Continued from Part 1
Boarding the ship with our meager possessions was not hard at all. We already had tickets and our trunk and other luggage had already been checked in. So had Melody, our dog who would not be allowed to stay with us but would be kenneled in a special place on the main deck. BTW, the US does not have any quarantine laws so we would all be reunited upon arrival. We made our long slow walk up the gangplank waving to the crowds there to see others off. It mattered not that they didn’t know us or us them as they seemed to understand the finality of what those boarding were about to undertake. Stiff upper lip and all of that. I stopped to think of the thousands of others who had made this one way trip before us and marveled at the way of the world and humanity in general. We really are an adaptable race.
Our cabin was one of the cheapies and below decks inside and without a porthole. It really didn’t matter as we didn’t plan on spending too much time in it. We had sleeping arrangements for the six of us and not much else except a bathroom, of course. We boarded on March 6th, 1967 for a voyage that was planned to take six days. Immediately we were aboard, we visited Melody in the Kennel deck to make sure she was OK before joining those at the guardrail waving to the people still on the dock with some still boarding. In a remarkably short time, they hauled in the gangplank and the ship was underway. We learned later that the staff and crew outnumbered the passengers as the heyday of trips across the ocean in a big ship were coming to a end. We remained on deck to watch as the tug boats busily pushed and hauled the big old ship out into the harbor for the trip out into the sea and we stayed there as the coast of England gradually slipped out of sight with no one, not even Lesley, the youngest, saying a word. It was as though everyone knew that it was goodbye for the very last time.
We spent what remained of the daylight exploring the huge ship. There were some areas that were off limits to us below deck passengers as the class distinction was alive and well but on the whole we could walk and visit most everywhere. We took full advantage of that exercising as much as we could and keeping Melody company. The cabins were set up as sleeping quarters with a bathroom and room to sit and relax. With six of us, it was pretty crowded which is why we spent so much time exploring the ship. It had a swimming pool and other forms of entertainment like shuttle board and croquet. The meals were out of this world with a huge selection of just about everything and we as a family made the most of them. Some of the food was truly exotic and we got our first taste of the American addiction to drinking coffee. Tea was available if you wanted it along with many other beverages. If you wanted liquor, you had to pay for it. The night time entertainment was fabulous and kept us all amused.
We even had one of those “ships that pass in the night” things when we met another ship going in the opposite direction. The Captain announced it so that the passengers could crowd the rails and wave to the other passengers. It was kind of weird watching that ship disappear into the night and then we were left alone on that big ocean. I have always had a fear of water and the unknown things that lurk under the surface so being at sea for me was not the most comfortable thing in the world. Shades of Titanic.
We befriended a couple who were heading back to Connecticut for the second time after having been over once before. For them, they got homesick for the old country and did in reverse what we were doing, selling all of their stuff and headed back to England. but for whatever reasons, England didn’t work out for them so here they were, making the trip for the second time returning to what they had previously left. They could not put into words exactly why they reversed themselves and headed back except that they enjoyed the American way of life more.
That was until around the fourth day out when the weather changed to rain with a stronger wind and the ship began to lurch and sway along with it. You would be walking the stairs in either direction and the stair treads would either come up to meet your foot on your next step or would drop away causing a loss of balance. It was impossible to walk in a straight line as the ship swayed and lurched. I should mention that in one of the many outfitting’s done to this grand old lady, stabilizers were added to help compensate. I would hate to think what it was like before the addition as they certainly didn’t help much or maybe they did and we couldn’t notice the difference. When in the dining room at meal times, as the ship lurched, plates and food would slide off the tables or pile up in an ungodly mess keeping the wait staff very busy. It was quite funny to watch people trying to grab as much as they could. The food of course was free and the kids took full advantage of it that is until the weather got progressively worse. We soon discovered that my step son William and myself were only ones who could keep our food down and it wasn’t long before the women of the family retired to the cabin never to re emerge until we were pulling into New York Harbor. William and I would bring them back food but invariably it ended up in the toilet.
Because of the stormy weather, we were blown off course and landed a day later than we were supposed to. I have a picture of the family standing on the deck, except I can’t find it, watching as the Statue of Liberty came into view and we slowly cruised by. The expression on all of their faces including my wife was of total shock and disbelief as they realized exactly just what was going on. We were no longer in England but in the United States of America and there was no turning back Up until now, it had been a great adventure until the reality of the moment sank in.
We were ushered into the famous Pier 13 by the ever present and busy tugboats and passengers began to line up on deck waiting for the gangplank to be lowered. We opted to wait a bit before making that move until the rush had subsided. We retrieved Melody and walked down the gangplank for the very last time, glad to be on terra firma and made our way to the check out area to find our luggage. It took a while and all the time we could see the lines of people as friends and relatives waited for those they came to meet. I spotted my Mother in the crowd mainly because she was waving so furiously. She was with a stranger who I did not recognize.
