I received my first introduction to the New York Subway System. I was so impressed by the size of the train stations and the innumerable masses of people pushing and shoving to get into and out of the trains. And then the transfer at Grand Central Station which is like a whole city under the ground. To me it was all very exciting. Soon I was introduced to my new career, that of a diamond cutter. Uncle had a space on 47th Street in the middle of the New York diamond district. First there was his office, a small room with a spotlight and a large lens on the desk. As I walked in my uncle was bent over the desk and he had a little hammer in his hand and a narrow metal bar. He waved me over and explained to me that with one tap with the hammer he was going to split the diamond exactly where he had drawn a thin black line. One hit and he would make several thousands of dollars or it would have to be cut into little industrial diamonds worth less that one hundred dollars. I watched him make the tap and I was very relieved to see that he was successful. Later I learned that he was one of the most knowledgeable and honest diamond cutters in New York. I was more than relieved when I learned that I did not have to do that sort of work although he urged me to learn it if I wanted to make a real good living. Well, I thought that I was already on my way with twenty five dollars per week.
Next, cousin Jacques took me to the adjacent room. There were several long tables lined with rows of fast whirling saws. Each saw blade leaned on a small diamond held in place by metal arms. Around each diamond was again a narrow black line but this time the blade did the cutting. That was he job I had to learn. It seemed easy enough to me but I soon found out that it was anything but easy. First you had to cement a metal post on each side of that little diamond. In the beginning I fumbled and fumbled. Jacques warned me that if I dropped that little piece of glass I would have to go on my hands and knees and little by little go through every bit of dust on the floor until I found it. Wow! I was ready to walk out but I did not. After all, where was I to go? It took me several weeks to get a hang of it and some more weeks until I learned how to align the blade, which I had to cover with oil mixed with diamond dust. Eventually I got it mostly right. Then life at work became a little more relaxed even though every once in a while I had a little nerve wrecking accident which sometimes kept me on my knees for several hours. When things went well it became rather tedious; once the saws were properly in place there was nothing to do for hours except to check once in a while to see if the saw stayed aligned. The rest of the time we spent sitting on the window sill overlooking the street below us and mostly gossiping which is not my favorite occupation. I soon realized that this was not to be my lifelong career.
My knowledge of English left a lot to be desired. I went to a high school offered an evening class for immigrants. They talked about current events and I learned a lot there. However what was lacking were every day expressions, idioms. One day I was walking on Broadway. The street was very crowded and just ahead of me were three people talking rather loudly to each other. I slowed down somewhat and decided to stay behind them and listen in on their conversation. And so I picked up many every day expressions by listening to people's conversations in the street. I did that regularly for the first month in New York and, believe me, that is a good, if not a well mannered, way to learn English.
At one point during the summer Aunt and Uncle went away for two weeks and I had to fend for myself. I was told that both the business and the house would be closed during that time, so I had to find somewhere to live and also I would not be paid for those two weeks, so I had to find a job quickly. Where to find a job in such a short time? After a lot of schlepping I got a job as a busboy in a Horn & Hardard coffee shop, which meant that I had to report for work every day at six in the morning, six days a week, to help set up the tables and I had to all day clear and clean the tables after customers finished eating. People were constantly coming and going so you had to be on the go all day long, too. For this you received one dollar per hour and two free meals. I thought that it was a pretty good deal. I found a YMCA walking distance from work where I had a small room on the tenth floor for ten dollars per week. So, I had money to spare! And I rather liked my job because I could have some small talk with some of the nicer customers when it slowed down a bit and some even gave me a five or ten cent tip! Not bad at all, I thought. I even was considering quitting my diamond cutting career and trying a career as a waiter. After one week I changed my mind and I was glad to have a normal life again when Uncle and Aunt returned.
