Harvard Square Observer: The Return Home

Ernest Cassara

“Hi, folks!  Been over for the day?”

“Well, it is a little more complicated than that!”

This was the exchange at the U.S.-Canadian border between the sole border patrolman and myself, as we returned from Europe in 1964, after an absence of two years.  A year in Cambridge, England, on sabbatical from Tufts University in Massachusetts, in the academic year 1962-63, I enjoyed attending lectures in modern history and using the great library of the university. (Incidentally, the English version of the causes for the American Revolution is quite different than the American!)

The second year, 1963-64, found us, unexpectedly, at Albert Schweitzer College in Churwalden, the Grisons, Switzerland, where I was asked to fill in as interim director, on the unexpected death of its Director, Ted Ritter.

In late summer,1964, we had chosen to visit friends in the Netherlands and sail home from Rotterdam to Montreal, since we were bringing a vehicle back with us and wanted to avoid the hassle at the port of New York.  Landing in Canada, the customs officials, hearing that we were headed for the U.S., just waved us on.

The man at the border of Vermont, first of all, had to figure out how much customs was due on the VW Bus (as it was called then).  He went searching for the customs book, and discovered it was outdated.  “Well, this will work to your advantage,” he said.

Then, because he had cut his finger, he asked my wife if she would mind going behind the counter and typing out the forms. Our three children really enjoyed that!

We, also, were bringing home with us a busload of camping equipment and suitcases.  So, having run out of space,  it was necessary to send on our trunk to Boston.  There, the customs folks asked where we had crossed the border.  We answered, “New Hampshire.”  They looked puzzled, checked their manual and said, “Oh, you must mean Vermont.  You came over at Newport.” 

Wherever it was, the way the border patrolman treated us made me proud to be an American!

I tend to doubt that we would have the same experience today.  I heard the other day that the Department of Homeland Security has adopted complicated procedures and documentation for folks who regularly travel back and forth over the Canadian border.  (Which explains the friendly greeting we received in 1964, “Hi, folks! Been over for the day?”)

After three weeks in London this November, we flew home, this time  not having three children with us, a VW bus, camping equipment, etc.

Since we returned with our clothing, the books we bought, and a package of LaVazza decaf coffee, which, for some reason we cannot find in the U.S., we had nothing to declare to customs.

But, I did bring countless newspaper clippings, the most dramatic being the front page of The Guardian, in London,  3 November, with pictures, under the heading, “Which leader poses a danger to world peace.” The pictures and percentages: Osama bin Laden (87%), George Bush 75%), Kim Jong-Il (69%), and Mahmoud Ahmedinejad (62%). The percentages refer to the headline: “British believe Bush is more dangerous than Kim Jong-Il.”  Subheadings explain: “US allies think Washington is a threat to world peace,” and, “Only bin Laden feared more in United Kingdom.”

In coming weeks, I may insist on telling you more about our London experience and of the clippings we brought home.

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Harvard Square Commentary, December 11, 2006