was from Tangiers to Algeciras.  We spent only one night there and then took the never to be forgotten bus ride to Cadiz.  This was the bus ride where the driver would not allow us to bring Guy Cat and Girl Cat on board with us and totally insisted on putting them in with the luggage in the luggage compartment under the bus.  There was no English involved.

If we were getting on the bus the Guys were going in the “trunk”.  I was sick with fear and dread.  I was sure they were going to die in there.  As you know, they survived to tell the story many times and to hunt many mice and other things in Maine and the Adirondacks.  And a few hamsters in NYC.

We rented an apartment in Cadiz walking distance to the Atlantic Ocean. 

It is the only time in my life where I had a “cleaning lady”.  We seemed unable to explain to the apartment management that we did not need anyone to clean our small apartment, we were not working, we were tidy and clean, etc.  But, that was the way it was there at that time.  The economy and the class order of things dictated that if you could afford an apartment, you could afford a person to clean it (at a very reasonable cost).  So this young woman came in and cleaned.  I don’t remember how often.  It was pretty silly.  When we left we gave her some of our things and she was thrilled.

We went to the bull fight, went out to eat 2 or 3 times a day, explored some of the surrounding town, visited historical sights.

We didn’t know anyone there and except for coping with the language and living in a foreign country, things were very quiet.  The cats went about their usual apartment style life.  Just going to the market was an experience.  We ate a lot of really good garbanzo soups in the inexpensive restaurants we frequented.  I tried to make it at the apartment but it did not work out well.  The beans were like rocks.

Although the markets were wonderful, it was hard to figure out how to buy some specific things sometimes.  Once I bought what I thought was liver.  Another disaster, the cats wouldn’t even go near it.  I think it was blood something or the other.  This is where I made the blue hand sewn napkins we had at 20th Street for years.  I was trying hard to have something to do I guess.

We learned about the Spanish life style.  Always – siesta during the day.  Dinner time started late (by our standards) followed by socializing, partying, etc. until way late at night.  We had not much to do so we ended up going to bed early and then hearing our rowdy neighbors late at night.  When Sandy and Dave and another couple (some friends of theirs from Michigan or Wisconsin) came to visit us we were more than ready to give up our experimenting with living a quiet domestic life in Cadiz.

Pat Ketchum Sandy and Dave in Spain 1965After all, we were from New York City and had just recently visited Tangiers.

We were ready for more excitement.  Besides they had plans to go to Seville where the wildest, greatest festival in the world was under way.  Sandy, her friend, Karen, and I actually hitch hiked from Cadiz to Seville.  I still remember being out in the sun that morning, standing on the road with our thumbs out, ready to go anywhere.  I have no idea how Bill, Dave and Karen’s husband made it to Seville.  The guy who picked us up expected many favors from what he imagined to be wild, crazy American women.  He’s probably still telling that story.

We managed to get a room on a rooftop for 100 pesetas a night.  We were thrilled to have it, the city was packed and actually shuts down for the Festival.  There was an air shaft outside our window that ran from the kitchen on the first floor to the roof.  There was a thin rail across it and another room on the other side.  On occasion, Guy Cat would go out the window and walk across the rail.  Usually when there was cooking going on in the kitchen stove far below.  Heart attack time.

I had the runs for 3 days.  One night I got up and used the chamber pot and it broke while I was using it.  I was so sick, I didn’t even care.  I just got up and went back to bed.

We found something good to take care of the runs. It worked at the time and we always took it with us and took it a few days after arriving in a new place.  We always drank the water, ate the fruit and vegetables, ate in the “budget” restaurants.  I think we were of the mind that we would develop the necessary resistance to whatever and after all the local people were eating this stuff.

We stayed in Seville from April 23rd to April 29th

Totally exciting and beautiful.  Horses riding through the streets, people signing in the morning (going home from celebrating).  People dressed in costume all day and night.

We stayed in Seville from April 23rd to April 29th and headed for Cordoba.  Evidently after our isolated stay in Cadiz, a very provincial town, we had changed our minds about settling in one place in Spain and decided to travel more.  We visited the famous historical places in Cordoba, explored the countryside and went to bull fights.  A beautiful city I’d love to see again sometime.  Color, cobblestones and flowers.  Old, old buildings.

On May 3rd we moved on to Granada, another very famous, beautiful Spanish city in the foothills of the mountains.

It fills me with longing to see some of these places again.  Pensions and food was soo inexpensive.  Our Pension in Granada cost 80 pesetas a night.  We visited the large historical places and lots of smaller museum/churches.  We were always looking at some gruesome pictures of saints being tortured or Christ being killed in numerous different postures.  Bill loved looking at the famous art work but I got tired sometimes of going into the churches and museums.

I think it was in Granada where we went out for breakfast and we decided that Bill would go and look at yet another tortured martyr and I would go get cat food (fresh fish from the market) and go back to our pension and feed the cats.  When I got back to the pension I realized I had forgotten to take the key from Bill so I confidently asked at the desk for their key.  They swore up and down they did not have another key.  But yet they cleaned our room and made our bed every day while we were out.

