Tourism with a Twist

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By the time I met them, they were without a chimpanzee.

Eva Romanova Graham was a Czechoslovakian world champion figure skater. With her brother, Pavel, she won four World Figure Skating Championships in ice dancing between 1962 and 1965. When they retired from competition, ice dancing was still a sub-genre of figure skating, not yet an Olympic sport.

Post-competition they continued to dance on skates as part of the touring show, Holiday on Ice.

In that business, Eva met Jackie Graham – in the 1960s he was a still-youngish-but-retired skater from Great Britain whose skills led him to train chimpanzees to skate for companies like Holiday on Ice or the Ice Capades.

Eventually Jackie and Eva left skating and moved to England. There, in an old, multi-level home with many rooms, operated a “pension.” As they described (and as I recall through the mist of many years) it was more-or-less a boarding house for senior citizens – a retirement home that provided very little in the way of health care. Jackie and Eva cooked for the residents, made sure their bedclothes were clean, did some laundry and offered a minor level of not-quite-nursing care.

As you might imagine, that round-the-clock job got old. After several years looking after pensioners, they sold the house and went on the road. Somewhere in there, they divested themselves of the ice skating chimpanzees.

Camping in Mexico as part of that road trip, they had the great good fortune of parking their trailer in a space next to that occupied by Sam and Maurine Spacek. The Spaceks lived in Quitman. Sam and Maureen were High Plains farmers enticed to Wood County by Sam’s brother Eddie – Eddie was the County Agent – and like many West Texans who find themselves in East Texas, they’d fallen head-over-heels for their little town and the pine trees. From their camp site in Mexico, the Spaceks impressed upon the Grahams that they should find time to visit Quitman.

The Grahams hitched up their trailer, said goodbye to the Spaceks and continued on their way.

Some weeks later, Sam and Maureen returned home and found the Grahams and their trailer, camped in the Spacek driveway.

Obviously there was a limit to how long they could live in Sam and Maureen’s driveway; they soon bought a small, cabin-ish kind of place east of town and made themselves at home in East Texas.

Eventually, their wanderlust got the best of them – they sold the little house in the woods and moved back to Europe. After some time in Spain and England, they moved to be near Eva’s family in Czechoslovakia before returning, finally, to England.

The point of this story is not merely that I’ve stumbled across many interesting people – the Spaceks and the Grahams both fit that description – but to remind us that it’s not just the chambers of commerce and the economic development corporations who bring visitors and businesses to town. We’re all, whether we know it or not, in the tourism and development business.

If we’re lucky, those we recruit will be as interesting as Jackie and Eva. It would be entertaining, though, if they’d bring their ice skating chimpanzee with them.

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