At one point during the first two months in New York Aunt Lies arranged a date for me with a young lady, a daughter of a friend of uncle Maurice. Aunt Lies explained to me that she was very available and that she was the only daughter of a millionaire. What was I to do with a daughter of a millionaire? I had no money to entertain her the way she was used to. Anyway, we met and I took her to a nice place (after dinner time!) for a drink and some dancing. Now I must tell you that I did not know how to dance. I had taken one series of dance lessons before I left Holland to prepare me for just such an occasion but that did not make me a dancer. To make a long story short, the evening was a disaster, at least in my eyes. I was extremely uncomfortable talking to her. I do not remember any part of our conversation but I do remember the long, painful periods of silence. Aunt Lies told me later that the young lady had liked me but I did not want to pursue it any further. That was the end of my first "affair" in the New World.
After about three months Aunt Lies made some strong hints about my stay in her house, something like: "It is time for you to meet some young people and get out of the house." I had no idea what I could do or where to start. She suggested that my music could open doors for me and she explained that I would have to join the music union if I wanted to play music at all. So one day I went to the music union building. It was located upstairs in an old building. I entered a nearly empty room. Behind a large desk sat a cigar smoking heavy-set man. Leaning back in his office chair he looked me over and asked me what I wanted. I told him of my music background and that I would like to play the flute with a quartet or quintet or maybe in an orchestra. He immediately started to interrogate me about my background, my family, my friends in Holland and my political affiliation. I told him in my best English that I was not interested in politics and that I just wanted to play music. Then he asked me if I had any friends who were communists or friends who knew persons who were communists. This was during the Senator McCarthy days when the government saw communist ghosts everywhere. Anyway, I was fed up and walked out. This was the end of my professional career as a musician.
When I returned home and told Aunt Lies about my adventure she was rather agitated. After all, I could not stay in their house forever and I had to meet people, maybe a girl, and become independent. So, she helped me look through some magazines and newspapers to get some ideas and she found a winner! She told me about the Steinway Hall on 57th Street where there were music performances for amateurs. All one had to do is register there and they would give you a date and you could give your own concert. I went there and someone set an evening date for my concert. They even supplied me with an accompanist.
When the evening arrived I was quite excited. Here was a good sized concert hall with a large audience waiting for three soloists to give a concert. I was the last one to perform after the intermission. I was thrilled to see that nobody had left and that I was playing for a full house. After my performance I received a long and warm applause. And then something happened which I will never be able to explain. I would call it a miracle. At the end of the applause I stepped towards the front of the stage and announced with a clear voice that I was interested in meeting people to form a chamber music group. I do not know where I got the idea or the courage to do that but something from way deep inside gave me the inspiration. I left the stage not knowing what would come of it. When I entered the hallway to leave the building a long line of people were waiting for me. The concierge explained to me that they wanted to be interviewed by me. I do not know where it came from but something inside made me behave very dignified and professional. I asked the concierge for a table and a chair on each side of the table and I started to interview one person after the other. I posed just a few questions: What instrument do you play, how well, do you play mostly classical music and where can I reach you and what would be the best time of the day. This went on for a long time until the concierge told me that it was approaching midnight and that he had to lock the building. There were still three or four people left, so I only took their telephone numbers and told them I would call them soon.
The last person at the end of the long line was an attractive young lady. What made me do what I did next? During this whole evening something seemed to direct me to do things which were not natural to me. I said I wanted to interview her also but that we were being thrown out of the building. Did she know a coffee shop or restaurant where we could talk over a cup of coffee? She knew of an "Automat" and there, over a cup of coffee we talked for a long time. We both seemed to want to impress each other. She described how she had studied the piano for many years, that she was a better than average pianist. I, being on a roll now, played the interviewer and asked her many questions about her musical background. First we were very serious but soon the ice was broken. She said that we should order something to eat and that we should "go Dutch." Well, that struck me as funny, I told her, because I was Dutch but I had never heard that expression before. So, she explained that it meant that we each had to pay our own share. That suited me fine, especially as I was low on cash and did not want to appear to be a tightwad. So, we had a good laugh and from then on we had an animated discussion mostly about our family background. That young lady's name was Anita Amsel and she was to become my wife for the following forty years!
