Think only of the past as its remembrance gives you pleasure.
—Elizabeth Bennett, Pride and Prejudice

An illustration of two people sitting across from each other on a plane
The cover of Travels with Bill

This article is adapted from a longer one that appears in the latest issue of the Amherst literary magazine The Common. Read it, and learn more about The Common, at That essay is in turn adapted from Marietta Pritchard’s book Travels with Bill (Impress, 2018).

We don’t travel as a couple anymore, Bill and I, except for the shortest jaunts to Boston maybe once a year, in the summer to the Adirondacks to visit Bill’s brother and family, and to the Berkshires, where friends sometimes take us to indoor concerts at Tanglewood (Bill doesn’t listen to music outdoors). So I travel on my own, but more and more rarely: day trips with a friend, twice-yearly visits to Oregon to keep in touch with son Will and family, once a year or so to the Washington, D.C., area to see my sister, rare overnights to New York. I also dig in more closely here at home—not as closely as Bill does with his piles of books and constant reviewing and teaching at Amherst, but still, closely.

I walk, usually with the dog, and enjoy the local scene, one that changes with every quirk in the weather, time of day, seasonal decoration, home improvement and new retail shop. I make small alterations in the routes we take—one day more sidewalk, another day more woods, more open fields. I’m not as restless as I once was, it seems, not so much yearning to travel, not so much yearning of any sort. Unlike the dog, I no longer ache to break through fences. My daily round seems to be enough.

Nobody wants to hear about your trip.
—Amherst College Professor of English Theodore Baird

For my parents—my father born in Budapest in 1895, my mother in Vienna in 1907—travel was an expression of their wish to see the world, but also of their status as cultured, leisured people. Married in Budapest in 1931, they went on their honeymoon to Italy and to the Dalmatian coast of Croatia. They had a car with a chauffeur, stayed in good hotels, ate well. In the photo albums I have of the first years of their marriage, there are many shots of monuments and churches, of my mother, always fashionably dressed, standing in front of one or another of these locations.

After they—we: my parents, my sister and I—came to the U.S. in 1939 and settled in Scarsdale, N.Y., my parents traveled little. As “enemy aliens”—Hungary had become an ally of Germany—they couldn’t easily leave the country. They had little interest in getting to know the States, and besides, there was gas rationing. They avoided Central Europe until the early 1960s, when they made a brief visit to Austria and Hungary. My father was reluctant to return to his home country, which was now under Communist rule. No family members remained there; all had emigrated or perished. But my mother wanted, as she said, “to draw a line under it.”

The experience was unpleasant. People were remote and formal. My father was convinced that their hotel room was bugged, and perhaps it was. The line my mother wanted was drawn, hard and fast. My parents never went back to Hungary after that, and I heard my father speak about it only once, when he was quite old. “It was a beautiful country,” he said, and there were tears in his eyes.

Between 1964 and 1974, Bill and I and our sons spent three separate sabbatical years abroad: Rome once, and London twice. For quite a few years afterward, Bill and I traveled together in the summer, back to England, back to Italy and then to France, where I wanted to follow the fatal trajectory of my Austrian grandfather, who died there at the hands of the Nazis in 1943.

Then, about a dozen years ago, Bill decided he did not want to travel anymore. I see the decision beginning with a diagnosis and treatment for prostate cancer, which put him in touch with his mortality in a new way. He was also beginning to have trouble with his back—not excruciating, but steady, chronic discomfort. Sitting in a car or an airplane for long periods was, to put it mildly, no fun. All of this appeared to concentrate his mind. From here on, he seemed to say, he would spend his time and energy reading, writing and teaching, listening to music and enjoying the meals in his kitchen, with me and sometimes with friends and family. No longer willing to drive to Boston to attend the basketball games in the now impossibly loud and expensive Garden, he would watch on TV as the Celtics’ fortunes rose and fell. He would enjoy visits from his sons and grandchildren, staying home to keep our corgi company while I periodically went to visit them and sometimes ventured even farther afield.