We finally were allowed through and we greeted each other with open arms. After all, it had been a long time and I was only 11 years old the last time I saw her and now I was 32 years old and all grown up. She, on the other hand was a woman that I recognized by a photograph. I could barely remembers what she looked like back then but had seen plenty of pictures in the time since so the women hugging me was no real stranger. I introduced her to Valerie and one by one, the kids. They all gave her a hug and called her Grandma which I could tell pleased her to no end. Finally, the other gentleman stepped forward and introduced himself as Harold Warner, a friend of the family that my Mother had hired to make the 200 mile drive from Fort Plain to the City. One reason was that he had a bigger car than Herman, my stepfather and my Mothers Husband. Herman was the GI from the Second World War that had stolen her heart enough for her to leave for a whole new life in the USA. Harold’s car was big, the biggest I had ever seen. It was a Ford Station Wagon which could easily seat all of us and Melody and all of our luggage, some of which was strapped on the roof including the by now, famous trunk. The 200 mile drive which was at night was uneventful except for the Tractor Trailers that came roaring by at 80 mph. I had never seen anything that big as many were hauling doubles and all lit up like Christmas trees.
Hermie and my Mother lived in an old farmhouse that Hermie was born and brought up in along with his brother Clark who lived in a separate house about 100 yards away. Clark was a confirmed bachelor with his love of his livestock greater than for any woman. My Mother had the upstairs remodeled to make it livable with a big old wood stove for heat and that would be our home for the next few months while we were getting established. That night, March 13, 1967, it snowed 13 inches of wet snow to welcome us to this great country. Oh the irony of it all, emigrate here to get away from the rain only to run into a lot of snow all at one time. The next day, I was out shoveling the bloody stuff to clear the driveway as the kids and Melody played in it. At least, they were not fazed by it. My Mother already had a job lined up for me on the Maintenance Staff at a cloth factory in a little town named Fonda. I stayed with it using my many construction talents including welding steam pipelines until I joined the Bricklayers Union and started earning real money. I forgot to mention that I served as an apprentice Bricklayer back in the old country and I could lay a lot of brick in a short space of time. Much to my dismay, the Union frowned on speed and I had to make a lot of adjustment working to the slowest man on the line. In the end, the Foreman partnered me with an older and slower bricklayer and together we would work on a project. I usually outpaced him around at least 5 -1, sometimes more which benefitted both the older bricklayer and the Foreman. It was on that job that I first ran into discrimination when one of the other workers started picking on me for being an immigrant. A few words were said and the Foreman instantly fired the other guy for which I was very grateful. Not that the guy lost his job but for the fact that the Foreman stood up for me and would not tolerate any form of discrimination. I stayed at that job for a few months but it was a long drive everyday so I found work closer to home. I advertised in the local paper for work I could do on weekends and it wasn’t long before I decided that I had enough of working for someone else and opened up my own construction company in Fort Plain. We did pretty good for almost 5 years before I ran into trouble with the IRS and closed the business down. I then found a job with a Pipeline Company and had to drive 50 or so miles to Albany everyday which soon got old so I rented an apartment and stayed the week coming home on weekends. It came as no surprise that my marriage was failing but I was too bloody stupid to recognize it. Finally, it fell apart and I moved out permanently after 10 years of living in Fort Plain and eventually ended up in Texas with Susan, my third and final wife.
My first impression of America was that everything was big and that people talked funny with an accent so different from what I was used to. Over the years, that has not changed that much as everything is still big but I have grown used to the accents and am full of wonder to hear an English accent. Now, 54 years later, I am alone with two little dogs for company. As I mentioned earlier, Valerie, after our divorce made several visits to England finally moving back to live there full time. She had trouble in settling here in the US and was very homesick. She died there in 2018 at the age of 85 back in the land that she loved. She had never adjusted to the American way of life. Her son William, my stepson, has made several trips but none since 2018. Alison, one of my step kids who was a nurse, died in 2014. She was 58 and unfortunately died of Alcoholism. She could never get over her husband divorcing her. Both my Mother and Stepfather are dead, my Mother from natural causes at the age of 95 and my stepfather from cancer. He was in his late 70’s. My Oldest Brother, Norman and his family followed by my Sister Peggy and her family all ended up here living in Fort plain in later years so my Mothers quest to bring over her entire family was a success. Both Norman and Peggy have passed on leaving me as the only surviving original transplant. Harold the driver whom incidentally rented us a house just after we moved to Fort Plain also passed on. Melody lasted 14 years and was my best friend. She accompanied everywhere when I ran my own Construction business.
Catherine, William and Leslie are all alive and well with the girls living in Fort Plain and William, the most successful of all of us is a Doctor, married to a Doctor and with a family living in Houston.
My Thoughts in Retrospect.
I have tried to keep this blog and the preceding one as details and descriptions of the actual journey leading to this point in time. Obviously, what followed in the next 44 years are subject to other blogs both here and on my previous blog site at https://pondblog2011.com/ with many stories of the years within that time frame and a lot left to be written. If you, the reader were to ask me regarding this move, it would go something like this.
Do I regret all that has happened in these past 54 years and of course, there is no yes/no or black/white answer. I would say this, although America has been kind to me in so many ways both financially and memoratively, I still have many regrets for making the move. I miss a lot about the old country that America, for all of its wealth and prosperity can never replace. The fact that I failed at three marriages two of which were exasperated by living in this country really is nothing to be proud of. I missed not watching my two boys grow up into the successful men they are today or getting to know their families. Maybe I wouldn’t like the present day England as my memories are of one I left 54 years ago. As for my time in America, it has been a strange bag with a mix of the good, the bad and the ugly. But, here I am and here I will remain until I die which hopefully, is still way down the road. I still have more adventures to follow and write about…Oh yes, I still dislike the cold rain but this being Texas, we can never get enough of it.