After a while we decided to leave. I insisted on accompanying her home. Fortunately, she did not object to going by subway; I certainly could not have afforded to take her home in a taxi. While riding the subway we made a date for the following Sunday afternoon to go through some music and see if she could join the group of musicians. At the entrance to her apartment in Jackson Heights I shook her hand and said a polite good bye. I was not very experienced with first time dates and I did not quite know what an American young lady expected of me. As it was, it probably put her at ease about our upcoming date.
The following Sunday afternoon I went to her house with my flute and a pile of music. As I approached her apartment I noticed a Mezuzah on the door. Even though I had had little or no contact with my religion since before the war, I felt good seeing this traditional sign of a Jewish family on the door post of the house. As soon as she opened the door I said: "I am glad you are Jewish." With a little smile she asked: "Just to play music?" I did not react to that because I really came only to play music. I immediately felt comfortable in the apartment. She lived with her parents who had come from Europe in the early 1900's. The living room was simply decorated but I recognized some of the European decor and it was warm and cozy.
For the next five(!) hours we played many of the selections which I used to play with my accompanist in Holland and it went very well. Anita was an excellent and serious pianist. We played music and hardly talked, except for some comments about the interpretation or the selection of the music. Much later she told me that she was surprised that I could play so long and so intensely without a break for food or drink. Finally she said that it would be a good time to eat something. So, she prepared some hamburgers and fried potatoes and we talked some more. Romance or love was not part of our conversation. After a while I wanted to leave. I started to feel a little nervous. I felt a warm feeling for her, I liked her but I was afraid. I did not know what to say or do, kiss her or not, I had no idea. So I just wanted to leave. She offered to walk me to the subway and I accepted the offer gratefully because I did not know the neighborhood very well. And then, again, I said something, I do not know how it came about, but I told her that I would like her to be my accompanist for life! Where did I get the idea and the courage to say such a thing after just one musical(!) date. But I felt so sure of myself that I said it just like that and I really meant it. Of course, this was totally unexpected for her and she did not encourage me in any way. But later she told me that she already had some feelings while we were playing music that afternoon. Anyway, we started to do some serious dating. And I took her to fancy places. Every week I blew my whole salary (twenty five dollars!) on our dates, no more Dutch Treats. I wanted to be a big shot. So, one time I took her to the Waldorf Astoria where we danced on the roof. Really fancy. I kept looking at the menu but there was nothing that two people could have for so little money but Anita was very gracious. She must have felt my predicament and she chose a dish of cheese and crackers and each of us had one drink. She was my kind of girl! As it was, it took care of a whole week's wages. Later we went to concerts and to musicals. We had a great time and we grew closer.
When I told my cousin at work about it he was in a state of shock. "Other young men take years to find a wife and here you just arrived from Europe and you are making plans? Impossible!" But they did encourage me and they gave me all kinds of advice some of which I followed and some of which I wisely ignored. Of course, I also wrote my mother about it and she cautioned me not to be in a hurry. Well, she did not know my girl, so she was worried that I was going with some young American girl just because I was alone. This was not the case. Anita was very mature and never took advantage of my inexperience. She told me right away that she was seven years older than I but that did not faze me either. She was young in her ideas and attitude and we just had a lot of fun and, above all, I had found a person with whom I felt one hundred percent comfortable. We could talk for hours and never was there a moment of uneasy silence. She even confided in me that, on the evening of my concert, her girlfriend had convinced her to skip a Spanish class in order to go to this concert. She had said that they might meet some nice boys there! So, Anita did skip that class which was entirely against her character, to go to a concert into which I was pushed by Aunt Lies! Fate?