Recently, in an effort to get straight about our mutual and separate timelines (“What was the year we stayed in that funny inn in Cromer on the North Sea?”), Bill handed me the typed journals he’s kept of some of his and our travels over the years. I have kept my own journals, and the records we wrote separately have come to represent for me not only accounts of our varied, often shared experiences, but also, in some larger way, our points of similarity and difference. I see them in combination as a portrait—a collage, a mosaic, a diptych—of our 60-year-plus marriage.

What happens when two people live together for decades? Over time, it seems to me, some differences get worn away, while some remain like old scars that ache when it rains. All marriages are mixed marriages, I once asserted, and almost all battles can be boiled down to the irritable question: “Why can’t you be more like me?” On the other hand, if one is lucky, there is the balm of affection and shared interests. In addition, there is the huge volume of shared experience, private jokes, catchphrases. Bill and I can finish each other’s sentences, anticipate each other’s responses. Great satisfaction can be found in this lifelong dance, this not always graceful pas de deux.

A black and white photo of a man in an overcoat and hot on a steamer ship and a man at a table in a cafe reading a newspaper

Above left: Bill poses in an Italian hat and American topcoat on a chilly day in Orvieto, Italy, during the couple’s first sabbatical year abroad, in 1964. “The year was a struggle to survive as a parent and wife,” Marietta writes.

Above right and below: For Bill, if it wasn’t in the guidebook, it probably wasn’t worth seeing. Marietta writes, “He often quoted its severe opinions. ‘A not very impressive ravine’ was one of our favorites.”

A man in sunglasses sitting on a bench reading a guidebook

Bill and I married in 1957, when he was 24 and I was 20, and took a little wedding trip: a stop in the Adirondacks, and then a few days at the excruciatingly elaborate wedding of some friends. The following summer we rented a house on an island off the coast of Maine. It was isolated and beautiful. In what would become a typical division of labor, Bill brought his typewriter to work on his doctoral thesis, and I explored the island, learned to cook the mussels that grew on the rocks, swam—in brief, heroic spurts—in the frigid waters, and did a lot of reading. My mother, who visited at one point, remarked that this vacation would result in either a divorce or a pregnancy. (Neither of these happened, although I did get pregnant the following year.)

Our first big trip was the sabbatical year in Rome, 1963–64, with our sons, ages 3 and 8 months. Friends had been persuasive about how much pleasure they’d had in Rome with their small children. I did not experience that pleasure. Instead, the year was a struggle to survive as a parent and a wife. I was not good at making use of the people who could have made things easier—a couple of British au pairs, one after another, and an Italian housekeeper who came with the apartment. I was young and not used to asking other people to do things for me. It was all pre-women’s movement, and I likewise did not know how to ask my husband for help, much less an equal share of the work.

A black and white photo of a mother, father and three children

The family of five in 1968, as they departed for a sabbatical
year in London.

So I tried to do it all, and was angry and miserable. While I learned to shop and cook and keep house in Italian, to make my way to the laundromat and the Montessori nursery school, to deal with the plumber and the apartment’s leering porter, Bill went to his desk at the American Academy and worked on his book on Wyndham Lewis or else educated himself about the art and architecture of the city. It was, as I later came to describe it to myself, a matter of his doing art while I did life. One friend, a single man, a full-fledged fellow and resident at the American Academy, said to me disapprovingly, apropos of my lack of acquaintance with important monuments: “You don’t know where you are.” And he was surely right from his standpoint, that of a classics scholar who was being well looked after and had no domestic responsibilities. The accusation stung, and still stings. I was a bad tourist, a preoccupied visitor, not seeing what I was supposed to see.

