CHAPTER 6: MY LIFE IN THE NEW WORLD

I shared the cabin with two other men. To my shame, I do not have any recollection of these two persons with whom I shared such a small space for the next seven days. I do remember that I had the lower bunk bed. I had not made the selection. It just was the only bed left. The passage across was rather uneventful. I spent nearly all day looking at the ocean; it was so beautiful. The colors of the water changed constantly, depending on the time of day and what kind of weather it was. We made two short stops, one in Cherbourg, France and one in Portsmouth, England. I made no contact with any of the passengers, even though as a twenty two year old bachelor I probably should not have had any trouble meeting people. But I still felt uncomfortable talking to strangers. I never knew how to start. And so I was alone but never lonely. I enjoyed the trip completely. One night it was stormy and the next morning everybody was seasick. I was not and I was one of the very few passengers eating lunch and dinner that day. Did I ever get good service; five waiters were constantly around me and I got double portions! I had no complaints!

Finally, the last day arrived. We entered New York harbor before six o'clock in the morning and I made sure I was on deck to take pictures with my camera. Only immigrants can understand the emotions one feels when one sees the Statue of Liberty for the first time. It was in the early morning light that it first appeared in the distance. As the ship entered the harbor it loomed larger and larger. When I finally was directly in front of the Statue she seemed to me a benign looking beautiful woman who looked at me with love and she appeared to send me a sign of encouragement. It brought tears to my eyes, this time of joy and anticipation.

After a long time we docked. The first thing I noticed was a lot with hundreds of cars parked in even, neat rows. I thought that these were new cars brought in by some ship from overseas. When I remarked to someone about this he laughed and explained to me that it was a parking lot for cars belonging to individuals visiting or working at the harbor. Welcome to the New World; I had never seen so many cars in my life!

Before we disembarked there was an announcement that representatives of the US Armed Forces were on board to interview passengers entering the USA on a permanent visa. That included me, so I went to the designated area and soon I met, for the first time, a recruiting officer. He was very pleasant and patient (my school English was at best mediocre) as he explained to me the different options available. This was during the Korean War and he told me that I could either register for the draft right then or I could postpone registration up to six months. I gave it a quick thought and I came to the conclusion that I did not want to start a new career only to have it interrupted after a short while; so I registered right there on the ship, especially as he explained to me that as a US soldier I would become a US citizen without waiting for the usual five years. I may have been naive then but I still believe that it was a good decision. And so I was registered for the draft even before I disembarked the ship!
 
Uncle Maurice Swaab, New York.
Brother of my mother.  Dec. 1944
After this procedure was finished I started to look for my uncle and aunt and my three cousins whom I could not remember at all from the one time we had met some thirteen years earlier. I became quite concerned because I did not see them and here the ship had docked some five hours earlier. As I walked onto the dock I saw hundreds of people milling around. I did not know what to do. I was all alone my first hour in a strange country, surrounded by people speaking a language I was not used to. I heard some announcements but the loudspeaker made the words even less intelligible. I saw a sign "Baggage" and I knew what that meant. So I followed that sign and before I knew it I was in an enormous hall, larger than I had ever seen, with large signs with letters of the alphabet. As I looked for the "G" I was approached by a lady who introduced herself as a representative of the H.I.A.S., an organization I had encountered earlier in Rotterdam. It is an organization which assists immigrants. They do a wonderful job helping people who are as confused and worried as I was. She asked if I had transportation or if I needed any assistance. I felt so relieved. I explained to her my situation and just then my eyes caught sight of my uncle waving to me at the end of the hall. My heart started racing. I was so excited and relieved. After a fast check by the customs man (my little suitcase was no challenge for them and the H.I.A.S. lady helped answer the questions I did not comprehend) Uncle Maurice and I embraced and I was introduced to my cousins Alex, Jacques and Henry Swaab. Tante Lies was not at the dock.

And now many new impressions followed in quick order. First we walked to that enormous parking lot full of cars. I could not imagine how Uncle Maurice could find his car out of all the rows and rows of cars parked there. And how long it took to get out of that enormous area until we finally eased into a four lane road with hundreds of cars around us. People born in America cannot fathom the culture shock of a young man from a little country like Holland when he sees how large and open the city is. Can you imagine calling New York city "open"? But that is how it appeared to me during my first encounter with freeways and tunnels. I had never seen so much traffic and so many wide roads. Then we entered the Lincoln Tunnel and I thought that it would never end. While driving, Uncle and the cousins tried to converse with me. They did speak Dutch but after living and going to school in America for so long their Dutch was as bad as my English. But somehow we had a conversation. I told them that I had already registered for the draft. That gave them a good laugh. They thought that I was a fast worker!. But they admonished me that with the Korean war in full force, the chance was that I would be drafted very soon. Well, was that ever a prophetic statement. Little did I know then that four months later I would have to report for my induction into the American Army.

But for now I was relishing all the new impressions and the attention I was receiving from my cousins. After what seemed hours to me, we arrived at their house in Forest Hills, Queens. It was a beautiful Tudor style two story home surrounded by a lovely small garden. There Aunt Lies was waiting for us and with her was Lydia, cousin Henry's first wife. She was so beautiful, very dark with ebony black hair and shining black eyes. I think I fell in love with her instantly and it was a shock to me when Henry divorced her years later.

After some more niceties Aunt Lies gave me the rundown of the house and told me what she expected from me. I can best describe her as a lady of the old European elite. Always well dressed and taken care of, she would never set foot in a grocery store or butcher. She placed her orders by phone and had these delivered to the house! To me that seemed the ultimate luxury. I certainly was not used to that kind of routine. It did not take her long to let me know that I could stay in the house for a short time, and she stressed "short" because she had just recently been freed of the responsibility of taking care of her three sons and she certainly did not want to start all over again. So, yes I was welcome but not for too long. Uncle explained to me that he would train me in his diamond cutting place, and that I would get free room and board plus twenty five dollars per week. Wow, I thought I was a millionaire: twenty five dollars per week to spend all on myself . I was thrilled, especially because I had found out already that cigarettes were one quarter per pack in contrast to one guilder in Holland and dress shirts were five dollars instead of twenty five guilders. This was great!

Next -> CHAPTER 7: MY FIRST CAREER IN THE NEW WORLD

Return to INDEX

Contents & Images, Copyright 2000 Fred Greenwood. All Rights Reserved.