Then, one day, some time in September 1952, there arrived the notorious letter: "Greetings" ! I had to report for a medical examination in preparation for the draft into the US Army, barely three months after I had registered for the draft on the ship in the harbor. I called Anita right away and we talked about this for a long time. She knew more about the draft because of her brother and sister-in-law who both had been in the Army. So, she predicted that I would be called for basic training very soon. And was she right! Soon I received a letter to report for induction into the Army on October 21, 1952. It was my turn. I did not know what to expect but I was rather excited about this new adventure and I was happy to have a way to get out of the diamond cutting business.
When the day arrived for my official induction Anita accompanied me to the induction station. I was very unsure of myself but I put up a brave face and before long I kissed my beloved good bye and stepped inside another new world. How many times had this happened in my young life? I was only twenty three years old, had arrived in a new world only four and a half months before and here I stood already, lining up with a bunch of strangers to board a bus to who knows where. We were told we were going to camp Kilmer, somewhere in New Jersey. They might have well said Timbuktu, it would have meant the same to me. Anyway, I stepped into that ugly, Army green bus with my trustworthy little brown suitcase, and with a quick last wave to Anita I was on my way to new adventures.
When we arrived at Camp Kilmer we were immediately lined up in formation and we had our first roll call. The sergeant calling off the names became quite confused when my turn came. How was he to pronounce "Groenewoudt." Well, whatever came out, I got the idea, and said "Here, Sir!" Then we were sent to the supply sergeant who gave us some awful looking clothes. We were told to change as quickly as possible and then to fall out in formation again "on the double." With my poor knowledge of English I could barely understand the orders which were barked at us but I saw everybody scurrying around, so, I did the same, and before you could say "Hail to the chief" I stood in formation in a badly fitting uniform; I was an American soldier! We were taken to a large hall where we were sworn in and where an officer explained to us what was expected of us, what our rights and our duties were and the pay and benefits we would get. I looked around that large room. There were hundreds of first day soldiers staring at the speaker. Did they understand him? I did not! I had no idea what was going on. Everybody seemed to have such a strange accent and they talked so fast! So, when we were dismissed I asked someone near me what we were to do. He helped me a lot. He showed me a list with names and when I found my name it showed the barrack to which I had to report. After some difficulty I found it and there was another soldier hollering at us. I had never before seen such a stern looking person before so I was quite impressed with his appearance but I could not understand one word he said. By now I had already learned just to copy what everybody else was doing (I am a fast learner!) and that worked well for me for most of the following twenty three months. Nearly all the cadres came from the deep south. During my nearly two years in the Army I never managed to get a hang of their dialect. I still do not understand how I got through without getting into big trouble.
The following day we were called out early in the morning for "work detail." Again, I followed the others, this time to a road through a field. After a few unintelligible commands everybody started bending down. They walked in a line picking up cigarette butts, tearing them apart and putting them in bags which were given to us. We spent most of the day that way, with an occasional break ("smoke if you have one" or "take ten"). When I asked a fellow soldier "ten of what" I caused quite an uproar. They thought that it was funny but I really did not know what he meant. And so started my education in a kind of English, different from anything I had learned before and some of which I had to unlearn after my army days. But I caught on fast.
We did get three full meals every day. I do not know why but that amazed me. You just lined up and you got a lot of non-descript food on your tray, all for free. I thought that it was great. All that free food plus ninety five dollars per month. I was rich! Cigarettes were two dollars per carton in the PX. What would I do with all that money? Even the telephone calls to my girlfriend, Anita, were free if you were willing to stand in line for hours waiting for your turn.