Bill’s father, a lawyer for the Endicott-Johnson Shoe Co. in Johnson City, N.Y., had two weeks of vacation every year. His mother, a music supervisor in the public schools, had long summer vacations, but funds were tight. From 1936 to 1949, that time was devoted to a family stay at Rocky Point Inn, a comfortable, full-service resort on Fourth Lake in the Adirondacks. There was swimming (though Bill never really learned this, to my sorrow), tennis, hiking, boating, a pool table and pingpong. Bill, a budding pianist, was encouraged to perform for an appreciative audience from a young age. Aside from that two-week sojourn, his father, a difficult and deeply dissatisfied man, truly had no interest in travel, although he agreed, toward the end of his too-short life, to go with his wife to the Canadian west. Bill’s mother, a woman of boundless energy into extreme old age, had, by contrast, always wanted to see the world. After retiring, she went on tours that took her to many of the most famous tourist spots, registering her approval or disapproval of them, much as she did for everything in the rest of her life.

Bill had been to Europe in 1951 as an Amherst student, traveling with a jazz band that was hired to entertain troops. But they were there to make music, not to see the sights. When we got to Rome in 1963, he was ready to learn about the place. The Blue Guide became his bible, and he followed its instructions and often quoted its severe opinions: “A not very impressive ravine” was one of our favorites. In London, Pevsner’s architectural observations became his new source of truth. I was usually the one seeing oddities not necessarily in the guidebook. “Look!” I was often exhorting him—and still do at times—as he kept his nose planted firmly in a book. 

Sometimes, in a new place, the traveler may encounter the comforting sensation of contentment, of feeling at home. In the book about my family, Among Strangers, I describe an occasion when someone I barely knew asked me whether, although I’d lived in Amherst for most of my life, I’d ever felt really at home somewhere. “Yes,” I said, “on the plains of Hungary.” In 1991, I had headed out that way with my husband. As I exclaimed over the beauties of the landscape, Bill hunched farther down behind the steering wheel, resisting my efforts to include him in my quest for family footprints. Bill, unlike me, has had all the roots he ever needed or wanted in his upstate New York upbringing, so he never quite understood my need to search for mine. He was not moved by Hungary’s red-tile-roofed villages or the acres of vineyards, nor the rows of poplars lining the small country roads. He was not enjoying the hot sun and the flatness. He was not amused when we had to wait most of an hour on a dusty riverbank to put our rented car on a rickety, raftlike ferry to take us across the Tisza River.

Later, I decided that feeling at home may be a little like falling in love, both of them connected to precipitous and distinct sensations, both dangerously tinged with myth, cliché and longing.

A man and woman poising for a photo in a suburban neighborhood

The Pritchards in the late 1970s, stand- ing two doors down from
his childhood home in Johnson City, N.Y. They went there with their
children every summer for many years.

Our travel journals were where we recorded both joys and irritations for ourselves. We did not, that I can remember, talk about keeping our respective chronicles, nor did we anticipate publishing them. In this particular linked account, of a cross-country train trip, I have been able to frame the story my way. Bill would surely have done it quite differently.

In April 1990, Bill and I boarded a train in Springfield, Mass., and headed to the West Coast. We stopped overnight in a few places there and back, shown around by former students of Bill’s as well as by some older friends. It was a trip of three weeks.

Our accounts converged and diverged in often predictable and, I think, amusing ways. In 1990 he was typing on an IBM Selectric, as he continues to do even now, although in the past few years he has converted to a computer for the final copies of his essays and reviews. Did he keep notes of our three-week sojourn? He doesn’t think so. He wrote it all down after we returned. My own recollections are recorded contemporaneously in spiral-bound notebooks. Here is how Bill’s account begins:

Sunday, April 8: Springfield, Mass., to Albany, N.Y.

The problem was how to get through this day (without a Celtics game) until train departure time at 7:40 p.m. This was somehow managed, and David picked us up, took us to the station (providing useful help with heavy suitcases, not soon again to be available—the help, that is).

I am aware here already of Bill’s steady sense of the possibilities of loss (the Celtics) and difficulties (lugging suitcases in the absence of a sturdy son). Bill’s stance toward the world and his life has always reminded me of an A.E. Housman poem, one of many pieces of poetry he has introduced me to:

I to my perils
   Of cheat and charmer
   Came clad in armour
     By stars benign.
Hope lies to mortals
   And most believe her
   But man’s deceiver
     Was never mine.