So, I went around the side of the pension and there was a ladder leaning against a wall.  I moved it over to the small balcony space outside  our room window and climbed up it.  When I put the cat food down for the cats 3 cats showed up to eat.  One Guy Cat, One Girl Cat and another cat that looked just like Girl Cat.  I let it eat and then deposited it outside in the hall.

 The owners of the pension were very impressed and excited that a woman would do such a thing as climb up a ladder. 

They also insisted that the third cat was ours, “Su Gato” they said over and over again.  They kept bringing it back to us.  I kept explaining I have “dos gatos solo”.  I kept putting it out in the hall and I guess it eventually went away.  Every time I went in and out of the pension they gave me big smiles because I climbed up that ladder!!!

Traveled from Granada to the town of Linares, Spain where we saw the very famous (at that time) bull fighter El Cordobes.  He was very exciting.  We traveled by train, second class, with the cats.  Long, long train rides and we learned the hard way about bringing food along.  Although everyone offered their food it was not really expected that you take it.

On one of these train rides a man asked about what we had in the cat carrier.  We told him dos gatos, muy regular.

(They always asked if they were special and what kind they were and we always said “muy regular”.)  A few things we learned to say easily and well.  He asked if they were “manso” (tame, domestic, etc).  We said of course yes “muy manso”.  Just as that very moment Girl Cat reached her very sharp little paw out of the air hole and managed to grab the guy’s trouser leg and yank on it.  He was like “muy manso, eh?”

We next traveled to Madrid arriving there May 11th.

Manolo (from the freighter) was in Madrid at that time and a friend of his owned a really nice pension.  We rented a bright, clean room with floor length double window for a reasonable price.  Pilar was the owner and we became friends, she loved our cats and this became our base and our home for the rest of our travels.

It was in this pension where Girl Cat used to sit and look at the oil painting on the table and where we would go out and buy strawberries and “nata”, crème de leche (Spanish whipped cream) and share the “nata” with the cats.  They loved it.  It was some relatives of Pilar’s who took care of our kitties when we left Spain and traveled to other countries.

Bill and Pat Ketchum in Spain 1964

“Bill and I are in some Plaza. My memory tells me we were looking at pottery and someone offered to take our picture”

While staying in Madrid we made a few trips to very beautiful surrounding cities, Segovia, El Escorial, sometimes staying a few days.  We explored the restaurants, the churches, museums, shopping, and bull fights.  Went to the markets where they sold pottery (the blue and white plates we brought back and used on 20th Street on occasion.)  I still have one of the plates but I think that is the only piece of the pottery left.  The pottery was beautiful, all the blues and whites and the earthen ware.  It was so cheap.

At the bullfights we drank wine from the “bota” (the leather wine bottle) and Bill drank wine at lunch and dinner time.  I never really liked wine so I didn’t drink very much, beer sometimes.

Of course, we had our stash of pot that we brought from Tangiers.  We used to think that if we smoked before we went out, it helped us understand the language better. 

Bill read the Spanish newspaper every day, constantly referring to the Spanish dictionary.  We didn’t become friends with any other people there which seems kind of strange in retrospect.  Except for one guy who played classical guitar, we were friends with him for a while and he used to visit us and play the guitar.  I think that Bill tried to find out about getting a job there but we had no contacts and were beginning to see that unless one did have some contacts, or could obtain a job through an American company or Government that working life in Spain was hard and without many of the “basic” comforts we take for granted in the U.S.  I seem to remember that Sandy and Dave visited us in Madrid for a while.

Bill’s sister, Susan and her husband Don joined us in Madrid in July and we started traveling to other cities in Spain (Barcelona), France (Marseille) and Italy (Genoa, Milan, Rome, Venice) with them.  We left our cats behind in Madrid in the care of a relative of our land lady.  I mostly remember Venice.  The sights!  Just like the movies, canals, gondolas, plazas, pigeons, huge churches…And cats everywhere.  To kills the rats from the canals.  The dogs were all muzzled.  We were always getting lost.  It was impossible to figure out how to find your way around.

Cats in yards, cats on rooftops, cats in doorways, everywhere.  All that history and art and I remember cats in Venice.  Oh well.

August 7th.  From Venice we went to Paris so that we could get to Dover, England.  We took a train from Paris to Calais and then the ferry to Dover.  I was very excited about going to England and Scotland.  I had not been back to Scotland since I left in 1954 when I was 12.  During the ferry ride we took our lunch (we had learned to bring food) up on deck to eat.

A sea sick nun was leaning over the rail throwing up.  The wind caught her throw up and deposited it in my lap.  You can imagine how that cemented my feelings about nuns.

It was wonderful to be back in a country where we didn’t have to struggle with the language.  It was wonderful to see familiar sights and to see people who looked like me and my family and to hear their brogues.  We ate lots of fish and chips and I ate all the chocolate, pastries and candy that I had missed for years.