After a few days of this routine we received our orders for basic training and the following morning we boarded buses to Fort Lee, Virginia. I felt very lonely even among so many of my peers. They were all laughing and joking and I could not follow their conversations. Now I lucked out. At one of the stops I was sitting in a coffee shop with a group of soldiers when one of them took an interest in me. He talked clearly and slowly with the New York accent I was more used to. He asked me where I came from. He asked me if I was a "Landsman." I did not know what that meant but it sounded friendly enough so I said that I was. He immediately brought another fellow over, also a "Landsman." Then I realized that this meant "Jewish" and I was thrilled to find two such nice "Landsmannen" on my bus. For the remainder of the trip they sat near me and helped me whenever I was confused about something. Then some soldiers started telling jokes and everybody just roared with laughter. Of course, I did not understand any of it, so I asked my newly found friends. And that started another round of laughing and giggling. "He doesn't know what that is? You don't know what that is"? They thought that even funnier than the joke so they were rolling in the aisle with laughter. They tried to explain it but they laughed so hard they could hardly talk. When I finally got the idea I was quite embarrassed and I must say that during my entire Army life I managed to refrain from using foul language or telling dirty jokes. I really saw no need for it and I still feel that way.
I must now introduce you to these two fine, young men. The first one was Elliot Kaminsky with whom I still have occasional contact. He was (and still is) a strong looking, heavy set young man with a friendly round face with thick, black curly hair. He always had a benevolent smile, a man you could trust. We were together for a long time and we had one thing in common: we both had a serious relationship with a New York girl, so we had a lot to talk about. The other young man was Stanley Nash. He was a studious looking person. I believe that he already was married. In any event, even though we ended up in different Army units we ran into each other several times, even overseas.
The ride to Virginia was now much more pleasant. I started to look around more and I noticed the beautiful, green scenery as we approached our camp. It was really quite enjoyable and somehow I started to enjoy the Army life until we arrived at Fort Lee. It was a dreary looking place, at least where our barracks were. Until things got sorted out our routine was similar to what it had been in Camp Kilmer but soon we started our basic training. I enjoyed the physical part of our training, the calisthenics, the running and the long day hikes in the woods, even though we were loaded down with our rifles and our gear and we often had to march in a drenching downpour. All that I did not mind. What bothered me more were the insults we had to accept from our trainers and the extra duties we had to do, such as K.P. duty, which was helping out in the kitchen, and the clean-up duties. And I still had lots of problems understanding the cadres ( trainers) who all seemed to come from the backwoods of the deep South. One tried to be friendly to me. He had a whole conversation with jokes and laughter and he talked on and on. I just kept smiling at him and saying "Ahum-ahum" but I did not know what he was talking about. I was glad that he did not notice my predicament. Another problem was the announcements over the so-called "bitch boxes," the loudspeaker system which went to all the barracks. I never could make out what they were saying so I either asked someone to tell me or I just did as they did. Another pitfall for me were the barrack inspections. In the first place, I never caught on how the Army wanted me to make the bed and how to arrange the footlocker I had. The inspecting officer would tell me something which I hardly understood and I would just say "Yes, Sir!" Once this almost got me into serious trouble when I had something of my uniform out of place and the answer to his inquiry should have been "No, Sir!". There was a loud snicker in the barracks and that did get that officer mad. I quickly explained to him that I had only recently arrived from Holland. Fortunately, he was quite understanding and he punished the rest of the barracks but not me. That did not ingratiate me with the rest of the guys but I felt pretty proud of myself anyway.
Another problem I had with these inspections was that they were rather pompous. The sergeant in the barrack would loudly announce the arrival of the officer and we had to scurry to the foot of our beds and stand at attention and salute the inspector. That routine tickled my funny bone and I sometimes had trouble containing my laughter. Also I always wondered how the sergeant knew the officer was entering the barrack as the sergeant's office was on one side of the barrack and the officer entered from the other side. I still do not know the answer to that riddle.
Then we had our weapons training. Again, I could not understand the orders yelled out by our cadres. That was a bigger problem especially sometimes when we were training with live ammunition. I surely learned fast to stay low. One of the worst classes for me was when they taught us about the different weapons, the pistols, carbines, rifles and grenade launchers and machine guns which we not only had to fire but also take apart, clean and, after an inspection, re-assemble. I really was serious about wanting to learn because I realized that there was a good chance that I could be sent to a combat zone in Korea and that this knowledge could save my life. But here I sat in the class not understanding one word of the nomenclature or the instructions given by the Southern cadres and I have to admit that when I did end up in Korea during the war I still was unable to put my weapons together again after our weekly cleaning for inspection. Luckily, there was always some pleasant person in my group who helped me.