The thoughts of others
   Were light and fleeting,
   Of lovers’ meeting
     Or luck or fame.
Mine were of Trouble,
   And mine were steady,
   So I was ready
     When Trouble came.

Bill was always anticipating difficulties—accentuating the negative, you might say. He will insist that this tendency toward the dark side reflects his perspective as a satirist, and when it’s amusing I can see his point, but it can also be just plain irritating. My own stance is the less amusing one of the problem-solver: What can I do about this? But the following sentences from early in Bill’s account of the trip turn his attention to the plus side.

Since there’s no diner between Springfield and Albany, we were prepared with a Picnic Supper, ham and chicken sandwiches following martini drunk from brother Craig’s silver cup (or so I term it). It was dark, there was nothing to look at, so we blundered along happily on the first leg of things. Sometime after 11 p.m., we disgorged at the Albany (actually Rensselaer) station, spanking new, and waited for placement on the Lake Shore Limited…. We were eventually placed in what is known euphemistically as a Slumber Coach, in the intricacies of which we were instructed by the most interesting Train Attendant encountered on the trip. This was Dick Holt, a retired dentist, who, after 30 years, so he said, of not being sued by patients, decided it was time for a new career. His aspirations are to procure a place on the Chicago-to-West-Coast Zephyr.

We arrive in Chicago after a restless night,  but before that, Bill is cheered by the hearty breakfast.

Nothing brings things round like breakfast. Amtrak breakfasts, as well as their other meals, turned out to be first-rate: nicely done eggs, good breakfast “meats” (bacon and sausage), even grits a couple of times on the more southern routes.

An important aspect of train dining is that you are seated—almost invariably, since the train is usually crowded, as this first one was—opposite another couple, so there is more or less the obligation to make conversation: Where are you headed, where do you live, is this your first trip, etc. Marietta’s absolute willingness to engage in such conversation made it easier on me, who could be counted upon, nonetheless, to produce the occasional monosyllabic grunt of assent.

In Chicago, we visit friends, including Helen Deutsch ’82, attend to culture and do some eating. Then we get on board and continue westward.

We got off the train at Denver, which seemed slightly unreal as a town, just plunked down there somehow, walked six blocks or so away from, then back to the station. (We were instructed not to leave the station precincts, but daringly disobeyed.)

This would be unquestionably the great scenery day, following the Colorado River for much of it, through the gorges, then coming into Utah and the red rocks. Amtrak’s strongest selling point, this section.

That was Bill’s description of the scenery. Here is mine:

Spectacular canyons, some red rock with grainy layers like some immense piece of pastry, some gray and rounded, like animal forms, or even anthropomorphic. Small settlements along river suggest old mining communities, log-sided houses. One huge piece of highway being built along river—said to be the most expensive ever. Territory flattens out as we reach Utah.

We stop in Salt Lake City, and then spend Easter in Seattle with former Amherst colleague Roger Sale and his wife, Dorothy. Next we try a different form of transportation and fly to San Francisco. There, we have an evening out 
with two Amherst students from the early 1960s, Harold Varmus ’61 and Stephen Arkin ’63. Bill writes: “An excellent evening, much talk about Amherst College.”

This is a longstanding bone of contention between Bill and me. Here’s the question: Is there a subject besides Amherst College? Bill is a lifer at this institution, having spent only a few years away, first one at Columbia in an unsuccessful attempt to become a philosopher, then four as an English literature grad student at Harvard, where he and I met. (I was an undergraduate at Radcliffe, and there was this production of The Mikado, where I sang the ingenue lead and he was the pianist.) He was then called back—a phrase inscribed on Emily Dickinson’s gravestone—at age 25 to begin a career that has encompassed six decades. Nothing has ever held his attention and interest as much as news, gossip, complaints and observations about this place, most especially its English department. So any evening where there was “much talk” about Amherst would count as an excellent one for him. It didn’t always work that way for me.