Moved on to London and stayed only a few days.  Next traveled to a lovely small town, Market Harborough, England then hitch hiked to Matlock.  That’s right, we started hitch hiking.  Spent a night in Berwich on Tweed where we were picked up by an American girl who was going to Aberdeen.  I think she was from the Chicago area and maybe even knew the family of one of our close New York friends.

We discovered how small England and Scotland are. 

We were surprised to find ourselves moving so quickly from one country to another.  We visited Tadcaster, Sterling, Perth and Aberdeen.  Evidently we were starting to run out of money and stayed in Aberdeen to wait for money to be sent to us by Susan and Don (who since had gone back to Brooklyn).  As you know, travel cost way more than we expected and travelling in other countries cost way more than living and travelling around in Spain.  So we ran short on money.

Next drove to Nairn and through Inverness, Fort William and arrived in the town where I was born, Howwood, Scotland, on August 29th.  What an emotional experience that was. 

The village had not changed much at all and I cried when I saw my Aunt Maggie who lived downstairs from us when we lived there.  It was totally wonderful to see all the people and places I had known growing up.  We only stayed there until the 31st  then headed back to London  I’m not sure why we didn’t stay longer.

Pat Ketchum and family in scotland 1965My accent came back and I was all tongue tied talking.

Visited some lovely places on the way.  Carlisle, Whitchurch, and Stratford on Avon.  I remember train rides through absolutely beautiful country side.  Arrived back in London September 4th where we had to wait for money.  We were totally broke and at the point of avoiding the landlord.

I think I was close to not having money for cigarettes. 

We finally decided to go to the American Embassy and ask for some money to tide us over until our arrived.  I was the one who went in and asked.  Bill was totally freaked out about the whole thing.  When I came back out of the Embassy with money he made me promise NEVER to tell any one!!!  I actually did keep it a secret for many, many years.

By this point, I was very anxious to get back to Spain to see my cats and worrying about whether or not they would still be there when we got there.  We did go to some plays and movies and did some “London” shopping before we left.

September 17th arrived back in Spain and found our Guy Cat and Girl Cat safe and sound and fatter than ever. 

Our landlady, Pilar, told us a story of how they did get out of the house once and everyone went frantically looking for them.  After that they never let them get out again.  They were very sincere, loyal cat sitters.

We stayed in Madrid until November 5th.  Somewhere along the way we had decided to return to the United States.

I missed my family and friends, I missed the life style I had become familiar with.  We didn’t know how to develop a support community there.  Bill was very anxious about money and getting a job when he got back to New York.

We traveled North to Santander and enjoyed a very different part of Spain.  The people were different and so was the food.  We went to the famous caves in Altamira where they have the  Upper Paleolithic cave paintings featuring drawings and polychrome rock paintings of wild mammals.  We left the camera there by accident and this young boy traveled all the way down the mountain to give it back to us.

When the “wake up Wogguses” song was first sung. *

“Wake up Wogguses, wake up.  Wake up Wogguses, start a new day.  Wake up Wogguses get under way.”  This was first sung in a pension in Santander during the period November 12-November 17, 1964.  It was a small, cheap pension and we were waiting for the ship to travel back to New York.  We left Santander on November 17th and arrived back in New York on November 30th.  Anyway, back to the song.

For some reason which I cannot remember for certain, the pension bathroom was unavailable early in the morning.  So, I peed in the sink!  Bill would pick up Guy Cat and cradle him in his arms while at the same time rocking him and singing the Woggus song.  I don’t know if he did that to cover the embarrassment of the situation, or if he was trying to make me feel less humiliated or if he thought it was funny or what!  That’s it.  I’m sure it is not what you imagined.

We left Santander on November 17, 1964 and arrived in New York on the 30th

Guy Cat, Chelsea NYC 1965

When we arrived at the pier in New York City on November 30th, we had very, very little money left. 

My father and Malcolm met us.  We had a great deal of concern about what was going to happen to Guy Cat and Girl Cat when we tried to go through customs.  They had passports to get out of the country and into Spain but nothing to get back in with.  Malcolm and my father were just standing there on the other side of the rail at the dock.  I (in one of my rare moments of pure genius) just handed the cat carrier over to one of them.  That was it, the traveling cats had returned to the US safely and in good health.

The end.

Pat and BIll Ketchum Chelsea, NYC 1965

*The “wake up wogguses” song: A note from Suzanne.

My father was fond of making up words, often influenced by The Hobbit. I knew that when they lived in Spain, there was this song he sang in the mornings. And this is the story!

4 thoughts on “The time my parents moved to Europe, with their cats Guy Cat and Girl Cat. A guest post from my Mom, Pat Ketchum.

  1. Victoria Shestack Aronoff

    I Love this. I can’t even picture your parents together. They looked so young! What a great adventure. So cute that guy cat and girl cat went with them. Those pics of your father, he looks just like Aaron.


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