Then I had a stroke of luck in the form of an accident. If that does not sound logical just read on. One fine day we were marched to a swampy area outside our camp. There stood a high tower from which a thick rope was stretched out over water till it reached the ground some distance away. In those days I had a terrible fear of height. My hands started sweating just looking at this contraption. To me that tower seemed a mile high, the water two miles wide and the end of the rope maybe a world away. On top of that, the instructions were announced over a bad loudspeaker system so again I needed assistance from my compatriots. At this point I had my regular "interpreters." They explained to me how we had to climb the tower as fast as possible go down hanging on the rope hand over hand and land on the other side in the shortest time possible. They also said that, if you had any fear of heights you were excused from doing all that. I felt a little better about it until I saw one after another of our guys doing the exercise without any trouble. Could I possibly do this, too? I slinked farther and farther to the back until I was the very last one of the whole company. There was not one soul who had backed off. I did not want to be the only one to be chicken so when my turn finally came I bravely climbed the tower. I must have been very slow because everybody was cheering me on. I reached the top, sweating from top to bottom even though this took place in the middle of the winter. I grabbed the rope and there I was hanging by my sweaty hands. Then I made the cardinal mistake of looking down. The water seemed far, far below me. I went a few meters hand over hand, looked down again and then I looked to the end of the course and then I panicked. I froze. I could not move. I looked back to the tower but I knew I could not get back up there. After a short time I gave up. I can still feel the sensation I had. I did not care if I would die, I just let go. The water was not deep and the rope probably was not very high, so when I landed I tried to roll and land back on my feet. Several men came over to help me up. I did not seem to be injured too badly. I only had a dull pain in my ankle. They walked me to the ambulance, which is always available at such an exercise, and they took me to the camp hospital. I stayed there overnight. The X-rays showed that I had a hairline fracture in my ankle, that was all. They sent me back to my unit with crutches and Ace bandages and with orders that I would be excused of all physical exercise and all duties! Did I ever have a good life for the remainder of my basic training, the last two months! No more marches, no more calisthenics, K.P. duty or running. Three times a day I was taken to the hospital where I had to keep my foot in a wonderful whirlpool for a while. Never before had I seen such a thing and I certainly enjoyed it. I also liked the attention I got from my sergeant and commanding officers and everybody who saw me on crutches. My only fear was that I could not finish the basic training and that I would have to do it all over again. But my commander put my mind at ease. He said that I had already finished the theoretical training and most of the physical and that, if I could pass the marksmanship test with the rifle I would be all right. So, I made sure that I would never miss when my group went to the rifle range. I was taken by jeep to the range, did my shooting and was driven back, like the Queen of England. So, I passed the final test with flying colors and I was officially a "marksman," whatever that meant. I was just lucky that my marksmanship was never tested under combat conditions.
The highlight during those six months were the times which I spent with my girlfriend, soon to become my fiancé. During the first several months she visited me in Virginia. She flew to Virginia, took a bus to the camp where she had just a few hours with me before she had to return to New York. But did we ever enjoy those rendezvous! She made me feel like a civilian again and we had so much fun just walking and talking.
For Christmas I got my first pass to leave the base for just two nights. I hitch-hiked to New York and spent the days there in her parents' house. That first evening, after dinner, her parents were in the kitchen and we were talking seriously for the first time about marriage. She definitely would wait for me and be faithful to me but we both preferred to get married before I had to go oversees, which was almost a sure thing. So, we drew up a plan whereby we would get married at the end of my basic training and before I would have to go to my assigned duty. I had no idea how that would work out with the Army, but that was our plan. Then I said to her that I would like to ask her parents for their permission and blessing to marry their daughter, in the old fashioned way. She thought that it would be nice, so we called in her parents (we called them Etti and Pappa) and I formally asked them for permission to marry their only daughter. I was concerned that they might hesitate because I had no way of financially supporting her and my future was very insecure. But they agreed happily and we had a joyous time until I had to return to the base.