Although, at age 25 and a new wife, I had tried—and often succeeded—to fit myself into the role of Faculty Wife, decades had intervened, along with the revelations of the women’s movement and, for me, a new profession as a journalist. There was, I learned and have continued to insist, a world elsewhere.

A man and woman on the back steps of a home

The couple in their back yard. Marietta writes of marriage: “Almost all battles can be boiled down to the irritable question: ‘Why can’t you be more like me?’ On the other hand, if one is lucky, there is the balm of affection and shared interests. In addition, there is the huge volume of shared experience.”

From San Francisco, we rent a car and head north out of the city. My account reads: “The Bay Bridge in the sun is all that’s promised. Next time we’ll visit the park on the other side (west) of the road, and climb the hills.”

“Next time,” I wrote. That was 28 years ago. My “next time” represents the traveler’s dream, the fantasy that we will remember that detail and return to San Francisco, to the west side of the bridge for a better view. Think of the much-quoted Frost poem “The Road Not Taken.” The poem’s narrator arrives at a fork in the road, and has to choose which one to take.

Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

We wind our way up the coast and end up at a Luxury Lodge in Bodega Bay, which, Bill notes in his journal, has a “scenic overlook.” He’s echoing a phrase from a road-trip poem by our old friend Tom Whitbread ’52 as he’s driving across country: “Scenic Overlooks Overlooked.” They’re the great views you missed as you whizzed by:

Afternoon, Blue Ridge parkway, sinuous sloth
Through sloshing fogs, our car sea-serpenting
Past Scenic Vistas, Scenic Overlooks
Overlooked, unseen, passed at no miles per hour.

Back on the train, we stop in Flagstaff, Ariz., and take a bus to the Grand Canyon. Bill is not a happy camper. “I may have been a little whiny or mournful as we pulled into Flagstaff in a brisk snowstorm,” he writes, in a rare Pritchardian version of an apology. “How could one view the Canyon in such terms?” Meanwhile, I am making some different observations.

The canyon lived up to its publicity. Only about 20 people on our bus, a well-versed bus driver commented on the geology, landscape, history, and told mother-in-law jokes. (I tried to buy jewelry but failed at our stops.)

The spirit of 19th century conservationism pervades the main Grand Canyon Village, a fine old rustic hotel, could be Adirondacks or White Mountains, handsome, restrained landscaping. And across the way, nature roars away. We gape at various spots, move on, gape some more.

Fed up with Bill’s irritability, I could have—if I’d had the ability to detach myself for a minute—invoked the question: Why can’t you be more like me? We make it through that moment, surely not the worst in our long connection, and head for Saint Louis, then Chicago, and eventually Springfield. On this last leg, Bill’s spirits lift as he encounters a more familiar if less spectacular landscape.

Riding across New York State was fine, good views of farmland, woodland, and the Mohawk River. I had never ridden across it by train, by day. At Albany we disembarked briefly; they unhooked the cars to New York City, and eventually we headed home, not before noting that the Celtics had humiliated the Knicks the previous day (a hint of the future, I so wrongly thought). The route through Massachusetts is especially interesting, vivid scenery through Hinsdale, Chester, etc., up the mountain, along the dam and suddenly you’re past Westfield and chugging into West Springfield. There to be met by our son David, our circle completed.

We had left home and come back, seen new places and old friends, but as Proust famously said in Remembrance of Things Past, in reference to the difference it makes to look at the world through the work of different creative people: “The only true voyage of discovery, the only fountain of Eternal Youth, would be not to visit strange lands but to possess other eyes, to behold the universe through the eyes of another, of a hundred others, to behold the hundred universes that each of them beholds….”

In other words, as Bill would say: Stay home and read a book.

Marietta Pritchard, a writer and editor, is a former features editor at the Daily Hampshire Gazette in Northampton. In addition to Travels with Bill, she is the author of a family history, Among Strangers, and a book about a local residential hospice, The Way to Go.

 Illustration by: MarÍa Hergueta