After celebrating my 54th year of arriving in this great country by publishing a blog recounting that trip that can be viewed here, I got to thinking that the trip alone and all of the surrounding events are worth writing about.
As you can imagine, coming to such a life changing decision in the first place was no easy event and required considerable thinking by the family to arrive at. For starters, several factors were in play leading us to even think about such a move and leaving behind the life that we had all grown up with. I had a good job with a pipeline company, William Press and Sons that did occasionally take me away from home but other than that, I had established roots in the small town of Hailsham. We owned a small house that we purchased brand new which was home to myself, my wife Valerie and four kids, three from my wife’s previous marriage. They were Catherine the oldest, Alison and William, the youngest and Leslie who was our daughter. There was also a cocker spaniel dog named Melody who had to be included in our planning. I say owned and what I meant was that we had a mortgage which we had worked hard to attain. So, I had a good job and my wife stayed home and was a housewife in every sense of the word, not a bit unusual back in the day. I was the breadwinner and sole provider.
I drove a Mini Station wagon and my work on the pipeline company took me anywhere up to 40 miles away on a daily basis. Anything further than that required overnight lodgings on a weekly basis as there were no Thruways or high speed roads to talk of. As you can imagine, I spent a lot of time on the road leaving early in the morning and arriving home late at night but generally worked a 5 day week. There would be times when road crossings or gas connections needed to be done at night or even on weekends requiring additional time away from home. I still found time to play for my local football team in the winter and cricket team in the summer. All in all, life was good. In the past and prior to settling down with this marriage, we had endured several run ins with my future wife’s ex husband chasing us around and on a couple of occasions, inflicting bodily harm on the both of us, but that is another story.
You could say that life was good except for one thing. The bloody awful English weather with it constantly raining and I mean constantly. If we ever had more than 30 days without rain, it was considered a drought. Seriously! It would rain for day after day and was very depressing and by the way, it was always a cold rain even in the middle of summer. We were just coming off one such wet period when it had rained for two week straight when I received a letter from my Mother who was in America and had been since 1946 which started off like this, “Well it’s 8:00 am in the morning and the sun is shining and it’s going to be another beautiful sunny day. The forecast is for it to be sunny with a high in the 80’s”. I read this completely forgetting the pictures she had sent us of the snow in the winter time that had drifted to the peak of her two story house in one big snowdrift as all I could think about was sunshine and warm weather. I should mention that my Mother had been trying for years to entice first me as I was growing up and then after my first marriage to Anne and second to Valerie, both families to emigrate to the United States. I kept putting it off as even with the problems we endured, life was still pretty good. It was a huge decision to make but that letter and that one sentence did it.
So we started the process of changing not only the adults lives but also those of the kids, forever. It took 6 months of preparation work involving many different things. We had to make two trips to the American Embassy in London to obtain our entry visas. On the second trip, we followed a famous football player around, Phil Woosnam as he was coming over to run the NASL. Bert, a German friend and workmate lent me his much newer car for both of those trips as my little Morris Mini Wagon had developed a slipping clutch that required some mechanical work. As I was about to sell it, I was not going to put money into it. Bert too had a very interesting story as he was an ex German Prisoner of war who had remained in this country. He was one of the nicest men I have ever known. We methodically went about the business of disposing of all of our furniture and worldly possessions with the exception of the clothes that we chose to bring and all of my work tools that would fit into a large trunk. I remember selling something to my Brother-in-law, Bill Vidler who immediately returned it and we got into a shouting match over it.
All this time of preparation, I continued working for William Press and it was a very sad final day when it was time to leave. In fact, even though I could have driven home at noon time, I stayed to finish out the day. That was a great company . BTW, I loved operating the heavy equipment. Just like playing with full size Tonka Toys.
I too had been previously married which ended after 4 years with her moving in with another one of my previous work mates. We had two wonderful sons by our short marriage which custody had been given to my In-Laws, her parents, as they had been raising them during our troubled marriage. In the divorce, the Judge had decreed that is where they should remain and they did so until they were young adults. We have remained in touch over these years but alas, I have never made it back to visit them as adults. Now they are both in their 60’s and I will never make that trip back across the water. So much missed.
Instead of selling the house, I arranged with yet another friend, Eddie Hicks who was living with my wife’s Sister Barbara, that they should stay in the house until such times as we had decided that America was the place for us and we were going to remain. Then we would decide what to do with it. In lieu of rent, he paid the mortgage. Eventually as it turns out, we sold that place after deciding that America was indeed the place and we were going to remain.
My friends and neighbors rented a local hall and gave us a huge going away party that was attended by lots of friends and associates and members of my football team. Many brought gifts that we had to give away as we had no space for them but the thoughts did not go unnoticed. We made our final rounds and said our last goodbyes knowing full well that we would probably never see any of these people again. Saying goodbye is not easy especially when you know it is final.
And then came the final day. I had arranged with Bert to drive us to Southampton where the Queen Mary was harbored and we loaded all of our worldly possessions in his car with the very large trunk on the roof. On the way, we passed Felix, an Irish crane driver who had been on many of our jobsites and he waved as we went by. We could see the harbor long before we reached it and it was full of very large ships, some passengers like ours and others that carried freight and cargo and were a hive of activity. We unloaded all of our stuff which was ridiculously meager considering the change we were making, said our final goodbyes to Bert and made our way to check in leading our dog, Melody for this amazing adventure.
We could not wait to board this wonderful old ship that would take us on the adventure of a lifetime.
For Part 2, click here.