I went to work on our plans right away. I asked and received permission to talk to the chaplain. I needed a furlough for my honeymoon! What chutzpah! He explained that we would have to wait for my orders to see where I would be stationed. I pleaded with him. I explained my circumstances and that we had to arrange for a Rabbi and a service. Of course, I did not tell him that we also had to arrange for our honeymoon. But he could not give a definite answer until he talked to my commanding officer.
After a few weeks my orders came in: Korea was to be in my future. I was not shocked at that news because everybody told me that at the height of the Korean war, the early months of 1953, mostly all new soldiers would be shipped to the war zone. But now our plans became more urgent. To make a long story short, it was not until Friday afternoon, three days before our hoped for wedding date, that I finally received my furlough papers for ten(!) days to get married. That gave us time for a honeymoon! I still do not know how Anita and her parents could get everything organized in such a short time. I could not leave until after the final Saturday morning pass-in-revue, so in the early afternoon I hitch-hiked to New York where I arrived late in the evening.
From then on it was so hectic that I remember only a few things of that period. On Sunday we could not do much except call everybody to announce our wedding on Tuesday, March 3rd, 1953 at 8 pm. I do not even remember the name of the Synagogue. Monday was a big rush to get a suit for me and other last minute arrangements. I also needed a blood test and we had to sign some civil papers.
Tuesday evening came and everything was ready. There was
no time for rehearsal so I had to wing it. This was no "short cut" wedding.
This was "the works." Ettie and Pappa did not have much money and I did
not have any. So they made a great sacrifice to give their daughter and
me an unforgettable wedding.
|At the appointed time a limousine pulled up for Ettie, Pappa, my bride and me. I had never been in a limousine. I was so impressed! I felt so important. When we arrived in the synagogue we were taken to a side room where the Ketuba (wedding contract) was signed. I was in a daze and I do not remember at all who the Rabbi or the witnesses were. Then we went into the sanctuary and we walked in following somebody's instruction. We stood under the chuppah (wedding canopy) and we said the proper blessings. I barely remember anything of that ceremony but from the pictures I know that a four year old Melody Amsel, one of Anita's nieces, was our flower girl and she looks like a doll in the pictures. My poor mother could not be there, we had been in touch with her but neither she nor we had the money to bring her over. So, Uncle Maurice and Aunt Lies gave me away and I believe that Jacques Swaab was the best man. We also had some lovely dressed bride's maids and Anita looked absolutely radiant. That was her big night. She deserved every beautiful minute of it. She and her parents performed a miracle in getting such a beautiful formal wedding together on such short notice. Later Anita told me that she had told the Rabbi and all the officials, guests and caterers and photographer to be ready for everything if all went according to plan! And everything went to perfection.|
One thing stands out in my mind. The groom has to fast the entire day of the wedding and by the time the service was finished it was nine o'clock. So, I was extremely hungry and ready for a hardy meal. But first the photographer needed to take pictures in the sanctuary, re-enacting the ceremony because he was not allowed to take pictures during the ceremony. Then we had the reception line. We had eighty five guests so that took a long time. Then he wanted to take more pictures: The bride and groom alone, with Ettie and Pappa, with Aunt and Uncle, with this one and that one. Well, I really was getting mad. I wanted to eat. Well, when I finally entered the dining room everybody was already sitting and eating. So I never saw the food tables set up. But the room was beautiful. All tables had pink damask table cloths with matching napkins and souvenir match books. Every table had a beautiful center piece. I had never seen anything so beautiful; it was like a scene from a Hollywood movie and Anita and I were the stars.
