When I arrived here in America on March 13, 1967 with my wife and four children, we came over on the Queen Mary on one of her last voyages. This was not too surprising as the crew and staff outnumbered the passengers. I think she was retired to Long Beach, California no more than a month or so later.
We boarded in Southampton and I remember looking up at this huge ship that was going to be our home for the next few days. It was enormous. When we eventually cast off, we made our way up onto the deck and watched as we made our way out of the port and out to sea and waved goodbye to England and its famous shores. For me at least, that memory is the only one of I have as I have never been back, not even for a trip.
We spent seven days at sea, a day longer than planned as we were blown off course by a pretty heavy storm. My stepson and I didn’t notice but even though the ship was fitted with stabilizers both my wife and the three girls were very sea-sick and spent most of the voyage in the cabin. One thing about taking a sea voyage is the wonderful food served at meal times. My stepson and I enjoyed such a huge variety of food and totally pigged out more than making up for the missing rest of the family. I can’t remember too much of the entertainment or what we did for the rest of the trip. It was a little odd though to be walking the stairs and the next step would either hit your foot or disappear downwards with the roll of the ship. or to sit at the table and make despairing grabs at the plates and then watch as they would go sliding off onto the floor.
We brought over with us an English Cocker Spaniel named Melody who was housed in the kennels on the top deck. We spent a lot of time keeping her company as being out in the fresh air seemed to be the only thing that helped the wife and girls get over their sea sickness. We were allowed to walk her around the top decks so she got some exercise. We even had one of those “ships that pass in the night” things when we met another ship going in the opposite direction. They 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 were real helpful and spent time with us explaining things like sales tax and the difference in the language even though in theory, we both speak English. For instance, the English expression of “Keep your pecker up” means keep your chin up. How would we know that in America, it has a totally different meaning and refers to a different part of the male anatomy. I wonder what happened to them and if they remained in America?
I personally enjoyed the trip, notwithstanding my fear of water, but I wasn’t sea sick. I’m sure I might view it differently if I had been. I took a picture as we approached New York Harbor with the Statue of Liberty, the first thing we saw. I caught the entire family, my wife, my stepson, my daughter and my two stepdaughter’s all unawares as they looked towards the statue. They all, had the most somber look on their faces as if the realization of what we had done and what we were about to do was suddenly hitting home to them. Up until this moment, even though we had done so many things, getting passports, visiting the American Embassy to get our visas, making all of the arrangements, selling off all our stuff, the goodbye parties, the trip to Southampton, the voyage over, all of it was like a dream and then seeing the Statue of Liberty suddenly brought it to us that this was the reality. This was what we had planned and for good or bad, we were now about to start on a whole new life.
I wish I still had that picture but like so many other things over the years, it has been lost along with my wife and all of the dreams and hopes that we had together. The problem with writing about the past is that it stirs up memories long forgotten, some good and some bad.
We landed at the famous Pier 13 in New York City and waited for what seemed like hours going through customs before collecting all of our many trunks and suitcases full of stuff. it was a scene reminiscent of the thousands of emigrants who had previously made this same trip before us all with their hopes and dreams of making a new and better life. In our case, we left a good life or at least not a bad one, and our trip was driven by the opportunity afforded us and the need to get away from the English weather.
We were met by my Mother and one of the family friends, Sid, who she had conned into driving to New York City to pick us up. Actually, if truth be known, she had probably paid Sid to make the trip as Herman, her husband was not up to driving into the City and in fairness to him, it was a couple of hundred miles plus he was not used to big city driving. As we waited to clear customs, we could see them waiting for us fifty yards or so away. My Mother had made many trips back to England so she was not exactly a stranger. Even so, it was an overwhelming feeling seeing her again, this time in her adopted land. I had never been very close to my mother due mainly to the fact that the war got in the way and that I was ten years younger than my sister. And then she left and I think we both viewed this as a way to get to know each other again
When we finally got out of the docks and onto the street and loaded our trunks into his car, I was amazed by the babble of noise around me and the strange American accents. They sounded just like in the movies and it was a moment to be savoured as very quickly, those same American accents would become the norm. To say that we were full of the excitement of it all as we prepared to start our new life was an understatement. I remember looking around me at the young women and noticing that they had a different and much harder complexions than the English beauties I had just left seven days previously. In retrospect, it probably had something to do with the City atmosphere and with the smoke and smog and the sun which we didn’t see too much of in England. Funny the things you notice.
I was blown away by the size of the car that Sid had. It was a Ford Country Squire (I think) station wagon with three rows of seats and a huge area behind the last row for our trunks. What made it seem so huge was the memory of the Morris Mini Station Waggon we had been driving in England. There was enough room in the Ford luggage area alone to fit the Mini. What luggage didn’t fit inside was stacked and tied to the luggage racks on the roof. Somehow, our entire worldly belonging and the only link with our English life was all compressed into one Ford Station Waggon. How sad.