I had barely eaten my fill when the photographer said that we had to start the dance. If I remember well we had just a violinist or maybe a pianist and a violinist. I do remember the lovely Jewish melodies this violinist played. And how I did my best to dance well. Then we were directed to each individual table for pictures with the guests. This was a little difficult for me because I hardly knew anybody there. These were all Anita's friends and relatives. But all went well and I believe I made a good impression.
Towards the end of the activities we decided to leave. We wanted to leave before everyone else did so we would get a big send-off, and we did. Anita changed into a light beige suite and when she returned to the hall she was cheered loudly. When we finally left everybody clapped their hands and wished us well.
It really was a wonderful wedding, unforgettable. But I felt so relieved when we left all the excitement behind and the two of us, quietly and by ourselves, entered the taxi which took us to the first stage of our honeymoon, a night at the Biltmore Hotel! Wow! Here I was, just nine months after I had left Holland with my little brown suitcase and twenty five guilders, and now, married and spending the first night with my bride in the famous Biltmore Hotel in New York. It was like a dream. We had an unforgettable first wedding night. Everything went well and we were happy like newly weds should be. The next morning we had breakfast in the room. Just like in the movies the bellboy brought in a tray loaded with coffee, juices, fresh fruit and covered containers with our eggs and toast. I had to pinch myself. I will never forget the amazing job Anita had done to arrange all this so quickly and so perfectly. I also have to add that she and her family paid for everything, including the diamond engagement ring, which my uncle had made, and the wedding rings. This was a major sacrifice for the Amsel family and I was in no position to help out financially.
After breakfast we took a cab to the airport. We spent our honeymoon in Bermuda! I was moving through all this in a daze. I enjoyed it all very much but it was as if I was observing someone else going through all this. We spent many hours walking and riding motorized bicycles around the Island. One day we went to see the famous lighthouse and we got to talking to the keeper of the lighthouse. When he heard that we were on our honeymoon he told us about a perfect spot to spend a day for honeymooners. He told us about an uninhabited little Island in the ocean with just a perfect little sheltered beach. We would have total privacy and he offered to take us there in the morning and pick us up late in the afternoon. We decided to accept without reservations. However, while returning to our hotel we brought up some doubts. Could we trust the guy? We did not know anything about him. What if he would leave us there? How would anybody find us? We decided to forget about all those concerns.
The next morning, at daybreak, we met the lighthouse keeper at the harbor. Where was his "boat"? He motioned us to a little dingy at the bottom of a dock and powered with a small outboard motor and, after we struggled our way in, we put putted out of the harbor. Once we left the harbor he opened the throttle wide and we bounced over the waves like a toy boat. We almost fell backwards out of the boat! After about an hour we saw a little speck in the ocean which, he said, was to be our honeymoon spot for the next eight hours. As we came closer we did not see a beach, but only cliffs covered with tropical vegetation. Soon, after rounding a corner we noticed a tiny beach, probably no more that twenty by fifty feet. There he dropped us off and with a wave and a promise of a five o'clock pickup, he was gone.
There we were, all alone on an uninhabited tropical island. We shrugged off all concerns, changed into bathing suits and went for a nice swim. Needless to say, this was a wonderful day. How many people get such a chance? We felt so lucky! And we took full advantaqe of it. Around four o'clock we did become a little concerned. First of all, there was no shade and we were thoroughly baked. We had food and drinks but not enough water for such a long, warm day. And we started to wonder: might he forget us, or get busy and not show up till later in the evening. But this wonderful man re-appeared right on time. Were we relieved! What a memorable experience. We offered him money but he would not hear of it. He said it was a thrill and an honor to be able to do this for us.
We had put aside all thoughts of parting but soon this dream ended. We arrived back in New York and the following day Anita took me to the airport where we said a long and sad farewell. I was on my way to another new and entirely different kind of life.
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