The trip back from New York City to Fort Plain, which is in Upper State New York, took several hours and was at night so there was not much opportunity for sight-seeing. We came up the Thruway, a very long toll road, at which, by coincidence, Sid, the driver, worked. This road runs all the way from New York City all the way through to Buffalo following the Erie Canal for most of the trip through the Mohawk Valley. We made several stops along the way for bathroom breaks and coffee and my Mother was in her glory introducing us to complete strangers, who I have to say, also greeted us with much enthusiasm as though we were members of their own families.
Being night-time, the tractor trailers were all lit up like Christmas trees as they normally are and to see the doubles being hauled made me realize that everything in America was going to be bigger. Plus the fact that everyone was driving very fast and to make it worse, on the wrong side of the road. Our other, more earthly introduction, was the smell of skunks that had met their doom on this very busy highway. Several hours later, we finally arrived at Canajoharie, famous for manufacturing Beech Nut Chewing Gum and Baby Food and drove into Fort Plain, which was 3 miles further up the road to the old farmhouse in which we were going to spend the next couple of years.
With much excitement even though it was now very early morning, we unloaded all of our stuff and said goodbye to Sid and hello to Herman, my stepfather and the GI who had stolen my Mothers heart all those years ago during the war. We collapsed into our new beds totally exhausted from the travel and the excitement of out first day in America.
That night, it snowed thirteen inches of wet snow.
We had never seen that much snow at one time before. The closest thing as far as we were concerned was the art work on a Christmas card and a picture that my Mother had sent to me showing the snow piled up against the farmhouse. The snow had drifted and had reached the very peak of the roof in one long sweeping drift covering the entire two stories from top to bottom and completely blocking in the garage. I looked at that picture and commented to my wife how pretty it looked. It never occurred to me that snow presented a whole new set of problems as we were to learn in future winters. Luckily for us, the thirteen inches quickly melted and in a few days had completely gone. Even so, it was still a shock to our system
The farmhouse was one of those old places just like you see in the old western movies with wood clapboard siding and in need of a paint job. It had a lot of character as did the rest of the buildings for it was still a working farm. It even had an old outhouse that was there for show and used for storage as it was no longer used as an outhouse. The house had been modernized at least to the extent of having inside plumbing with a bath/shower and hot water. The water supply was spring fed from a source further up the hill and was piped into the buildings. Not much else had been done but it was comfortable. In future years, I built a fireplace and did a lot of other work to make the house even more comfortable for my Mother.
My Mother, in preparation for our arrival, had painted the upper floor for us. She had installed a big old paraffin stove for heat in the cold months. We didn’t need air conditioning as the summers were not that hot. Ninety degrees were a heat wave in New York State and the house was designed for cross ventilation by opening windows, if needed. She furnished it with stuff she acquired from various sources so everything about the place had lots of character. Both Hermie and my Mother were big Garage Sale enthusiast and would buy the weirdest stuff hence the variety and character of our new home. We had lots of room and it was cosy and comfortable. Hermie, as I found out later, was very tight with his money and watched every penny he spent. He was always looking for bargains and would think nothing of buying something and then take it back because he perceived it did not measure up some way or another. He smoked a pipe and drank lots of coffee and was an avid short wave radio fan although he was too tight to spend money on a really good set up and made do with small short wave radios. In his own way, he was an interesting character typical of many of the Fort Plain residents.
A small distance away was a second, smaller farmhouse in which Hermie’s brother, lived. His name was Clark and he was a confirmed bachelor having never married. He was older than Hermie and his most favorite thing in the world seemed to be a big old ham leg that he would cook and eat big chunks. I’m sure his cholesterol was through the roof as eventually he died of a heart attack. But I am getting ahead of myself.
Clark was the farmer of the family and had a few dairy cows that he milked twice a day. The milk truck also came every day to pick up and it reminded me a lot of England and how the farmers milked over there. Clark had installed modern dairy equipment which was probably the only modern thing on the entire farm although, like most farmers, he did have a nice tractor. I wonder if the farmer and his tractor is comparable to the working man and his tools or the office worker and her computer? The main building on the farm that also housed the cows in the winter was a huge barn. Clark stored the usual things, bales of hay, sacks of feed and space for the beloved tractor. The farm was a little over 100 acres and although I didn’t know it at that time, would eventually pass out of the family.
Herman worked in the aforementioned Beech Nut factory and had done for many years. He operated a fork lift or something similar. In truth, other than local store type businesses, there were no major employers in the Fort Plain/Canajoharie area other than Beech Nut and a small garment factory that made ladies lingerie. Both villages had a population of about 2500 people each so were real small. Farming was a big industry, mostly of the dairy variety. Both villages were located in the Mohawk Valley with the Adirondack Mountains no more than a 30 minute drive away. The scenery is breathtaking, the summers warm and mostly comfortable, the winters long and hard and the black flies bite like the very dickens.
There are numerous small villages close to each other running the length of the Mohawk Valley starting with Albany, the Capital and ending in Utica. In between are Schenectady, Fonda, Canajoharie, Fort Plain, St Johnsville, Little Falls, a couple of others and then Utica.
This was going to be our home for the next several years all of which have many stories and tales to tell.